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  Turnabout Gender Bender
Year: 1940
Director: Hal Roach
Stars: Adolphe Menjou, Carole Landis, John Hubbard, William Gargan, Verree Teasdale, Mary Astor, Donald Meek, Joyce Compton, Inez Courtney, Franklin Pangborn, Marjorie Main, Berton Churchill, Margaret Roach, Ray Turner, Norman Budd, Yolande Donlan
Genre: Comedy, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's another morning in the household of the Willows, husband Tim (John Hubbard) and wife Sally (Carole Landis), though while he likes to rise and shine early, doing his exercises that will continue throughout the day, she prefers to catch a little more time in bed asleep. That's kind of difficult when Tim's lolloping Great Dane Dopey wanders in and she insists for the umpteenth time that he get rid of the animal, and he humours her without any intention of doing so. Off he goes to work in his advertising agency while she stays at home, each believing the other has it better than they do...

Although you wouldn't know it from the first half hour, Turnabout was actually a fantasy, because that Indian bust sitting in their bedroom will come into play in an important fashion later on. Before that we were treated to some bright playing by an excellent comic cast assembled by one of the kings of screen comedy as far as producing went, Hal Roach, the man who had discovered Harold Lloyd and offered Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy their big break, among other once-famous screen comedians. Here he had seen the success of a different Thorne Smith adaptation in Topper and decided to draw on another of his risque novels.

While this was considered daring in its day, it never quite went on to achieving the same status of some classic screwball comedies, only occasionally showing up on television, and if it was recalled at all it was not for kicking off the body swap genre, such as it was, but for starring Landis, one of the most beautiful but tragic leading ladies of the forties. She had committed suicide before the decade was out, victim of depressions and other problems, which makes the fact that her forte was light humour seem all the more baffling that she should want to end her life, but then went to illustrate the screen persona of a star does not always tally with what they were actually like.

So if Carole was troubled (and there were some pretty salacious rumours going around about her which can't have helped her peace of mind) you would never know it from this thanks to the tone being as breezy as possible, in order to gloss over the fact that there was a strong homosexual element to the humour which would not have got past the censor if Roach hadn't been so careful to render it in an incredibly silly fashion. Before the Willows switch bodies, we had the stuff of many a comedy of the day, with office politics offered in exaggeratedly daft variety and domestic matters resting on the lady of the house negotiating the servants and her friends, all amusing enough but nothing groundbreaking.

Then the bickering couple settle down to go to bed and as they drop off they murmur that they would like to change places because they could live each other's lives far better, and the statue awakes and grants their wish. So when they awake themselves the next morning, Tim is Sally and Sally is Tim, except they retain their own voices, as if this were not bizarre enough as it was. This leads to what can best be described as high camp, with Hubbard swishing about the elegant sets in his best Landis impersonation, and Landis adopting a manly swagger for vice versa, all while dubbed with the other's voice. Some have found this too stupid to be funny, but don't listen to them: if you have any sense of the ridiculous whatsoever then Turnabout generates many solid laughs, and with a more than qualified group of actors to bring this about you're guaranteed fun. Understandably Roach was unable to go too far in his contemplation of the whole sex change idea, but he did slip a truly weird punchline past the censors. Music by Arthur Morton.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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