36 Hours to Kill (1936)

Making Your Bed

I watched this in preparation for “Europa”. Both are essentially railroad movies.

This is about a gangster who has come out of hiding to take a train trip to from Los Angeles to Chicago to collect on a sweepstakes ticket. On the train, several disguises become apparent among other passengers as well. It is not remotely interesting except for one actor, the Pullman Porter. He is Stepin Fetchit, a man who in later years became reviled for his scraping and bowing, his complete acceptance and deserving of the bottom class. I’ve seen him and his cohorts before. There was one in almost every movie of this era. They make me squirm, not so much for what they are but because it makes me wonder what I easily accept now that my grandchildren will revile.

But here, my god, he is a blast. He had me rolling on the floor and I have to actually send you to this for a masterful performance.

Yes, he plays a stereotype. But it has a few mitigating factors. First, every soul in the thing is a comic stereotype, from the pug, the palooka, moll, Irish copper, German sanatorium doctor and so on. The big thing is that Fetchit’s acting is what I call folded. He plays a moron, with a vocal rhythm that bests today’s rappers. Sure he plays a moron. But the character is constantly talking to himself about what morons the other characters are. And the fold — he knows he is playing a fake being and opens a separate channel with the audience, winking at himself and you for going along.

The US has a strange racial history, and there is much to be ashamed of. But talent is talent and this guy is good.

Folding: Every character is an actor, and some self-aware.

Posted in 2010

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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