Sunday, December 17, 2006

"My Weakness" (1933)

There’s a lot of amusement to be had in watching David Butler’s My Weakness (1933), little of which has to do with its Pygmalion inspired plot about a spoiled rich nephew (Lew Ayres) who, in order to get his allowance back from his uncle, must turn Irish maid Lillian Harvey into a socialite fit for a millionaire. The plot might be pure bunk, but the dialogue is as sharp as can be delivered without drawing blood from our ears: “Be interested in stamps and he’ll forget that he hates women,” “What this country needs is less permanent waves and more permanent wives,” “We’ll get a bunch of carrots and make a night of it!” and best of all, “With all these tips I might be a bigamist by morning.” A stop-motion animation number, “Be Careful,” where amongst others a pack of dogs and Rodin’s “The Thinker” sing about the dangers of falling in love, also stands out in the film.

Most pleasurable of all, however, is Charles Butterworth, one of the funniest character actors in all of 1930s cinema, but also one of the least recognized. Butterworth is the chosen victim whom Lillian Harvey must try to seduce and marry. He also happens to be as asexual as a carrot chomping stamp collector can be and still be an executive in the brassiere business—in fact he most definitely lowers the prerequisite, if ever such a man existed! His ever oblivious self, confused about the sexes and charmingly inept to the point of being a genius, Butterworth’s finest moment is while being seduced by Lillian Harvey. As she sings to him, “Gather Lip Rouge While You May,” Butterworth sounds off about how a trombone is better looking than a derby and cane, and how a fiddle would come in handy during a flood. Exasperated at his unresponsiveness, Harvey kisses him and begins panting incessantly. Butterworth, in a gesture that makes the entire film worthwhile, holds out his glasses for her to fog up before cleaning them on his shirtsleeve.

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