|Broadway Limited is not about Broadway. It's about a train. And a baby. And some other people.|
The flick: Broadway Limited (United Artists release of a Hal Roach Studios film, 1941) [buy the set]
Current IMDb rating: 5.3
Director: Gordon Douglas (Niagara Falls)
Actors of note: Victor McLaglen (frequently cast by John Ford in such films as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Fort Apache, and Rio Grande; Oscar-nominated for his role in Ford's The Quiet Man; Oscar winner for Ford's The Informer), Marjorie Woodworth (Niagara Falls), Dennis O'Keefe (The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup, Scarface [1932 version], Top Hat, much more), Patsy Kelly (comedienne whose openness about being a lesbian brought her career to a standstill in the 1940s; she came back as a TV actress in the '50s and '60s and went on to do Rosemary's Baby, Freaky Friday [1976 version], etc.), Zasu Pitts (Niagara Falls, Life With Father), Leonid Kinskey (by far, best known for Casablanca; also appeared in Duck Soup, The Man with the Golden Arm, Trouble in Paradise, and much more), George E. Stone (Guys and Dolls, Some Like It Hot, Ocean's Eleven [1960 version]), George Lloyd (ubiquitous character actor with hundreds of TV and film appearances from the 1930s to the 1950s; played Al "Happy Chef" Frazier in the MST3K favorite I Accuse My Parents)
|Wanna rent a baby from George E. Stone?|
By pure chance, while walking around the train, April happens to run into her old boyfriend, struggling young physician Dr. Harvey North (O'Keefe), who still loves April and wants to marry her but is certain that the baby she's lugging around is her biological child. Harvey is also convinced Ivan is the father, which leads to a rivalry between the two men. Meanwhile, Mike begins to suspect that the baby he "rented" is the same kidnapped child whose picture is in every newspaper in the country. One by one, all the other characters -- April, Ivan, Patsy, Harvey, and Myra -- come to believe that the baby is "stolen" and being actively sought by the police. So the little bundle of joy becomes a hot potato that everyone is desperate to get rid of. But every time they think they've ditched him, the little stinker keeps coming back to them like a boomerang! And now there are cops searching the whole train! What to do? What do do?
|The magnificent Great Hall in Chicago's Union Station,.|
This is also another Hal Roach production, which generally has been a good sign in this project. After all, Niagara Falls was one of my highest-rated films in this Mill Creek set, and Broadway Limited has the same director and two of the same actresses as that one. (One character even mentions going to Niagara Falls for a honeymoon.) In terms of tone and structure, Niagara Falls and Broadway Limited are very much alike. At heart, they're both bedroom farces with plenty of misunderstandings, carefully-timed exits and entrances, and a lot of frantic running around by all concerned parties. And both take place in one confined location (in the former, a hotel; in the latter, a train), mostly over the course of one long, hectic evening.
Unfortunately, Broadway Limited is no Niagara Falls. There's nothing obviously "wrong" with it, per se -- other than the fact that it gets off to rather a slow start, belabors certain points at the expense of forward momentum, and presents a disagreeable, paranoid, chauvinist jerk (O'Keefe's handsome doctor character) as the romantic hero we're all supposed to be rooting for. Then there's the slight issue of a comedy being built around the kidnapping of an infant -- a child whose parents, we are told, are hysterical with grief. If Broadway Limited were a cynical, dark comedy, this might almost work. But instead, it's a bubbly, lighthearted, "feel-good" flick which repeatedly and shamelessly plays up the cuteness of the kid with its many, many cutaways to the young child actor gurgling delightedly at the bumbling antics of the grown-up characters.
While a good number of the film's jokes do work, especially as the story gets fully underway, I cannot help but feel that the chemistry is just a little "off" here. Instead of being a tasty cinematic dessert, it's more like a souffle which falls flat. As such, it rates only a tentative and conditional recommendation.
|Renfrew: Zasu Pitt's ideal.|
Cheerful, oblivious Zasu Pitts is at the opposite end of the spectrum, as usual, and exists in her own little universe. She's always underfoot and in the way, getting on the nerves of the other characters without realizing it. In one scene, she blocks a narrow hallway so that other characters practically have to do gymnastics to get around her. In another, she shares a bed with Kelly and the baby, and Zasu's leaky hot water bottle causes Kelly to think that the infant has... well, you can guess.
The movie's best subplot, though, revolves around Zasu Pitts' undying devotion to a terrible-sounding radio show called Renfrew of the Mounted. My favorite scene in this film is the one in which Zasu's character, Myra, listens to Renfrew at full blast in a crowded club car and is clearly the only one enjoying the program. And when Myra isn't listening to Renfrew or dreaming about Renfrew, she's talking about Renfrew... even though no one else in the film gives a damn. The show obviously provides the kind of romantic escapism that many women now get from Twilight or 50 Shades. Myra's chief concern in life, in fact, seems to be whether or not Renfrew will "kiss her." We never find out who "her" is, but I assume it's the show's leading lady or love interest, i.e. the Bella Swan of her day.
Wonder if old Renfrew ever got around to it?
My grade: (barely) B-
P.S. - While it's not really a racist movie, Broadway Limited does (unwittingly) capture the racial dynamic of its era. The only black characters in the film are subservient porters and bartenders whose dialogue mainly consists of "yes, sir" and "yes, ma'am." Like everyone else in this movie, these men are required to react with astonishment at the goings on, but there are no bug-eyed Mantan Moreland shenanigans here.