' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Love Crazy (1941)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday's Old Fashioned: Love Crazy (1941)

In screwball comedies, the male protagonist is often self-impressed, set in his ways, only to have, in a series of farcical hijinks, a tough-talking, no-crap-talking female upend his status quo and broaden his worldview while simultaneously making him do what he heretofore thought impossible and fall head over heels. In Jack Conway’s “Love Crazy”, however, the male and female protagonists, Steve (William Powell) and Susan (Myrna Loy) Ireland, are presumably already well past this stage. This is because the film opens on the verge of their fourth wedding anniversary celebration, not even the faintest whiff of marital discord in the air. It's as if the crumbling of Steve's self-impressed ways happened in a non-existent prequel and we are now catching up with him in movie #2 where he is full-grown and respectful.

Therefore, the status quo in “Love Crazy” that requires toppling is Love & Happiness, which means the gods of machine must intervene. And they do in an elongated sequence to open the film set entirely within the couple's apartment building that finds the husband in question stuck on an elevator with his ex-flame of many moons ago, Kimble Grayson (Gail Patrick), who, per fate, lives one apartment below her former suitor and conspires to get him into her apartment for a cocktail while her own oafish husband is out. Steve, of course, neglects to mention this to Susan. She, of course, ascertains this info anyway and instantly becomes so suspicious that she conspires to pretend to be having an affair with Kimble's husband only to, of course, wind up in the apartment of a pompous archer (Jack Carson) instead.

Conway handles this rigmarole with deft professionalism, though it requires Powell to generally forgo quick-witted repartee for more physical hijinks. He's Buster Keaton as opposed to.....well.....William Powell. Which isn't to say Powell can't do Keaton - or a version of Keaton, I should say - but that we go to the cinema turn on Turner Classic Movies to watch Powell be Powell, not Keaton, don't we?

We also want to watch Loy be Loy, and yet she comes across more in this film like a supporting character than a co-star. The suspicions regarding her spouse’s infidelity drives the plot and, okay, yes, sure, there is something suspicious about discovering your husband of four years was just in the apartment of the woman to whom he was once engaged and that he purposely neglected informing you. But, I submit that Loy, in all her Loy-ness, would be able to ferret out the truth with but a few pointed questions.

Still, the greatest irony of “Love Crazy” is that splitting up Powell & Loy is not simply its singular weakness but also its singular strength. Because upon being split up, Powell is forced to resort to all sorts of wacky measures to win his way back into her heart, which includes an accidental detour to an asylum (“Love Crazy”) and him dressing up like a woman, because, you know, sure, amongst numerous other hijinks. It is a strength precisely because there is something whimsically reassuring in knowing that even when the universe conspires against his character to eradicate their courtship, he is willing to go such lengths to re-establish it.

Of all the uber-glorious romantic pairings of the Hollywood’s Golden Age, no one worked side-by-side as often as Powell & Loy, teaming up thirteen times in fourteen years, and kicking up some of the most entertaining sparks the silver screen ever saw. Yet only when the pairing is taken away midstream did I suddenly realize how much I took it for granted, how much I chose to watch this specific film to see them together. Absence only makes the cinephile's heart grow more desperate, and so by the end, I was rooting for the inevitable in spite of that very inevitability.

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