Classic Cinema: Niagara Falls (1941) – By Jason S. Lockard

My name is Jason S. Lockard and I love classic screwball comedies. This is truly a lost art form. Hollywood writers and producers no longer know how to make those kind of sweet and carefree kind of films that just take you way to a different time and place. Such is our film for this month 1941’s Niagara Falls. Produced by Hal Roach studios, directed by Gordon Douglas and in a pivotal role, the star of the month, the great Zazu Pitts.

ZaSu Pitts was born on January 3, 1894 in Parsons, Kansas to Rulandus and Nellie (Shay) Pitts; she was the third of four children. Her father, who had lost a leg while serving in the 76th New York Infantry Regiment in the Civil War, had settled the family in Kansas by the time ZaSu was born. Her name came from her mother’s sister Eliza and Susan. The last two letters of Eliza and the first two of Susan thus ZaSu and if you are wondering Pitts herself gave the right pronunciation as "Say Zoo".

In 1903, at the age of nine, the Pitts family moved to Santa Cruz, California, seeking a warmer climate and better job opportunities. ZaSu attended Santa Cruz High School, where she participated in school theatricals. Pitts made her stage debut in 1915 and discovered by film pioneer and screenwriter Frances Marion two years later. Pitts made her film debut in, The Little Princess starring Mary Pickford in 1917.

ZaSu Pitts grew in popularity using her talents in both comedies and dramas. Pitts enjoyed her greatest fame in the 1930s, often starring in B movies and comedy shorts, teamed with Thelma Todd. She also played secondary parts in many films. Her persona of a fretful, flustered, worrisome spinster made her instantly recognizable. ZaSu starred in a number of Hal Roach shorts and features, and co-starred in a series of feature-length comedies with Slim Summerville including our film for this month.

Margie Blake (Marjorie Woodworth) while driving suffers a flat tire. Enter Tom Wilson (Tom Brown) traveling salesman, stops to help the damsel in distress. They soon realize are polar opposites. She wants to get married young and have two dozen kids, he holds true to his beliefs in love ‘em and leave ‘em. Along comes Oklahoma oilman Sam Sawyer [Slim Summerville] and his new bride Emmy [ZaSu Pitts], on their way to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon. Sam thinks that the two young ones are married and having a lover’s spat. Tries to get them to kiss and make up! They do so thinking the man is dangerously insane.

When Margie and Tom arrive at the honeymoon hotel separately, Sam sees the two are still fighting and decides to gives the two Emmy and his’ Honeymoon suite. Sam locks them in the suite and stands guard outside the room until the solve their marital problems. Well, Sam not only has two deal with the “lovers spat”, but has a frustrated wife to deal with, as they postponed their wedding for twenty years to afford a honeymoon in Niagara Falls!

Will Margie and Tom kill each other before the night is up or will they fall in love? Will Emmy get the honeymoon she waited twenty years for?! You’ll have to watch the film to find out!

ZaSu married twice in 1920 for thirteen years to Tom Gallery whom that had a girl Ann and adopted a son Marvin Carville La Marr son of silent film actress Barbara La Marr. after their divorce she married John E Woodall in 1933 and stay with him till her death.

In 1944 Pitts conquered Broadway, making her debut in a mystery entitled Ramshackle Inn. Later in the 50s ZaSu would focus on TV and had her greatest success as Elvira Nuget ("Nugie") the second banana to Gale Storm on The Gale Storm show! Finally her final film was Stanley Kramer’s 1963 Comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World playing the switchboard operator. Six months and one day after filming her scene; on June 7, 1963 ZaSu succumb to the cancer she was diagnosed with in the Mid 1950s.

An excellent cook, collector of candy recipes, author of the cookbook "Candy Hits", a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a postage stamp all these accolades are to the great ZaSu Pitts’.

So until next month this is Jason Lockard reminding you if you want to see a good film, Check out a classic!

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Moral Rating: Nothing Offensive
Audience: Family
Genre: Comedy
Length: 44 min.
Released: 1941
Our Rating: B-