Combustible Celluloid
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With: Marjorie Reynolds, Dennis O'Keefe, Gail Patrick, Mischa Auer, Charlotte Greenwood, Lee Bowman, John Hubbard, Binnie Barnes, Janet Lambert, Fred Kohler Jr., Harry Hayden
Written by: Tom Reed, Isabel Dawn, based on a play by Wilson Collison, Otto A. Harbach
Directed by: Allan Dwan
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 76
Date: 04/07/1944

Up in Mabel's Room (1944)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Dwan Patrol

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

Allan Dwan didn't particularly contribute to cinema history. Allan Dwan is cinema history. He made his first film in 1911, just three years after D.W. Griffith made his auspicious debut, and in 1922, made the most expensive movie ever made up to that time, Robin Hood, starring Douglas Fairbanks. But whereas Griffith's career petered out when talkies came in, Dwan thrived, diving into the world of second features, or B-movies: those shorter features that ran before the main feature that no one ever gave much thought to. During this time, he became Shirley Temple's favorite director (Heidi and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm) and guided John Wayne to an Oscar nomination (Sands of Iwo Jima).

Dwan crafted his movies with consummate professionalism. His pictures had a clear, inventive, and airy style that made them play effortlessly. Some sources credit him with making up to 400 movies. Peter Bogdanovich, who conducted the most extensive study of Dwan's life and work, counts up to 1000. Two of these films, two "B" comedies, have recently made their DVD debut.

Up in Mabel's Room (1944, VCI Entertainment, $19.99) and Getting Gertie's Garter (1945, VCI Entertainment, $19.99) are essentially the same movie. They were both based on plays by Wilson Collison, or maybe it was the same play re-invented two different ways. In both, the versatile Dennis O'Keefe (also in Scarface and T-Men) plays a newly-married man who finds that an old gift item to a former girlfriend might jeopardize his marriage and spends the whole film trying to get it back rather than simply confessing. The action always takes place in some country home with lots of rooms for people to run in and out of. Dwan tells both stories in about 75 minutes, keeping the action moving at a whirlwind pace, but maintaining lucidity. It's impressive to see that not only could he pull this feat off at all, he pulls it off twice.

I would imagine that no one ever thought to preserve the negatives for movies like these, so the DVDs do not offer the sharpest of pictures. The images are ever so slightly fuzzy and grainy, and the sound fares about the same. It's about the quality of a decent videotape. But I applaud having these movies available at all, in any form. Both discs come with nicely done cast and crew biographies, interesting menus, and bonus comedy two-reelers from the same period.

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