Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Connecticut Yankee (1931)

I went into watching A Connecticut Yankee thinking it would just be a comedy with some funny lines but be a bit boring. I really did not know what to expect with this film because I never saw Will Rogers in a film before and I figured Myrna Loy (if you follow this blog at all you should know she is the reason I even sat to watch it) and Maureen O’Sullivan would be in it for like five minutes out of the whole thing if that at all. Five minutes into the film I was hooked I found Rogers so funny and as the film went on he just got funnier.
            Hank Martin (Rogers) is a radio host and electrician. He is asked by the man who lives in an old mansion on top of the hill to come and help him. Hank’s assistant refuses to go because, as he said, he was already up there four times that week and the house scares him plus it is storming out. Hank gets a little scared driving up to the house as well and becomes even more so when he enters the mansion. He is brought upstairs by a butler but is stopped in the hallway by a frightened young girl (Maureen O’Sullivan) who says that a woman is trying to kill and she has to hide. When the girl disappears Hank hears a noise coming from a suit of armor. A young man is in the suit he is looking for the girl that just ran past him. Before he can take another step a mysterious looking woman (Myrna Loy) comes to him also looking for the girl. She tells him not to be afraid of her and to look into her eyes and tell him where the girl went. He does not tell her and she too runs off.
            Hank is brought into a room with all sorts of radio equipment. He is introduced to the inventor and master of the house. The inventor has been trying to make a machine work that will be able to pick up white noise from history such as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and other historical moments. Hank gets the machine working and it does seem for a moment as if the inventor has picked up on the past with King Arthur and his knights. Hank backs out slowly from the room but before he can get out a door swings open sending a suit of armor tumbling down upon him.
            When Hank comes to he is sitting against a wall with a man in a suit of armor on horseback poking him. He has been knocked back to the year 528 where King Arthur is ruler of England. He is brought in front of the King as well as Merlin. The knight who caught Hank tells the King that he looked high and low for him and had to poke him out of a tree. Merlin and the King believe Hank knows black magic. Playing a long Hank pulls out his lighter says a few words over it and lights it. Merlin convinces the King to have Hank burned at the stake the next day for his black magic. In a little pocket book his pulls out Hank finds a list of years eclipses have occurred. He asked his fellow prisoner Emile what day it is and finds that the eclipse is supposed to happen the following day. Hank comes up with a plan to get him and Emile, or Clarence as he as renamed the young man because he looks like a girl, away from the castle. Unfortunately Merlin talks the King into killing the two prisoners that day. When Hank gets to the stake a man tells him what the day is and it is the day of eclipse Clarence got the date wrong. Hank pretends he is causing the eclipse and scares the King and people into letting him go. The King knights Hank simply as The Boss after he made the eclipse disappear. As The Boss Hank begins a factory and has phones installed in the castle!
            King Arthur had sent his daughter Alisande (O’Sullivan) to live with his sister Morgan Le Fay (Loy) when she fell in love Clarence a commoner. Now Morgan says she is taking Alisande as her prisoner and will kill her unless Arthur hands over his kingdom to her. A jousting tournament is to take place. A match is set up to between Hank and the knight who captured him to fight to see who will rescue Alisande. Morgan goes to tournament in disguise to see Merlin. She sees Hank fighting the knight and is completely taken by him. Hank defeats the knight by wrangling him up like a cowboy. The knight feels he has been shamed and Merlin playing on his shame tells the knight to tell Morgan that Arthur and Hank are coming to rescue the princess.
            Morgan has her men capture Arthur and remove his beard so she can claim she does not know who he is when he is brought to her. Morgan has Arthur brought down to her dungeon and Hank changed into nice clothes and brought back to her. She basically attacks Hank trying to kiss him and be close to him but he is shy and has no idea what is going on and back away. He hears the prisoners screaming in the dungeon and gets even more frightened. Once he figures if he can be nice and play up Morgan’s love for him he can ask her to release Arthur and Alisande. Hank gets away and almost saves the King and princess but Morgan’s men catch them and she has them brought out to the gallows.
            Hank told Clarence if he was not back at a certain time to send reinforcements. Clarence sticks to the plan sending in all the cars and tanks that the factory built along with an airplane to go save them all.
            Hank wakes up in the inventor’s house. The poor inventor’s machine did not work he picked up a broadcast of The Adventures of King Arthur. Hank rushes out of mansion to his van outside. He hears voices in the back. When he stops the car and looks in the back he finds the girl and her boyfriend Clarence. She tells Hank that they want to run away and get married they could not get out of the house. Her father will not let her marry Clarence and was going to send her away with her aunt. Hank tells them where they can get married and lets them borrow his van and he walks home.
            The story and the acting got a little silly but some of the lines that Will Rogers says completely make up for those moments. I was dying laughing at some of his dialogue. When he first wakes up he asks the knight “caneth tell me where the helleth I am?” haha. When he first meets Clarence he cannot get over the poor boy’s looks. He asks Clarence “Not to be inquisitive but what is thy sex?” Just listening to some of the lines and the way he says them there is no doubt Rogers did a little ad libbing. Rogers was so funny and so enjoyable. He was a bumbling fool at the beginning but as the film went on he became more hysterical. I loved seeing how uncomfortable he was with Morgan he was like a little boy. Myrna Loy in her autobiography wrote that Rogers was shyer on set than off.
            Myrna Loy is gorgeous and adorable in her period costumes I loved the way they framed her small face. I laughed so hard when she spoke her lines as Morgan because it was so weird to see this modern 1930s woman speak this old way of speaking. This was the period in Loy’s career where she got out of playing the vamp/exotic roles but got stuck playing the mean, spoiled, bad girl. Loy had the look for that sort of role which is I am sure why the studios kept putting her in those roles. Her eyes at this time looked mean and menacing especially when they had heavy dark makeup around them. There were some scenes where all you could see were her pupils because her eyes were so light and that made added to her menacing evil character.
            Maureen O’Sullivan is barely in the film. She was nineteen years old at the time and just been brought to Hollywood from her native Ireland. At the end of the film if you did not know she was Maureen O’Sullivan you would be asking yourself who the actress is she was so young and looked so different. If you have seen enough films of her though you can tell right away it is her because of her shaky voice.
            A Connecticut Yankee is a very funny and entertaining film. The film is a far from perfect comedy but it was so much fun to sit through. A Connecticut Yankee is hard to find I found it a few months ago and saved it. If TCM ever airs it give it a watch.

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