Thursday, November 21, 2013

Aggie Appleby, Maker of Men

Back in the 1930s, it was quite common to make breezy little movies that, when they show up on TCM nowadays, would fit in a 75-minute time slot. Many of them are B movies where, when I see the names of them on the schedule, I find myself asking, "Have I seen that before? It looks as though it might be familiar." And then, there are the more memorable movies. A movie that fits into the latter category is Aggie Appleby, Maker of Men. It's getting an all-too-infrequent airing on TCM tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

Aggie, played by Wynne Gibson, is a waitress living with, but not married to Red Branahan (William Gargan). There's no way they could get away with that a year later when the Production Code started being enforced, but here you are. Red is a petty criminal, and quickly runs into trouble when he gets into a fight with a couple of policemen. Red ends up in prison, and Aggie ends up jobless and unable to pay the rent. Aggie doesn't know what to do, so she goes to see her best friend Sibby (Zasu Pitts). She works as a maid, and she knows a client whose apartment is currently not being used. Aggie can crash there for a bit while she gets her life back on track.

Except, of course, that the apartment isn't vacant. It's being rented by a guy named Adoniram Schlump, nicknamed Schlumpy and played by Charles Farrell. He's the polar opposite of Red. Schlumpy claims to be from upstate and from a well-to-do family with a girlfriend and a snobby aunt, and is definitely not cut out for the big city, being as unable to get a job as Aggie. Schlumpy lets Aggie stay with him based on her lying about her circumstances, and in exchange she turns him into a man. Unfortunatetly, the man she turns him into is Red Branahan, at least outwardly. Still, it's a successful transformation, as he's able to get a good construction job and falls in love with Aggie.

There's a problem, which is that both main characters have people in their past, and you know that those characters are going to show up. Schlumpy's girlfriend Evangline (Betty Furness) and aunt Katherine come for a visit. More problematic is that the real Red has been released from prison, unbeknownst to Aggie. He's not going to be happy that she apparently has another man, even though she's been spurning Schlumpy's advances since she had lied to him about her past. Worse is that he's not going to be happy that somebody else has taken his identity!

Aggie Appleby, Maker of Men is in many ways a typical pre-Code programmer. The studio wasn't trying to make a prestige movie here, just something to fill the bill for theaters to have product to push. You also know that the movie is going to resolve itself with a happy ending. In that regard, it's by no means the world's greatest movie: other 1933 product like Dinner at Eight and Gold Diggers of 1933 sparkle by comparison. Yet with all those limitations, it's still a lot of fun, rising well above all those other programmers.

As far as I am aware, Aggie Appleby, Maker of Men is not available on DVD.

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