Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Petticoat Fever (1936)



“You don’t suppose his feverish condition is due to his being wonky over women?”


            Like pretty much all the screwball comedies to come out of the 1930s Petticoat Fever has a man falling head over heels for a woman he has just met and for a while the woman keeps her distance until the man becomes irresistible but by the time she comes around to the man something or someone such as another comes and gets in the way. The only difference with this film is the main character has a very good reason for chasing after a woman he has just met.
            Ever since his ex-fiancée left him two years ago Dascom Dinsmore (Robert Montgomery) has been living in Labrador, Alaska surrounded all year by freezing cold snow and wicked winds. He makes his living as a wireless operator with the only other human contact he makes besides the natives is a crewmember of a ship that he messages a game of checkers with. The one thing Dascom desperately misses is women.  Sure there are female Eskimos but he dreams of gorgeous English women.
            Luck comes in for Dascom when a plane carrying a very pretty English lady crashes in the tundra after running out of gas. The pretty lady’s name is Irene Campion (Myrna Loy). Unfortunately she was traveling with her fiancé Sir James Felton. As soon Irene walks through the door Dascom is love struck he keeps pestering her and looking at her and anxiously waiting on her hand and foot. At first Irene is a bit peeved but eventually she just realizes that Dascom is harmless since he has not seen a woman in so long a time.
            Sir James is not at all thrilled with Dascom constantly following Irene around like a love sick little boy. He tries to bribe an Eskimo to take him and Irene to a mission to marry them and then they can be off but that plan goes to nothing since the Eskimos are in with Dascom with trying to keep Irene with him. Irene becomes very smitten with Dascom and at one point agrees to stay with him and leave Sir James. But in comes the complication when Dascom’s ex- fiancée walks in telling him she is madly in love with him still.
            I am sure you can imagine the ending since this is a screwball/romantic comedy and Robert Montgomery and Myrna Loy were the stars.
            I did enjoy Myrna Loy and Robert Montgomery in the film but there were times that I felt there was very little chemistry between them. Loy could have chemistry with a pole if she had to she knew how to mold her acting styles to the actor she was with: she was sophisticated with William Powell and tough with Clark Gable. Robert Montgomery was both sophisticated and very silly and times it seemed Loy did not know what to do. Both of them handled their own characters and each other’s characters with great delicacy. Without their delicacy they could have made brought their characters over the top. Montgomery no matter what the comedic situation called for always brought his characters to the point of going over the top but never went there, he was always very well controlled and this worked perfectly in the film.
            Reginald Owen was a panic as Sir James. His character could have come off as annoying but he was perfect. You just laugh at his annoyance over Dascom the whole time.
            They had two very cute scenes together: Irene needed to go to the plane to get her jewelry so Dascom takes her. He notices a polar bear outside but he casually tells her to the point where she does not believe it until she sees it for herself. She jumps into his arms and every time she moves from them he scratches the roof making it seem as if the polar bear was trying to get in. The other scene is when Sir James tells Irene to keep his gun pointed at Dascom while he goes and gets their bags so they can leave. The whole time she is pointing the gun at him he cutely tells her that he loves her and makes her laugh and then of course they kiss (the kiss was not sexy but adorable because they were just adorable people).
            One of the many things I love about 1930s screwball comedies is how the dialogue keeps you on your toes. One of the best lines comes from Myrna Loy because it is a line that only she could deliver without batting an eye that is funny and sarcastic: “I always wanted to irritate an Eskimo.” Just imagine Myrna Loy saying this line and you will think it is funny. I cannot remember the situation that prompted her character to say that but I was just laughing. Robert Montgomery had me laughing when Sir James told him not to make a peep or he would shoot him in the knee and he responds by saying peep.
            Petticoat Fever is a funny film. I really enjoyed how the plot of boy chases girl was not set in some nightclub or around a rich crowd but out in the middle of nowhere where nerves and every emotion can be tested.
Bob & Myrna