The Boob (1926)

2 01 2013

I guess everybody has to start somewhere, and this even applies to the great William A. Wellman. This early effort does show shades of his genre greatness, but it’s mostly a flighty romantic comedy that never really gets any legs. It kind of just spirals towards a finale that never really feels earned, or even interesting. The characters are flat and stock, but the film is actually watchable through Wellman’s own creative decisions. He tries to make the action interesting, though this playful experimentation is the opposite of the economic touch he would showcase in his best film. It’s an interesting entry for Wellman, but probably only for people who find him interesting in the first place.


Peter Good is hopelessly in love with his childhood sweetheart, Amy, but she’s not at all interested. Her affections are dedicated to city slicker, Harry Benson. Peter decides to become a detective in order to impress Amy, specifically going after bootleggers. Coincidentally, Harry invites Amy to The Booklovers, a club disguised as a library. It turns out Harry is a bootlegger, and Peter, now dressed in a ridiculous cowboy getup, sees this as the perfect opportunity to win Amy over.


The film’s best moments seem to be when Wellman shifts the focus away from his goofy protagonist. Peter Good (note the last name) is supposed to be a lovable oaf, but the lovable part never seems to come through. His affections for Amy are inexplicable, understandably I guess, considering this is meant to be a light-hearted comedy, but when he finally “wins” her over in the film’s final minute, it seems completely undeserved. Amy quickly condemns her relationship with Harry, which has seemed stable for the other 59 minutes, and proclaims her new found love for Peter. The screen fades to black and the audience can’t feel particularly warm for spending such time with vapid characters.


The comedy, although obviously tied to its time, does redeem some of the offensively stupid character developments. There’s a clever extended bit with Hank Mann, a frequent collaborator with Chaplin, that seems like an anticipation of Jacques Tati. Of course, his character is completely disconnected with the main story and with the film’s short running time, it seems like a waste. I guess it’s important because it actually gives the film some humor (more just “clever” bits) but the sequence seems to run a little too long. Another counterpoint would be that this sequence doesn’t include the character of Peter, which makes it much better than most of the film.


Joan Crawford makes a short appearance here, and it seems that her presence is what sparked a renewed interest in this film. Her performance is nothing impressive, though she acts George Arthur (last seen in Josef von Sternberg’s The Salvation Hunter) off the screen. In the film’s conclusion, she shows her appreciation for Peter with a kiss on his head, which makes him go crazy. Their potential relationship seems like the foundation for a logical happy ending but Amy (Gertrude Olmstead) sees this. She’s calm and collective for 58 minutes but then becomes hysterical, crumbling under the influence of the protagonist’s intended “good guyness.” It’s a really cheap payoff, but a fitting one, I guess.


One’s enjoyment of the film might be dependent on how much you can enjoy this type of humor. Maybe if you can somehow convince yourself that the protagonist is interesting and worth rooting for (he really isn’t and I can’t stress this enough), you can squeeze even more out of it. The most interesting element is Wellman’s formal experimentation. He starts this immediately with lengthy slow motion shots that are meant to be a comedic depiction of a dog licking up whiskey. There’s a clever “dream” action sequence that takes place in the sky, which is gimmicky but a nice break from most of the proceedings. It seems like Wellman had a lot of fun making this movie, and that’s probably the best thing anyone can say about this film. Unfortunately, he doesn’t manage to let us in on his enjoyment.




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