It's too bad that more of us don't recognize this smiling face. Joe E. Brown was instantly recognizable to millions during the '20s and '30s. He grew up in the circus, in a tumbling act with his father and brothers; in his movies he mixed athletic physical comedy with character-based humor, his character being a good-natured innocent who turns out to be no fool. Like many great comics, he was a superb actor; he is always 100% in the scene, not waiting for his next line (though he hated seeing himself onscreen).
But there are other roles that I always think of when I think of Joe E. Brown; first, his wonderful turn as one of the clowns in Max Reinhardt's 1935 film of Midsummer Night's Dream. Featuring a dream cast of seasoned comics that was exactly what Shakespeare had in mind -- Frank McHugh, Arthur Treacher, James Cagney, Hugh Herbert, and more -- Brown still stands out even in this company as Flute the Bellows-Mender, assigned the role of Thisbe, the heroine of the Greek tragedy they are rehearsing. The actual performance is priceless, with roaring lion, a giggling wall in the person of Hugh Herbert, and Flute in mid-peroration suddenly realizing he's forgotten a key prop. I really never get tired of this movie.
|In China visiting refugees in WW2|
|Visiting airmen in Australia|
|As Elwood Dowd in Harvey|