At this point, my wife is probably wondering, What if I had thought twice about accepting a first date with my husband? And so the fantasies begin, spinning like a pinwheel, creating a new life where all is perfect, every move is charmed and each strand of hair in place. In movies, however, the fantasies turn out badly so as to make the audience feel better about themselves -- and the moviemakers better about their great lives. I can't swear Turn Back the Clock was the first "if I could do it all again" picture, but I'd have to go back in time to be sure.
Joe Gimlet, the owner of a cigar store, is visited by an old friend, Ted Wright, now a multimillionaire banker married to Joe's former girlfriend, Elvina. When Joe's wife, Mary, refuses Ted's offer to invest their $4000 savings for a
|"There's no place like the past... there's no place|
like the past..."
|Joe gets to return home and get nagged|
by Mom all over again.
Joe, by the way, figured out that Elvina was having an affair when he found one of Holmes' shoes in their living room -- which means the guy must have walked out with one shoeless foot. Speaking strictly as a movie fan, this was a plot device, I believe, that could have used a little work.
|"You dressed a little better|
when we were married, but
I forgive you."
|The Cabinet of Dr. Gimlet|
Much of Turn Back the Clock's success is attributable to Lee Tracy (as Joe Gimlet), the cynical, fast-talking actor previously discussed in Washington Merry-Go-Round. Possessing a nasal twang that sounds like W.C. Fields on amphetamines, Tracy, while forgotten by all but the most diehard movie fans, is ironically probably the most representative of the early '30s acting style: snappy, sardonic, self-confident -- James Cagney without the rough edges. Somebody give this guy a film festival.
|Not just knuckleheads.|
At least one star of Turn Back the Clock, Peggy Shannon (Elvina), might have wanted to turn back the clock herself. Her entry on imdb.com is something out of Hollywood Babylon: "From 1937, her career was increasingly afflicted by alcoholism. On May 11, 1941, Shannon's second husband, Albert G. Roberts, and his friend found [her] slumped over the kitchen table dead with her head down on her arms, a cigarette in her mouth, and an empty glass in her hand. 19 days after Shannon's death, Roberts fatally shot himself right on the spot where she died."
Turn Back the Clock's cast and fascinating script (by Edgar Selwyn and Ben Hecht) are superlative, even if its basic storyline contains nothing really surprising: Man is tired of his middle-class life, wishes he could live it all again a different way, realizes he had it better before. You could reach into a box of Twilight Zone episodes and find the same thing. It's the movie's little details still ring true today: Discussions regarding high unemployment, low wages and war profiteers. Investors ripping off their clients. The lead character complaining, in the very first line of dialogue, about the President fixing the economy by "trying to get the banks out of a jam -- what about the rest of us?" If nothing else, Turn Back the Clock proves that absolutely nothing has changed in the last 80 years. Message to everybody: We're screwed.
To read about Lee Tracy's savage political exposé Washington Merry-Go-Round, click here.