Saturday 16 June 2007

The Cat's-Paw (1934) Sam Taylor

Harold Lloyd is Ezekiel Cobb, an intelligent and educated young man, but one that has grown up in his father's missionary village in China and so is more than a little lacking in the ways of the world. He travels back to the States to the city of Stockport to find a mother for his future children, but gets caught up instead in the grand schemes of crooks. He's come to stay with the Rev Junius Withers, whose church has financed his father's mission, but Withers has been conned into standing for mayor on the reform ticket. It's all a show to convince people that there's a real election on, when in reality it's all orchestrated by gangsters like Jake Mayo, in whom Cobb unwisely puts his trust.

Lloyd is funny here, though it's certainly a different twist on his usual naive everyman. He's dubbed terribly into Chinese for the odd scenes that call for it but his awkwardness is contagious. While he only accepts the candidacy on the basis that he'd never win, he unintentionally shifts public opinion massively in his favour in one hilarious evening in his dance hall which is a Harold Lloyd masterpiece. It's a physical scene but not one that calls for outrageous stunts.

He's ably assisted by a seriously good cast of character actors. Una Merkel, who always had a quick tongue and a wonderfully dismissive character, is a great foil for him. the cast of gangsters, including such regulars as Nat Pendleton and Grant Mitchell, are outgunned by George Barbier as Jake Mayo. He's a blustery Irishman who Cobb likes, seeing him as an honest man because he's honest about his dishonesty, and he dominates every scene he's in, only Lloyd managing to perpetually take the wind out of his sails.

It's interesting how race was used here. While there's liberal use of racial epithets like 'chink' that are considered offensive today, the Chinese culture and the philosophy of L'ing Po is treated with respect. In fact it's treated with a lot more respect than the American culture that Cobb finds himself transported to. In fact when one of the western looking characters comes to confess but apparently speaks only German, one of the dumb looking stereotypical Chinese henchmen turns out to speak German too. It's even highly noticeable that some, not all, by any means, but quite a few of the Chinese characters are played by Chinese actors.

For a little while this one looked like it was going to be embarrassing, along the same sort of lines that so many modern films attempt humour purely by means of the lead character being as big an idiot as possible. However while Cobb appears to be an idiot, he soon proves himself otherwise and the ending is as much fun as it is completely non-viable. Another entry in what seems to be a consistently decent, if not particularly outstanding, and certainly underrated sound career for possibly the most consistent of the silent comedians.

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