Sunday, March 02, 2008


Walter Miller and his wife Winnie Lightner run a successful Broadway costume company; the opening scene, a series of short incidents with punning punchlines, shows just how hectic an average day at the company is. Example: on the phone with someone who wants a historical costume for a female, one salesman says that they are out of Joan of Arc, but that "Madame Du Barry is usually ten dollars a night." We also see how good Lightner is at getting her way with clients when she tricks a couple of gullible producers (the vaudeville team of Joe Smith and Charles Dale) into not only taking an order of pirate costumes that they no longer want, but even increasing the order. Despite the constant activity, Miller wants Lightner to stay at home to take care of their child, so she does, but soon Miller has run the company into the ground and taken off to Paris with his mistress. Her loyal assistant (Frank Conroy) gets her to come back and they undertake a major scheme to get Smith and Dale to invest in a show helmed by a Russian nutcase who thinks he's a theatrical genius, but who wants to do things like bring in elephants and put the audience on the stage--and the orchestra (with no instruments) in the balcony. All Lightner and Conroy care about is that the producers order up enough costumes to get their business going again, and the ruse works, though the punch line to the movie is that the show is a colossal bomb and Smith & Dale wind up back in their old business, selling cheese.

Lightner, who retired from show biz just a couple years later, carries the movie and is very good; she would have been a natural for the "mature" sidekick roles that Helen Broderick and Alice Brady did so well later in the decade. Smith & Dale's shtick is amusing in small doses, but winds up getting used a bit too much by the end. Dithering Charles Butterworth is fine as a costume researcher, but Bobby Watson steals the show as the flamingly gay designer Mr. Paisley. He flits and minces, throws a fit over having to choose between cerise instead of maroon, and says things like, "Couldn't you just *die* tittering?" and "I'd rather take poison than use purple!" Some viewers have pointed out that this bears a passing resemblance to the plotline of Mel Brooks' The Producers, but that's stretching it, as no one here is setting out to deliberately stage a flop. Also with the child actor Dickie Moore and familiar faces Charles Middleton, Nat Pendleton, and Edward Van Sloan. An amusing relic, which was originally intended to be a color musical; none of the songs were shot, and the only prints that exist are black and white. [TCM]

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