Monday, January 10, 2011

Love Crazy (1941)

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Including all the Thin Man movies, I'm now 11 Loy-Powell movies richer; I'm a fan. Not since Astaire-Rogers have I been this smitten with a pair of superstars. What else I've seen includes the five movies available in Warner's TCM Spotlight collection: Manhattan Melodrama, Evelyn Prentice, Double Wedding, I Love You Again, and Love Crazy. There's not a bad one in the bunch, but I recommend watching them in that order, because I think that's how I'd rank them, from least to best. Manhattan Melodrama and Evelyn Prentice are good dramas with characters that are easy to care for—with the former having Clark Gable to boot—and while Powell and Loy are excellent, the Warner box says it right: comedies are their mainstay. Which brings me to Love Crazy, a delightful screwball that, dare I say, may be one of the best comedies out there.

I always seem to have problems with comedies. Maybe I'm too picky, but I feel like comedies must be hard to make, since I rarely find one that doesn't require me to force out a chuckle; it seems so hard to find one where you're actually stifling back laughs and struggling to breath. In fact, as I sit here trying to think of a comedy that's had me in stitches, I find I can't recall any at the moment*. What does come to mind are those comedies that, while funny, aren't shall I say, laugh out loud funny. I always think of Some Like It Hot or Dr. Strangelove—classic comedies that are fun and amusing, but nevertheless fail to make me laugh out loud beyond an admittedly forced chuckle. With Dr. Strangelove, it's really only George C. Scott that makes me come close; I think Strangelove is of the intellectual kind of humor. It's a black comedy where you need to know what's going on and be in on the joke; it's a bit too pessimistic and knowing. I guess you could say Dr. Strangelove makes me laugh from the brain, not the gut.

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*I've thought of two: Modern Times and City Lights; the boxing scene in the latter—perfect.

As much as I like watching all the middle-aged male idiots panic in Dr. Strangelove, it's not really my idea of comedy. Or rather, it's not comedy from the gut, like Chaplin movies are. Enter Love Crazy, an aptly titled, perfectly crazy movie that doesn't hold back. The basic premise is William Powell and Myrna Loy are happily married until Loy believes Powell has cheated on her with an ex-girlfriend. Loy files for divorce, and Powell pretends to be insane to delay the proceedings.

I think what makes Love Crazy so funny is that it commits to going over the top—something we should expect from any screwball. There are so many I-can't-believe-that-just-happened moments and there isn't a scene that falls flat. Too often, I find a comedy just runs out of steam, but Love Crazy keeps the momentum going, partly because it doesn't bog itself down in sentimentality. William Powell really keeps things moving, and the premise gives him plenty of opportunities to do so. As soon as we hear he can stave off the divorce by acting crazy, we know we're in for a treat. Letting an actor do this brings to mind the old kid-in-the-candy-store adage. Powell has a kind of carte blanche to become as zany as he wants and to disregard acting realistic. Granted, he's still tied to the script and the character, but he's got more flexibility in how he expresses himself.

The funniest moments, I think, are when we see Powell's character trying to convince all the psychiatrists that he's not crazy; he only wants the judge to think he's crazy, not the whole world. Anybody familiar with psychology is well aware of how sticky the insanity label is: suddenly, every action, no matter how normal or abnormal is a characteristic of the patient's insanity. The movie kind of thumbs its nose at this. Indeed, Powell and Loy are probably the most sensible people; they know Powell's antics aren't signs of insanity.

And Powell's antics are the highlight of the movie, whether it's freeing guests' top hats into the pool or scurrying around his own apartment building hiding from the police in a Ms. Doubtfiresque getup. Of course, it's a joy to see Myrna Loy engaging in equally hair-brained schemes like trying to teach her husband a lesson by kissing a total stranger. That stranger, Ward Willoughby (Jack Carson), figures prominently later on as a second love interest. Carson does a fine job of being someone we thoroughly dislike and it's a delight to see him mistaken for a patient because of his, uh, air bow-and-arrowing.

Love Crazy, to me, is pure comedy; it's unadulterated by heavy sentimentality or inhibition. Above all, it consistently commits to making us laugh. I could go on, but Love Crazy isn't a movie that demands or even wants analysis. Simply, it's a movie to be delighted by for an hour and a half. It shouldn't be missed.


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