Review: Love Begins at Twenty (1936)

>> Saturday, March 22, 2008

USA/B&W-58m./Dir: Frank McDonald/Wr: Dalton Trumbo and Tom Reed/Cast: Hugh Herbert (Horatio Gillingwater), Patricia Ellis (Lois Gillingwater), Warren Hull (Jerry Wayne), Hobart Cavanaugh (Jake Buckley), Dorothy Vaughan (Evalina Gillingwater), Clarence Wilson (Jonathan Ramp), Robert Glecker (Mugsy O’Bannion)

Love Begins at Twenty is basically a W.C. Fields film without W.C. Fields. It contains all of the elements of the Great Man’s classic henpecked husband comedies You’re Telling Me (1934), It’s a Gift (1934), and The Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935)--a battleaxe of a spouse, turmoil at work, a devoted daughter, and a plot that gives the downtrodden “worm” the opportunity to “turn” through the aid of alcohol. In fact, one would expect that the writers had pilfered the storyline from the Great Man if it weren’t for the fact that the movie was based on Martin Flavin’s play “Broken Dishes,” which ran on Broadway in 1929.

Hugh Herbert fills the Fields role as Horatio Gillingwater, a mild-mannered family man who is bossed at home by his domineering wife (Dorothy Vaughan) and at work by his crabby, skinflint boss (Clarence Wilson). The only person that appreciates the tenderhearted Gillingwater is his daughter Lois (Patricia Ellis), who hopes to marry and leave the nest. Lois’ mother refuses to consent to the marriage; but both Horatio and Lois’ fortunes take a turn for the better thanks to a bottle of hooch, which gives Horatio the courage to stand up to his wife, his boss, and a couple of gangsters (It wouldn’t be a 1930’s Warner Brothers film without gangsters).

In the hands of comic genius W.C. Fields, Love Begins at Twenty could have been a comedy classic, but with Hugh “hoo-hoo” Herbert in the lead, the movie is merely a pleasant diversion. There are no big laughs in the picture, but the film is likeable, and at a brisk 58 minutes, it doesn’t wear out its welcome. All in all, Love Begins at Twenty is an interesting curiosity that proves that it’s near-impossible to fill the shoes of the great W.C. Fields.

Drinks Consumed--Unknown liquor (referred to as “tonic”) and beer

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, bickering, physical violence, harmonizing, destruction of property, and jail time

Potent Quotables--EVALINA: Horatio Gillingwater, you’ve been drinking!
HORATIO: Oh, you’re crazy. I haven’t had a drink in months. What are you talking about?
EVALINA: This is all your fault, you rumhound. Oh, I can see that alcohol has simply warped your mind. My father always said that you’d end in the gutter. Just think of the disgrace that you’ve brought on our children…

Video Availability--Never released on video.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--“Broken Dishes” was adapted as a film two other times--before in 1931 as Too Young to Marry and later in 1940 as Calling All Husbands. However, instead of either version, I’d recommend you watch the similar W.C. Fields film, The Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935).

W.C. Fields Comedy Collection, Vol. 2 (The Man on the Flying Trapeze / Never Give A Sucker An Even Break / You're Telling Me! / The Old Fashioned Way / Poppy)

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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