THE GLADIATOR (1938)
Article #680 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-24-2003
Posting Date: 6-23-2003
Directed by Edward Sedgwick
Featuring Joe E. Brown, Man Mountain Dean, Jean Travis
A man returning to college is talked into joining the football team, but is nothing but the brunt of jokes until he is given a drug that makes him super strong.
I’ve seen Joe E. Brown in several other movies, and I’ve always liked his rubbery-faced, big-mouthed charm. This is the first of his comedy vehicles that I’ve seen, and sadly, I didn’t think it was all that funny; in fact, the funniest line is given to his boss when he’s told who his replacement will be at the children’s hospital. Nevertheless, even though I was disappointed by the comic aspects of this movie, I still quite liked Brown’s performance. For one thing, he was very good at handling the sentimental side of things, giving them a light, honest touch to keep them from being too sickly sweet while remaining very strongly affecting. He also avoids desperation in his comic bits, and generally avoids mugging, which is actually quite a feat considering how easy it would be for him to engage in it with that face of his. Thus, it’s the warmth and sincerity that make this work.
Incidentally, Man Mountain Dean would be one of the wrestlers who would take on Mighty Joe Young in the movie of the same name; I ended up being somewhat amused that the first reference to him in this movie was a verbal joke concerning him and a monkey.