Monday, September 8, 2014

Speak Easily (1932)

In Speak Easily, we meet Buster Keaton as a precise, bland, and lonely professor, who, tragically, wears a ridiculously ugly pair of spectacles ... and seems to need to walk with his head tipped up to keep them on.  Despite these limitations, when he learns he's inherited a large sum of money, our Prof has enough sense to run off and indulge in all that life has to offer. And, happily, that involves a train. Although the first 10 minutes of this film do drag, and it is hard to figure out where we're going or whether you should stick with it, if you do (stick with it) long enough, you are rewarded with Keaton on a train, Keaton with a baby, Keaton in an apt with a hot chick and, eventually, Keaton in a stage show.

And yes, it is probably worth it.

Although there are times where Buster's subtle style gets overwhelmed by the loud antics of co-star Jimmy Durante, the movie is probably one of their better collaborations. I found myself enjoying Durante's singing and jokes, and the light easy tone of the stage production that forms the central plot.

So, on to that "plot" thing, though I'm not sure it matters so much how we get there, we ultimately end up with a show of dancers in a New York stage production with the Professor as their backer. There is a sweet and lovely dancer called Pansy that Buster meets and follows, as well as a sexpot named Eleanor -- a gold digger who throws herself at the Prof when everyone learns he's loaded (with cash, that is; though, honestly, given that this is 1932, I imagine Keaton is probably loaded with alcohol as well.) And speaking of that kind of loaded, that is what the Professor and Eleanor do next at her apartment. Right here, see, the film starts to get more interesting.

There is some excellent stuff in the apartment, including great falls and a hilarious manhandling of the floppy drunk woman, all of which Keaton does so convincingly, you wonder if he had some life experience to draw upon. . . hmmm, but I digress.

Back to the plot. Unfortunately, it turns out the Prof doesn't really have an inheritance, and all seems lost, with him unable to back the show. But when an officer shows up on opening night ready to collect cash that is owed, the crew finagles a way and the show goes on.  The real fun comes when the Prof inadvertently turns the show into a comedy -- by crashing around the stage and cracking everyone up with his earnest attempts to smooth out production issues.  With Durante's help, they turn the performance into an uproarious hit and all ends well with the show getting sold for $100,000 and Pansy and the Prof coming to a right understanding.

All in all this film is very typical of the MGM era work in most respects. It is reasonably good, very amusing at times, though not tight, exciting, or especially creative.  And Speak Easily is that much the better for the industry's having finally figured out this 'sound' thing fairly well. In fact, I never noticed anything about the quality or condition of the sound itself during this film. And that is a blessing. The flow of the film was pretty nice and the chemistry all around was good. So, why didn't I rate it higher? To me it is just a solid "6.0"  I don't know. The whole thing just felt rather dull. I never became invested in what happened to anyone. I watched it, even enjoyed it, but never felt engaged with it, as had been the case with Parlor Bedroom and Bath when I re-watched it a week ago and gave it a 6.5, despite its flaws, for that reason.

In any case, I am mainly thrilled to report that this entry represents my final review of Keaton's MGM-era work and I'm DONE with having to think about this somewhat melancholy time for a while. ... And, I think that also means its time to turn back the clock and look at some of his "real" work. I can't wait, because I'm seriously ready to look at some 10s!