Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Grey Market Cinema: Honeymoon Lodge (1943)

Bob and Carol Sterling (David Bruce, June Vincent) have bought a one-way ticket to Splitsville.  The two of them are getting a divorce, mostly due to those petty annoyances that are known to drive wedges into movie marriages; he has a chain-smoking habit, she munches on crackers…in bed.  But of course, Mr. and Mrs. Sterling are still mahdly in love, they just don’t realize it yet—that’s why they’re going to take 62 minutes of your time to show the viewer what’s patently obvious from the get-go.  Carol gets the idea that if the two of them recreate their “meet-cute” at a hotel at Emerald Lake (in the Sierra Vistas) they’ll be able to rekindle that ol’ spark of romance.  Bob—whose real name is Horace Crump; he took his wife’s name when they wed thinking it would bring him more success as a playwright—is naturally skeptical…but goes along with the gag.

The two of them arrive at the Sierra Vista Hotel by different routes: Bob takes the train, and during his journey meets nightclub singer Lorraine Logan (Harriet Hilliard)—for reasons too screwball to explain here, everyone on that choo-choo is convinced they’re married.  Carol takes her car, and as she makes her way to her final destination encounters “Big Boy” Carson (Rod Cameron), whom she offers a lift to the hotel when he experiences car trouble.  You can pretty much guess the rest: multiple misunderstandings and comic situations ensue (most of them involving dat ol’ green-eyed monster) until Bob and Carol (no Ted, no Alice) get their act together and agree to stay manacled to one another.

I bought this Universal musical from Finders Keepers—and it’s not too hard to guess why: “America’s favorite young couple,” Ozzie & Harriet, are among the members of the cast.  Honeymoon Lodge (1943) was released a little over a year before the Nelsons would debut over CBS Radio with their successful sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, but Oz & Harriet were already household names with their regular appearances on Red Skelton’s program.  (In addition to providing musical entertainment on the show, Harriet played the female foils to Skelton’s characters, with Ozzie later taking on a few character parts himself.)  Ever since the two tied the knot in 1935 the Nelsons had enjoyed success with Ozzie’s orchestra (with Harriet as vocalist); the couple had also been regulars on The Baker’s Broadcast, starring Joe Penner and later Robert L. “Believe It or Not” Ripley.

Ozzie & Harriet don’t interact much in Lodge; sure, she’s the newly hired vocalist for his band but they only perform one song together, I Never Knew (I Could Love Anybody Like I'm Loving You).  Personally, I thought it was the highlight of the movie…probably because they perform it in their signature “song-and-patter” style (exchanging lyrics back and forth in a casual, conversational manner that set them apart from the other popular bands at that time).  That having been said, I enjoyed Harriet a lot in this movie—I don’t think Mrs. Nelson gets enough credit for the fact that she was really a fine actress and a wonderful comedienne; check out Confessions of Boston Blackie (1941) or The Falcon Strikes Back (1943) and you’ll see what I mean.

I wish I could be as effusive in my praise for the stars in Honeymoon Lodge: I’ve seen June Vincent (making her film debut) in many a Universal film (Here Come the Co-Eds, Black Angel) but for some odd reason I always remember her best in character roles on TV.  (I caught her in an episode of Trackdown the other day, as a matter of fact.)  You may remember that June made an appearance on the blog’s Mayberry Mondays (“Millie the Model”), where I mentioned that “TV Guide once called her ‘Television’s Favorite Homewrecker’ because it was even money the characters she played were either trying to tempt a husband or boyfriend.”

As for David Bruce…well, I will reserve comment because I am not as well versed in his oeuvre as perhaps I should be; here’s a write-up on Lodge from a blog entitled—I am not making this up—The David Bruce Appreciation Society.  (The author enjoyed this one more than I did.)  I’ve seen the Deanna Durbin vehicles Christmas Holiday (1944) and Lady on a Train (1945), both featuring Bruce appearances…and the fact that I had to look this up at the [always reliable] IMDb might tell you something about his thespic gifts.  (Bruce was also a regular on TV’s Beulah, playing the titular housekeeper’s employer, Harry Henderson.)  I’ll look for him the next time the ‘rents settle in for their nightly dose of The Lone Ranger; he was in three episodes of that series.

Rod Cameron, last seen on the blog in Frontier Gal (1945), plays June’s would-be suitor; if you’re a fan of Rod’s, you might get a chuckle out of seeing him wear a Santa Claus suit in one scene.  The major disappointment in Lodge is that even Franklin Pangborn (as the hotel manager) struggles to get laughs…and I didn’t think that was humanly possible.  (Okay, I did smile during a short scene where Pangborn is giving instructions to handyman Charlie Hall [of Laurel & Hardy nemesis fame].)  This will give you an example of my somewhat twisted sense of humor: I laughed the most during the opening scene, because Joseph Crehan plays the judge presiding over the Sterlings’ divorce…with Selmer Jackson & Emmett Vogan as the attorneys.  (They must have wrapped up shooting on that M-G-M Crime Does Not Pay short early that day.)  Other familiar faces in Lodge include a young Elinor Donahue, Clarence Muse (wasted as a train porter as usual), Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas, and Robert “Weenie King” Dudley.

The bread-and-butter for Universal Studios were these B-picture “filmmusicals”: short tune fests featuring a paper-thin plot and shoehorned musical/specialty acts added for spice.  Honeymoon Lodge spotlights The Bobby Brooks Quartet (singing the Ink Spots-inspired Do I Worry? —I enjoyed this one, by the way); dancers Tip Tap & Toe (who perform Jersey Jive on top of luggage at a train station—I bet the people who owned those suitcases were pissed); and (Frank) Veloz & Yolanda, another duo practiced in the terpsichorean arts.  (Bandleader-vocalist Ray Eberle rounds out the roster, performing one of my favorite songs, I’m Through with Love.)  Universal scribe Warren Wilson (who contributed the story) got his first producing credit with Lodge, with Edward C. Lilley making his directorial debut.

What amused me most about Honeymoon Lodge—I'll take what I can get because to be honest, this is not a particularly good movie—was Clyde Bruckman’s screenplay credit.  I’ve discussed previously here at TDOY how Bruckman was sort of a cinematic environmentalist; he recycled a lot of previous routines when writing screenplays…something that eventually got him into a bit of legal trouble with Harold Lloyd (Bruckman used Lloyd routines—word-for-word, unfortunately—in projects at Columbia and Universal).  Clyde draws inspiration from a Buster Keaton Columbia short, Pardon My Berth Marks (1940), for the train sequence; unfortunately, there’s a world of difference between The Great Stone Face and David Bruce.  (Bruce can’t even measure up to Harry Von Zell, who appeared in the Berth Marks remake Rolling Down to Reno [1947].)  I’d recommend Lodge only to those who have a fondness for musicals, you can purchase a very nice-looking copy here.

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