Friday, December 7, 2007

Vamp When Ready: Wedding Present


"Screenwriter Joseph Anthony's refusal to infuse the proceedings with anything even resembling a plot proves to be disastrous," huffs Reel Film Reviews' David Nusair in his capsule take on the Wedding Present DVD, but that's exactly the quality I loved about this 1936 film, released last year as part of a five-film box from Universal, Cary Grant: Screen Legend Collection. As part of a collection of lesser-known Grant films-- Thirty-Day Princess, Wings In Dark, Big Brown Eyes, Kiss and Make-Up-- Wedding Present offers a Grant whose star persona is still nascent, but whose talent, humor and charisma shine through, not in spite of the film's light-hearted incoherence, but precisely because of it. Freed of the obligation for narrative coherence and thematic "significance," Wedding Present offers a series of performance sketches, which allow Grant and his co-star, the delightfully game Constance [Correction-- I meant Joan Bennett, of course] Bennett, the opportunity to sing silly songs, roll one-liners off their tongues and one-up each other's slapstick. The plot, such as it is, unfolds as a series of surreal, jazzy tangents: what feels like a Front Page-style newspaper comedy quickly becomes a witty marriage comedy (standing in the hallway of the courthouse, Grant offers Bennett a vacuum cleaner like it was a box of candy), which quickly morphs into a Capraesque observation of cross-cultural exchange when Bennett and Grant go to interview a vistiting ambassador, which somehow takes us into one the 30s' favorite genres, the airplane drama. Then, we're back at the newspaper again. Ask for depth, consistency of tone, and narrative closure as your defining qualities of meaning, and you'll get stuck-- but why be a Ralph Bellamy about the proceedings? Wedding Present knows that its real purpose is to provide just enough harmonic background for its stars to riff on, reminding us that Hollywood in the 1930s was best described by French writer and journalist Blaise Cendrars; he wasn't writing about Wedding Present, but his description of a trip to that film's studio, Paramount, conveys its mood:

The studio was jammed with jazz—pianos, violins, flutes, saxophones, the clangs of a gong, brass, drums. Thousands of clustered lamps sparkled, hundreds of spotlights heaved, capsized in the distance. Above the innumerable heads of the costumed actors and extras, the giant lever for panoramic shots moved about the battens in the loft, swinging Robert Z. Leonard, director of this admirable production honoring the cinema, his cameramen, and his team of helpers and electricians in tubs suspended in midair.

12 comments:

Jonathan Lapper said...

This is actually how many thirties comedies were, or I should say one of two ways: Either over-plotted and or not plotted at all. And that's why I love 'em. You got the feel of this one right and not to be a pesky know-it-all but I believe it is Constance's sister Joan with Cary in this one. Constance and Cary would make Topperthe very next year, a personal favorite. And no matter who the Bennett, they were all beautiful (but Constance the most).

Cinephile said...

Jonathan--
Aargh! That'll teach me to double-check on IMDb. I'd already returned the disc to netflix, so didn't have it by me to double-check. Thanks for the catch. And I agree with you about thirties comedies.

Larry Aydlette said...

Phile: Did you watch "Thirty-Day Princess"? I thought that was really good, an underrated Grant gem.

Cinephile said...

Larry,
Not yet, but it's in my netflix queue (along with the other films in the box), and I'm looking forward to it. Grant is my all-time favorite movie star, and I'll watch anything-- great, good, bad or mediocre-- that he's in, just out of curiosity.

Jonathan Lapper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Lapper said...

Brian,
Uh... you should check out Larry's site. I gather from the non-chalance of your reply that you have not. I don't think he wants it advertised, judging from his first post. But since he commented here I thought you should go see.

Cinephile said...

Hey Jonathan,
It took me a minute to figure out what you meant, as I roamed around Larry's site-- then I looked at the coments section. I had no idea that it was who it was (as you say, I don't know if he wants it advertised), but thank you for helping me realize it, and I'm on my way over there now to comment.

And Larry-- if you are reading this, I love the new site! Great Edward Hopper vid, and I'm definitely going to update my links.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I noticed you asked Larry about the header and Dennis appeared to have the same problem. I design new headers and replace them on my page about once a week and I've never had a problem. Are you loading them from your hard drive or online? Mine all come from the hard drive (logically, since they're self-designed) so maybe the problem is that they're coming from online. Of course that wouldn't account for Dennis' problem as his is designed as well. Anyway, just curious.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Oh and I noticed Larry commented about your name. I hope I haven't been thoughtless all this time calling you "Brian" if you choose to only be known as "Cinephile." I will happily stop if you prefer.

Cinephile said...

Hi Jonathan,
No, that's cool-- you can call me whatever you want. Thanks for the advice about header images-- I am loading from the hard drive, but it still doesn't seem to want to go, despite trying several different images. Hmmm...

Cinephile said...

Just figured it out-- I had to load it in firefox, rather than safari, and then it went up right away.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Houston we have a banner.