The Feeling’s Mutual
“I never liked saying good night. One more night gone.”
There’s nothing quite like looking at a cultural phenomenon long after the last clap of applause has died down. Nowadays it’s fun poking around on Wikipedia, reading about things like pogs or television shows by Sid and Marty Krofft. What were we thinking?
The 1930 picture Grumpy is just such a thing, I suppose, only without the benefit of a hideous multimedia franchise built upon it and a release year that puts many of its fans solidly underground. And not ‘underground’ in a cult hit sort of way either.
Grumpy is based on a stage play that once traveled the world and made it over the 1,000 show mark on Broadway. The review in the New York Times fawns over it, even going so far as to say, rather than give you a plot summary, “It is perhaps unnecessary at this age of its life to tell the story.”
The popular stage version, as in the film, stars Cyril Maude as a– to be polite– cantankerous asshole. He’s a retired lawyer who spends his days futzing about and making his butler’s life a living hell. When his family is put in danger due to a great deal of diamond nonsense, ‘Grumpy’ intervenes and deftly points his finger at the character the movie whom the audience had pegged as the villain in Act I.
The film simply hasn’t aged well. The movie has 18 votes on IMDB (including my own), which is fairly indicative of a picture that had to be tracked down to be seen. That it’s getting a paltry 2.9 speaks volumes.
The trouble with Grumpy is that it never quite hits that Miss Marple sweet spot. Grumpy the character is too old, too messed up, and too cruel to nowadays be as whimsical as he was initially intended. Like spending time with an Alzheimer’s inflicted dying old grandfather, Grumpy is simply unpleasant to bear much of.
Out of the Cultural Conscience
Nowadays, the most interesting thing about Grumpy for those of not interested in seeing something forgotten long ago is that it’s the first directing credit for George Cukor. Cukor, who would go on to do pictures like My Fair Lady and a host of Pre-Codes like Girls About Town, would become a Hollywood fixture, unlike practically everything else to do with this film.
That’s not to say his presence elevates the picture. A product of its 1930 release, the film aches with stiffness, even during the fight scenes that occasionally crop up. There are some attempts to eschew the feeling that we’re spending the entire film in various living rooms (as undoubtedly the stage play does), but they’re rather meek.
Nothing in Grumpy grabbed me. The only thing I can figure about it is that Cyril was such a popular fixture at the time and the character’s supposed charm was so believed in that he became a force of nature. Once he passed on (surprisingly about 30 years later at the age of 91), his modest stardom vanished too.
One of the things I often find myself wondering about while watching all of these Pre-Code films is just how easy it is for one generation’s star to become so easily forgotten– the fate of those like Genevieve Tobin or Lew Ayres who made some solid movies, but never one of the few deemed by film critics to be ‘classics’.
Fame is fleeting. Not that my film reviews will ever amount to much, but someday all of the plethora of entertainment media that infests our daily lives will be nothing but dust. Thank God.
Okay, maybe this movie managed to put me in a bad mood, too. Let me summarize for effect: Grumpy isn’t remembered. That’s a good thing. See you next week, for, hopefully, something that arouses something out of me other than an overwhelming reminder of my own mortality.
Trivia & Links
- If you wanted to know more about the career of Cyril Maude, here’s a nice brief rundown.