1931) – Director: Charles Reisner. Writers: Zelda Sears &
Malcolm Stuart Boylan (story), Wells Root (adaptation), Robert E.
Hopkins (dialogue). Stars: Marie Dressler, Polly Moran, Roscoe Ates,
Karen Morley, William Bakewell, John Miljan, Tom McGuire, Kane
Richmond, Mary Alden, & DeWitt Jennings. B&W, 73 minutes.
story is dedicated to women – who have been fighting for their
rights ever since Adam and Eve started the loose-leaf system.” –
largely forgotten today, the team of Marie Dressler and Polly Moran
was one of the most popular during the early ‘30s. They made seven
films together and the team was only broken up by MGM when the studio
determined that Dressler was deserving of bigger and better movies,
especially after she came off so well in Dinner at Eight.
one of the programmers MGM made to take advantage of their
popularity, especially that of Dressler's. The film takes place in
the small town of Lake City where music teacher Ivy Higgins (Moran),
and her husband Peter (Ates), the town’s barber, share a house with
widow Hattie Burns (Dressler) and her daughter Myrtle (Morley).
Though a rather scenic town, Lake City is far from idyllic, due to
the presence of racketeer Jim Curango (Miljan), who has Mayor Tom
Collins (McGuire) in his pocket and is able to operate at will.
night, Myrtle’s friend Daisy Evans (Marsh) is accidentally shot and
killed at Curango’s speakeasy, The Little Club, by Nifty (Richmond)
with a bullet intended for Benny Emerson (Bakewell). We later
discover that Benny is Myrtle’s secret sweetheart. It seems that
Curango is worried about Benny (who wants out) turning rat and
spilling the beans about Curango’s illegal operations. Benny,
however, is also wounded in the ambush, and as he is afraid to go to
the hospital (because Curango is hanging the killing on him), he
hides out in Myrtle’s attic while she nurses him.
a rally of women voters, where Ivy holds the office of
Sergeant-at-Arms, Mayor Tom Collins (what a great name for a
politician during Prohibition) is holding a Q&A session. Hattie
steps up and wants to know what the mayor is going to do about
Daisy’s death and the town’s growing crime problem. Collins
attempts to slough her off, but Hattie is persistent; she wants an
answer. When she forcibly accuses the mayor of being in cahoots with
the racketeers, the resulting cheers from the audience drown out any
attempt by the mayor to answer and he is hooted off the stage (to the
consternation of Curango and his cronies who are listening to the
rally over the radio).
rally’s leader, Mrs. Evans (an uncredited Claire Du Brey), calls
for new leadership, noting that there is a perfect woman candidate
for the job right here in the room. Ivy, thinking Mrs. Evans is
referring to her, begins congratulating herself. Hattie joins in as
well, patting Ivy on the back, until Mrs. Evans finishes her thought
by saying that Hattie is that candidate. Ivy’s reaction is
priceless, but she quickly recovers and joins the call for Hattie,
who reluctantly accepts their nomination.
concerned Curango visits Hattie and attempts to bribe her. When she
refuses, he then tries to blackmail her into entering into
partnership with him. But Hattie holds firm and throws the gangster
out of her house.
men in Lake City, after hearing the news, are up in arms over the
possibility that a woman could become their next mayor and are
determined to assert themselves and put the women in their place.
After a protest torchlight parade commences through the streets of
Lake City, in which the local women demand the ouster of Collins and
the election of Hattie to office, the men begin to take action.
the march, a women's rally is held in the local park. But the men
intervene and collectively threaten to get drunk and spend all their
money if the women persist in promoting Hattie for mayor. Ivy’s
husband Peter is selected to be the first to get his wife off the
stage because of her prior belligerence in stating her opinions.
After fortifying himself with some “liquid courage” at the
speakeasy, he leads the parade of angry husbands who pull their wives
away from the rally. Hattie starts to protest, but the clouds open up
a heavy rain and chases everyone away except for Hattie.
next meeting is held in Hattie’s home where she urges the women to
go on strike, denying the men everything in the "parlor,
bedroom, and bath” Through this strike they can sway the election
and unseat the incumbent mayor.
strategy is working fine until Peter discovers Benny in the attic and
calls the police. When they arrive to arrest Benny, Myrtle becomes
hysterical and admits that she was Benny's mysterious girlfriend.
Hattie, afraid that the resulting scandal will effectively end her
election bid, pulls out of the race. However, when Nifty is arrested
for Daisy's murder, he confesses that Benny went straight in order to
marry Myrtle and that Curango ordered him to kill Benny.
the truth is finally out, another march is held to show support for
Hattie, who now has the endorsement of the chief of police (an
uncredited DeWitt Jennings). She wins the mayoral election easily.
Hattie's first duty as mayor is to marry Myrtle and Benny at a
ceremony in which Ivy, the newly appointed commissioner of garbage,
acts as matron of honor.
a very loose adaptation of Aristophanes' Lysistrata, a
comic account of one woman, Lysistrata, and her extraordinary mission
to end the Peloponnesian War by persuading the women of Greece to
withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers in
order to force the men to negotiate peace. The strategy, however,
only serves to inflame the ongoing battle between the sexes. Writers
Zelda Sears, Malcolm Boylan, Wells Root, and Robert Hopkins simply
moved the action to the present day Prohibition America and fashioned
the story to fit the stars.
need to keep in mind that when this movie was made, the 19th
Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, was only
slightly over a decade old. Having the film deal with the growing
power of women as voters and shapers of public policy was still a
novel idea at the time, as women were supposed to stay in the
background and let the men handle things. And in 1931, one of the
main issues for women was the continuation of Prohibition and the
accompanying closing of speakeasies.
Moran was the perfect foil for Marie Dressler. Acid-tongued and
brash, she was also kept busy by the studio, appearing in a number of
movies without her partner. In their films together, Polly was the
explosive one, quick to react, while Marie was the passive one, slow
to react, but usually right by the movie’s end.
Ates, whose gimmick was his stuttering (he became the model for Porky
Pig, which testifies to his popularity at the time), plays Polly’s
husband, caught between her forcefulness and the opinions of his male
buddies, on whom he is dependent for business as the town’s barber.
He is the weakest character in the movie, partially because his
shtick is already running thin.
Karen Morely is Marie’s duplicitous daughter and William Bakewell
is her somewhat shady boyfriend. Although they give competent
performances, they’re relegated to the background in order to let
the leading ladies manage the stage, but programmers such as this
were good testing grounds for young actors at the time. Later the
testing ground would shift to the B-movies. John Miljan is excellent
in a small role as the racketeer, and Kane Richmond, who is
practically invisible as hitman Nifty Morgan, later became a solid
supporting player, mainly in the B’s. He is probably best known for
the 1942 Republic serial Spy Smasher, which became
something of a cult item in the ‘70s.
although the public lined up to see Marie and Polly’s latest film,
the critics weren’t too kind, many fearing that the ongoing formula
of their films was already getting too thin for further
adventures. Variety noted the following, according
to the TCM essay on the film: “the very evidence of lack of real
action by the two principal characters in the cast, Dressler and
Moran, is a weakness Metro may not be able to afford if another movie
is planned for the pair. It's taking a long chance with the earned
drawing power of these two.”
that’s the trouble with Politics: it sounds much better
than it is. The humor is weak and the mixture of slapstick and deadly
shootings is put together rather clumsily. Charles F. Riesner
directed the film in a straightforward manner, relying on frequent
cuts to move the story along. Cinematographer Clyde DeVinna handled
everything in a workmanlike manner, as did art director Cedric
Gibbons, who does a good job of recreating small-town
America. Politics is an entertaining diversion, as
it’s always fun to see Dressler and Moran together, but don’t
look for too much; take it for what it is, a simple programmer.
and Moran would be teamed for the last time in 1932’s Prosperity.
In the meantime, Dressler earned her second Best Actress nomination
for her performance in the uber-soaper Emma, also in
usual, MGM was able to call on its vast roster of actors to fill the
uncredited parts. Besides DeWitt Jennings as the police chief, look
for Henry Hall as a police sergeant, Kenneth McDonald as a
policeman/driver, Ethan Laidlaw as a policeman in the park, Dorothy
Granger as a newlywed, and Robert Dudley as a husband receiving a
haircut from Roscoe Ates.
don’t blink during the rally in the park or you’ll miss Ann
Dvorak, an extra in the crowd.
the scene where Daisy (March) enters the speakeasy she looks at a
poster for the 1931 MGM comedy short The Stolen Jools, a
two-reeler done for charity featuring over 50 Hollywood stars,
including Polly Moran.