SIFF Tugboat Annie
posted by June 7 at 18:00 PMon
I had never before seen a movie or play with the name “Annie” in the title. I imagine this was originally an accident, but then it became a way for me to pretend I didn’t know what people were on about when they sang “Tomorrow” at me. And then it became an irrational obsession.
Anyway, I broke my decades-long Annie boycott yesterday for Tugboat Annie (1933), which was filmed on Lake Union and on the Seattle waterfront but set in the hybrid town of Secoma. (Yeah, it’s too close to “glaucoma” for comfort, but I actually think this is a more attractive portmanteau than SeaTac.) The audience was seeded with lots of local film critics, but mostly I saw the characteristic turtlenecks and chignons and woolly beards of the native Seattleite.
I like to read early film criticism to make myself feel better about my writing, so it’s with no small quantity of glee that I give you an excerpt from Mordaunt Hall’s original New York Times review of the film.
That grand actress, Marie Dressler, delivers an even more effective characterization than usual in her latest picture, “Tugboat Annie,” which is based on a series of magazine stories written by Norman Reilly Raine. In this film, now on exhibition at the Capitol, she appears as the often troubled, determined, but always sympathetic Annie Brennan, who is the guiding spirit of the Pacific Coast tugboat Narcissus. And Wallace Beery, who was teamed with Miss Dressler in the enormously successful “Min and Bill,” gives an excellent account of himself as Terry, Annie’s bibulous spouse.
Not only is Miss Dressler’s part more satisfactory than those she had in her previous pictorial ventures, but the story, with all its rambunctious mirth and its spells of sentiment, is superior to the other vehicles. The episodes in which Terry indulges his taste for alcohol are set forth in such a humorous fashion that they aroused loud waves of laughter from the audience at the first show yesterday.
Bibulous is a good word, though. It means either “absorbant of moisture” or “addicted to drinking or tippling.”
A more entertaining take on Tugboat Annie can be found in the virtual pages of Time Magazine. My favorite line: “The next three reels of Tugboat Annie show a few more of the things Annie has to put up with.” It’s worth reading the whole thing—seriously. You’ll find out how many massages and colored servants Marie Dressler had at the height of her fame.
The film was based on the Tugboat Annie stories (and illustrations) in the Saturday Evening Post.
Historylink denies the claim that the titular Annie Brennan was based on Thea Foss, the original Puget Sound lady tugboat titan. But her descendants’ tugboat Wallowa (afterward called Arthur Foss) was used extensively in the film.
The movie suffers from the awkward transition (noted by the Time review) between Annie’s husband’s slapstick drunkenness, played for laughs, and his stupid, destructive alcoholism, which nearly derails her career. (Not that the ’30s perspective admits she might deserve one.) And there’s an awful lot of direct-to-camera mugging, occasioned by taxi windows and tugboat fire boxes and so forth. But Annie’s inventive cussing can make you forgive many sins. And how about that tug, huh?
I wonder if Matt McCormick has seen it.