THAT’S THE SPIRIT (1945)
Article #912 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-13-2003
Posting Date: 2-10-2004
Directed by Charles Lamont
Featuring Jack Oakie, Peggy Ryan, June Vincent
The daughter of a stodgy banker marries an entertainer who dies on the day of the birth of their child. The entertainer returns to earth as a spirit twenty years later to save the child from the unhappiness of being dominated by her grandfather.
This is a pretty standard example of the typical Hollywood forces-of-happiness (represented here by spontaneity, dancing, jazz, romance and theatrical musical revues) vs. the forces-of-unhappiness (represented here by inflexible conservative stodginess, repression, depressing renditions of ‘Evening Star’ and withering butlers played by Arthur Treacher) with a wandering spirit as one of the plot contrivances. There are a few good funny lines here and there, some fine special effects (particularly a moment where Oakie as the spirit stands in the middle of the street while cars run through him), one great sequence in which the performance of the aforementioned musical piece is turned into a real party via the use of a magic flute played by Oakie (watching wealthy old dowagers and Arthur Treacher grooving to the music is fairly entertaining), and the movie has some entertaining performances. It’s always fun to see Andy Devine, and the movie also includes a relatively youngish Irene Ryan as the maid dominated by Treacher (though it did make me long for a moment when the maid would chase him out of the house with a shotgun), but Buster Keaton is wasted in a role that isn’t near as funny as it’s supposed to be, and the movie suffers somewhat from a lackluster stodginess of its own. Some of the musical numbers are entertaining but overlong, and despite the good elements, ultimately the movie seems a bit mannered and joyless.