Saturday, April 28, 2018

'Lost in Limehouse' disappoints

Lost in Limehouse, or Lady Esmeralda's Predicament (1933)
Starring: John Sheehan, Walter Byron, Laura La Plante, Olaf Hytten, and Charles McNaughton
Director: Otto Brower
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

It's up to the Harold the Humble Apprentice (Byron) and Sheerluck Jones, the Great Detective Sheerluck Jones (Hytten) to rescue the fair Esmeralda (La Plante) from the evil Sir Marmaduke Rakes (Sheehan) and his Tong allies.

"Lost in Limehouse" is another short film produced by and starring members and friends of The Masquers Club to raise money for a new guild house. Its main targets for spoofing is the Sherlock Holmes stories and old-time melodramas, but along the way they also mock the Yellow Peril genre, which was popular at the time, as well as the British class structure. Maybe I've come to expect too much of these from the wild and crazy rides of "Thru Thin and Thicket" and "Stolen By Gypsies", but this film was something of a disappointment.

The first half of "Lost in Limehouse" is only mildly funny, with most jokes being poorly delivered and all attempts at physical comedy being simply lame. It is further slowed down by the presence of a completely unnessary character played by Nola Luxford that would have been key to the plot if the film had been written by decent writers. The character reappears during the film's sloppy non-ending, where her presence further underscores the sense that it really should have played a bigger role. Maybe it's just the writer in me filling in the blanks, or maybe it's because Luxford showed such charisma in her small, do-nothing part next to those she shared the scene with, that I wanted her character to be more important. It really felt like she was being set up to be a secret ally of Sir Marmaduke; maybe if this had been a longer, more serious movie, she would have been. As it stands, it would have been better if she had just been left out.

While the Sherlock Holmes spoof, which gets underway as the film enters its second act, is spot-on both plot-wise and dialogue-wise, it ends up falling mostly flat because Olaf Hytten simply isn't much of an actor. In fact, the funniest part of the Holmes spoof grow mostly out of physical comedy related to its intertwining with the Yellow Peril spoof.

The shining highlight of "Lost in Limehouse" is John Sheehan as the lampoon melodramatic villain who's kidnapped the lovely maiden with the intent of forcing her to accept his love. His performance is appropriately over-the-top, he plays well with La Plante and Byron (the two performers he shares the most scenes with), his "evil laugh" is spectacular, and it is his prominence the film's second half that makes it worthwhile. The fact that he manages to abduct Lady Esmeralda twice and tie her up three different times in a very short span makes his character all the more funny. Unfortunately, even Sheehan couldn't save this film from its abysmal script... and while it ends on a literal bang, it feels more like a whimper.

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