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The very moment that a war picture, or a western thriller, or a Spanish romance becomes popular, the movie producers rise as one man and imitate such success until the idea has become completely used up. The second in the series usually is not as creditable as the first, the third is terrible, and from then on we stop counting. "Behind the Front" happens to be the second in the line of realistic war pictures, and as such it is reasonably competent. If only we hadn't seen "The Big Parade" first, this review might assume a lighter and happier tone.
In the first place Mr. Sutherland has filled his picture with a lot of funny guys which strain needlessly for an extra laugh. There is plenty of humor in the expressionless face of Wallace Beery without going into Gorge Jean Nathanisms to obtain it. Secondly, the direction is ham, and by that we mean that it is distinctly ordinary and obvious. The scenes are not quite real, the French village looks like some left over set and in short the picture is continually off key if compared to King Vidor's splendid instrument.
Wallace Beery alone is excepted from all this criticism. He was immense. His comically stupid face was never for one moment marred by the slightest ray of intelligence. His ample army pants were held up by a rope around the waist, giving to their lower portions a curious baggy appearance suggestive of small boys in grammar school. He was forever waddling about through the sets on mischief bent, for all the world like a fat sow hunting out choice bits of garbage Without him the picture would be a dud, with him it was able to make this reviewer disgrace himself by getting into a state of weak giggles.
This week John Murray Anderson has devised a cabaret worthy of this whole column. When we describe a big padded cell with plucked geese hanging from the ceiling, we convey almost nothing to the reader. Perhaps it would be better to mention the ballet dancer whose knees kept letting her down onto the stage, or the singer who turned a back flip on the final note of the famous aria from Aida, and started clogging directly afterward. But all in all it is hard to express the true spirit of matters bughouse, for Mr. Anderson has done it in such a variety of ways.
We have always gone into convulsions over such burlesquers as the carpenter scene in the Ziegfeld Follies several years ago. The Adagio Classique in this Bughouse Caebaret is much along the same lines. We recommend any show where one strong man misses his footing and slips down into his partner's trouser leg. That is our idea of something funny.
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