Sunday, February 19, 2023

Top Speed

One of the movies that's been on my DVR for a while that I'm surprised never seemed to make its way to either the Warner Archive or one of those old four-film box sets they used to put out is the early Joe E. Brown movie Top Speed. Recently, I got around to watching it in full; as I mentioned ages ago I came across the end of the movie on TCM one time and immediately recognized Brown and his facial antics.

Brown plays Elmer Peters, who works at a clerk of sorts at a stock brokerage. He's not pulling down the big bucks but instead filling orders for the people who make the big money. He and his friend and co-worker Gerald Brooks (Jack Whiting) decide to go on vacation somewhere. But Elmer makes a mistake by going fishing in a land management area where fishing is forbidden for various reasons. This gets a sheriff on his case, and Elmer and Gerald have to escape, to a resort that they clearly can't afford and have had to scrimp and scrape for.

As a result, they have to pass themselves off as wealthier than they are which isn't that difficult to do since they can claim to be stockbrokers. They get to the resort more or less at the right time to help a couple of nice girls out. Virginia Rollins (Bernice Claire) is looking to meet up with her father, and taking her friend Babs Green (Laura Lee) along for the ride. However, they develop trouble with their car. Elmer takes them to the resort, but the two girls don't have a room, so they take Elmer and Gerald's room.

Meanwhile, both young men develop various problems in their lives. Elmer already has the sheriff on his tail, but he's also got some bonds on him that he's supposed to deliver for a client. By this time, his boss back in the big city has figured out that the bonds have gone missing, and will be alerting the law. If Elmer can't find the actual physical bonds, he's going to be in big trouble.

As for Gerald, he passes himself off as somebody who can drive a boat, impressing Virginia's father. Her dad has been thinking of entering his boat in a race, but the owner of the other boat is trying to get the driver to throw the race. Gerald takes over, but that other owner discovers that Gerald is just a lowly clerk instead of an upper-class stock broker who can take time off to do gentlemenly things like race boats.

In and among all this, some of the characters sing a song or two and do a dance or two, but that's where Top Speed shows some of its problems. I've mentioned a couple of times on this blog in conjunction with musicals released before 42nd Street that those early musicals were creaky, to the point that the musical became relative box office poison. Some of the musical numbers in those movies are incredibly static. Top Speed was originally conceived as a musical, and actually started off on Broadway as a musical. But with the decreasing popularity of the genre, Warner Bros. decided to cut some of the musical numbers, leading to some obvious and very clumsy cuts.

The disparate plots also don't always gel, either, and the Laura Lee character gets one extended scene where she engages in one of those comedies of lies that I am generally not a fan of. So Top Speed is an interesting artifact of the early sound era, but it's not exactly the greatest movie. Fans of Joe E. Brown's antics may like it, but there are other of his movies that I'd definitely recommend before this one.

No comments: