Tuesday, August 30, 2011


When a "talent scout" comes to a small Midwestern town to take screen tests (for anyone with the $75 fee), many of the town's citizens line up, including young beautician Peggy. She tries to get the money from her boyfriend Jimmy but he's leery about the whole thing, and his father, Thomas Brown (Will Rogers), thinks rightfully so; he worries that the whole town will go crazy hoping to be discovered. Brown leaves town for a convention and while he's gone, his wife winds up as part of the craze when she takes a lead role in a community theater production. When a disapproving Brown returns, he spreads the rumor that a big Hollywood director named Von Blitzen will be in town to see the tests. The opening night of the play is a disaster and Von Blitzen thinks all the screen tests were terrible—except for a little comedy routine that Brown did. Of course, Von Blitzen is just an actor hired to play a part to teach the townsfolk a lesson, and after Brown smoothes some ruffled feathers, all's quiet in town again.

This mild comedy doesn’t feel like a typical Will Rogers vehicle and it isn't: it's based on a popular play of the day called The Torch Bearers. Rogers gets to do a little of his trademark wise and dry drawling, but this is really an ensemble piece that's been adjusted to focus on Rogers. The actor to watch here is Billie Burke as his wife; in the play-within-the-movie, she gives a hysterically bad performance in a mummified Mae West fashion. The entire play sequence is great fun; it feels like Noises Off, the amusing 90s farce that features the onstage and backstage antics of an acting troupe. Other cast members worth seeing include Sterling Holloway as a prompter who keeps forgetting to give the actors their cues, Alison Skipworth as the pompous director, John Qualen as Von Blitzen, and Frank Albertson as Rogers' son. At times the whole thing feels almost modern, especially the thirst for fame theme (though today the plot would involve casting for a reality TV show), except for Rogers—he's not bad, but with his slower pacing, it feels like he walked in from a whole different movie. [DVD]

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