THE HOUSEKEEPER’S DAUGHTER
(director: Hal Roach; screenwriters: Rian James/Gordon Douglas/from a story by Donald Henderson Clarke; cinematographer: Norbert Brodine; editor: William Ziegler; music: Amedeo de Filippi; cast: Joan Bennett (Hilda), Adolphe Menjou (Deakon Maxwell), John Hubbard (Robert Randall), William Gargan (Ed O’Malley), George E. Stone (Benny), Peggy Wood (Olga), Donald Meek (Editor Wilson), Victor Mature (Lefty), Lilian Bond (Gladys Fontaine), John Hyams (Professor Randall), Leila McIntyre (Mrs. Randall), J. Farrell MacDonald (Police Captain); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal Roach; United Artists; 1939)
“The timing is perfectly executed for its slapstick.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Hal Roach (“Bogus Bandits”/”Turnabout”/”One Million B.C.”) directs this zany comedy, that spoofs both gangsters and the newspaper business. It’s adapted from a novel by Donald Henderson Clarke and written by Rian James and Gordon Douglas. The crime drama had me laughing throughout. The only major flaw is that the romantic lead as played by John Hubbard was too bland. But it’s impeccably acted, as the timing is perfectly executed for its slapstick.
The beautiful gangster’s moll Hilda (Joan Bennett, switching her image from innocent blonde to hottie brunette) leaves her boyfriend Lefty (Victor Mature) because she can’t stand his new gang and their violent cheating leader Floyd (Marc Lawrence) and returns home to live with her hard-working housekeeper mother Olga (Peggy Wood). Mom works for a stuffy rich family of academics, who go on vacation. But Robert Randall (John Hubbard), the naive professor, the son of the renown professor (John Hyams), remains at the residence. The lad is looking for adventure and tries his hand as a reporter, as he’s hired through dad’s connections by the excitable editor (Donald Meek) of the Globe. When Broadway showgal Gladys Fontaine (Lilian Bond), the ex-girlfriend of Floyd’s, is found dead in the river, Randall, encouraged by Hilda to ask the editor for the assignment, gets to cover the story with slick veteran heavy-drinking womanizing reporter Deakon Maxwell (Adolphe Menjou) and his wise guy drinking partner photographer Ed O’Malley (William Gargan). The fast-living reporters take the cub reporter out drinking all night at various nightclubs and get him to pick up the tab. Tagging along is the vengeful mentally-ill meek flower peddler Benny (George E. Stone), who was befriended by Randall at the police lineup where he was picked up as one of the usual suspects who frequents the Broadway area. When Benny, who mistakenly killed Gladys with poisoned coffee meant for Floyd, for messing with his imagined girlfriend Gladys, drops a key clue to the drunken Randall that the murder took place on a waterfront houseboat and a drunken Randall phones that headline grabbing tip into his editor, he’s made the lead reporter on the murder case when the tip pans out. Things get hectic with Randall when punked by O’Malley, who poses over the phone as a gangster threatening Randall to drop the story and Randall is also threatened in a home visit by the real gangster Floyd. It leads to a lively firework conclusion, that looked like one of Roach’s Keystone Kop comedy skits.
REVIEWED ON 9/18/2013 GRADE: A-