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The Housekeeper's Daughter (1941)
Topic Started: Feb 25 2018, 05:24 PM (173 Views)
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The Housekeeper's Daughter (1939) Dir. Hal Roach
80 min. / B&W / 1.37:1

One of a trio of feature comedies from Roach’s United Artists feature years (1938-1941), now available from VCI in a DVD called "Hal Roach Forgotten Comedies"

By the mid-1930s the double-feature was supplanting the bevy of short subjects that had been accompanying the features, and Roach was intent on becoming a major producer of independent features—which MGM wasn’t interested in: they had their own production units and wanted to keep Roach in shorts (so to speak), but there wasn’t enough money in those two-reelers to keep the Roach unit afloat. United Artists, meanwhile, was suffering from financial problems, too: they didn’t have enough product to release, so luring Roach (and his biggest stars, Laurel & Hardy) into the fold was a major coup for the company that had been founded in the silent era to distribute independent pictures from Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks.

With much ballyhoo, the first Roach/UA feature, There Goes My Heart, was released in October, 1938, a romantic comedy with Virginia Bruce and Fredric March, directed by Norman Z. McLeod – and should’ve been called There Goes the Audience. Thankfully for Roach, the next one was money in the bank: Topper Takes a Trip, reuniting Constance Bennett with Roland Young (but without Cary Grant). The intention was to follow that up with the first UA Laurel & Hardy feature, but Stan Laurel and Hal Roach had irreconcilable differences (that were later reconciled) and so for the first and only time we got the comedy team of Harry Langdon and Oliver Hardy in Zenobia, a massive flop and a movie so bad it’s become a legend in the hallowed halls of comedy history. Next up was the historical adventure film Captain Fury, which did good business, and which brings us up to the first film of this DVD’s comic trilogy.

Joan Bennett is sick to death of boyfriend/gangster Marc Lawrence and so goes home to mom, a live-in housekeeper to a wealthy family that’s away for the summer. Only the grown son, John Hubbard, who wants to be a crime reporter, has stayed behind and when one of the gangster’s other girlfriends ends up dead, Miss Bennett, Mr. Hubbard, Adolphe Menjou as a drunken over-the-hill reporter, and George E. Stone as a mentally-challenged flower peddler/serial killer tangle with each other.

Story-wise rather a mess, the result no doubt of four (credited, there were probably more) writers struggling to adapt a not-all-that-good novel by Donald Henderson Clarke. The film works thanks to the amiable and unflappable Joan Bennett, tongue in cheek as the body count escalates and a nice change of pace from the usual screaming ingénues, and would-be tough guy Victor Mature in his film debut. Unfortunately, the film drops dead along with much of its cast whenever George E. Stone’s serial killer pops up. Still, it’s the best and most entertaining of the three films in the set, and one of the better movies Roach would make for UA.

"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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