Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Hornblows At Midnight

I was going to write something about one of the most underrated of all the great Hollywood producers, Arthur Hornblow Jr., based on the fact that Universal just released four great Paramount comedies on DVD and three of them -- Midnight, Easy Living and The Major and the Minor -- were Hornblow's. But TCM beat me to it by showing those three films as a tribute to Hornblow, and putting up this biographical profile of Hornblow and his career.

His best period was at Paramount from the late '30s through the early '40s, producing a series of comedies that managed to be great-looking and very funny. His star director was Mitchell Leisen and they made a great team on stylish-looking comedies, musicals and dramas. Some movie comedies are a little drab in terms of set design and lighting, while comedies that have great production values often let it overwhelm the comedy. Midnight is a lavish production and a first-rate comedy, while his Bob Hope productions, The Cat and the Canary and The Ghost Breakers, look like well-made suspense thrillers that happen to have Bob Hope dropped into them. (Ghost Breakers in particular must be one of the most quietly influential movies of all time; not only did Martin and Lewis remake it almost scene-for-scene as Scared Stiff, but all kinds of horror-comedies owe an obvious debt to that picture -- Scooby-Doo, for instance.) Leisen/Hornblow's Hold Back the Dawn is also a fine romantic drama that ought to be on DVD.

His productions after he left Paramount and moved to MGM are also intelligent and stylish but less consistently entertaining, but he did produce Gaslight, The Asphalt Jungle and Esther Williams' best picture, Million Dollar Mermaid. The way The Asphalt Jungle turned out for John Huston, as opposed to the post-production debacle he suffered the following year when Gottfried Reinhart was his producer on The Red Badge of Courage, illustrates the importance of having a strong, smart producer on a film.


Thad said...

I ordered Easy Living and The Major and the Minor and should be reviewing them on my blog this week. I'm looking forward to seeing the former for the first time and the latter again.

Anonymous said...

I wish TCM would feature Mitchell Leisen as a "Director of the Month." He was a bit inconsistent (Lady in the Dark and Frenchman's Creek are both wildly over-art-directed and grossly dull) but his best stuff is really great - Midnight, Easy Living, The Mating Season (anything with the great Thelma Ritter is fine with me), the delirious Murder at the Vanities, the great soapy Hold Back the Dawn (Boyer and de Havilland are amazing) and To Each His Own, the beautiful Remember the Night. He also directed an obscure favorite of mine, Kitty. This is brilliantly costumed and art-directed by Raoul Pene du Bois and features what I think is Paulette Goddard's best performance. I think that his start as a costume designer (for Cecil B. DeMille) has tended to make him underrated. He deserves a bigger and better reputation.