Thursday, November 30, 2017


Edward Arnold plays D.B. Norton in Meet John Doe, and the great actor calls on all his considerable abilities in bringing this titan of industry to life. Norton is a man of money and power, and all he craves in this world is more money and power. 

"What the American people need is an iron hand!"

The obvious next step for D.B. Norton is political power, and as he heads toward that goal he consolidates a media machine, buying up newspapers and radio stations. His message and his control will be everywhere. When D.B. Norton buys a paper 40 heads are chopped off. One of the discarded reporters plans her own sort of revenge, and it will have an immeasurable impact on all their futures.

Ann Mitchell is played with her customary strength and relatability by Barbara Stanwyck. Ann is the sole support of her widowed mother and two kid sisters. She needs her job, and she's good at her job. Ann has one more column to submit before leaving the building with her pink slip. It is going to be a doozy.

"There's no letter. I made it up. You said you wanted fireworks."

Ann indulges in a little harmless fake news. A letter to the editor from a disgusted American citizen who, due to the horrible state of affairs, is going to commit suicide by jumping off the City Hall roof. Suddenly the whole town, the whole state, is in an uproar. John Doe must be found and he must be saved. Ann grabs onto the unexpected life/job saver, pushing for the paper to play up the John Doe angle. It will be great for circulation and isn't that what Norton wants? There is more of what Norton wants in this gag than Ann can imagine at this time.

Only now a real John Doe must be found to stand in for Ann's fake one. Gary Cooper is perfection in the role of down-on-his-luck ballplayer Long John Willoughby, who still naively dreams of a chance at the big leagues. He appears attractive enough to draw people to his side, and simple enough that the manipulators of publicity can mold him to their liking.

"Why can't that spirit, that warm Christmas spirit, last all year long?"

Our John Doe isn't a loner as he has a traveling companion in "The Colonel" played by Walter Brennan. The Colonel doesn't hesitate in speaking his mind about newspapers and Norton, and people in general. His opinion is not favourable. Sometimes he comes across as contrary for contrariness' sake, but he is a dose of reality in his friend's world which is quickly becoming Norton's world. 

Ann's father was a doctor, and a philosopher. He was a man who did good in the world for its own sake. He wrote of his ideals and Ann is using her father as the template for John Doe and all of the things he will say and stand for today. D.B. Norton immediately backs John Doe and the homespun philosophy he will spin for the suckers whom Norton sees as potential voters. He'll ride the John Doe phenomenon into the Governor's mansion, and after that the White House. The seemingly simplest among us are complicated, and the complication here is that John begins to believe the things he has been saying, and he begins to fall in love with the woman who gave him the words.

This Frank Capra and Robert Riskin (It Happened One Night) collaboration was their first and only production independent of studio backing, with a distribution deal through Warner Brothers. Riskin's screenplay is based on an Oscar-winning story idea by Richard Connell (The Most Dangerous Game) and Robert Presnell Sr. (Employees' Entrance).

Meet John Doe tackles the forces of greed and the frightening potential for fascism in America. It also looks at the value and impact of ordinary lives and heartfelt values. The essence of the individual must come across as paramount in the telling of Meet John Doe. These are difficult concepts to include in a story that will engage an audience.

"There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness."
- Frank Capra

Meet John Doe is, for me, one of Capra and Riskin's most fascinating films. The scene of Norton's thugs routing a much-ballyhooed John Doe rally when the threads of his plan start to unravel is not only one of the director's finest, but one of the finest scenes in 1940s cinema. Note the cinematography by legendary George Barnes, multiple Oscar nominee and winner for Rebecca; also a mentor to Gregg Toland. The rally scene is heartbreaking and chilling for the viewer, and must have been a point of pride for its creators.

"I should be drinking milk, you know. This stuff is poison."

Frank Capra also had a way with his casting and use of the best of film's character actors. Always reliable James Gleason had quite a year that included his Oscar-nominated performance of Max Corkle in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, as well as his Oscar-worthy performance of editor Henry Connell in Meet John Doe. His drunken, yet clear-headed rant to John is a performance for the ages.

Regis Toomey and Ann Doran
Co-stars in 14 films

Spring Byington, Gene Lockhart, Irving Bacon, Ann Doran, Regis Toomey, J. Farrell MacDonald and Warren Hymer are only some of the familiar faces whose presence and talent enhance the characters and story we are drawn into by master cinematic storytellers.

Meet John Doe was a difficult story to film and several endings were made. Even the one eventually used was not entirely satisfactory to Frank Capra, or often to critics and audiences. Some object to the religious metaphor in the screenplay. Personally, I find the connection an apt one because it is at the Christmas season that we reflect on our place and duty in the universe. For thousands of years many return to that familiar story of love and redemption through a great sacrifice. Meet John Doe is flawed because it doesn't have all the answers, but it is perfect because it asks the questions.

TCM is screening Meet John Doe on Saturday, December 16th at 1:45 PM as part of their Christmas film line-up giving this darkly optimistic film a proper place in the seasonal offerings.

Friday, November 17, 2017


Debbie Vega of Moon in Gemini is our hostess for the It Takes a Thief blogathon running from November 17 - 19. "The caper, the heist, kidnappings, great escapes, con artists, high-class jewel thieves, art forgers, hungry peasants stealing bread, in any genre - all will be accepted!" Click HERE for the larcenous contributions.

After hours

The Morris Department Store is going to be knocked over. It's an inside job. Of sorts. The brains, if you can call him that, is Mickey Bain (Barton MacLane). Mickey's only qualification as a leader is that he can intimidate. To get the gang together he needs the real leader, Joe Dennis (George Raft). Joe leads by dint of his personality and loyalty. On a job a few years back Joe took the rap while Mickey high-tailed it to the hills. There is no love lost.

George Raft, Barton MacLane

Mickey: "They'd follow you over a cliff."
Joe: "I don't want to go over a cliff. That's what I've been tryin' to tell ya."

Harry Carey, Cecil Cunningham

Jerome Morris: "They're not set apart. They're not stared at like side show freaks just because they've made one or two mistakes that any of us might make."
Mary Morris: "Jerome, have you something in your past that you never told me?"

Joe received parole and found a job at the Morris Store. Jerome Morris (Harry Carey) believes in good works, and his good work is giving ex-cons a break. Most of the gang needed for the heist are already employed at the store. Morris has given them all a job and chance at a new life, despite the misgivings of his wife (Cecil Cunningham). Joe grabbed onto that chance with all he's worth. When his time on parole is up he plans to take Morris' recommendation and hop a California bound bus for a brand new life.

Vera Gordon, Egon Brecher, Sylvia Sidney, George Raft

Mrs. Levine (landlady): "It should be with luck. You are a fine boy, but you are getting the best little girl in the world."

On his last night in Chicago, Joe spends time with a sweet co-worker, Helen (Sylvia Sidney). Helen knows all about Joe's past, and she loves him. Joe is also falling for Helen, but he doesn't know about her past. Helen, like many of the employees at the store, has also done time. She, however, is still on parole which forbids things like love, or at least marriage. Impulsively, the pair do marry, and Helen starts lying to hide what she has done. If it weren't for the lies and guilt, life would be perfect.

Robert Cummings, George E. Stone, Jack Pennick
Harlan Briggs, Warren Hymer, Roscoe Karns

Helen's secrets cause doubt to enter Joe's heart. This leaves him open to the pressure to join in the plot against the Morris Department Store. Lang cast the crooks and ex-cons with the best of character actors. There's Warren Hymer, Roscoe Karns, George E. Stone, Jack Pennick, and almost looking every bit his 28 years, Robert Cummings. Tough guys and mugs, one and all.

Sylvia Sidney schools the crooks.

Helen: "The big shots aren't little crooks like you. They're politicians."

The caper becomes complicated when Mickey crosses an even bigger boss. Joe's slow thinking, but steadfast pal Gimpy (Warren Hymer) has misgivings, and his misgivings lead to Helen, and Helen confides in Mr. Morris. Joe considers this a major betrayal, perhaps even beyond her lie of omission about prison. The rest of the gang, however, is responsive to Helen's attempt to explain how crime really does not pay, in dollars and cents. Some lessons are more readily learned than others. What will it take for Joe and Helen to get back together?

Norman Krasna (Fury, The Devil and Miss Jones) wrote the story and Virginia Van Upp (Here Comes the Groom, St. Louis Blues) the screenplay for this crime/romance/musical hybrid. Cinematographer Charles Lang, an 18 time Oscar nominee, provided the shimmery hues and evocative shadows that gleam upon the screen and our imaginations.

Director Fritz Lang plays with the narrative of this tale with the use of songs by Kurt Weill and Sam Coslow. It is daring, theatrical and, for me, a very successful storytelling experiment.

Song of the Cash Register

The film opens with Song of the Cash Register. The sing-speak vocalist is a counterpoint to the visuals of all sorts of consumer goods, from necessities to luxury items.

We are then reminded that there is only one honest way to obtain these goods. Our culture, however it may laud the idea of "buy when you can" was already becoming one of "pay when you can". Generations of dissatisfied consumers became generations of debtors. Thievery by another name.

The Right Guy for Me

Newly minted as an ex-parolee, Joe Dennis takes Helen on a night of celebration prior to taking a California bound bus to give his new life a new location. In a nightclub, the couple is entertained by a forceful chanteuse (Carol Paige) who sings about The Right Guy for Me.

Helen's imagination swirls during the number with images of romance and loss as they come closer to the time for Joe's departure. Joe cannot even imagine that such love and devotion is real, or that it could ever be a part of his life.

The Knocking Song

Devised by Phil Boutelje, a military bandmaster and arranger for Paul Whiteman, The Knocking Song is the final musical piece and is placed at a point in the film where the burglary is shifting into high gear. The gang waits for Joe and, being as it is Christmas and the season puts folks in a sentimental frame of mind, they start reminiscing about their time in stir.

The memories are recounted in a rhythmic manner with the different voices joining in as the urgency of the story is heightened. Joe's eventual arrival brings him directly into the song. I find this number fascinating, and a highlight of the movie.

You and Me shift tones suddenly and often, from romance to melodrama, crime to musical, morality tale to Runyonesque comedy. The core of the film is what holds it together and make it work, and that core is the honesty in the performances of Sylvia Sidney and George Raft.

Movie trivia:  The Boston Society of Film Critics awarded You and Me a special award called Best Rediscovery in 2014 by which it was included in the Harvard Film Archives.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


The Classic Movie Blog Association hosts its Fall 2017 blogathon, Banned and Blacklisted Films running from November 15th - 19th. Click HERE for the fascinating contributions.

Gypsies, or Roma, are a nomadic people whose roots extend to the eighth century when they left northern India and migrated to Europe. Europeans inadvertently believed the travelers to have come from Egypt, and thus the term Gypsy came into being. Comprised of all religions, and skilled labourers, Gypsies made up all classes of citizens from blacksmiths to entertainers. Nonetheless, their nomadic nature, and treatment as outsiders and untouchables gave credence to dangerous stereotypes as thieves, abductors, magicians and fortune-tellers.

Conversely, the perceived lifestyle of freedom made of the Gypsy a free-spirited hero for fiction. Miguel de Cervantes wrote a story La gitanilla (The Little Gypsy) in 1613 about a beautiful and wise gypsy girl called Preciosa and her noble born lover. Our heroine is independent and clever, and her plan brings about those attributes in her suitor. She demands as proof of his fidelity that her swain leave his family and live her life for two years.

The lovers then experience many trials and adventures, and truths are revealed prior to the felicitous happy ending. Throughout the story, Cervantes takes well aimed jibs at the romance poets of the era and the censors of the time who would hinder the growth of literature.

Irish composer Michael William Balfe was inspired by Cervantes story and the romantic image of the gypsy to compose his operetta The Bohemian Girl which had its debut in London in 1843. Probably the most popularly successful of his works, The Bohemian Girl contains the lovely and always welcome concert encore, I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls.

A 1922 version of The Bohemian Girl was filmed in Britain starring Gladys Cooper and Ivor Novello. It does not appear to have been bothered by censors upon its release. What remains of the film is currently available on YouTube for those curious about this early adaptation. Click on the title.

Roach Studio stars Laurel and Hardy came to prominence with their short subjects during the 1920s. When the popularity of shorts waned, producer Hal Roach looked for ways to move the team into feature presentations. Success was found early with the operetta adaptation Fra Diavolo (The Devil's Brother) and Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland (March of the Wooden Soldiers). Drawing from that well once more, in 1936 they bent Balfe's The Bohemian Girl to Laurel and Hardy's unique comedy world.

Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy

A popular, old-fashioned musical combined with an internationally beloved comedy team should be a sure-fire hit free of controversy. Nonetheless, it is 1936, and The Bohemian Girl was banned in Nazi Germany as "the positive depiction of Gypsies has no place in the Third Reich".

According to a TCM article on the film, The Bohemian Girl faced censorship internationally. Malaysia banned the film for "depiction of Roma themes". Censors in Japan, Norway and Sweden deleted scenes of kissing between Gypsies. Hungary deleted a scene of Ollie's bungled robbery attempt. Italy decried the film as "subversive to Fascist themes".

Today we can look back on this entertainment and marvel at such censorship and outrage. The film played off the characterization of the Gypsy as thief, but it seems the Nazi regime saw only the romanticism, and perhaps the sympathy for the underdog as related by the association with the cherished Stan and Ollie. Nonetheless, it was forbidden for their citizens to enjoy the film. By the next year, the upcoming offering from Dick and Doof, Way Out West, was able to be viewed by any German movie-goer. As well, the Roach Studio was back to counting foreign revenue in their bottom line. Here is what the German audience missed in that long ago movie season.


The Queen of the Gypsies (Zeffie Tilbury) leads her band to camp near the land of the hated Count Arnheim (William P. Carlton). The Count is displeased when he hears the news.

Darla Hood, William P. Carleton

Soldier: "Count Arnheim, there is a band of Gypsies encamped in the woods below the castle."

Arnheim: "Gypsies, eh? See that they are gone by high noon tomorrow. If by chance they are caught on my estate have them flogged within an inch of their lives."

Oliver Hardy, Mae Busch, Antonio Moreno

Stan and Ollie are misfits among misfits as members of this band. Stan wonders why Ollie puts up with his wife's (Mae Busch) obvious affection for the handsome Devilshoof (Antonio Moreno). Ollie patiently explains that when one is married these days, one has to be broadminded. Besides, there are other things to be concerned with this night.

Zeffie Tilbury

Gypsy Queen's Son: "The moon is very good to us tonight. The village will be in darkness and the pickings will be easy."

Gypsy Queen: "Splendid! Off with the rogues and fill their purses, and replenish our coffers. What I wouldn't give to go with them."

Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel

Stan has a surefire gimmick as a fortune teller that works in the pickpocket line. Ollie's attempts to mimic the routine are somewhat lacking in finesse. Nonetheless, they finish their night successfully and enjoy a tankard of the tavern's finest vintage - with a wallop.

Mae Busch, Antonio Moreno

Devilshoof is not as successful as he is caught prowling the Arnheim Estate and is given the lash. The next day as  Ollie's wife tends to Devilshoof's wounds, she curses the Count.

Ollie's wife: "Curse you, Count Arnheim. For every whip stroke you have bestowed upon my beloved may you suffer a year of woe."

Opportunity for revenge presents itself when little Arlene wanders from her safe haven to be scooped by by Ollie's wife and Devilshoof. Naturally (?!), Ollie believes her lie that the little girl is his and she didn't want her to know who her daddy was until she was old enough to stand it. Ollie has nothing but pride at his new status as a father and proudly introduces the little girl to her Uncle Stan, and the rest of the band of Gypsies.

Thelma Todd

The role of the daughter of the Queen of the Gypsies was played by Thelma Todd. She was given a new song to sing called Heart of a Gypsy by Nathaniel Shilkret and Robert Shayon. While most sources relate that the song was dubbed, they do not give the name of the singer. The song remains and a few shots of Thelma in scenes of the encampment. Otherwise, Thelma's role was cut from the film, ironically to stave off any sort of scandal which might be attached to the film after her death, possibly murder, in December of 1935.

Felix Knight

Felix Knight who was Tom-Tom in Babes in Toyland here plays a Gypsy singer and is featured in the charming ballad Then You'll Remember Me. We can assume his to have been a larger role, perhaps truncated due to the other cuts.

Stan Laurel, Laughing Gravy, Oliver Hardy

Here's a treat for longtime Laurel and Hardy fans as Laughing Gravy, canine title star of the 1930 short, makes a cameo appearance near the end of The Bohemian Girl.

Oliver Hardy, Jacqueline Wells

Eventually, at the urging of Devils hoof, Ollie's wife steals the combined savings of Stan and Ollie and runs off with her lover, leaving a note with the truth that Ollie is not little Arlene's father. Nonetheless, Ollie is a doting parent to the little girl and after 12 years have passed, the Gypsies are once more in the shadow of Count Arnheim's castle. It is in this place that Arlene (Jacqueline Wells aka Julie Bishop) sings the showstopper I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls dubbed by Rosina Lawrence of Way Out West.

Stan Laurel

Drawn to the castle, Arlene is captured by the guards led by Captain Finn (James Finlayson). Daddy Ollie is out on pickpocket business. Uncle Stan is trying to bottle wine that has fizzled, and in the attempt has become guzzled. It is in that state that Ollie finds him when he needs help to save Arlene. The guzzled Stan goes berserk with the lash in the rescue attempt during which Arlene's true identity is discovered. It is too late to save Stan and Ollie from the torture dungeon, but they are released once more back into the world, misfits among misfits.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

THE EVE ARDEN BLOGATHON: The Doughgirls (1944)

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies is hosting The Eve Arden blogathon running November 11 and 12. Click HERE for the fun times with everyone's favourite wisecracking dame.

The Doughgirls was a successful Broadway play by Joseph Fields that ran for 671 performances beginning in 1942. Fields, son of entertainer Lew and brother of lyricist Dorothy, was a successful screenwriter and playwright who won Tony Awards for Wonderful Town and Flower Drum Song. Other hits include My Sister Eileen, The Desk Set, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Anita Loos.

The plot involves three married ladies, who discover through happenstance that they are not really married. Their problems are only beginning as they struggle to maintain their hold on a hotel suite in the midst of the Washington housing shortage.

The Doughgirls - Broadway cast
Arlene Francis, Doris Nolan, Arleen Whelan, Virginia Field

The cast of this comedy on stage were accomplished actresses, but Hollywood, particularly Warner Brothers who purchased the property, had their own stable of accomplished actresses. Thus, Vivian played by Arleen Whelan (Charley's Aunt) was replaced with Jane Wyman. Edna played by Virginia Field (Dial 1119) was replaced with Ann Sheridan. Nan played by Doris Nolan (Holiday) was replaced with Alexis Smith. Sylvia played by Natalie Schafer (Gilligan's Island) was replaced with Irene Manning. The scene stealing role of Russian sniper Sgt. Natalia Moskoroff played by Arlene Francis was replaced with Eve Arden.

The Doughgirls - on screen
Eve Arden, Jane Wyman, Alexis Smith, Ann Sheridan

Vivian (Wyman) and hubby Jack Carson were married by a bogus JP and their lives are complicated by his boss, played by Charlie Ruggles, becoming enamored of the suddenly single lady.

Edna's  (Sheridan) husband, played by John Ridgely finds his previous wife played by Irene Manning is not yet his previous wife.

Nan (Smith) had intended on marrying her flyer played by Craig Stevens, but he is quarantined with the measles. Charmingly, Alexis Smith and Craig Stevens were married in real life the year this movie was released. Their marriage lasted nearly 50 years until Alexis' passing in 1993.

Natalia had grown weary of life at the crowded Russian Embassy and sought to learn more about Americans by living with them. Eve's way with a quip loses none of its potency with the fractured-English dialogue and Natasha-like accent. Indeed, the humour is only heightened by these additions, and last on the bill Arden, though still above the title, manages to steal every scene in which she is involved. The role is not overused, and the audience looks forward to every appearance.

Political and contemporary jokes abound and will get chuckles out of those who know the history of the times. At the same time, jokes about being disowned for voting for the "wrong" party or finding a way to cheat the inheritance tax will give rise to a smirk or two. Vivian's seemingly naive rebuffs of the amorous advances of her boss (Wyman and Ruggles) are amusing, yet sure evidence of the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

We're in the money!
Alexis Smith, Ann Sheridan, Jane Wyman, Eve Arden

The three wives-without-hubbies knew each other from their past careers as chorus girls. One of them had booked the hotel room, but were scheduled to leave for the other. Discovering their friendship connection, the first couple extended their stay and then the third dancing pal moved in to create a cozy little mad house.

The three husbands-to-be are all involved with the war effort; a pilot, a fuel manufacturer looking for a deal, and a bureaucrat wanting to hold onto his job. The hotel is full of people with the vain hope that someone (anyone!) will check out soon. Barring a free room, there is a running gag with a fellow played by Joe DeRita simply hoping there is a couch he can use for a nap. Cleaning ladies rush in and out, a really old bellboy is a day late with room service menus, and the bill is enormous.

Speaking of the enormous bill, the girls come up with an ingenious and circuitous way of getting the hotel manager off their backs. It involves a card playing "pawn breaker" of Natalia's acquaintance. Eve Arden leading cleaning staff in her version of The Volga Boatman to lyrics which include "Put the ring in. Take the clips out." is only one of her very funny bits.

John Alexander is a businessman who falls for the first wife of the manufacturer. Regis Toomey is an FBI agent investigating the women's application to join a wartime service operation. Donald MacBride is a apoplectic judge who is supposed to marry someone, and it doesn't matter who! Alan Mowbray is a snooty, bragging radio correspondent who ends up sharing the suite at one point.

To no one's surprise, things work out with our romantic pairings, and it is all thanks to the adorably overbearing Natalia. Directed by James V. Kern, whose mettle proved to be TV comedy with I Love Lucy, My Three Sons, The Ann Sothern Show, and Pete and Gladys among his credits.

The Doughgirls has an obvious 3 act set-up retained from the play (you can't see it, but you can sense the curtain closing), and most of its action takes place in the hotel suite, but hey, why mess with success? A play with over 600 performances that gives a cast a chance to shine and an audience a chance to laugh doesn't need to be fixed.

Friday, November 3, 2017

FOOD IN FILM BLOGATHON: Easy Living (1937)

Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings are hosting the Food in Film blogathon which runs from November 3 to 5. Yum!  Day 1 recap  Day 2 recap  Day 3 recap  Apperitif

Writer Preston Sturges had been working in Hollywood for seven years, and it would be three more years before he would add film director to his credits. His screenplay for Easy Living is based on a story by Vera Caspary and directed by Mitchell Leisen. It is the height of the screwball comedy era in Hollywood where the wacky wealthy cross confusing paths with the working class with, you should pardon the cliche, ensuing high jinks.

Edward Arnold, Robert Greig, Ray Milland
Johnny: "The cooking isn't good enough!"

Our story starts at breakfast. The third largest banker in NYC, J.B. Ball (Edward Arnold) is not enjoying his morning repast. Perhaps this is not the right time to go over the bills. The chef insists on using butter when J.B. feels you can fry an egg in lard. His profligate son, John Jr. (Ray Milland) has traded in a recently paid off car for a new, expensive, foreign model. A showdown is in the offing between father and son, and son walks out to find his way in the world.

Mary Nash, Edward Arnold
Jenny: "Well, now that you've got it, what are you going to do with it, eat it?"

His wife Jenny (Mary Nash) has purchased a "no return" sable coat for $11,000. The last straw! A slapstick chase through the mansion culminates with the luxury item taking a header off the roof unto the head and hat of working girl Mary Smith (Jean Arthur) riding on the top of a double-decker bus.

Jean Arthur and Kismet

Honest Mary gets off the bus to find the owner and when she and J.B. meet up he insists she keep the coat, plus he buys her a matching hat. And we are off to the races. Shop owner Van Buren (Franklin Pangborn) starts the gossip down the line, and before you know it the whole town knows about a certain financier and a certain girl. Especially when Miss Smith (if that is her real name) takes up residence in the Louis Hotel.

Luis Alberni, Jean Arthur
The Imperial Suite

Mr. Louis Louis (Luis Alberni) is the owner of an extravegant hotel that has three mortgages with Mr. Ball. Mr. Ball employed Louis Louis in his former career as a chef. He was the finest cook in the world, but he wanted to be a hotelier. With all three mortgages due within a week, and armed with the news of Mr. Ball's indiscretion from Mr. Van Buren, Mr. Louis Louis installs Miss Mary Smith in his Imperial Suite. Miss Mary Smith, who lost her job for being late and wearing expensive clothes she can't explain, and not even having the wherewithal to pay her $7/wk rent, doesn't fully understand why she should live in the Imperial Suite, but it's just been that kind of day.

Surrounded by all the comforts of the moneyed, Mary is starving and takes her last remaining loose coins to the Automat. Neil Simon called the Automat "the Maxim's of the disenfranchised" which would exchange your nickels for food displayed behind a glass vending area. Mary can just afford a cup of coffee and a piece of pie.

You will never guess who is working as a bus boy at the Automat. Go ahead. Yes, it is John Ball Jr. and he has an eye for a pretty girl in a sable coat who, incongruously, is patronizing the Automat. John puts his job on the line to get a beef pie into the starving Mary.

Johnny: "By the way, I hear the beefsteak pie is magnificent. Six nickels. And with three nickels more you can get a grapefruit."

A convoluted and impractical plan is in play to get Mary a meal. John's execution of said plan didn't reckon on staff security. John looses his job in spectacular fashion. He punches the cop, starting a melee that opens the vending machines.

"Hey. Food. Food. Come on, folks. Right here for food. All free food."

"Free food!" is the rallying cry and slapstick is the order of the day.

Food is stolen. Food is eaten. Food is spilled. Food is everywhere. 

John and Mary escape into the night, with a half-eaten beef pie left to an unknown fate. The Imperial Suite of the Louis Hotel boosts five reception rooms, a kitchen with an empty fridge, and an incomprehensible bathroom. Plenty of room for soft-hearted Mary to invite the unemployed Knight of the Automat home.

Edward Arnold, Luis Alberni, Jean Arthur, Jon Picorri
Supper time

Still unaware of the beating her reputation is taking, Mary is pleasantly surprised to see the gentleman who gave her the sable coat is now staying at the hotel. J.B.'s wife has hotfooted it to Florida after their fight. John Jr. didn't return home that evening. J.B. decided to get away and have fun by hassling Louis Louis at the hotel. J.B. considers it a duty to order for Miss Smith.

Louis Louis: "Take an order. Now, I think you should have ... you should have now a little snack of lobster."

J.B. Ball: "No, no, no. Not at all. Have you any guinea hen?"

Louis Louis: "Yes."

J.B. Ball: "Breast of guinea hen on Westphalian ham. Guinea hen."

Louis Louis: "What I am thinking about. Naturally. And a little salad with orange and avocado."

J.B. Ball: "No, no. Endive and beetroot. And don't forget the truffles with the guinea hen."

Louis Louis: "Endive and beetroots? Yes, that's right, but may I make a suggestion? A little bottle of 1923 Mums, don't you think?"

J.B. Ball: "No, I do not. I think she should have George Goulet, 1919."

Louis Louis: "With guinea hen, h'mm."

J.B. Ball: "You heard me."

Louis Louis: "And a bomb surprise for the end."

Jean Arthur
Mary's gastronomic dreams come true!

Louis Louis (to Mary): "You are good and hungry now, yes?"

He said a mouthful!

While J.B. rests the peaceful sleep of a man with a clear conscience, Mary and John Jr. bond over guinea hen and truffles while making plans for their next day's job search.

Johnny: "That's one of the finest suppers I ever supped. No, that's not right. Yes, it is too. Supped."

Mary: "It's just like Arabian Nights or something, except you don't look much like Prince Charming."

The Ball Affair, as I call it, has moved beyond the word of mouth gossip stage to the must-read columnist stage. Suddenly the Hotel Louis is the place to be when you want to be seen. Nothing sells like notoriety.

Jean Arthur, Franklin Pangborn
Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.

Mary is beset by salesman; high pressure lads with luxury goods to onload. One enterprising broker asks Mary for advice from Mr. Ball on the state of steel on the stock market. Asking the only Mr. Ball she believes she knows, Mary passes on John Jr.'s offhand comment that steel will fall. NYC's third largest banker is in for quite a day when that news gets around! Gossip does more than affect personal relations, it also has a financial impact. When he can no longer look at the long faces of his worried underlings, Ball bellows: "Why don't you birds go out and eat somewhere? You too Lillian (his secretary), and get me a sandwich."

Mary Nash, Edward Arnold, Ray Milland
Sandwich and milk in hand.

Jenny returns to help her now nearly destitute hubby, and to forgive him for the indiscretion he doesn't know he committed. John Jr. rallies around with strong advice and goes to work in the family business. Mary, the unintentional creator of the tumult arrives to become the instrument of calm and order. Can the romantic ending be long in coming?

Johnny: "I've got a job!"

Mary: "Oh, Johnny!"

Johnny: "So have you."

Mary: "Well, what is it?"

Johnny: "Cooking my breakfast!"

Yes, folks. All roads lead to breakfast in the Food in Film blogathon.

Bonus picture of our stars off set. It looks like they made off with some of the props from the Automat scene. Gotta keep their energy up. Screwball comedy is a tough gig.


Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...