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Case Number 24056: Small Claims Court

Buy The Maisie Collection: Volume 1 at Amazon

The Maisie Collection: Volume 1

Maisie
1939 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Congo Maisie
1940 // 71 Minutes // Not Rated
Gold Rush Maisie
1940 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Maisie Was A Lady
1941 // 79 Minutes // Not Rated
Ringside Maisie
1941 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Judge Josh Rode (Retired) // June 30th, 2012

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All Rise...

Most people's hair turns gray as they age, but Judge Josh Rode's has become platinum blonde.

The Charge

Everybody's crazy about Maisie the explosive blonde!

Opening Statement

Ann Sothern (My Mother the Car) was just another reasonably attractive actress struggling to get by, when she stumbled upon a role originally intended for Jean Harlow. Maisie was popular and the concept simple enough that several sequels appeared almost overnight; the studio shoveling out two Maisie films in 1940 and 1941.

Facts of the Case

I was planning a full-tilt review delving into each film in The Maisie Collection: Volume 1, but after watching them I discovered doing so would have meant writing the same review five times. So, in order to save both you and myself some time, here's the basic summary of each installment:

Maisie Revier (Sothern) just can't get a break. Every time she secures an acting or dancing job, something happens and she's out on her hiney, virtually penniless and stuck in the middle of some God-forsaken part of the planet. Fortunately, there is always a taciturn man around who she is gradually able to cajole into helping…and the two invariably end up in love.

Maisie (1939)
The first of the series was named after Maisie, but ironically the man, Robert Young (Father Knows Best), is the headliner. It was the first and last time that happened. Maisie misses out on a chance to perform at a carnival so she sneaks a job on a ranch headed by grumpy foreman Slim (Young). Slim has trouble enough, what with the ranch's owner and his aristocratic trophy wife due to show up at any moment. Sothern does her best work in this first installment; everything that follows feels like she's trying to emulate herself.

Congo Maisie (1940)
Maisie is trying to get to a show in Africa but, being broke, she stows away on a boat going downriver. Alas, the boat's boiler breaks down and she and grumpy doctor-turned-rubber-company-owner Michael Shane (John Carroll, Flying Tigers) are forced to spend time at the medical outpost that Shane once ran. Turns out the natives have literally become restless in his absence, incensed by a group of witch doctors. With all the racial stereotyping, this episode would never get to the theater in this day and age. The reasonably realistic jungle is a pleasant surprise.

Gold Rush Maisie (1940)
Maisie is trying to get to a show in Phoenix when her car breaks down. She is reluctantly put up for the night by grumpy rancher Bill Anders (Lee Bowman, Cover Girl). Later she returns with a family of dispossessed farmers who are looking to strike gold. This episode is notable because it's the only one that doesn't have Maisie and the lead man in the throes of wedding plans as the film ends, and it is the one that is most clearly done in front of painted backdrops.

•  Maisie Was a Lady (1941)
Maisie loses her job as The Amazing Headless Woman when rich prankster Bob Rawlston (Lew Ayres, All Quiet on the Western Front) blows her cover. Forced by the local judge to give her a job, Bob hires Maisie as a maid, but it's not something that suits her temperament well. This is the best of the five films that make up Volume 1, but not because of Sothern. Everyone else seems to be having a ball, especially Rawlston, who hams it up engagingly.

•  Ringside Maisie (1941)
Maisie gets kicked off a train after trying to sneak a ride to her latest job opportunity and is rescued by boxer Terry Dolan (Robert Sterling, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea), much to the disgust of his grumpy manager "Skeeter" McGuire (George Murphy, For Me and My Gal). My least favorite of the films, mostly because her love interest is a rather unlikable fellow. On the plus side, the boxing scenes actually look fairly realistic.

The Evidence

The Maisie series may not represent the best examples of cinematic mastery, but it is still a fairly significant part of cinema history for having a strong female lead (never mind that she constantly needs to be rescued by men) during a time of male dominance in most aspects of society. She's brash, bold, and to the point, and fearless when it comes to pointing out the error of other people's ways. Fortunately this is film and the other people generally listen to her and eventually realize that she was right instead of getting offended and either ignoring her or smacking her, as would happen in real life.

The films were successful because, even though Sothern had a fairly limited acting range, she carried a good amount of natural charisma. She gave Maisie an incongruous combination of brashness and vulnerability, and made it work. It's clear that Maisie is truly an earnest, honest person, even when she's threatening to knock someone over.

The success becomes lessened as the sequels grow, however, because Maisie's character never grows with them. Each film is simply a reboot; they all start in basically the same place and each plot follows nearly the same conventions. With only one exception, the men in each film are really the same man, just with different names.

The success becomes still paler because of the love stories. Sothern does not have good romantic chemistry with any of the leading men in these films, so the inevitable confessions of mutual love feel abrupt and untrue in each case. The fault probably lies more with the writing than with the actors. Since Maisie's main characteristic is sassiness, she spends most of each film harassing the man she's supposed to be falling in love with. The men, for their part, spend the same amount of time trying to get her to go away, or at least to get her off of their backs. The only film in Volume 1 that holds even a sliver of romantic tension is Gold Rush Maisie, and that's only because she leaves the man's feelings for her unrequited as she drives off into the sunset.

Each film comes in a standard definition full screen (1.37:1) black-and-white presentation. The picture tends to be on the fuzzy size, with noticeable grain and occasional defects. Par for the course for a show from seventy years ago. Other than a tendency for images to blur together a bit during darker scenes, the overall picture is certainly acceptable. The Dolby mono track comes across even better; the voices are as crisp and clear as most films from the current century. There are no extras.

Closing Statement

While The Maisie Collection: Volume 1 has its share of limitations, the feisty lead makes for some entertaining moments. That being said, there's almost no point in owning a bunch of films that are basically the same story unless you're a Maisie fanatic or just like collecting films from the past. They were put together in a rush to take advantage of a surprise success, and the overall quality of the series suffers for it. Seventy years on, these films have become little more than a curiosity.

The Verdict

Guilty of pandering to a moment long past.

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Genres

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Scales of Justice, Maisie

Judgment: 72

Perp Profile, Maisie

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 1939
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Maisie

• None

Scales of Justice, Congo Maisie

Judgment: 67

Perp Profile, Congo Maisie

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 71 Minutes
Release Year: 1940
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Congo Maisie

• None

Scales of Justice, Gold Rush Maisie

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile, Gold Rush Maisie

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 1940
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Gold Rush Maisie

• None

Scales of Justice, Maisie Was A Lady

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Maisie Was A Lady

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 1941
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Maisie Was A Lady

• None

Scales of Justice, Ringside Maisie

Judgment: 67

Perp Profile, Ringside Maisie

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1941
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Ringside Maisie

• None








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