thatcow

Imaginative direction, but in need of support

One of William Wellman's early films in a long career, The Boob shows a lot of comedic promise. It anticipates a lot of modern comedies where the plot is almost beside the point, but at least doesn't make the modern mistake of sacrificing character and motivation to make the joke.

In the film, bumpkin Peter's love interest, Amy, has been drawn away from him by slick city boy Harry. Peter needs to somehow impress her to win her back, dresses up like a cowboy, and starts looking for bootleggers. As it turns out, some early suspicions of his turn out to be true - Harry is a bootlegger. Harry is helped out on the way by friends Cactus Jim and Ham Bunn (a black child whose treatment is fairly innocuous in the film, but it's telling that the actor's name seems lost to history). Also lending a hand is Jane, an undercover prohibition agent (an uncomfortable early appearance from Joan Crawford).

The film is most notable for its imaginative camerawork. The first shot of Amy and Harry from a swing beat - by a good half century - the rash of taping, bolting, or otherwise attaching the camera to a moving actor we've seen in modern movies. There's a special effect of a wall painting coming to life - playing one scene inside another, which is fairly impressive for 1926. Wellman plays with the speed of shots, and even runs the film backwards a couple times. After one chase scene, Peter is knocked out, and dreams a mixed-up version of the scene happening in the clouds. The physical comedy and stuntwork is pretty interesting too, exploiting the expectations of the genre for some good laughs.

The plot is the weakest part of The Boob. With a little more effort, this somewhat experimental piece could have been a real classic, but it languishes like cheap entertainment - like most comedies these days that make it into the top five for a week before bottoming out the next.

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