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No Time for Comedy

No Time for Comedy(1940)

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teaser No Time for Comedy (1940)

For as many memorable light comedies that James Stewart and Rosalind Russell respectively headlined in Hollywood over the course of the '30s and '40s, it's somewhat surprising that they only co-starred in one such vehicle. That opportunity arose when MGM, as part of the payoff for Olivia de Havilland's services for Gone with the Wind (1939), lent both players to Warners for its screen adaptation of the successful Broadway farce No Time for Comedy (1940). In retrospect, it's a shame that they never re-teamed afterward, as the film shows the cocksure career girl and the lanky heartland naf to have a chemistry that was both palpable and winning.

The original production of S.N. Behrman's play had been mounted in 1939 by then-reigning Broadway diva Katharine Cornell, who had in turn imported Laurence Olivier for her leading man. In adapting the property for the screen, Julius and Philip Epstein shifted the story's focus to the male lead, and re-tailored the role to fit Stewart's persona. Broadway, in fact, provides the setting for the story itself. Opening night is imminent for the latest drawing-room farce featuring popular star Linda Paige (Russell), and producer Richard Benson (Clarence Kolb) and director Morgan Carrell (Allyn Joslyn) are getting pre-show jitters. Compounding matters is the fact that the playwright, expected in town for weeks to handle rewrites, has yet to put in an appearance.

When the author does surface, he brings them little cause for relief. Gaylord Esterbrook (Stewart), editor of a small-town Minnesota newspaper, knows nothing of New York society life beyond what he can imagine, and is almost oblivious to whatever flaws others detect in his maiden offering. Green as he is, Gay still manages to charm Linda, so much so that when Benson ultimately backs out, she encourages cast and crew to open the show on a co-op basis. Of course, the play debuts to stellar reviews, and Gay takes Linda up on her offer to extend the collaboration to marriage, a situation that brings a whole new set of problems.

The charismatic stars were served well by the Epsteins' crisp scenario, and No Time for Comedy unfolds in a stately fashion under the hand of Warners veteran director William Keighley. Able comic support was provided by Joslyn, in the sort of priggish role to which he was familiarly typed, and Charlie Ruggles, who also offered a signature characterization as Amanda's bemused stockbroker husband. Genevieve Tobin may have gone over the top occasionally with her performance as the impulsive and uncontrollable society wife. That's somewhat ironic in light of the fact that her real-life husband--Keighley--was calling the shots. It also didn't take long for waggish critics of the day to note the ironic potential of the film's title, which may help explain its alternate release as Guy With a Grin.

Producer: Robert Lord, Hal B. Wallis, Jack L. Warner
Director: William Keighley
Screenplay: S.N. Behrman (play), Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Film Editing: Owen Marks
Art Direction: John Hughes
Music: Heinz Roemheld
Cast: James Stewart (Gaylord Esterbrook), Rosalind Russell (Linda Esterbrook), Genevieve Tobin (Amanda Swift), Charles Ruggles (Philo Swift), Allyn Joslyn (Morgan Carrell), Clarence Kolb (Richard Benson).
BW-83m. Closed captioning.

by Jay S. Steinberg

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