Saturday, June 28, 2008

Favourite movies: The Devil's Brother (1933)

Do you like operettas? I do. Star-crossed lovers, happy peasants, soldiers in taverns raising tankards and voices, funny schtick and lovely music sung by lovely voices. French composer Daniel Aubert's greatest success and most revived work was his 1830 operetta "Fra Diavolo" (The Devil's Brother). The name, at least, was taken from an actual Italian highwayman. I can't vouch for the exploits.

Producer Hal Roach was a fan of "Fra Diavolo" (by which title his movie is often known) and a fan of the fact that it was in public domain. Jeanie Macpherson adapted the play with ample opportunity for Roach's most popular stars, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy to strut their stuff.

Dennis King (1897 - 1971) portrays the title character, a ruthless bandit who is the scourge of the countryside. As Fra Diavolo he robs wealthy men of their gold, but as the Marquis de San Marco he steals the hearts of lovely ladies. Mr. King's movie career was brief with highlights including The Vagabond King (1930) with Jeanette MacDonald and the shy minister in Between Two Worlds (1944). Broadway was his stomping ground appearing in 39 plays from 1921 to 1969, including Rose Marie, I Married an Angel, Show Boat, A Doll's House, Billy Budd and a Tony Award in 1970 for John Osbourne's A Patriot for Me in 1970.

Lady Pamela Rocburg (Thelma Todd) and the Marquis de San Marco (Dennis King)

Roach players James Finlayson is the rich and suspicious Lord Rocburg and lovely Thelma Todd is Lady Pamela who finds the Marquis so intriguing. Henry Armetta is a bombastic Innkeeper and Lucile Brown his pretty daughter. Her lover, a poor but honest soldier is played by Arthur Pierson and Matt McHugh is her rich fiance, Francesco. True love never runs smooth in an operetta. It's a rule.

Life with a capital "L" has kicked our boys, Stanlio and Ollio, to the gutter. They decide that crime is their only way out. After all, Ollio opines, it doesn't take any brains to be a bandit. Our boys are ill-equipped for the career change. They are immediate failures and run afoul of Fra Diavolo himself! However, in his Marquis disguise the bandit requiers a retinue to follow the wealthy Rocburg's into the Inn to retrieve the 500,000 francs he knows the lord possesses. Stanlio and Ollio are his reluctant servants with two intentions, to please their master and to escape their master. Can you imagine the fun and trouble caused by sedan chairs, simple second story break-ins and mistaken identities? A trip to the wine cellar leads Stan to one of the funniest drunk scenes in all filmdom.

If you use your movies to escape the day-to-day, this very funny and quaint film may make your favourite movie list too.

Note: kneesey-earsey-nosey is not as easy as it looks.

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