Warren William Under the Stars, Part 4: Times Square Playboy

Here is the latest of our reviews of the 16 Warren William films appearing on TCM, August 30th, 2012: 

TIMES SQUARE PLAYBOY (1936)  Dir: William McGann

Farce is a bitch. To get near it is hazardous. Even talented performers can be dragged under by its dangerous tidal pull. Warner Brothers’ 1936 comedy Times Square Playboy is a case in point: no one in the cast quite drowns, but a few do flounder badly and the rest simply wind up all wet.

Based on the play The Home Towners by Broadway legend George M. Cohan, Times Square Playboy concerns the not-so-carefully manufactured troubles visited upon Vic Arnold (Warren William) when his friend P.H. (“Pig Head”) Bancroft (Gene Lockhart) arrives in New York from the rube town of Big Bend to be best man at Vic’s wedding. Through a series of uninteresting and entirely contrived misunderstandings, the now-wealthy bon vivant Arnold has his engagement scuttled by Pig Head’s hayseed foolishness. The details are unimportant – you might be able to conceive a series of similarly flimsy plot elements before I could type them – and they serve merely to prop up an vigorous assault of broad comedy that was old fashioned when Mr. Cohan wrote the thing in 1926.

However – there are a series of small things to enjoy about this, Warner Brothers second of three screen iterations of the play (it was filmed under its original title in 1928 and again as Ladies Must Live in 1940). Chief among them is the easy rapport between Warren William and his off-screen friend Gene Lockhart. The two had known each other since 1924, when Lockhart directed Warren in his maiden voyage under the newly adopted stage name Warren William. Their warmth and affection communicates sincerely through the screen, making the relationship honest even if the drama between them isn’t. There are also amusing performances from Kathleen Lockhart (Gene’s real life spouse), and serial tough-guy Barton MacLane baring his rarely-seen comic side as Vic’s valet / physical trainer Casey. The rest of it is semi-amusing commotion, but something you’ll likely forget by the time you’ve had a meal, gone to work or taken out the garbage.  

Ultimately, Times Square Playboy desperately lacks the sturdy leadership needed when attempting farce. Director William McGann is the cinematic equivalent of a small town traffic cop, letting scenes meekly pass in front of the camera without any flourish or thought. It is a textbook example of the occasional pitfalls of assembly line studio production; with limited time and a weak supervisor at the helm, what we get is mere product designed to fill a schedule. With dozens of other productions being prepared in front and behind it, Warner Brothers could allow something like Times Square Playboy to be less than perfect. In fact, anything more would get in the way of the assembly line. It’s just a shame that such talented performers were too often caught up in it.  

Times Square Playboy will air at 6:45 PM (EST), August 30th, as part of the Turner Classic Movies’ Summer Under the Stars tribute to Warren William.

About magnificentscoundrel
John Stangeland is the biographer of 1930's film icon Warren William, a lazy business owner and a washed-up comic book artist. He's not bitter, though.

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