Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Man-Child Comedy Film of the Week: Oh, Doctor! (1925)

Oh, Doctor! was a romantic comedy produced by Universal Pictures.  It was adapted from a novel by Harry Leon Wilson, an amusing author who also wrote "Merton of the Movies" and "Ruggles of Red Gap."  Recruited to draw the film’s romantic sparks were Reginald Denny and Mary Astor.

Reginald Denny in Abysmal Brute (1923)
Universal had been successful casting Denny as the rugged lead in sports dramas.  The actor was a boxer in The Leather Pushers (1922) and Abysmal Brute (1923).  He was an auto racer in Sporting Youth (1924).  But Denny also showed an expertise in handling light comedy roles in two recent films, The Fast Worker (1924) and The Reckless Age (1924).

Denny plays a carefree architect in The Fast Worker.  The worst problem that he must endure in the first act is the loss of a collar stud.  But complications arise when he agrees to accompany a friend's family to Catalina Island while the friend remains behind to close a business deal.  From the start, Denny is frustrated having to discipline his friend’s bratty daughter.  But no amount of the child's brattiness can sour his mood because the trip has given him the chance to woo his friend’s lovely sister-in-law, who has come along for the sun and sand.  Of course, the smooth and charming architect is a "fast worker" just as the title indicates and the sister falls instantly in love with him.  The film’s working title was The Lightning Lover, but the idea of a lover as quick as lightning could be unappealing to a woman.  Denny didn’t skip a beat when he got around to wooing a lovely heiress in The Reckless Age.  So many women and so little time.  The ladies men that Denny plays in these films are fully developed, red-blooded men who display little self-doubt or foolishness.

Oh, Doctor! was different.  Denny’s fans now got to see the actor play a character who was very much a fool and had no confidence or wooing skills at all.  The character, Rufus Billops, is an overly protected mama's boy who has become debilitated by a severe and persistent case of hypochondria.  Under the influence of his condition, he has become delicate, skittish and whiny.  His mother’s mollycoddling, though well-meaning, has in the end emasculated him.

It takes falling in love with a pretty young nurse, Dolores (Astor), to arouse a manly vigor in Rufus.  He looks at a painting of a satyr frolicking with a woodland nymph and he imagines himself taking the lusty satyr’s place in the scene.

Rufus becomes so ashamed of his timid nature that he sets out with a foolhardy determination to conquer his fears.  Rovi critic Janiss Garza wrote, "[H]e stops languishing in bed and starts racing cars and riding motorcycles."  Dolores realizes that she cares greatly for Rufus when he gets into an accident while barreling around a racetrack in a speedy new roadster.  In the film’s climax, Rufus perches himself atop a flagpole on a lofty office building.  The film ends with Rufus, who has been emboldened by his daring feats, finally taking his beloved Dolores in a manly embrace.

The lamb-to-lion story had already brought great success to Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.  At the time, critics were quick to point out that Denny's bespectacled Rufus Billops character looked and acted a lot like the characters that Lloyd had played in Grandma's Boy, Safety Last!, Why Worry? and Girl Shy.  Lloyd's Why Worry? character was also a wealthy hypochondriac.

Oh, Doctor! was remade twice in the 1930s - first as a musical with Eddie Cantor. . .

. . . and later as a straight comedy with Edward Everett Horton.

Learn more about the man-child comedy by reading my new book, I Won't Grow Up!: The Comic Man-Child in Film from 1901 to the Present.

1 comment:

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