Not So Dumb (1930)

Feature Article Film Review

NOT SO DUMB

Release Date: 17 January, 1930

Studio: MGM

Director: King Vidor

Produced by King Vidor & Marion Davies

Starring: Marion Davies (Dulcinea "Dulcy" Parker), Elliot Nugent (Gordon "Gordy" Smith), Raymond Hackett (Bill "Willie" Parker), Franklin Pangborn (Vincent Leach), Julia Faye (Mrs. Eleanor Forbes), William Holden (Mr. Charles Forbes), Donald Ogden Stewart (Skylar Van Duke/Horace Patterson), Sally Starr (Angela Forbes), George Davis (Perkins, the Butler)

Scenario: Marc Connelly & George S. Kaufman, from their play Dulcy. Screen dialouge: Edwin Justus Mayer.

Cinematography: Oliver Marsh

Synopsis

The basics of the plot are explained in the first scene, which is not in the play. A title card introduces the location and the first joke, "Sunny California". Standing under a small umbrella in a driving rain, Dulcy Parker and her fiancé Gordy Smith are waiting for a train. Dulcy and Gordy discuss the importance of the passengers on the train, Mr Charles Forbes and family. Gordy must carry out a merger of his jewelry factory with Mr Forbes' company in order to stay in business and have enough money to marry Dulcy. He warns Dulcy about the sensitive nature of Mr Forbes and asks her not to talk too much or attempt to induce Mr Forbes into the merger. Of course, Dulcy will do everything she was asked to avoid. She irritates Mr Forbes immediately. Her chatter keeps the family standing in the rain. After Mr Forbes has been further delayed by a photographer, Dulcy knocks over the camera and spoils the photograph.

Dulcy's palatial home is the setting for the rest of the movie. Dulcy is having a weekend party for Mr Forbes and his family. The other guests at this party are introduced individually. Dulcy's brother, Bill, is annoyed because she persists in calling him "Willie". He knows, and is attracted to, Miss Forbes. Dulcy instructs Perkins, the butler, in the proper manner of greeting guests. Perkins is awkward and untrained. He is a convicted robber who has been paroled to Dulcy's custody. Skylar Van Dyke arrives. He is rich, highly eccentric, and an avid golfer. Finally, Vincent Leach arrives. He is rather prissy, a film scenarist, and has been courting Miss Forbes.

After the arrival of the Forbes family, Dulcy unsuccessfully attempts to entertain Mr Forbes. She causes him to become increasingly annoyed and grumpy. The antics of Messer's Van Dyke and Leach only add to Mr. Forbes's irritation. Events climax with Dulcy bringing about both the apparent theft of Angela's pearl necklace by the butler and the elopement of Angela and Mr. Leach.

Gordy despairs about the merger with Forbes. However, Mr. Van Dyke offers to back his business and with better terms than Forbes has offered. Gordy tells Forbes about Van Dykes' offer. As Gordy and Dulcy are rejoicing, a well-known attorney, who represents the Van Dyke interests, arrives. He is looking for his insane cousin, Horace Patterson, who goes about posing as a rich man, Mr. Morgan, Mr. Rockefeller, or Mr.Van Dyke. Dulcy and Gordy are staggered.

At this point, when everything has gone wrong, all the pieces of the plot are brought together for a happy ending. Mr. Forbes joins them as the lawyer is taking his cousin away. He recognizes the lawyer as representing the actual Van Dyke interests, misunderstands the situation, and makes Gordy a new and better merger offer. Bill and Angela return without Mr Leach. A wedding has occurred, but Bill is the groom. The butler arrives and returns the necklace. He found it carelessly dropped and had taken it for safe keeping. Dulcy and Gordon kiss. Happiness all around.

Discussion

Not So Dumb is based on Dulcy, a play written by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly. The hit play, which opened on Broadway on August 13, 1921, starred Lynn Fontanne and ran for 241 performances. In the printed text of the play, the authors give a nod to humorist Franklin Pierce Adams, who created the cliché-spouting housewife for his newspaper column. The first film version was produced in 1923, directed by Sidney Franklin, and starred Constance Talmadge. Another film version, directed by S. Sylvan Simon and starring Ann Southern, was produced in 1940.

The comedy is built around a clichéd comic character: a talkative, dull-witted, meddling, but well-meaning, woman. Her meddling in affairs where she is neither wanted nor needed leads to interactions with a variety of people. Comic dialogue and situations result. Successful portrayal of this woman as the leading character required an actress who could gain an audience's attention and sympathy, while simultaneously convincing them that she is an idiot.

King Vidor had directed Marion Davies in two successful silent pictures, The Patsy and Show People (both 1928). Her heroines in both movies, especially The Patsy, share characteristics with Dulcinea of Not So Dumb. The Patsy was also based on a successful play. Marion Davies had proven her talent as a silent comedienne. Not So Dumb, her first talking picture, was a vehicle to display her ability with comic dialogue. She works hard to bring liveliness and appeal to the overly talkative, slow-witted, pushy Dulcy. To accentuate her comic dialogue, she speaks rapidly at a high pitch. Marion maintains her natural charm and manages to transfer some of this warmth to the tiresome Dulcy.

Before Not So Dumb, King Vidor had directed only one sound picture, Halleluiah (1929), many scenes of which were shot on location in Tennessee and Arkansas. In his book, King Vidor on Film Making (1972), Vidor states that they shot much Hallelujah as if it was a silent , because of the difficulties of outdoor sound recording. Post production sound recording was done in the studio.

Since Halleluiah was shot as if it was a silent, Not So Dumb was Vidor's first entirely talking picture. The difficulties experienced by a silent director in making the transition to a talkie are evident throughout this film. The Patsy was based on a stage play, but, lacking dialogue, the stage origins are obscured. The cast consists of experienced actors. Comic situations, facial expressions, and body movements dominate. The resulting film is funny and fast paced. In Not So Dumb the stage origins are obvious. Dialogue dominates, and the characters stand (or sit) and talk. Comic situation and action are carried by the dialogue, of which there is too much, not enough of it funny. In general, the acting is stiff. Pictorial variety is provided only by various groupings of the characters, and the camera is immobile. The resulting film is slow paced and not very comical.

The most interesting aspect of this movie is its cast. The careers and personal stories of several of these actors are quite interesting. The life of Marion Davies is well known. Julia Faye also had a long-lasting relationship with a famous and powerful man, Cecil B. DeMille. Elliott Nugent and Donald Ogden Stewart had important careers in Hollywood and New York. Franklin Pangborn contributed his comic presence to almost 200 films.

Elliott Nugent, as the fiancé, William Holden (no relation to the Oscar-winnging star of Bridge on the River Kwai), as Mr. Forbes, and Raymond Hackett, as Dulcy's brother, are all required to express varying amounts of exasperation, frustration, and irritation. They carry out these assignments adequately. The best comic acting comes from Donald Ogden Stewart, as the crazy Mr. Van Dyke, and Franklin Pangborn, as the scenarist. Their absurd characters are enhanced by comical facial expressions and actions.

Reviews

New York Times Film Review: Not So Dumb, by Mordaunt Hall. February 8, 1930.

According to the reviewer, the afternoon audience chuckled fairly constantly at the antics of Dulcy and her guests. Hall gives a synopsis of the plot and praises the cast. Marion Davies "shines in the role of Dulcy". William Holden is "capital". Mr. Stewart "deals out amusement in his odd role". Elliott Nugent is "splendid" and Raymond Hackett is "clever". Overall, Hall judges the movie "a bright affair" for which "the lion's share of the credit must go to Mr. Vidor for his fine direction".

Variety: Not So Dumb, by Land. February 12, 1930.

The reviewer states that the "thoroughly seasoned" comedy "again punctures the bull's-eye as a continuously effective guffaw-inducer and tummy vibrator". He points out that the story line of the play is closely followed and has been only slightly changed for Miss Davies. The Van Dyke character has been enhanced, and Donald Ogden Stewart makes his "goofiness fascinating". The cast is praised for "uniform excellence". He highlights Julia Faye who, in a more prominent role than usual, reveals "competence", and Franklin Pangborn "of L.A. stock fame" who provides a "fine piece of comedy work". William Holden was a "splendid choice" for the old business man. Marion Davies continues her "light comedy series of slightly sappy janes. Comedy is her forte.". King Vidor has provided a "typically efficient comedy effort". He concludes that it is a "dandy comedy all the way".

We may conclude from these two reviews that movie makers, audiences, and reviewers, only recently introduced to all-talking movies, were not experienced judges of "bright" and "dandy" in comedy films.