Friday, October 15, 2010

Three Underrated Pictures: Meet the Baron

I like to watch a lot of old moves, especially from the '30s, '40s, and '50s. A lot are classics, a lot are overrated, and a lot just didn't age well. So I see a lot of stuff, but rarely get surprised. Here are three that surprised me.

Meet the Baron was designed as a showcase for radio comedian Jack Pearl, whose "Baron Munchhausen" character was the hit of the airwaves. Unfortunately for him, the showcase was MGM, which as I've said, became the burial ground for a lot of great comedians (Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, and eventually the Marx Brothers).

To its credit, MGM went all out with ta bog production and a great cast. The cast includes Jimmy Durante, Edna Mae Oliver, Zazu Pitts, and of course, Ted Healy and his Three Stooges. It's the latter trio who are now given top billing on the DVD.

That shouldn't put off Stooges fans. Moe, Larry, and Curly get plenty of good scenes, at least enough to fill up a good short, and there's plenty else to watch when they're not around, especially the jaw-dropping "Clean as a Whistle" scene, maybe the height of pre-Hays code licentiousness.

The comedy, overall, isn't brilliant. MGM never seemed to be able to distinguish "zany" from "wacky," or even "silly," but the bubbling escapist enthusiasm of the film wins you over. Things move quickly, and there's no interruption by a "serious" song or romantic duo. There is a romance, but in an admirable departure, it's between the title character and Zazu Pitts. Pitts, who is quite funny, shows she can also be serious without breaking character. Pearl, however, cannot be serious. He can't even break character, which you sometimes wish he would. That accent can drive you nuts.

I don't mean to sour anyone on this. It's just too lighthearted and well produced to dislike. A must for anyone who likes '30s character comedy.

The original trailer:


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