Proof That It’s Pre-Code:
- Gams galore. I mean, it’s called Loose Ankles, what do you expect?
- Lots of talk of ‘compromising’ a person. As in “I just compromised their brains out.”
- We also have someone accused of being a “lavender woman” which is an insult that really deserves a comeback.
- We visit a speakeasy (this is a Prohibition Era flick) and lots of people drink an awful lot. There’s some drunkenness and a woman and a man wrestling on the ground, uh, mildly suggestively.
- No one really gets punished for their drunkenness, nor when one character beats the crap out of a police officer.
- A clown does some break dancing. Okay, that may not be Pre-Code specific, but, seriously, that’s crazy.
Watching the films from the 1930’s (which I have been doing, in case you didn’t notice),I find it fascinating to observe what genres in Hollywood have survived the Darwinian struggle of the popular consciousness for the last eight decades. While nowadays old plots like “adopted son ends up becoming a crusader for justice and prosecuting his own real mother” or “gold digging woman attempts to blackmail rich man by threatening his standing” are dusty old relics, we’re still getting a ton of mileage out of plots like “spoiled heiress goes berserk” or “crazy woman killing off people who made fun of her in school”.
Today’s film is extraordinary in the sense that it one-ups that latter category: ladies and gentlemen, Loose Ankles is the stoner movie for the 1930’s, with the only minor difference being the drug of choice. This is a movie about how awesome it is to be drunk.
Which, of course, seems highly innocuous to us nowadays, given that I’m drinking a Corona and there are more bars in this town than good Italian restaurants. And, while this film was made in the waning years of Prohibition, it’s still displaying an implicitly illegal pleasure.
As such, there are tropes I’ve mentioned before of the stoner genre that creep up here: the main characters won’t grow up (they all live either off the suckle of inherited wealth or as escorts for old ladies), the villains refuse to use the demon drug, and everyone’s problem is solved by copious amounts of said drug. Replace this movie’s “wink wink punch” with a plate of pot brownie and you may as well have I Love You Alice B. Toklas or a season of “That 70’s Show.”
There are also the tropes of a romantic comedy that are also amazingly prescient: our straitlaced heroine and uptight hero are both flanked by a number of wacky cohorts who more or less push them into situations leading to their romantic infatuations.
Lose Ankles stars Loretta Young (who I’ve run into a couple of times before) and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as the romantic couple that come together when Young decides she needs a scandal to deprive her wealthy family of an egregious amount of more wealth. He’s the college boy whose escort friends pressure into taking this one little job, and soon he’s told that it’s time to start compromising.
“What type of compromising have you done before: plain or fancy?”
Young’s character, despite being world weary, has no idea how to actually compromise a man and must rely on her maid, Agnes for advice. This is one of the funniest scenes in the film, as Agnes, with a certain amount of glee advises Young how to remove his clothing piece by piece, eventually resulting in a big pair of scissors to the trousers.
Some meddling relatives bust in and interrupt this charming tet a tet, and soon Fairbanks is running across town in a woman’s robe avoiding the police. Young’s only clue to his identity is a ticket for big show at a local speakeasy later that evening, and soon every character, whether they intend to raid the bar or preserve Young’s virginity or just get drunk off their asses, make their way there.
As you can see from the picture above, this bar is insane. This may be the most visually insane speakeasy I’ve seen in a film, as it looks like it has a cast of hundreds all performing heavily choreographed numbers in an inconspicuous building in the heart of New York City.
I’ll go ahead and note that there’s probably a disconnect here from reality.
There’s a lot of wrap up, and one of the things I like is that the movie spends most of its time lingering on the characters who are being funny and not who, one assumes, the plot should be hanging on at any given point. And I swear that sentence makes perfect sense to me.
In the resolution, as relationships are finally sorted out, we do get one gem of a line to help speed things along:
“You don’t have to understand. That’s one of the advantages of being dumb!”
It’s good to know some things don’t change. Which you’ll notice when watching Loose Ankles, since, besides the pervading sense of mischievous fun, there’s the feeling that once again the villainization of alcohol in the early decades of the last century so closely mimic the ways we still treat marijuana today. This film should be an important reminder for anyone who needs reaffirmation that the moral crusades of yesteryear are the joke of today.
And, apparently, how the moral crusades of yesteryear were also the joke of yesteryear.