Laugh and Get Rich (1931) Review

Proof That It’s Pre-Code:

  • “She wouldn’t be a bad kid if she’d be educated.” “If you hadn’t tried educating that kid back in Boston, we wouldn’t be hiding out here!”
  • “Hey, baby, what’s the idea?” “I’m not supposed to have any ‘ideas’!”
  • There’s some drinking involved. Oh man, and if that doesn’t excite you, this film probably definitely won’t.

There’s this old Frank Capra movie called You Can’t Take It With You. If you’re reading this, I won’t be surprised if you’ve seen it since it’s a Best Picture winner and has Jimmy Stewart, Lionel Barrymore, Jean Arthur…

It’s also, and pardon my French here, really fucking grating. It’s essentially the story of how being happy is better than being rich. No shit! Most people would still rather be rich since at least then they can blow up a great many things and derive joy from that. Who needs spiritual harmony when you’re paying some sucker to drive a motorcycle over a dozen flaming fire trucks arranged so that, by satellite, it appears to form the face of Dustin Diamond, TV’s Screech.

I’m getting distracted, aren’t I? You Can’t Take It With You shares a common thread with Laugh and Get Rich in that both films are about how happiness is the most important thing in the world, which, let’s face it, is essentially the Nutrasweet of film morals.

Our young romantic couple, who really aren't the focus of this film.

Laugh and Get Rich is a step up from the Capra crapfest, but only because it’s boring rather than grating. We follow the troubles one family gets into: dad (Hugh Herbert) is a lackadaisical louse who will get around to getting a job one of these days. Mom (Edna May Oliver) runs a boarding out house with an iron fist, that she also extends upon the romantic liaisons of her daughter (Dorothy Lee).

Mom runs the family, bossing everyone around and reminding them that they aren’t just Cranstons, but they are of the Boston Cranstons. Mom took a step down when marrying dad, and her obvious resentment of this situation drives most of the narrative. Mom pushes dad to get a job, and pushes the daughter towards a shifty young fellow with a last name that sounds privileged.

Will the daughter succeed where mom didn’t and reenter society? Or will dad get scammed into thinking he’s bought a mess of oil wells, the family return north to rub it in society’s faces, and then inadvertedly teach high society the true joy behind getting trashed and dancing to “Pop Goes the Weasel”?

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions there, as well to mediate on the fact that a movie called Laugh and Get Rich has a title that’s pretty much full of shit.

The funniest part about the film is that its climax of is a payoff thematically rather than one dictated by the plot. Normally you’d expect dad to find the man who scammed him, or, you know, actually realizing he was scammed in the first place, rather than getting lucky and selling a crackpot invention and making the family loads of more dough.

Instead, the movie’s themes are teased out, as it subtly nudges the matriarch back towards realizing why she left the upper echelons of society while also demonstrating why she loves her husband so much: he pops her weasel.

This is not weasel popping.

The reason for this, I imagine, comes from this film’s time and place. The family presented here starts as an average family scraping by and ends by being wealthy, showing the upper class how it’s done, and all around being good, decent people. The moral is obvious, especially in the way it avoids actual conflict: be good, be happy, and things will work out splendidly.

So, when I tell you that the film has lousy acting, a dumb plot, no laughs, broad stereotypes, but pays off thematically, does that make you want to see it? God, I hope not. This is a film that was always destined to be a case study, and, even then, I think I plumbed the extent of it here to boot.

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