3rd September 2015, Thursday
Following scriptwriter Julian Fellowes's Academy Award for Gosford Park (2001), and its commercial success with a recreation of 1930's Britain, he was able to initiate the third film version of Piccadilly Jim. In itself, this was no small achievement, for the last P.G. Wodehouse movie on the English big screen had been The Girl on the Boat forty years before.
In a nutshell, it is the story of the double romance of a father and a son. The father, Mr. Morgan at his ineffectual best, has won the heart of the fair Eugenia (Miss Burke), but has been unable to overcome the objections of the Pett family. His son, Piccadilly Jim, a caricaturist, retaliates by putting the Petts into a comic strip, "From Rags to Riches," and soon makes them the laughing stock of London. Not until then does he make the horrible discovery that they are relatives of the attractive Ann Chester to whom he has lost his heart.
Wodehouse never wrote books that were all of a piece, they were usually just waif-thin plots that strung together his shtick of comically bored, lazy, and inept British aristocrats engaged in idle banter. His writing is utterly charming, very witty, and very intelligently (not to mention intricately) plotted. From the loony Lord Emsworth and his pig, the Empress of Blandings, to the always-broke-but-ambitious Ukridge, to Psmith, Bertie Wooster and the omniscient Jeeves… all absolutely fantastic. But in director John McKay's baffled hands, the film never quite manages to stay on its feet. Careening from full-throttle farce to light-hearted badinage to earnest romance, there's no unified tone present.
An engaging bit of nonsense, it has been played with thorough good humor by Robert Montgomery, Madge Evans, Eric Blore, Frank Morgan, Billie Burke and the rest, and, sped along by Robert Z. Leonard's direction, it provides an uncommonly diverting hour or so of picture-watching. For a while, it seemed like everyone was having an identity crisis in Piccadilly Jim. The characters seemed overdone, but perhaps that was part of the charm of Julian Fellowes' adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse's novel.