Thursday, March 6, 2008

Guy Kibbee birthday

Guy Kibbee, 1882-1956
Guy Kibbee, 1882-1956

TCM spent the better part of this morning and afternoon celebrating the birthday of Guy Kibbee by showing a mini-marathon of his lesser-known movies. Kibbee was a character actor who played all sorts of older male roles, from a convict in the Errol Flynn movie Captain Blood, to a dirty old man producer in the classic muscial 42nd Street, to a pool player turned society judge in Lady For a Day, to a frontier doctor in Of Human Hearts with James Stewart. But I'd like to recommend two of his movies that are available on DVD:

Gold Diggers of 1933. In this movie, Kibbee plays a man with money whom a group of down and out Broadway performers hope will finance their musical. Kibbee himself does a more than adequate job, and the plot isn't that bad, but this movie is more about the musical numbers of Busby Berkeley. Berkeley's style first came to prominence with the aforementioned 42nd Street, but the numbers in Gold Diggers of 1933 are much more elaborate and interesting: in the opening "Dance of the Dollars", a group of chorus girls sing "We're in the Money" with giant gold dollars serving as a sort of codpiece. If that's not enough, the "Dance of the Dollars" also has Ginger Rogers singing a verse -- in pig latin! (This alone would be worth the price of admission.) Then there's the two numbers at the end; the first involves an elaborate choreographing of neon violins, as well as enormous staircases that curve in manifold ways; this is followed by the "Song of the Forgotten Man", which is tacked on to provide a social message at the beginning of the New Deal.

Earthworm Tractors. In this silly B-comedy, the star is Joe E. Brown, who was best known for his broad facial expressions that he used to good effect in a series of B comedies for Warner Bros. in the 1930s; Brown also played the millionaire who fell in love with Jack Lemmon in Some Like it Hot. Brown plays a man who claims he can sell anything, and winds up working as a salesman for the Earthworm Tractor Co., trying to sell tractors to the rural folk of Mississippi. Guy Kibbee is one of them; although the plot is well-suited to kids, it's a lot of fun to watch Kibbee and Brown try to handle out-of-control farm equipment. It's typical of the double-bills of the era: a movie about 70 minutes with lesser stars that has the obvious look of lower production values than the "prestige" movies -- but one which is still quite entertaining.

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