Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Life According To The Mayfair Swells-Dick Powell’s “Happiness Ahead” (1934)-A Film Review

Life According To The Mayfair Swells-Dick Powell’s “Happiness Ahead” (1934)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Frank Jackman

Happiness Ahead, starring crooner cum actor Dick Powell, Josephine Hutchison, 1934

I am not exactly sure why I drew this film review assignment, an area which I haven’t dealt with much over the past several years doing mostly political commentary during that time. I have a sneaking suspicion current site manager Greg Green, who is the guy who after all makes the assignments of late, has an idea that I will make some pithy social and political comments about the time frame and content of this Happiness Ahead I am stuck with reviewing. A title which while it was produced in the heart of the 1930s Great Depression (I noted the National Recovery Act, NRA, logo a sure fire way to tell the times) could have been the campaign theme of any President or presidential candidate from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Donald J. Trump.

In any case I am sure Greg was not under the impression that he was trying to “broaden my horizons” with this assignment like he had increasingly tried to use as a reason among the younger writers. He knows, and if he does not I am here to tell him, that I was looking to mine political gold from such socially conscious 1930s films which were a specialty of Warner Brother films when he was reviewing B-film horror movies as a stringer for the American Film Gazette. Now if he assigned this beast under the sign of a 1930s “slice of life” nugget to be gleaned then all is forgiven and he will have hit the nail on the head as to why today’s readers would give a damn about this soapy romance posing as a tribute to the possibilities of the American Dream even when the soup kitchens were lengthening, banks were going bust, houses where being foreclosed, shanty camps were establishing new postal zones, and most germane, New York City financiers were jumping out of freshly “massaged” skyscraper windows.         

Wow the reader might ask all out of a film which is about the budding romance of a daughter of the Mayfair swells out slumming and an up and coming white collar go-getter and side door Johnny crooner in the pocket of Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jack Sampson and the like. Well, yes, since as I mentioned Warner Brothers was in love with these social uplift sagas as long as they had enough boy meets girl, or is it girl meets boy here, to avoid some right-wing agents’ accusations of Communist International allegiance. Ms. Smith, in really Joan Bradford, played by 1930s film sweetheart Josephine Hutchison, of the very, very Mayfair swells Bradfords who first reached these shores on the old tug The Mayflower and who had ridden out the first rush of the Great Depression pretty well since Father Bradford not only did not jump out of some Windex skyscraper window but is around to advise his young daughter on the dangers of upsetting high society mother and her “plans” for an upscale marriage and doing what she damn well pleased attempts a jail break-out from the stifling confines of New York high society and a horrible marriage to some male scion of another such family. Fair enough.    

One New Year’s night Joan goes slumming amongst the ordinary folk and winds alone in a Chinese jazz joint where she “meets” Bob, get this Bob Lane, all-American Bob Lane, played by crooner Dick Powell last seen in this space as Phillip Marlowe getting knocked around, drugged and kicked in the teeth by some evil high society forces who don’t want him to find his Velma for the Moose in the film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely dubbed Murder, My Sweet on the screen. One thing leads to another and they get dated up although dear Joan has to go through about six ruses to “prove” she is just ordinary folk. Joan is so starved for reasonable social interaction she plays along for a while even going with Bob to totally plebian roller skating and such holy goof stuff to be at one with the masses.  

Naturally, and that is exactly the right word, this pair are smitten. Big problem though is that while Bob is a go-getter right at that moment he is nothing but a cheapjack office manager for a company who washes the windows of half the skyscrapers in New York City. He has dreams though of running his own window washing company and there is the rub. No dough, or not enough dough and Mother Bradford of the very, very Bradfords is not going to have a window-washer for a son-in-law. That is when Joan to help things along made what looked like a fatal mistake by getting her Daddy Warbucks father to front the necessary dough and thereby incurring the manly wrath on one Robert Lane who finally gets wise to who his sweetie really is. I hope you were paying attention because I already told you this was a boy meets girl story and therefore requires the adequate happy ending, here happiness ahead ending of the title. Bob a little miffed but still head over heels for Joan (which you can tell is true since every once in a while a song telegraphs his desires) and after working out man to man a deal with her father the deal is done. Hope this has broadened your horizons.  

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