Friday, May 1, 2020
Nat Hood's Quarantine Qapsule #26 Party Wire  ★★★
In both films the wrongly accused victims get their comeuppance: Wilson orchestrates a public trial that convicts members of his lynch mob; Marge gets her fiancé, local diary magnate Matthew Putnam (Victor Jory), to transfer his company’s money out of the local bank and fire all the town’s diary workers. And curiously, both films use montage to liken the small town gossips to animals—Lang with a flock of chickens, Kenton with croaking frogs.
But the stark difference between the two films comes in their approach to their material. Lang’s film is full of bare-teethed anger and nihilism; one wonders how he would’ve ended it if Hollywood hadn’t required a happy ending. Kenton’s film, meanwhile, is a light comedy. Not a dark comedy, mind you; the humor doesn’t arise from the absurdity and injustice of the situation itself as it might in a screwball or a Coen Brothers film. Comedic relief is instead nailed on like so many boards on a piece of drywall. Kenton fills his film with comedic set pieces comprised of local color: a trio of old biddies spying on each other through the party line; a long-winded judge giving a speech. A good ten minutes of the seventy-minute runtime is devoted to Marge’s boozing father Will (Charley Grapewin) and his various schemes to hide moonshine in cough syrup and linseed oil bottles. One wishes Kenton had committed to a more focused, pointed approach like Lang.