(This post is part of this weekend’s What A Character! blogathon – click the link above for more details about the splendid hosts and participants.)
It is not easy to do what he does. To be able to play essentially the same character regardless of the situation or surroundings is seen by some as a lack of range. Which is in a way true – I don’t suppose anyone would expect a Macbeth or a Vanya out of Edward Everett Horton (though now that I say that, I’d pay to see both of those) – but range isn’t everything. There’s also depth to be considered.
Not the “depth” people gush about when discussing the Oscar-worthiness of a nice, bleak performance that features a lot of snotty weeping. But the depth of a Persona that one knows the back roads of so intimately that again, regardless of the situation or surroundings, one can find a place for it anywhere.
Edward Everett Horton, if each character actor of his ilk could be blithely renamed like a Deadly Sin or a Disney Dwarf, was Fussy.
In modern comic terms, he’s often described as “effeminate,” but I’d argue more for “effete,” which is splitting verbal hairs a bit, but is important to getting this right. Effeminate in the sense of “man behaving in a manner that is what one associates with a woman,” which is a possibility here, I guess, but “effete” holds a sense of pampered, infertile, non-threatening that has less to do with being Woman-ed than with being Un-manned. The difference being between, say, a kind of flamboyance that one associates with a Franklin Pangborn, whose persona is undoubtedly more aggressively “effeminate” and a Horton, whose persona, to me is less about gender roles and expectation and more about being an officious stick-in-the-mud.
One of my favorite of his performances – though I’m happy to see him wherever he turns up – is in Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here, one of my personal desert-island-five for reasons of comfort and association if not actual quality. Mr. Potter, the affluent and pinch-mouthed old prude, affable to individuals but disapproving of anything that isn’t aggressively normal, who orders lemonade at a nightclub and feels that if a ballroom dancing couple aren’t married “there ought to be a law” yet still falls into a lets-call-it-Near-Dalliance with Carmen Miranda is to me the…well, if you read that sentence, you’ve pretty much got a handle on the Horton persona.
(To reflect in adulthood that he’s often partnered in that particular film with a freewheeling, slang-slinging, party-throwing Eugene Pallette and then consider which of them was in real life a right-wing loony with an apocalypse fortress and which of them lived comfortably with a Longtime Companion, as they said back then, is at least mildly entertaining.)
Which reminds me, apropos of very little, but this is about my entertainment as much as yours after all, of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I did an adaptation of it a few years ago and got to thinking about what a perfect WWII-era Fox musical it would’ve made. It never happened, and I doubt anyone will ever pay for the staging of a Shakespeare set in an imaginary Movie-Latin Illyria just for my personal shits/giggles, but nonetheless. So if you’re someone who revels in the fact that some scriptwriters are better than others, but that a good cast can do anything, let’s muse for a moment about a prospective Dramatis Personae*:
Musical settings by Benny Goodman.
Tell me you wouldn’t be happy to sit through this.
*Gibberish to many scholars, no doubt, but readers of this blogathon will, I hope, appreciate the care that went into the above.