Monday, March 31, 2008


I watch silent movies on occasion and have come to have an appreciation for many of them (GREED, INTOLERANCE, THE WIND, THE FRESHMAN, for example) but they remain more novelties to me than anything else. I was interested in seeing this one because it's one of Beatrice Lillie's few film roles. I enjoyed her small role as the white-slaver Mrs. Meers in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, but other than that, it's difficult now to see her perform, as her main fame came as a stage performer. She is good in this romantic comedy set in the world of the theatre, but she doesn't shine, partly due to the pedestrian material. Lillie is a bit player with a traveling theatrical troupe, though mostly she is called upon to do cleaning and sewing and other odd jobs. Their current play is a routine melodrama called "Flaming Women," and Lillie dreams of someday playing the "vampire," or vamp, part; Doris Lloyd, the company's star, has a habit of drinking a little too much and showing up very late, but she still makes it onstage and Lillie's dreams remain unfulfilled. At one town, Lillie befriends a down-and-out young man (Jack Pickford) who has just left his job at a bank and is being framed for embezzlement. She falls for him and gets him a job as a juvenile with the company, not realizing that he still has a sweetheart back home. When they play his town, she takes his part so he won't be recognized. She also manages to save the day when she overhears the real embezzlers plotting, and she uses a strategy from the onstage melodrama (stalling for time) to expose their plans and clear Pickford's name. However, his happy ending sends him back to his gal, leaving Lillie in a kind of sad Chaplinesque situation at the end. A big problem with the movie is the casting of Pickford, brother of silent superstar Mary; he lived hard (drinking, drugs, gambling) and it showed on his face, so he's not exactly convincing as a sweet-faced kid--he's 30 and looks every year of it--and he also has zero charisma and zero chemistry with Lillie, putting quite a burden on Lillie to carry the show. The only other cast member to make much of an impression is Franklin Pangborn in one of his first comical "sissy" roles, playing a rather femme leading man named Cecil Lovelace. He doesn't have a big role, but he makes each moment count. Lillie certainly showed promise here and it's a shame the movie was a flop and she quit pursuing a movie career. She's one of those talents who will have to live on largely in the mists of legend rather than in the eyes and ears of current-day audiences. [TCM]

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Silly second-feature comedy about some middle-aged men who visit their old college and get into all kinds of trouble. Hugh Herbert is a dithering alumnus who now teaches economics at his alma mater; he gets old pals Walter Abel and Charles Butterworth (another prime ditherer) to attend the latest Homecoming. Abel and Butterworth are business partners who want to clinch a deal with the college, so they go for the weekend. Una Merkel, Herbert's wife, was an old flame of Abel's and thinks she feels sparks developing again; Edith Atwater, Abel's wife, encourages his flirtation as a way for him to loosen up, but doesn't realize how far Merkel is willing to go. The best scene is a drunken frolic between Abel and Merkel which almost breaks up both marriages, but this being a comedy, by definition all wrongs are righted by the end. Walter Catlett plays another visiting alumnus, a blowhard politician. There is an amusing scene of the students performing "Othello" with Merkel as Desdemona (being a boy's school, there are no other available females, so she performs this duty annually). I like Walter Abel when he's in a supporting role (as the manager in HOLIDAY INN, for example) but he seems a little out of his element here; however, he is needed as balance for the silly Herbert and Butterworth duo who got on my nerves occasionally. Actually, all three actors are better off as supporting color rather than being the stars of the show. [TCM]

Monday, March 24, 2008


Another Bible story, like that of Salome, which I know mostly from pop culture. And as with the 50's movie of SALOME, this film gives the story of the wicked female a redemptive ending. Director Cecil B. DeMille intones the opening narration about how the Philistines and their idolatrous ways have enslaved the monotheistic Israelites. Strongman Samson (Victor Mature) is supposed to marry local nice girl Miriam (Olive Deering), but he gets interested in the Philistine woman Semadar (Angela Lansbury), who herself is desired by a Philistine prince (Henry Wilcoxon). When the Saran, Philistine ruler of the land (George Sanders), sees Samson kill a lion with his bare hands, he gives Semadar to him, which pisses off Delilah (Hedy Lamarr), Semadar's sister, who is hot for Samson. At the wedding feast, Samson makes an extravagant wager with several men about a riddle they can't figure out, but when Semadar betrays him and tells the men the answer, Samson leaves. He returns later that night to find that she has married the prince; a huge battle ensues in which Samson kicks everyone's ass and Semadar is killed by a stray Philistine arrow. Samson goes into hiding among his people. The Saran levies heavy taxes which he will lift if Samson is given up to him, and Delilah vows her own revenge. Samson is betrayed to the Saran, but during the capture, Samson conjures up a mighty storm and proceeds to slaughter the army with just the jawbone of an ass (a "toy" used by a court dwarf to entertain). Delilah uses her seductive wiles to find out that the secret to Samson's power is his long hair, which he vowed to God never to cut. As we all know, she cuts his hair and he loses his power. The Saran captures him, blinds him, and puts him to work in the mill, on public display as a defeated enemy. Delilah is horrified at how far the Saran has gone. His hair grown back, Samson prays to God and regains his strength. When he is made sport of in an arena, humbled before the Philistine god Dagon, Delilah helps him get revenge by pulling down the pillars of Dagon's temple, killing pretty much the entire cast.

When compared to DeMille's later Biblical epic THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, this suffers. On the plus side, this film has lots of spectacular (for the time) sets and beautiful, colorful costumes. It also has lots of overheated melodramatic dialogue, but it's not as much fun as the later movie--when Lamarr says of Mature, "He's magnificent even in chains," I can hear Anne Baxter purring, "Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!" The cast here is not particularly strong: Mature, though possessing a decent physique, is wooden; Lamarr, who looks fabulous in her slinky silver and gold gowns, is a second-rate Anne Baxter; even Sanders who is usually an asset in all of his films, seems to be at odds, underplaying what he should be overplaying. Russ Tamblyn, all of 15, has a small role, and Fay Holden, Andy Hardy's mom in the long-running movie series, has a mostly wordless part as Delilah's trusted servant. The battle scenes are stiff and artificial, but the destruction of the temple at the end is pulled off nicely. [FMC]

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Easter came bizarrely early this year, only three days after the vernal equinox; with snow flurries still in the forecast and temperatures topping out in the 30s and 40s, it really doesn't feel much like spring, though I will admit the early arrival of Daylight Savings Time has helped. I was planning on doing a whole week's worth of Easterish movies, but I only have three to write up. Yesterday was QUO VAIDS, set a few years after Christ, and tomorrow is a B.C. Old Testament story, so today is the real Easter movie. And I do think that this is probably the best Hollywood version of the life of Christ so far (with Pasolini's THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW the best foreign language one). It helps that Jeffery Hunter looks just like the Holy Card pictures of Christ I remember from my youth, with longish hair and a wispy beard and faraway eyes. He's also very handsome and charismatic, often looking a little sly, like he's thinking of a good joke but can't tell it in mixed company. The script doesn't give Hunter a lot to work with as far as characterization--I think Hollywood has always been afraid to give Jesus a personality above and beyond what's found in the Gospels. But he is always pleasing to look at, as are the sets, costumes, and locations (shot mostly in Spain).

The story, narrated by Orson Welles (with narration written by an uncredited Ray Bradbury), touches on all the familiar gospel anecdotes and adds a couple of interesting plot points, most importantly turning the marginal figure of Barabbas the thief into a Judean freedom fighter--yes, I kept thinking of the Judean People's Front from MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN. In quick succession, we see the Romans invade Jerusalem in 63 B.C, the Nativity, Herod's slaughter of the innocents, and an interesting scene in which Herod Antipas (the son) hastens the death of his sick father. Lucius, a Roman centurion (Ron Randell), sees Jesus as a child during a census survey and realizes by his age that he had somehow escaped the killing of the newborns, but he does nothing with this knowledge. The story then skips some twenty years to John the Baptist (Robert Ryan) proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah as Barabbas (Harry Guardino) and his gang foment revolution. We get John's baptizing of Jesus, John's imprisonment, and Salome's request for his head on a platter (and she does a dance, though there is nary a veil in sight). We see Jesus picking his apostles seemingly at random, the attempted stoning of Mary Magdalene, and the Sermon on the Mount, a well done scene with thousands of extras. Judas (Rip Torn) is a freedom fighter who sincerely hopes to merge the messages of Jesus and Barabbas; his betrayal of Jesus is motivated by his hope that, if the Romans interfere with Jesus, he and his followers will join up with Barabbas. Of course, this doesn't happen. Instead, after the Last Supper and Judas' kiss, Jesus is bounced around between Pontius Pilate (Hurd Hatfield) and Herod Antipas, with Lucius providing Jesus' defense. Perhaps because of the length of the film, the Crucifixion and Resurrection scenes actually feel anti-climatic. Hunter does a nice job making Jesus human, and acting honors also go to Rendell and Hatfield. Torn, young and unrecognizable behind a beard, seem uncomfortable--and I suspect his voice has been dubbed in by a different actor--and Guardino is a zero as Barabbas. Ryan was too old to play John the Baptist, who according to the legends is the same age as Jesus (Hunter was in his mid-30s and Ryan was over 50 and looks even older), and he seems to be sleepwalking through the role. As usual, there is not much for the women here to do; Carmen Sevilla as Magdalene has almost no dialogue, though Siobhan McKenna is fine as the Virgin Mary. As I noted earlier, even when the plot bogs down and the acting disappoints, the film is always gorgeous to look at. [DVD]

Saturday, March 22, 2008

QUO VADIS (1951)

In the year 67, with Nero (Peter Ustinov) as Emperor of the Roman Empire, great commander Marcus Viniciuis (Robert Taylor) returns triumphantly to Rome from the wars. While staying temporarily with retired general Plautius, he gets the hots for the family's adopted daughter (and former slave girl) Lygia (Deborah Kerr). When Paul of Tarses arrives, supposedly as a philosophy teacher, we know he's really a Christian and that Plautius' entire family has converted to the outlaw religion. As a favor to Marcus, Nero has Lygia forcibly taken away and put in Nero's "House of Women," then given as a gift to Marcus. For some reason, Lygia resents this treatment and her Christian friends help her escape. Soon Marcus and Lygia meet up again and though her faith freaks him out, they wind up in love. In his insanity, Nero, who has a habit of singing his own irritating songs constantly, has Rome put to the torch in order to build a new city (Neropolis, he proposes). When the teeming homeless mob invades his palace grounds, he has word spread that it was the Christians who burned the city. He takes as many of them as he can prisoner (including Lygia, Marcus, Plautius, and the apostle Peter) and throws them to the lions in a giant Coliseum show to entertain the masses. Marcus, who has converted and gone through a marriage ceremony to Lygia, manages to have word sent to General Galba to come to take over for the nutcase Nero. Soon the Praetorian Guard has revolted and Nero is left to kill himself, though it takes the will of a slave girl, who loves Nero, to get him through this final act.

Based on a popular novel (which had previously been made into a silent film), the plotline is very similar to that of DeMille's SIGN OF THE CROSS. I had always assumed that Charles Laughton in that film was the definitive Nero, but Peter Ustinov is better. He plays the emperor as a gaping, addled, man-child and, though the performance almost goes over the top at times, he is always fun to watch, and in the end, unable to deliver a final suicidal blow without assistance, he almost seems tragic. British actor Leo Genn is just as good as Ustinov in the less showy role of the poet Petronius, Nero's closest advisor, who clearly holds Nero in great contempt, but can manipulate him with his wit and wordplay. A highlight of the film is listening to Petronius, who knows it's just a matter of time before Nero has him killed, compose a letter telling Nero how bad his songs and poems are. Boxer Buddy Baer is Ursus, a Christan strongman who battles a bull in the arena to save Lygia. Patricia Laffan is quite good as Nero's wife who lusts after Marcus and threatens Lygia with torture. The sets are spectacular (it was filmed at the famous Cinecitta Studios in Rome, where the recent HBO series "Rome" was filmed) as are the costumes, and some of the effects, such as the burning of Rome and the upside-down crucifixion of Peter, are quite well done.

Unfortunately, the main narrative thread, the romance of Marcus and Lygia, is tedious, Kerr is bland, and Taylor is terrible. He's not so much wooden as pedestrian or even amateurish. He pronounces "pleasures" as "play-shures" and "lashes" as "lay-shus." He overacts sometimes and underacts other times. He is sturdy and good looking, but never becomes anything but a Hollywood prettyboy uncomfortably stuffed into a period piece. This does not ruin the movie, as there is a lot more happening besides this plotline, but it does make the picture's running time of almost three hours feel like three hours. The title ("Where are you going?") comes from a line during an odd scene when Peter and his twelve-year-old assistant (?) are on the road; Peter asks God for guidance and God speaks through the boy, telling Peter to go back to Rome--where, of course, he winds up crucified! It looks like a DeMille film, but it makes me appreciate DeMille's sense of pomp and commercial artistry. See it for Genn and Ustinov. [TCM]

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


In England in 1940, when the fall of France to the Germans is announced, upper-crust Joan Fontaine shocks her family when she joins the Women's Auxiliary Force. While mingling with one of her new working class friends, she is set up on a blind date with the dashing Tyrone Power. They hit it off, even though he goes off on a rant about the upper classes without knowing her background. In fact, when she gets a one-week leave, she runs off with him for a little romantic holiday, though she shames herself out of going all the way (more due to the Hollywood Production Code than the character as written, I suspect). After his old friend Thomas Mitchell comes to visit, Fontaine discovers that Power is an Army deserter, frustrated with defending an outdated class system. This causes a rift between them, but after Power has an impassioned talk with a minister (Alexander Knox), he decides to turn himself in and talks the military police into giving him an extra hour at liberty to meet one last time with Fontaine. Before he can get to her, he is seriously injured helping a woman and her child during an air raid. In the hospital, Fontaine shows up and they get married, and the film ends with a rather over-the-top propaganda speech just before the air raid sirens start blaring again. The movie plays out like a romance that wants to be propaganda, or vice versa, and the elements don't always mesh well, but Power and Fontaine make a good couple and the A-level production values are appreciated. The wonderful Gladys Cooper doesn't get nearly enough screen time as a haughty aunt; other dependable character actors who don't get enough to do include Nigel Bruce, Sara Allgood, Henry Stephenson, and Melville Cooper. [FMC]

Saturday, March 15, 2008


This movie, included on the new Criterion DVD set of THE LADY VANISHES, stars two supporting actors from that movie, Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, playing the same two characters from that film, the conservative, cricket-loving, stiff-upper lip Charters and Caldicott. They are stuffy and bumbling but likeable, and resourceful when they need to be. They were so popular in the Hitchcock film, they appeared as support in the same roles in NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH a couple of years later, and were made the stars of two B-comedies in the 40's. This one feels like a Hope & Crosby "Road" picture. The film begins with the two on a bus tour of Iraq, thinking all time of getting back home in time for the results of an important cricket match. The bus breaks down and they get a hand from a sheik who happens to have gone to the same school as Charters. In Saudi Arabia, they get tangled up in a spy ring and accidentally wind up in possession of a phonograph record of a song by singer Greta Gynt which includes the plans for a Nazi attack on an oil field. The spies follow them to Istanbul where they have an adventure in a fake hotel (and almost end up dumped in the Bosphorus River via a fake men's room door). Then it's on to Budapest where they meet up with Charters' horse-faced sister (Noel Hood) who is also Caldicott's fiancée. It turns out (unsurprisingly) that Gynt isn't really a Nazi but a British agent who is trying to help the duo out of the danger they're in. Things come to a head in a castle on the Rumanian border where our heroes face a firing squad. Of course, with Gynt's help, all is fine in the end.

Though this isn't as funny or surreally whimsical as the American "Road" movies, it has its moments, and Radford and Wayne are worth seeing. I found myself always giggling when Wayne kept getting Gynt's name wrong--her stage name is La Palermo, but he keeps calling her La Thingamabob, La Thingy, and La Whatzit. The fake hotel, set up with dozens of people just for the benefit of our duo, is a nice idea but gets mostly wasted. There's an amusing slapstick scene in a café in which they try to stop Gynt's record from being played. I did not recognize most of the supporting players who provide average B-level support, though Gynt does stand out. There was only one more Charters and Caldicott movie, but Radford and Wayne frequently appeared together to play very similar characters (DEAD OF NIGHT, QUARTET). BTW, we find out here that their full names are Hawtrey Charters and Sinclair Caldicott. [DVD]

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I like the films of Alfred Hitchcock, but I'm not a fawning acolyte. I hot and cold with him: I love PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, REBECCA, and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, but I don’t like NORTH BY NORTHWEST or THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (either version), and I am smack in the middle on films that others love, like REAR WINDOW and VERTIGO. One of my very favorite Hitchcocks is this fairly early effort, one of the last films he made in England before coming to Hollywood. A trainload of people are stranded overnight at an Alpine inn due to an avalanche. We meet the main characters as they interact during the evening: Margaret Lockwood is a lively and lovely young woman on her way back to England, after holidaying with friends, to marry a man she doesn't much care for; Michael Redgrave is a cocky but likeable musicologist who gets on Lockwood's bad side with some noisy folk dancing right above her room; Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne are a pair of middle-aged British men who, despite the atmosphere of upcoming war, are only concerned with cricket matches back home; Dame May Whitty is a nice older lady, Paul Lukas is a distinguished doctor, and Cecil Parker and Linden Travers are a pair of illicit lovers posing as a married couple. This congenial and amusing section of the film ends with a whistling troubadour being strangled, though no one seems to notice. The next day on the train, Lockwood and Whitty bond over tea, but later Lockwood discovers that Whitty has gone missing, and some passengers insist that she was never on the train to start with. With Redgrave's help, Lockwood investigates and they run afoul of some spies, led by Lukas. There are some grand twists and turns and action sequences (such as they were in late 30's British movies) before everything gets sorted out and the good guys win.

I love this movie for two reasons: 1) the opening sequence which begins with the camera swooping over a patently artificial but charming miniature set and continues on a patently artificial but charming mountain inn set, and 2) the train setting later. I'm always a sucker for thrillers set on trains and this is practically an archetypal example: a small cast of characters (some good, some bad, and some whom we're not sure about) stuck on a moving train with espionage and/or robbery and/or murder afoot. Lockwood and Redgrave make a nice couple, though it took me a while to accept Redgrave, who is quite obnoxious in the opening. I also love Radford and Wayne, whose characters, Charters and Caldicott, became popular and appeared in a handful of other films, most notably NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH, another wonderful spies-on-a-train movie. The only real Hitchcockian touches I could identify here are the stagy sets (as in ROPE, THE BIRDS, REAR WINDOW), his cameo near the end (which I didn't catch), and the quirky touch of a high heel-wearing nun. The first section is quite humorous, but the light tone remains throughout, tempered with the tension and occasional violence of a thriller. Enjoyable and endlessly watchable. [DVD]

Friday, March 07, 2008


Had this very low budget comedy-horror film been released when it was shot, in 1964, it might have had a reputation of being ahead of its time--it anticipates NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, except with an antic "Addams Family" mood and a lot less gore. The film opens with someone reading to us from the Directory of Rare and Peculiar Diseases about a condition, named after the inbred Merrye family, in which, as the person ages, his or her brain regresses back through childhood into "prenatal" savagery. The rest of the film is a flashback showing what are apparently the last remnants of the Merrye family living in isolation in a dilapidated house out in the sticks. A delivery man (Mantan Moreland) pops his head through the window only to get hacked up by one of the crazy daughters (Jill Banner) who likes to play at being a spider, swinging knives about in both hands. Also living in the house is a slightly less manic sister (Beverly Washburn), a severely retarded brother (Sid Haig) who looks like a cross between Zippy the Pinhead and Riff-Raff from Rocky Horror, and two barely human relatives who live mostly unseen in the cellar. They're all taken care of by the faithful chauffeur (Lon Chaney Jr.) until two cousins (Carol Ohmart and Quinn Redeker) arrive with a shyster lawyer named Schlocker (with a chubby face and a Hitler mustache) to take the estate and send the kids off to an institution. Chaney tires to protect the kids (and protect the visitors from the kids), but when the visitors decide to spend the night, the fun starts. A cat is served for dinner, another spider game (this time mixed with a misguided seductive intent) is played, and cannibalism rears its ugly head before all is said and done.

According to IMDb, this is being remade as I write this review, and it will undoubtedly be much more graphic, but the charm (if that's the right word) of this film is in the low budget atmosphere and lack of gore. We see a severed ear (patently fake) and an apparent rape, but otherwise the horrors are more suggested or glimpsed in the background than shown, which is what allows the comic tone to work. Practically none of the characters are sympathetic, though we are meant to root for Redeker and the lawyer's pretty secretary (Mary Mitchel) who fall for each other during the course of the long night. Chaney gives one of the better performances of his career here; unlike in many of his 50's and 60's films, he actually has dialogue and a relatively well-rounded character to play and he's quite good. There are some sly WOLF MAN references in honor of Chaney, I assume. Moreland, who played countless pop-eyed butlers and porters in the 30's and 40's, puts in basically a cameo. Ohmart, looking a bit like a low-rent Meryl Streep, does a nice turn as the villainous cousin who prances about, alone in her room, in a negligee, for no particular reason except that the hideous Haig can hang upside down and leer at her. Today, little of the movie would seem transgressive except for Ohmart's rape by Haig, which then makes her lust after him. The print shown on TCM (and, I assume, on the new Dark Sky DVD) was absolutely pristine. Chaney sings the title song--not a memorable one, though my partner had me singing "Spider Baby" to the tune of "Santa Baby." Junky and a little gross, but quite watchable. On screen subtitle: "The Maddest Story Ever Told." [TCM]

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


This is one of those movies I used to see listed in TV Guide all the time when I was a kid but which rarely crops up today. It’s a fairly mild slapstick comedy with Lucille Ball just before she hit her stride on TV with "I Love Lucy." In fact, she comes off here as something of a second cousin to Lucy Ricardo, playing the mildly ditzy fiancée of the mildly ditzy Eddie Albert. Both work at a steamship company, she as a secretary and he as a file clerk, and plan to marry and buy their dream house until, in Lucy Ricardo fashion, Ball starts an office fire and, well, gets fired. We learn that Jerome Cowan, the boss, is involved in diamond smuggling and needs to find someone rather stupid to replace an outgoing manager, so he promotes Albert. In the meantime, Ball has taken a job as a Fuller Brush girl, a door-to-door salesperson of cosmetics. We see her in a series of misadventures until she gets to the door of Cowan's wife (Lee Patrick). Cowan has had his wife killed (by a sexy female hit person, Gale Robbins) and Ball ends up under suspicion not only for that murder, but for the later death of Cowan. There follows a commotion in a burlesque house and a chase on board a ship before all is righted. I'm not a big fan of Ball's movie career, but she is quite funny here. Three scenes are standouts. In the first, Ball is giving home perms to a group of ladies when chemicals from a boy's science kit get mixed in with the perm solution, causing the ladies' hair to fall out in huge twitching clumps. During the climax, in a scene a bit like her later famous Vitameatavegamin episode on "I Love Lucy," she's on a ship filled with wine casks and ends up ingesting much of the wine, getting quite drunk in the process. My own favorite, however, is the burlesque house scene; Robbins does a nice version of "Put the Blame on Mame," but Ball steals the scene, dressed up in outrageously exaggerated chorus girl drag. Just remembering how she looked makes me chuckle. This film was a sequel to THE FULLER BRUSH MAN with Red Skelton, and he has a funny cameo here. Also with Jeff Donnell and John Litel. Not a movie for the ages, but worth seeing for Ball's performance. [TCM]

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]