Monday, September 13, 2010

Triskaidekaphilia: Friday the Thirteenth

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

No, this isn't a repeat of the entry I wrote a few months ago about the horror classic Friday the 13th; rather, this is about an obscure British comedy-drama from 1933 that happens to share the same title, albeit with the date spelled out. Thanks to fellow About guide Mark H. Harris, whose list of movies that share titles with famous horror movies alerted me to the existence of this little oddity, which appears to be unavailable on DVD but can be watched in its entirety at the Internet Archive. Honestly, it could have used a deranged killer in a hockey mask rampaging his way through the characters in order to make it a little more interesting.

Instead we get the dry, mostly dull stories of 13 strangers whose lives are intertwined when they all end up in a bus crash together. It's sort of a precursor of the tedious everything-is-connected ensemble dramas that have become so popular (and then cliched) in the last decade or so. The difference is that these people's lives don't intersect except when they all get on the bus, and even then they don't really interact with each other. The movie starts with the crash and then flashes back to the beginning of the day (which is, of course, Friday the 13th) to show how each character ended up on the bus. There's some amusement value in some of the stories, but most are based on silly little misunderstandings or contrivances, and are completely insubstantial.

I did appreciate the performance by Jessie Matthews as a chorus girl torn between her dull schoolteacher fiance and a sleazy producer who offers her the chance to dance in Paris. She brings a level of liveliness and naughtiness to the role that isn't matched by any of the other actors, who all either overdo the comedy or play things too sleepily. Matthews has wonderfully expressive eyes and a sly twinkle that indicates something more going on behind them, and her character gets to be assertive without looking like a harlot. She's worth checking out, but the rest of the movie is notable only for the curiosity of its title.

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