Three Cornered Moon (1933) Poster

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8/10
A "slightly screwball" tale of the Great Depression
wmorrow5926 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I happened to catch this movie on TV one day when I was in junior high, and it made a lasting impression on me. My parents had told me about their childhoods during the Great Depression of the 1930s; Dad in particular was haunted by the memory of those days, when his upper middle-class family experienced a sudden, frightening plunge in their standard of living. I also read about the era, but in a curious way it was this film that helped me understand the human impact of that painful period with special vividness. Three Cornered Moon starts out like a comedy, a screwball comedy about a rich, wacky family, but then the Depression hits and reality smacks them all in the face. The tone changes, the plot shifts gears, and we find we're watching a drama about a group of chastened people who learn to deal with adversity and grow up in the process.

The story concerns the Rimplegars of Brooklyn. Right off the bat the family name suggests comic eccentricity, and after a humorous intro of the characters we're primed to laugh. This mood continues through the first scene, when dizzy matriarch Nellie (Mary Boland) is revealed in the kitchen, wearing a ridiculous feathered gown as she attempts without much success to communicate with the family's Polish cook. Nellie is a widow with three adult sons and a daughter. The family lives in a mansion and they appear to be wealthy, but when the laundryman shows up demanding $11.47 from the lady of the house it seems to be something of a problem finding the money to pay him. Nellie refers vaguely to the Depression ("I hear it's still going on") as she stalls for time, but ultimately she's able to pay most of the tab.

The various family members are good-hearted but rather silly. One son is involved in community theater and takes himself very seriously, while another is a hard-partying college boy. Daughter Elizabeth (Claudette Colbert) is involved with a pompous novelist, and is given to histrionic speeches about the meaninglessness of life. As soon as the character relationships have been established, however, disaster strikes. The younger Rimplegars are horrified to learn that Nellie has invested all the family's money in a fraudulent metal mine called Three Cornered Moon (a strange and perfectly chosen name) and that their savings been completely wiped out. And this is where things get interesting. The children, privileged all their lives, must face reality and scramble for jobs, just like everyone else. They do so with admirable grit and grace, and we find that they're made of stronger stuff than we may have assumed. Naturally, the comic elements of the story fade as the serious theme kicks in. The turning point comes when daughter Elizabeth sets out to look for work, and this passage is marked with an impressive montage of contemporary news footage of the unemployed, shots of weary feet pounding the pavement, close-ups of job listings, and audio clips of exhausted job-seekers: "I spent my last nickel on the subway," etc. It's a sobering sequence that beautifully captures the grim mood of the era.

Eventually, and because this is still essentially a comedy, the Rimplegars manage to overcome their problems and eject the moochers who exploited the family in flush times, thanks in part to the intervention of a handsome young doctor (Richard Arlen) who is sweet on Elizabeth. It's easy to see why he's drawn to her: Claudette Colbert is at the peak of her beauty here. She gives a finely nuanced performance, and we watch as her Elizabeth matures from an affected, overgrown adolescent to a sadder but wiser young woman. Colbert begins in a low key but builds in intensity, and when at one point she mistakenly believes her brother has died her hysteria is disturbingly credible.

The distinguished critic Leslie Halliwell classified this film as a "slightly screwball" romantic comedy, which I believe is an apt description, and he opined that its humor had faded with time. That also feels like an accurate assessment, but to my way of thinking the comedy in this story is secondary to the drama, whatever the filmmakers' intentions might have been. In seeing Three Cornered Moon again after so many years I can easily understand why it made such an impression on me as a kid. The upbeat ending comes as a blessed relief, but it's hard to shake the traumatic echoes of the story's darkest moments. Silly or not, the Rimplegars are sympathetic figures. Like so many other people of their time they found themselves faced with a genuine crisis that tested their mettle. My parents and grandparents were in a comparable situation. The financial meltdown of 2009 hasn't reached the nadir of the early 1930s, but similar fears are in the air, and seen today this movie packs a quiet but well delivered punch.
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8/10
Just delightful
ecaulfield26 May 2001
The best known name in this film is Claudette Colbert, and she presents her comedic talents as effortlessly as always. However, the surprise is that this screwball family comedy belongs to Mary Boland. Her ditzy, oblivious mother delivers priceless lines one after another. So as not to give all the jokes away I will only say that this family presents the humor in going broke (Boland has run the family into financial ruin and must end her 'career as economic advisor,' but insists she must sign something every month even if it is not the checks!), possible jobs in cleaning sewers, and failing the bar exam. Top that off with the family having a foreign maid who does not understand a word they say or allow them into the kitchen and this socially aware, zany family makes me wish I belonged to them.
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8/10
"Let's All Hold Hands and Jump in the River!!"
HarlowMGM23 February 2008
THREE CORNERED MOON is an hard-to-find film but it is a fairly important movie given it's status as one of the first "screwball" comedies. In truth, however, it is as much a drama as a comedy but it does have many of the essential ingredients for the pending film genre with a family of wealthy eccentrics and a sensible if romantic heroine.

Mary Boland is the matriarch for a family of four young adults who still live in the family mansion. None of them work but are suddenly through into "real life" when Boland's misadventures on the stock market in 1929 come to a belated crash four years later for the family and they wind up with a total of $1.65 in the bank. Boland's three sons and daughter Claudette Colbert are forced to work for the first time in their lives.

Family friend, doctor Richard Arlen rents a room at the family estate to help them out financially while Claudette's longtime beau, unpublished novelist Hardie Albright also takes up residence though he still is not supporting himself and living off Colbert's assistance as he has been for years. While the male siblings tough it and work, "artist" Albright can't quite bring himself to working in (gasp) "an office".

Mary Boland is delicious as always in one of her very first screen roles as a dizzy-headed matron. Beautiful young Claudette Colbert, a year away from superstardom, is very much in her element as the young heiress who learns about the real world, complete with remarkably frank sexual harassment from her boss at the shoe factory. Blonde bombshell Joan Marsh is appealing as the longtime girlfriend of Claudette's brother Wallace Ford while Lyda Roberti has an eccentric role as the family's Swedish maid who understands no English. Richard Arlen is pleasant as the prince in an RX coat although he doesn't have nearly the screen time despite his billing as the pampered fiancée Albright or brothers Ford, Tom Brown, and William Bakewell.

THREE CORNERED MOON (named after the corporation that causes the family's fortune to dwindle) is a intriguing film that should be sought out by fans of thirties comedies and it's surprisingly clear-eyed view of how hard life was in the 1930's for many makes it quite unique among romantic films of the era.
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9/10
Those Marvellous Rimplegars - and Jenny!!!
kidboots4 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers
In DeWitt Bodeen's superb career article on Richard Arlen (Films in Review June/July 1979) he related that Arlen had never wanted to be a star - he was far happier with the roles that Paramount found for him than the "star" roles handed out to others. The "dependables" often had careers as long as they wanted to act - critics could always pan a star but an actor who had a key supporting role was often praised for making the pictures worth watching. This was why, after playing the oldest college footballer (along with Jack Oakie) in movie history in "College Humor", he was immediately cast as Alan Stevens, the affable doctor in "Three Cornered Moon", which actually is the name of the mining stock that loses the family their fortune.

This was an early example of the type of nutty comedy that became more popular as the decade progressed. It was all about the zany Rimplegar family who found themselves on the employment line when the Wall Street crash obliterated their wealth. A typical morning at the Rimplegars consists of zany mother Nellie (wonderful Mary Boland) making pancakes in her feathered nightgown ("the children would feel hurt if I didn't wear it") but can't cook them as feisty Jenny (Lyda Roberti) proclaims (all throughout the movie) "go way - the stove, she's mine"!! Where would the movies be without Lyda - at one stage she is told a bunch of flowers is called a George, so whenever she sees a flower she says "George, beautiful George" - she's a scream!!! There is also Kenneth (Wallace Ford) who is having woman trouble, Douglas (William Bakewell), an aspiring actor who is forever rehearsing his line!!! while Elizabeth (Colbert) ponders the meaning of life.

She soon finds out as, through their mother's incompetence, they suddenly find themselves broke and desperately in need of jobs. Dr. Stevens walks into their catastrophe and he gives them a lecture on the realities of life and forces them all to look for work. Douglas finds an acting job with an even shorter part - "Yes"!! Young Eddie (Tom Brown), home from college finds a job as a lifeguard while Elizabeth gets one as a machinist but has to fend off her amorous married boss then has to come home to her novelist beau, Ronald (Hardie Albright) who lives in a fantasy world where he compares Elizabeth to a tree. Stevens also helps out the family finances by becoming a boarder (he really just wants to be near Elizabeth) and it is Ronald's frivolous head in the clouds attitude that makes her realise that life is to be lived and striven for and not dreamed away.

Of course everything turns out okay but not before a health scare from Eddie (he is working two jobs) brings about a showdown and Ronald, who was living rent free and expected Elizabeth to work to support him, is shown the door.

I just loved this movie. Claudette is always excellent in whatever she does, Mary Boland "out zanied" Billie Burke as the addle headed Nellie - "don't yell at me, you know I'm incompetent"!! and the movie would have been not half as good without Lyda Roberti. Hardie Albright was one of a string of young actors (David Manners, Gene Raymond) who came to Hollywood in the early 1930s, touted with much promise. To me, he always looked very intense and was at his best in those darker type of roles ie "The Ninth Guest" (1934) and as the hypocritical Reverend Dimmesdale in "The Scarlet Letter" (1934).
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8/10
A REAL Depression comedy...
binapiraeus23 April 2014
This movie is indeed astonishing: it starts out like some silly, light comedy about an upper-class Brooklyn family, living, without a care in the world, in a big house with servants and everything, exclusively on money from their stocks. BUT then the Depression reaches even their home: practically overnight, they find themselves flat broke. And, having lived for so long in their 'castle in the skies', they just haven't got any idea about what to do at first.

And then they start waking up: the only way out for the three grown boys and the girl is - to FIND A JOB! And that's what they do, and where they first meet with the difficulties of REAL life; and so, one by one, they wake up to reality - and they finally discover that they LIKE it: from being lazy parasites, they've become useful members of society...

Of course, it's by FAR not as 'educational' a picture as this may sound - anyway, it's a pre-Code movie, and it's got lots of frivolous and funny moments to provide first-class comedy entertainment. The cast is great, from Claudette Colbert as the daughter of the house who's got to choose between a daydreaming writer and a down-to-earth doctor, to Mary Boland as the 'lady of the house' who just doesn't seem to know at all what's happening, to Lyda Roberti, no less - the seductive 'Million Dollar Legs' beauty from the 1931 W.C. Fields movie - , who plays the Polish cook here who never seems to understand a word in English, but stays with the family nonetheless, even without pay; a real proof of her great acting range!

And yet, the message is there, even amidst all the hilarious fun - and it's MOST up-to-date, too: today, there are breadlines and people on the dole everywhere again, and formerly well-to-do families who now have to WORK for a living; and once you've got used to it (and have been as lucky as to FIND a job), you UNDERSTAND. You understand that it feels GOOD to be a useful member of society instead of an idler that lets others feed him... QUITE a message for a 'simple' comedy that's pretty much underestimated today in comparison with many of its other, much more forgettable contemporaries!
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6/10
The Rimplegars Of Brooklyn
bkoganbing28 August 2011
If it weren't for the fact that there are no dead bodies buried in the cellar, the set of the house where 90% of the film takes place looks like the Brewster home from Arsenic And Old Lace. Like the Brewsters the Rimplegars are old Brooklyn money.

Head of the clan Mary Boland could easily have been a third Brewster sister. Boland took a patent out on empty headed grand dame roles and what she didn't play Billie Burke and Spring Byington did. Some stock broker sharpie wheedled the family fortune out of her and the 1929 crash did the rest. She and her spoiled children which consist of Claudette Colbert, Wallace Ford, William Bakewell, and Tom Brown all have to make their own way in the world.

As does Hardie Albright who was courting Colbert, he figured on a life of ease, but is reevaluating his situation with Joan Marsh. The only person around with any real sense is Richard Arlen who plays a doctor who likes the family and rents a room with them. They get his rent and free medical service, can't beat that during the Depression years.

Three Cornered Moon ran for only 57 performances on Broadway in 1933 and playing Claudette's role was Ruth Gordon. Such movie cast names as Brian Donlevy, Elisha Cook, Jr., and John Eldredge were all in the Broadway cast. Though the play has a few laughs you don't really get involved with the Rimplegar family as such. Claudette Colbert had much better comedy roles in her future.
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4/10
one too many of the "kooky family" films...
MartinHafer6 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
In the 1930s, there were a ton of films featuring kooky rich families. In some cases, like "My Man Godfrey" it became a true classic. In the case of films like "Merrily We Live" and "You Can't Take it With You", while not classics, they a were lot of fun. However, "Three-Cornered Moon" while very similar to the other films generally misses the mark and proves that not all kooky family films are made alike.

The biggest problem with this film is that unlike most of the other rich kooky families, it's really hard to like this one. The Rimplegars are rich but even more lazy and stupid than the norm for these films. All four of the 'children' (as the mother calls them throughout the film) are adults. Three have college degrees and two of these just sit around all day doing nothing to earn their keep. The youngest goes to school to party and the oldest is under-employed and most concerned with his on-again/off-again relationship with a rich and vacuous bimbo. As for the mother (Mary Bolland), she is a giant brain stem--running the family's fortune into the toilet and ignoring the looming financial crisis. She's not funny--just happy to be stupid. When ultimately they learn that they are broke and need to work to support themselves, the audience is left thinking this is great--and the film is the closest any movie ever got to convincing me communism is a good thing (as these lazy gadabouts would be the first ones shot if such a revolution occurred). Listening to them whine about their fortunes while America was starving during the Depression make this hard to take.

It's amazing that Claudette Colbert managed to play perhaps the most unlikable family member--considering she was a wonderful actress and often played such decent people. Through much of the film, she takes care of her good-for-nothing fiancé and makes excuses for his not being willing to work!! So, when she FINALLY decides she's had enough of this guy and wants to marry nice-guy Richard Arlen (a hard-working doctor), you feel like yelling out to him "run away!!"--as you most likely don't want to see him throw his life away on such a loser.

Now it's not all 100% terrible. At least some of these spoiled arrested adolescents become responsible and productive by the end of the film. But, by then, the film had lost me because the characters lacked charm, depth or redeeming qualities. Kooky is one thing, lazy and annoying is another! With so many similar films out there like this one but which are good, I say avoid "Three-Cornered Moon". Even if the acting is pretty good, the writing definitely isn't.
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8/10
Frequently hilarious
hotangen18 July 2012
Got this 1933 movie from the library. Colbert is charming as are the rest of her family members. She was not yet a STAR, but her star quality is on display. It's frequently a laugh out loud movie. The story line of a daffy matriarch, Mary Boland, who gets wiped out by the stock market crash of 1929 and her 4 adult children who are still living at home, and what they do to survive the crisis makes for a delightful hour or so. The maid/cook whose English is minimal does not add anything to the comedy, but this is a minor fault. I've never previously seen Richard Arlen, who stands on the sidelines, quietly loving Colbert, and was glad to see how at the ending one obviously wrong suitor was replaced for another.
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7/10
A saga of an eccentric family and their struggles with the Depression
robert-temple-112 October 2010
This film is charming largely because of the lead Claudette Colbert, whose elfin presence makes it all come alive. The film itself never wholly overcomes its origins as a play by Gertrude Tonkonogy (died 1989) written for the stage rather than the screen, her play of the same title having opened in March of 1933 and been released in this film version within four months of that. Clearly the producers were looking urgently for a 'feel good' story which drew comfort from a cheerful survival of the hard times. The story features an eccentric family, the father of which is dead, named Rimpelgar, Colbert being the only daughter. The Rimpelgars live in a huge rambling house in Brooklyn, that part of New York which is not Manhattan and is on the wrong side of the river, and which in their day, the 1930s, was a fine place to live. (Today, that can only be said of patches of Brooklyn, though there is an ongoing struggle to make it regain its dignity.) They do not have Brooklyn accents because they are rich people, or were before the father died. Now the dotty mother (played by Mary Boland) has lost everything through being, well, an idiot, and letting a scoundrel take it all and invest it in a worthless phoney mine called Three-Cornered Moon. (This must have been clearer in the play, because in the film the reason for the title is pretty obscure and mentioned only in passing.) So they are all suddenly thrown out of non-work into hard work, the daughter and her three brothers. The eldest brother is played by Wallace Ford, and what a surprise it is to see him as he was before he became the grizzled elderly character actor that he played in so many films decades later. Yes, the times are hard, as it is the Depression. There are many times when they all have nothing to eat and sit at a grand dining table with only a little bread between them. But they 'smile through', and all ends happily, despite a great deal of worry, tension, and stress. There is a side story about Colbert being in love with a self-indulgent would-be writer who is always working on Chapter Fourteen of the great novel which is never finished. She puts up with him for most of the film, to our great disgust, until she finally is freed from her blind love, sees the light, and dumps him. There are a lot of jokes about the Polish maid (Lyda Roberti) who cannot speak English and calls flowers 'George', but although that may all have been funny in the 1930s, it isn't now. The film does not lead to grim fate but smiling through gets them through, and this must have been a tonic for a weary public struggling to emerge from the Depression which was supposed to be over but, like the one now, is not over at all except in theory or because some politician says so. Maybe as things go on getting worse, we can recommend this film to our friends and contemporaries today, and let them remember that in 1932 a great deal of Claudette Colbert and her family 'smiling through' took place, so that we ought to try a little of that ourselves. If we can force the smiles, that is.
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7/10
Crazy title fits a zany film
SimonJack27 October 2014
This is one of those movies when one wonders, after watching it, what the title had to do with the film. In this case, it is mentioned once – as the name of a mine that Mrs. Rimplegar (played superbly by Mary Boland) had poured a lot of money into – to the point of bankrupting her family. But, in afterthought, the title could be construed to describe the wacky family and household of the Rimplegars.

This isn't quite screwball comedy, but it comes close in places. The script for 'Three-Cornered Moon" isn't very tightly written and organized. But the collection of characters, with their individual pursuits and traits add up to some good laughs.

Claudette Colbert here has the look yet of a young starlet. The movie came out before she turned 30. Within the year, she would lose the very youthful look and become the more mature young woman in appearance for which most moviegoers remember her. Her role in this film is more subdued. Richard Arlen is the lead actor, but his role is less than that of most of the young men of the Rimplegar clan. They were played well by Wallace Ford, Tome Brown and William Bakewell. The rest of the supporting case were all quite good.

This comedy of frenzy has a nice theme – of the once rich and selfish learning how to work and share for the good of all. That theme should have played very well in 1933. It was right in the middle of the depression and Dust Bowl. America had its highest unemployment ever. Many families were suffering and wanting. Hollywood did a lot to help lift the spirits of America during this time with its many wonderful comedy films and inspirational stories. At least one reviewer noted that there were many movies of this type during that time. True, but this is one of the early ones, and a good warm-up for some much better films that followed.

With a little more work on the script and some better direction, "Three-Cornered Moon" could have been a much better film. As it is, it's a fun movie with several good laughs that most viewers should enjoy.
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7/10
Lively comedy pokes gentle fun at slightly wacky family
csteidler31 January 2014
Claudette Colbert leads a strong cast in this tale of a once-wealthy family adjusting to life after the family fortune has evaporated.

Mary Boland is excellent as the widowed mother—not really equipped to manage finances, she put all of their money into a failed mine called the Three Cornered Moon and doesn't quite know how to tell the kids they are broke. Colbert is her daughter, engaged to a rather useless aspiring novelist but not afraid to go out and find a job herself.

There are also three grown sons, most notably Wallace Ford in an admirable performance as an earnest go-getter with girl trouble who spouts great lines like, "From now on, I'm gonna be absolutely independent of everybody. That reminds me, I gotta ask Mother for some money."

Richard Arlen has a key role as a doctor friend of Colbert. Hearing of the family's troubles, he moves right into their house to help them out by contributing some rent…and also, it seems, to be around Claudette more.

It's a mildly silly comedy, for the most part, but has a couple of serious moments, especially the scene where Colbert finally sees through her deadbeat writer boyfriend (Hardie Albright): "You've failed me!" she gasps, devastated, when he returns home late one afternoon having skipped a job interview and bought her flowers instead.

Charming rather than side-splitting, it's a very entertaining family comedy, thanks to excellent characterizations from all.
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5/10
Tempo problem
sobaok30 December 2009
This stagy adaptation of the Broadway play tends to drag. If director Nugent and editor Loring had sped things along it might have worked. In spite of such stellar talents as Colbert (in a role originated by Ruth Gordan) and Mary Boland, Three-Cornered Moon is only passable entertainment. The story, about the irresponsible off-spring of a wealthy-widow-now-broke (Boland), has its charm and enough funny moments to make it worthwhile for die-hard Colbert fans. However, it is difficult as to why it was selected to be part of TCM's Claudette Colbert Collection. The rowdy antics of Colbert's on-screen brothers chasing each other around the house border on the ridiculous. Wallace Ford was 35 years-old, William Bakewell 25, but only 20 year-old Tom Brown fits the bill for these kind of shenanigans. And poor Lyda Roberti isn't given much to do -- what a waste. Her part fell flat and should have been re-written for the screen adaptation.
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7/10
Let's get serious
westerfieldalfred5 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I've come to despise kooky families that teach serious persons to loosen up. You Can't Take It With You is my example of a perfectly dreadful film. So I wasn't expecting much when I started watching Three Cornered Moon. But I was pleasantly surprised when reality struck and the family responded in a responsible way. The Depression was tough; my parents lived through it. Life was tough - it still is. If we can adapt to it while still remaining cheerful we've got it made. That's what this film shows in a warm, silly way.

I've never thought of Claudette Colbert as beautiful but here she really glows. I'm a particular fan of Wallace Ford. He rarely gets a chance to let go; this exception allows him to cover all the acting bases. Unfortunately, Richard Arlen shows little personality. There's no magic when he and Colbert get together at the end. Mary Boland was a little too over the top yet not silly enough for me. Lyda Roberti was fun but I just couldn't get past her role as "the woman no man can resist" in Million Dollar Legs. Overall, I'll watch the film again - in about five years.
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3/10
Sad, slow moving screwball comedy that falls flat.
mark.waltz7 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I recall seeing this film before and thought I had enjoyed it; Perhaps I was thinking of another film or in a different frame of mind at the time. As a fan of both Claudette Colbert and Mary Boland, I was enjoying seeing this again. However, I was sorely disappointed. The plight of a wealthy family from Brooklyn (yes, there is such a thing) facing the depression seemed like it would be an interesting film. But this was before "It Happened One Night" and "My Man Godfrey" got the idea of what screwball comedy was down just right. If it wasn't poor mama Mary Boland trying to get .30 cents from her children to pay off the laundry man (and getting a tongue lashing for interrupting their oh, so important activities that she goes onto the next one without even getting an answer) or listening to the extremely obnoxious Polish maid Lyda Roberti try to run Boland out of the kitchen, then perhaps it was Claudette Colbert's hair and make-up which made her look like a cross between Betty Boop and Minnie Mouse. She was known for being severely aware of her appearance on film; Perhaps she was too flustered by the stagy script to even notice her own appearance.

Then, there is Colbert's beau, Hardie Albright, who is wearing so much lipstick he looks like a silent movie hero trying to get away from a Theda Bara type vamp. Richard Arlen comes off better as the family doctor who rents a room from them that ends up saving the day. But if I had to be the mother of sons like Wallace Ford and William Bakewell, I think I'd be as daffy as Mary Boland is here. (Other son, Tom Brown, is a lot less obnoxious, but he's the baby, and in old moviedom, that means being cute and sweet.) Most of Colbert's earlier movies had been dramas (with the exception of a few Maurice Chevalier musicals), so perhaps she wasn't quite ready for comedy, but after "It Happened One Night", she would be one of the top screwball glamour girls. Comedys are supposed to take you out of a bad mood, not put you in one. If you get the DVD, focus on "Maid of Salem", the co-feature, and watch this one at your own risk. "Wizard of Oz" fans can spot "Auntie Em" Clara Blandick in an unbilled role as a landlady (one of her many).
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