Sunday, August 14, 2011

No Time For Comedy (1940)

“I write plays.”
“Er, yes, I have a hobby, too. What I meant was, what do you do for a living?”
“Write plays. Anything wrong?”

            No Time For Comedy captured my interest from its title and the pairing of its stars the very versatile and funny Rosalind Russell and James Stewart. I had a feeling this would be a comedy of sorts and it is. I did not know what to expect from the film especially from the pairing because I am now in the habit of associating Rosalind Russell with comedy and James Stewart either with an “aw-shucks,” wholesome kind of character or dark and twisty (thank you Hitchcock).
            A new play is about to open on Broadway starring successful stage actress Linda Paige (Rosalind Russell). The play is about Park Avenue society. Linda, the director Morgan Carrell, and the backer walk into a bar and do not look too thrilled about the third act of the play. They feel the third act will tank the whole show. Back at rehearsal a tall, skinny, nerdy looking guy walks backstage. No one believes that Gaylord “Gay” Esterbrook (James Stewart) is the writer of the play. He does not look like a guy who could have written about New York high society. Finally someone recognizes him and lets him into the theater to watch the rehearsals. Gay sits in the theater seats when Linda comes to watch from the seats as well. At first she thinks he is part of the crew asks him to get her cigarettes. But then someone mentions that Gay is the writer and Linda feels a little embarrassed. The two get along well and she even takes him on the subway because she is afraid he will not last against cranky New Yorkers pushing and shoving their way home during rush hour.
            The next night Gay is invited to dinner with Linda, Morgan, and the backer. The dinner does not go over too well. The backer first says he will back the play but then recants and pulls out of the play. Gay does not know about the decision so Linda pulls the cast together and asks them to go without pay until money comes in from the play and they all do.
            After the play finishes Linda walks with Gay through Central Park to calm his nerves. They wait in the park until morning to read the play reviews in the morning paper. The reviews for Gay’s play are great they are filled with nothing but praise especially for the third act. Linda has come to love Gay for his small town boyishness and his sweetness. In the park she asks in so many ways for Gay to marry her. He is a bunch of nerves between the play and Linda being so nice to him. Gay and Linda marry and in the next three years Gay has written three more successful plays and all starring Linda.
            Gay is no longer the small town boy of the beginning of the film. He is now a drunk sophisticate who goes on binges when he is writing plays. He and Linda are still happily married living in a nice house outside of the city. At a party one night Gay meets a woman who tells him that she has the ability to draw out a powerful latent talent he has inside him. He is enthralled by this woman because she is appealing to his want to write a serious play. Linda does not like this woman but she is never cruel to her. Gay’s involvement with this woman begins to threaten his marriage with Linda.
            Now for the pairing of Russell and Stewart may seem a bit odd and it is but somehow it works. I have noticed in the few films I have seen Russell in that she tends to dominate the other actors/characters. Maybe this is just my observation but I see her kind of domination as her standing out as a good actress. Her dominance is never overbearing it is just stand out. But in No Time For Comedy Russell was not dominant she played her role just right. There were many scenes that I feel if any other actress had been playing them they would have been over dramatic and not have been sympathetic and caring enough. Near the end Linda and the woman Gay has been with confront each other. Russell kept the character cool in this situation and by doing this she made the character more sympathetic. I find that I am more sympathetic towards a wronged character (mostly it is with female characters) if they can keep calm and much of that is left up to how the actress/actor plays their character. Also near the end Gay is just insulting her after she has told him how he feels about the woman he is always hanging around with and she does not lose it at all but she does not really take it either. I really gained a new admiration and respect for Rosalind Russell in this film. James Stewart I felt was really good here. I am a sucker for seeing actors step out of their comfort zone or playing a character people are not used to seeing. I liked seeing a mean, drunken Stewart who at the end realizes he has done something really stupid. Russell and Stewart were great together although I do have to say there really was no chemistry between them.
            I have to give a great amount of mention to the actress Louise Beavers for playing the actress/Esterbrook maid Clementine. The character was hysterical and Beavers was excellent. She had so many funny lines and moments it is hard just to name one. Some of her lines come fast so listen closely if you ever see this film.
            The film was written by Jilius and Philip Epstein who would go on to write Casablanca. The serious play Gay wants to write is about all the injustices going on in the world with WWII having been underway in Europe for the past year. The brothers would write Casablanca in the same vain the following year showing the injustices and the plight of refuges trying to get out of Europe. It seems the war in Europe was very much on the minds of the Epstein brothers.
            No Time For Comedy is a very good film and one that is excellently acted by the whole cast. I would not say the story is one of the best ever but it is good and helped very much by Rosalind Russell and James Stewart in the leads as well as a few of the supporting cast members. This is a film that should be watched by classic film fans.
            No Time For Comedy is not available on DVD or to view on youtube. TCM recently aired the film so keep your eye out for it on their programming schedule.