Wednesday, October 17, 2012

MOVIES IN THE CAMPER: A RICHARD DIX DOUBLE FEATURE



I am a big fan of Richard Dix. I first became aware of him around five years ago when I first watched the 1931 academy award winning mega-hit Cimarron. While I wasn’t wowed by his performance in that particular film, Dix completely won me over with amazing performances in films such as The Conquerors, Ghost Ship and It Happened In Hollywood. Dix had a wonderful combination of average joe charm and leading man confidence and could switch from kind sensitivity to frightening intensity at the flick of a switch. In Lovin’ The Ladies (1930), Richard Dix shows us that he is also pretty good at romantic comedy. A genre that I hadn’t as yet seen him sink his teeth into.

Allen Kearns plays a millionaire who is sick of his detached, bored, stagnant life of luxury. He craves mental stimulation but isn’t getting it from his mentally stagnant friends. He realizes that even his butler (Anthony Bushell) is smarter than he is. As is the electrician (Richard Dix) they call when the power goes out one evening while Kearns is entertaining friends. Kearns shares his thoughts on how love doesn’t really exist and how it‘s a crafted environment conducive to romance that “causes“ people to think they‘re in love. To prove his theory, he makes a wager that he can make any two people fall in love. They pick one of their snooty friends as the woman and Dix as the man. Dix is a passionate and educated union man. He is friends with Bushell and the two commiserate about how education and culture are actually liabilities to a working man.



Kearns offers Dix 25 hundred dollars to woo the woman they have chosen (Renee Macready) for the bet. Kearns gives Dix a makeover and teaches him how to be disaffected and bored with everything. But while Kearns is setting up events to win the bet, Dix falls for Kearns fiancĂ©e (Lois Wilson) and his feelings are reciprocated. When the evening finally comes for Kearns to arrange for Dix to woo Macready, all of Kearns meticulous plans come hilariously unraveled. Meanwhile, Dix must pretend to be the bored playboy for Macready and act his normal, down to earth average joe self for Wilson. The fun comes when various women accidentally fall prey to Kearns “stage of romance” and all fall in love with Dix. Except of course the intended prey Macready who has fallen for the Butler. Of course at the end, Kearns wager is brought to light and all must answer for their actions.


This movie was a lot of fun. Dix looks like he’s enjoying the role and even manages to pull off a sort of Jimmy Stewart “aw shucks” demeanor at times. I liked the conversations about the burden of intelligence and how the idle rich become idiots from being idle. One of the funniest lines goes to the Butler who, upon seeing his friend Dix after the makeover, tells him “Amazing! If I didn’t know you were an educated man I would swear you were wealthy!” Lovin’ The Ladies is one of those charming little 70 minute diversions.


Blind Alibi (1938) was a relatively entertaining (if ridiculous) Dix film. In this one, Dix is a sculptor living in Paris. Dix’s sister (Frances Mercer) is married to a high level politician. Mercer is being blackmailed over compromising letters she wrote to a former lover. Dix and a pal try to rob the blackmailers. Dix’s friend gets the letters but is shot by the blackmailers. He manages to hide the letters in a piece of furniture by an antique store. But before either Dix or the blackmailers can get to the antique chair, it’s crated and sent to a Los Angeles museum as part of a collection to be displayed. Dix makes it to LA but finds that the furniture display is sealed off from the public and is nearly impossible to get to. So Dix buys himself a seeing eye dog (Ace the Wonder Dog) and pretends to be a blind man who wants to examine various sculpture in order to make reproductions for sale to museum patrons. The museum curator (Whitney Bourne) gives Dix free reign at the museum and the two begin to fall for each other.

 
Meanwhile, the blackmailers are also aware that the chair is in the museum. They’ve sent in flunkies pretending to be janitors but all have failed. So they decide to bribe blind man Dix into looking for the letters. The police have also become involved. In the end, Dix finds the letters but the blackmailers have discovered that Dix isn’t blind, as have the police. Dix is able to get the drop on the blackmailers who are capture by the police, but Dix is also arrested for breaking into the museum. Since nothing is missing except for the letters that know one knows about, Dix serves a light sentence and after he is released, finds Ace and the cute curator waiting for him.

Richard Dix and Fay Wray in "It Happened In Hollywood"
Blind Alibi was fun in spite of a silly and preposterous plot. The best scenes involve Dix faking his blindness and trying to make sure his secret isn’t’ discovered. This involves putting a lot of faith in Ace. One scene, Dix knows he’s being watched and walks straight for an empty elevator shaft, hoping that wonder dog Ace will save him in time. Dix, as always, makes this silliness very watchable. I can’t recommend seeking these out for purchase unless you’re a rabid Richard Dix fan. Of the two films only Lovin’ The Ladies is available for purchase. But keep a sharp eye on TCM’s programming schedule and no doubt you’ll see these two films as well as other Richard Dix films turn up occasionally.

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