Somehow, Leonard Maltin missed Wide Open in the latest edition of his Classic Movie Guide. It’s not hard to see why. It’s a creaky, forgettable film with only a few funny moments thanks to the great Edward Everett Horton.
This 1930 precode, directed by Archie L. Mayo (The Petrified Forest), is a weird quickie that stars Horton as the male lead. Yes, you read that right. The funniest character actor of all time is the lead in this film, looking freakishly young at 44 years old.
Despite being the lead, Horton actually plays a character you’d expect to see him play in a supporting part. He’s bookkeeper Simon Haldane, whose co-worker Agatha (Louise Fazenda) is in love with him, even though he insists on being a bachelor for life. Weirdly, her mom insists Simon marry her daughter and storms into his apartment. While that’s going on, Doris (Patsy Ruth Miller) slips into the apartment while trying to escape police. This sets up some incredible confusion that only Horton can pull off believably. It’s a total riot. Doris ends up staying at Simon’s apartment after a doctor falls for her fake fainting. Over the course of the film, he realizes that women aren’t that bad.
Although short, the film doesn’t really feel that way, thanks to its time-wasting script. We don’t actually find out why Doris was on the run until the very end of the movie.
Still, it packs in several wonderful performances. Horton is his hilarious self, especially when he has to stand up to men tougher than his character. Miller, whose only major contribution to film history is playing Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), has a few funny moments. Fazenda makes the best of her time on screen. There’s a genius moment where Fazenda and Horton are playing around in a recording studio that will have you rolling on the floor. And there’s never enough praise to heap on Louise Beavers, who plays Simon’s wise maid and his conscious.
The 69-minute film is based on the novel The Narrow Street by Edward Bateman Morris, with a script by Arthur Caesar (Oscar-winner for Manhattan Melodrama) and James A. Starr.
Warner Archive released Wide Open on DVD last month, along with She Had to Say Yes. Like that film, the disc doesn’t include a trailer. However, the movie is in pretty good shape for its age.
Wide Open certainly isn’t a deep movie and it’s not a great precode by any stretch, with some moments that make it feel too long. If you like Horton, this might be one to pick up on sale. Otherwise, just wait for it to come up on the TCM schedule.
Thanks to Warner Archive for providing the DVD to review. It’s available at WBShop.com/WarnerArchive.