Looking Backward: Comrade X (1940)

5 May

“Can two reporters, one Nazi, one American, share a hotel room…without driving each other crazy?”

Or that was going to my opener to Comrade X until Sig Rumann disappeared two minutes later, not to return for like 40 minutes…

Comrade X (1940)

…only to return to play with Homolka’s new fancy radio…

Anyhow, I quite enjoyed this little just-pre-America-joins-the-war tribute to “hot dogs, two-pants suits and the home of the brave,” particularly the would-be pimpernellity of Gable’s cad/secret hero; much more Journalistic Action (where did that genre go?) than Ninotchka’s romcom, so not the complete knockoff I feared at all. Also fascinated by the ideal-vs.-real dissection of Soviet Russia which is, yes, wildly oversimplified, but still more to chew on than your average Gable flick. Things got a little “active” for me in Act III, my code for the common problem of “character, schmaracter: bring on the car chase,” which we would do well to remember isn’t an exclusive failing of modern cinema but something that the Beloved Golden Era was, though less saturated with, still prone to as well. Still: fun, and the specifics of the “ripped from today’s headlines” films of another era are always eye-opening, regardless of accuracy.

And never can enough be said about Felix “Gorky, Schmorky!” Bressart, one of those character faces that’s always a pleasure to see. (I paused this as we watched it over the Homolka/Bressart/Arden title card to mention unnecessarily to my wife that Gable and Lamarr are all very well, but these were the people that made me want to watch this.) I only wish Bressart had lived long enough for someone to do the equivalent of an Ikiru or even a Harry & Tonto for him. In my mind there’s a nonexistent screen play for a period picture about the declining days of the Yiddish theatre in America and an actor aging out of his usefulness. A man can dream.

Eve Arden in "Comrade X" trailer

I’m just as upset as you are,

(Footnote: in my dotage, I seem to be developing kind of a thing for young Eve Arden. I know, it’s a surprise to me as well and not a little upsetting. She’s Principal McGee to my generation! But I’m a second-banana myself; it’s only logical that I should find the Eve Ardens appealing. Sassy Wiseacres with a brow permanently arched…what’s a fellow to do?

She’s also one of a subset of actors I’ve always admired as Putters-Over. They can take substandard comic material and make you believe that anything, done properly, can work. These people are seldom superstars (there’s something about amount of exposure that makes this quality difficult to extend – it’s purely math – but Bob Hope and Burt Reynolds are good examples who at their best come close), but I think Bea Arthur had this, Roy Kinnear, Gene Wilder, Edward Everett Horton, Joan Blondell and, yes, her Grease comrade, Eve Arden. There are others and I wish I could explain this quality more thoroughly, but it takes watching a lot of their work to gauge it.)

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One Response to “Looking Backward: Comrade X (1940)”

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  1. DVR Alert: To Be or Not to Be(1942) | I Humbly Suggest... - June 23, 2013

    […] it. A magnificent character actor, not exclusively but usually comic. I’ve noted his magic before, but I just took a cursory spin past his IMDB page and seem to have seen something 15 of his […]

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