Ride the Trail to DODGE CITY with Errol & Olivia (Warner Brothers 1939)

1939 has been proclaimed by many to be Hollywood’s Greatest Year. I could make a case for 1947, but I won’t go there… for the moment. Be that as it may, 1939 saw the release of some true classics that have stood the test of time, including in the Western genre: DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, JESSE JAMES, STAGECOACH , and UNION PACIFIC. One that doesn’t get a lot of attention anymore is DODGE CITY, the 5th screen pairing in four years of one of Hollywood’s greatest romantic duos, heroic Errol Flynn and beautiful Olivia de Havilland.

DODGE CITY was Warner Brothers’ biggest hit of 1939, and the 6th highest grossing picture that year, beating out classics like GOODBYE MR. CHIPS, GUNGA DIN, NINOTCHKA, and THE WIZARD OF OZ. It’s a rousing actioner with plenty of romance and humor thrown in, shot in Glorious Technicolor by Warners’ ace director Michael Curtiz . And with a cast that includes Errol, Olivia, Ann Sheridan, Alan Hale, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, and a trio of Hollywood’s orneriest baddies (Bruce Cabot, Victor Jory, Douglas Fowley), it’s hard not to love this exciting sagebrush saga!

The railroad comes to Kansas, bringing progress and prosperity to the frontier town of Dodge City. Handsome Wade Hatton (Errol, of course!) and his pardners Rusty and Tex (Hale, Williams) have cleared the territory of buffalo years before, as well as clearing it of buffalo poachers Jeff Surrett (Cabot) and his henchmen Yancey (Jory) and Munger (Fowley). Now Wade’s leading a combination cattle drive/wagon train from Texas to Dodge, including beautiful young Abbie Irving (Olivia) and her wastrel brother Lee (William Lundigan), whose drunken shooting causes a cattle stampede to trample him, and Abbie blames Wade for it.

Meanwhile, back in Dodge, Surrett and his goons have turned the town into a lawless jungle of “gambling, drinking, and killing”, with his saloon girl Ruby (Sheridan) by his side. Surrett’s reign of terror has made Dodge the most lawless town in the West, until old rival Wade pulls into town, gets himself elected sheriff, and rounds up all the rowdies into the hoosegow. Surrett’s not licked yet though, but when Wade’s young pard Harry (child star Bobs Watson) is caught in a crossfire and dragged by horses to his death, the kid gloves come off…

It all culminates in an exciting climax aboard a burning railway car, and it’s not a spoiler to tell you the good guys emerge victorious, and Errol and Olivia live happily ever after! DODGE CITY serves as the template for many a Western to come, and Curtiz does his usual fine job in handling both the actors and the action. Some of the highlights include Hale swearing off liquor (!!!) and joining a Ladies’ Pure Prairie League meeting while a knock-down, drag-out saloon brawl rages on next door; the shadowy murder of crusading newspaper editor Frank McHugh ; and the aforementioned stampede, horse-dragging, and fiery finale. All of it brilliantly captured in Technicolor by Sol Polito and set to a typically majestic Max Steiner score!

And you want Familiar Faces? DODGE CITY has ’em in droves: classic era actors like Clem Bevans (the town barber), Monte Blue, Ward Bond (who has a good scene as one of Cabot’s henchmen), Wally Brown , George Chesebro, Chester Clute, Joseph Crehan, Thurston Hall (the railroad man), Charles Halton (Surrett’s weaselly lawyer), Gloria Holden (sympathetic as the little boy’s mom), Milton Kibbee, John Litel, Henry O’Neill (Col. Dodge himself!), Renie Riano (leader of the Pure Prairie League!), Russell Simpson, Henry Travers (as Olivia’s uncle), Cora Witherspoon, and others too numerous to mention!

Errol shines in his first of many Westerns to come, Olivia is more than a match for him, Hale and Williams are always welcome, Sheridan gets to belt a couple of tunes, Bobs Watson does his crying thing, the bad guys are totally hissable, and there’s enough material here for at least a half dozen other Westerns! DODGE CITY may not get as much love as other 1939 hits, but it deserves it’s place as one of the all-time greats.

 

Advertisements

One Hit Wonders #28: “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles (Atlantic Records 1989)

Thirty years ago, Canadian songstress Alannah Myles glided to #1 on the charts with her sultry hit single”Black Velvet”:

Alannah Myles was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, and before breaking through with “Black Velvet” she was fairly well known in her home country, even getting a guest shot as a single young mom on a 1984 episode of the popular Canadian TV show THE KIDS OF DEGRASSI STREET.  When her hit tune stormed the charts, that smoky voice and those sexy good looks catapulted her to stardom, thanks in large part to constant airplay on MTV.

She won a Grammy for Best Female Rock Performance and three Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent to the Grammies), but her subsequent LP’s and singles went nowhere in America, and just as meteorically as she rose, Alannah Myles tumbled off the radar here. She has retained a fan base in Europe and her native Canada though, and is still making music, which can be found via iTunes if anyone’s interested. Be that as it may, Alannah Myles will always be remembered for “Black Velvet”, a song that still gets airplay today on classic rock stations, a tribute to the guy with “that little boy smile” and “that slow Southern style”…

 

Monster Con: Vincent Price in THE BARON OF ARIZONA (Lippert 1950)

We all know and love Vincent Price for his creepy performances in horror films, from his demented Henry Jarrod in HOUSE OF WAX, to all those AIP/Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe shockers, to his turn as The Inventor in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. But the actor was more than just a screen fiend, playing in many a film noir, comedies, costume swashbucklers, and even the Western genre. Our Man Vinnie got top billing in a strange little oater titled THE BARON OF ARIZONA, and as a bonus for film fans the director is a young tyro by the name of Samuel Fuller!

In this bloodless but gripping outing, Price plays James Addison Revis, a swindler, con man, and forger who  concocts an elaborate, grandiose scheme to gain control over the Arizona Territory in 1882. He begins his con game ten years earlier by grooming an orphaned waif named Sofia to later be declared heir to Spanish land grants, then marrying the girl when she becomes of age. The local cowboys are up in arms when Revis and his bride claim the territory as their own, going as far as throwing a bomb through the Revis’ window!

But Revis is second to none when it comes to deviousness, and his forgeries are almost perfect. The U.S. Government even offers him 25 million for the rights to Arizona, but Revis turns them down flat, and sues the Feds instead! But when Department of the Interior agent John Griff begins his investigation, things slowly start to unravel for Revis one strand at a time. When the con is revealed, Revis is almost lynched by an angry mob (in a scene that’s pure Fuller!) before he makes it to the Federal pen…

James Addison Revis is a part that’s tailor-made for the talents of Vincent Price. Based on a true story, Price’s Revis is a charming con artist who almost pulls his scheme off, and Vinnie’s at his best in THE BARON OF ARIZONA. Price has a field day as the grandiose bunco artist, and as always he’s able to say more with one arched eyebrow than any dozen lesser actors! Though he’s a thoroughly despicable cheat and crook, he also displays a tender side, truly in love with Sofia, who loves him back despite his obvious faults.

Sofia is played by another horror vet, Ellen Drew (1941’s THE MAD DOCTOR and THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL), who also does good work here, and is a standout during the courtroom scene. Seems like almost all the cast has some kind of horror connection: Vladimir Sokoloff (Pepito) later played in such fare as MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, and MR. SARDONICUS; Beulah Bondi (Sofia’s duenna Loma) costarred with Karloff and Lugosi in THE INVISIBLE RAY ; Angelo Rossitto (the gypsy Angelo) was in FREAKS and many other spookfests. And hero Reed Hadley (Griff), who also narrates, ended his career in the Al Adamson “classic” BRAIN OF BLOOD!

The legendary Sam Fuller

Sam Fuller worked as a crime reporter and pulp novelist before beginning his Hollywood career as a scenarist. After returning home from WWII, he was given a chance to direct with the low-budget Western I SHOT JESSE JAMES. The 1951 war drama THE STEEL HELMET put him on the map as a filmmaker to be reckoned with, and a string of critically acclaimed movies followed: SCANDAL SHEET, PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET, HELL AND HIGH WATER, THE CRIMSON KIMONO, SHOCK CORRIDOR. Fuller refused to play the Hollywood game, or abide by the rules, and his films are stamped with his singular artistic vision. My personal favorite is 1980’s THE BIG RED ONE, a WWII epic starring an equally singular man, Lee Marvin. Most of his movies are both violent and low-budget, yet Samuel Fuller’s films never let his audience down.

An interesting side note: Allegedly, future PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE auteur Ed Wood worked on THE BARON OF ARIZONA as a stuntman. Is it possible that’s Ed doubling for Vincent Price when he tumbles off that wagon in long shot?? I don’t have any proof to back that up, but hey… stranger things have happened in Hollyweird!!

Yo-Ho-Hollywood!: TREASURE ISLAND (MGM 1934)

Robert Louis Stevenson’s  venerable 1883 adventure novel TREASURE ISLAND has been filmed over 50 times throughout the years, beginning with a 1918 silent version. There was a 1920 silent starring Charles Ogle (the original screen FRANKENSTEIN monster!) as that dastardly pirate Long John Silver, a 1972 adaptation with Orson Welles, a 1990 TV Movie headlined by Charlton Heston, and even a 1996 Muppet version! Most movie buffs cite Disney’s 1950 film as the definitive screen TREASURE ISLAND, with Bobby Driscoll as young Jim Hawkins and Robert Newton as Long John (and Newton would go on to star in the TV series LONG JOHN SILVER, practically making a career out of playing the infamous fictional buccaneer), but…

…a case can certainly be made for MGM’s star-studded 1934 interpretation of the story, teaming Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper as Long John and Jim. This was the first talking TREASURE ISLAND, and the 3rd of 4 screen pairings  for Beery and Cooper, as likable (and unlikely!) a movie team as there even was. Though it’s not 100% faithful to the novel – and what film adaptation is? – it’s pretty damn close, and can stand on it’s own as a rousing pirate adventure.

One dark and stormy night, young Jim Hawkins (Cooper) and his widowed mom (Dorothy Peterson) are visited at their Admiral Benbow Inn by the mysterious drunken sailor Billy Bones, played to the hammy hilt by a scenery-chewing Lionel Barrymore . The rum-soaked Billy, travelling with a sea chest containing “pieces of eight, pearls as big as ostrich eggs, all the gold yer ‘eart can desire”, tells Jim to alert him if a “one-legged seafaring man” arrives. After being visited by pirate cronies Black Dog (Charles McNaughton) and the one-eyed Pew (William V. Mong), drunk Billy takes a tumble down the stairs, dead.

Curious Jim opens the chest, only to find it empty… except for a mapbook containing the location of Capt. Flint’s treasure on a Caribbean isle. Pew and his pirates storm the inn, and Jim and his mom are forced to flee, rescued by the straight-arrow Dr. Livesey (played by the straight-arrow Otto Kruger ), who  along with scatterbrained Squire Trewaleny (who else but Nigel Bruce? ) and Jim, hires the ship Hispaniola, under the command of stalwart Capt. Smollet (played by stalwart Judge Hardy himself, Lewis Stone ). Then that “one-legged seafaring man”, Long John Silver (Beery), talks his way into becoming the ship’s cook, filling the crew with his scurvy pirate cronies, and young Jim sets sail for the adventure of a lifetime…

The role of Long John Silver was custom made for the talents of Wallace Beery, Hollywood’s greatest lovable rogue, and young Jackie makes a spirited Jim Hawkins. The mismatched pair are always a delight to see together, with an unmatched screen chemistry. Offscreen, the grouchy Beery disliked Cooper, and the younger actor later accused Beery of constantly trying to steal scenes (and he was notorious for that!), but while the cameras were rolling, the two made movie magic together. Barrymore’s bit is brief but a lot of fun, and besides those mentioned earlier, vaudeville vet Chic Sale stands out as crazy hermit Ben Gunn, as does screen villain par excellence Douglass Dumbrille  as the murderous pirate Israel Hands.

TREASURE ISLAND has some pretty gruesome moments scattered through it, coming as it did at the tail end of the Pre-Code Era (Will Hays’ Hollywood do’s & don’ts went into effect a few weeks before the film’s release). Victor Fleming was one of MGM’s top directors, and he keeps a lively pace throughout the 105 minute running time, with nary a wasted scene. Fleming doesn’t get discussed a lot among film bloggers these days, but anybody with movies like THE VIRGINIAN, RED DUST , RECKLESS, CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS, THE WIZARD OF OZ, and GONE WITH THE freakin’ WIND on his resume must’ve known a thing or two about moviemaking!!

This was the first time I’d seen the 1934 TREASURE ISLAND, having been much more familiar with the 1950 Disney version. I wouldn’t dare try to pick between the two, so I’ll just say that both are fine films in their own rights, and leave it at that. But with sincerest apologies to Robert Newton, it’s pretty difficult not to choose Wallace Beery as the definitive screen Long John Silver!

Wasn’t Born to Follow: RIP Peter Fonda

It’s ironic that on this, the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, one of our biggest counter-culture icons has passed away. When I saw Peter Fonda had died at age 79, my first reaction was, “Gee, I didn’t know he was that old” (while sitting in an audience waiting for a concert by 72 -year-old Dennis DeYoung of Styx fame!). But we don’t really think of our pop culture heroes as ever aging, do we? I mean, c’mon… how could EASY RIDER’s Wyatt (aka Captain America) possibly be 79??

Be that as it may, Peter Fonda was born into Hollywood royalty February 23. 1940. Henry Fonda was already a star before Peter arrived, thanks to classics like YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, JEZEBEL, YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, and THE GRAPES OF WRATH (released a month before Peter’s birth). Henry has often been described as cold and aloof, not showering much in the way of affection on young Peter and his older sister Jane. Their mother, Frances, committed suicide in a psych hospital, where she’d been admitted after the devastating news Henry wanted a divorce, in 1950, when Peter was just ten.

With Sandra Dee in “Tammy and the Doctor”

Despite (or more likely, because of) his father distance, young Peter began studying acting in college, hoping to follow in Henry’s footsteps. He began getting work in the early 60’s doing TV guest shots (NAKED CITY, WAGON TRAIN, THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR) and some movies (TAMMY AND THE DOCTOR, THE VICTORS, THE YOUNG LOVERS), nothing very memorable. He then became involved with the 60’s counter culture movement, getting arrested during the Sunset Strip riots and tripping on acid with The Beatles (the line “I know what it’s like to be dead” from The Fab Four’s “She Said She Said” is attributed to Fonda). As his hair got longer and his trips more frequent, acting work seemed to dry up… until Roger Corman came a-calling!

The Leader of the Pack: 1966’s “The Wild Angels”

Fonda’s two mid-60’s films with Corman solidified his image as a Hollywood rebel. THE WILD ANGELS was the prototype for all those bikersploitation flicks to come, with Fonda as leader of the pack Heavenly Blues, and another  Child of Tinseltown, Nancy Sinatra, as his ol’ lady. The film’s practically plotless, allowing Corman and uncredited script doctor Peter Bogdanovich to indulge in their outlaw biker fantasies, including this now-classic moment:

Next up was THE TRIP , and if you thought WILD ANGELES lacked in the plot department – hoo boy! This psychedelic 60’s ode to LSD was written by Jack Nicholson , and stars Fonda as an uptight director of TV commercials who tunes in, turns on, and drops out. In my 2017 review, I wrote that THE TRIP is “a visual and aural assault on the senses filled with kaleidoscopic imagery, stunning light show effects, and hallucinogenic nightmare sequences… (that) becomes pure film”. It was on this film Fonda met another Hollywood rebel struggling within the system…

…Dennis Hopper, who’d starred in his own AIP outlaw biker flick, THE GLORY STOMPERS . The two hit it off, and decided to make their own movie, their own way, with Fonda producing and Hopper directing.

Fonda and Hopper in 1969’s “Easy Rider”

Envisioned as a modern-day Western road trip, 1969’s EASY RIDER caught the 60’s counterculture zeitgeist perfectly, and became a huge hit. Largely improvised (though screenwriter Terry Southern always denied it), the film’s structure is about as loose as you can get, following Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) as they ride their choppers from LA to New Orleans after a successful cocaine deal to attend Mardi Gras. Their journey across America takes them to an Arizona farm, a hippie commune, and a night in a New Mexican jail, where they meet alcoholic lawyer Jack Nicholson (who copped his first Oscar nom here) before reaching The Big Easy, and that fateful final encounter with the dark side of America on a lonely stretch of highway. EASY RIDER’s look and attitude helped launch the New Hollywood movement, and featured a seminal rock score by artists like The Band, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, and Steppenwolf.

1971’s “The Hired Hand”

The success of EASY RIDER gave Fonda some clout, and his next picture THE HIRED HAND found him directing and starring as an Old West drifter who returns to his wife (Verna Bloom) after seven years. It’s a dark, moody piece that audiences didn’t quite get when first released; seen today, THE HIRED HAND has a lot going for it, including the performances of Fonda, Bloom, and Warren Oates, and some stunning cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond.

With Brooke Shields in “Wanda Nevada”

After the box office failure of THE HIRED HAND, the bloom was off Fonda’s rose, and he spent most of the 70’s in a series of action flicks: DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY, RACE WITH THE DEVIL, KILLER FORCE, the sci-fi sequel FUTUREWORLD, FIGHTING MAD, OUTLAW BLUES, HIGH-BALLIN’ . Most are good, solid drive-in fare, but Peter’s really not given much to do. He returned to the director’s chair with 1979’s WANDA NEVADA, starring as a gambler who wins 13-year-old Brooke Shields in a card game, and the two hunt for hidden gold in the Grand Canyon. Critics of the day savaged the movie, but I’ve always liked it, and would recommend it to those interested in Fonda’s work. Plus, dad Henry Fonda has a cameo as a grizzled old prospector; it’s your only chance to see Fonda pere and fils share a screen moment together!

With Vanessa Zinn in “Ulee’s Gold”

To paraphrase Dylan, the times they were a-changin’, and Peter Fonda’s 80’s output isn’t all that interesting, except his cameo as a biker in Burt Reynolds’ THE CANNONBALL RUN, and his turn as a cult leader in Ted Kotcheff’s SPLIT IMAGE. But he made a major comeback with 1997’s ULEE’S GOLD, as a Florida bee (not ‘B’) keeper whose drug addicted daughter-in-law brings chaos into his well structured life. There’s a lot of the real-life Henry Fonda in Peter’s reticent Ulee Jackson, and he received an Oscar nomination for his performance, losing to old pal Jack Nicholson for AS GOOD AS IT GETS.

Most of the next twenty years found Peter Fonda doing supporting parts or brief cameos. The Sixties had come and gone, that free-spirited era existing only in nostalgic memory. But as long as the music and movies of the times are with us, as long as there’s a biker cruising down the highway on his (or her) Harley, the spirit of those times, and of Peter Fonda, will always be with us. Rest in peace, Captain America.

You’re Killing Me, Smalls!: Let’s Play in THE SANDLOT (20th Century-Fox 1993)


Baseball movies are as American as apple pie, and everyone has their favorites, from classic era films like THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME to latter-day fare like THE NATURAL and FIELD OF DREAMS. There’s so much to choose from, comedies, dramas, and everything in-between. One of my all-time favorites is 1993’s coming of age classic, THE SANDLOT.

Like most baseball movies, THE SANDLOT is about more than just The Great American Pastime. Director David Mickey Evans’ script (co-written with Robert Gunter) takes us back to 1962, as young Scotty Smalls has moved to a brand new neighborhood in a brand new city. His dad died, and his mom (Karen Allen of NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE fame) has remarried preoccupied Bill (young comedian Denis Leary…. hmmm, I wonder what ever happened to him??), who tries to teach the nerdy kid how to play catch. “Keep your eye on the ball”, Bill tells Scotty, and he does – resulting in a shiner!

The kids on the block take an immediate dislike to goofus Smalls (“The kid’s an L-7… a weenie!”). Why, he doesn’t even know who The Great Bambino was!! Benny, the best ballplayer in the neighborhood, feels sorry for Smalls and takes him under his wing. They all warn him of The Legend of The Beast, a ferocious Great Mastiff junkyard dog who resides on the other side of the sandlot’s fence and eats any baseballs that come his way… and kids, too! One fine day, Benny literally “tears the cover off the ball”, so Smalls runs home to fetch a replacement – an autographed Babe Ruth ball from Bill’s trophy room! Needless to say, Smalls’ first home run winds up in The Beast’s possession, and a mad scramble is on to retrieve it before Bill comes home…

THE SANDLOT is an exercise in nostalgia, all about friendship and childhood dreams, and also happens to be uproariously funny! There’s so much to love about this film, and I especially love the scene at the community pool when ‘Squints’ has his big moment in the sun with neighborhood hottie Wendy Peffercorn, played by Marley Shelton, later of PLEASANTVILLE, SIN CITY, GRINDHOUSE (the Robert Rodriguez half PLANET TERROR) and GRAND THEFT PARSONS. Then there’s the kids learning a valuable lesson: carnival rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl and chewing tobacco don’t mix! The boys trading insults with a rival, well-heeled team about eating toejam and bobbing for apples in toilets ends with ‘Ham’ hurling the biggest insult of all: “You play like a girl!!” (Gasp!!!).

There’s a neat cameo at the end by James Earl Jones (who knew a thing or two about baseball flicks!) as junkyard owner Mr. Mertle, and like it’s spiritual predecessor AMERICAN GRAFFITI , the soundtrack’s loaded with classic rock tunes of the era by Booker T & The MG’s (“Green Onions”), Hank Ballard & The Midnighters (“Finger Poppin’ Time”), The Champs (“Tequila”), The Drifters (“There Goes My Baby”, “This Magic Moment”), The Surfaris (“Wipeout”) , and The Tokens (“The Lion Sleeps Tonight”). THE SANDLOT is a true summertime classic, one I could watch over and over again… in fact, I think I’ll go watch it now! As for the rest of you, since I’m still reelin’ and rockin’ from the John Fogerty concert I attended a few days ago, I’ll leave you with John’s classic ode to baseball from 1985, “Centerfield”:

  “Let’s play two!” – Ernie Banks

“You’re killing me, Smalls!” – Ham Porter

Double Your Fun With Wheeler & Woolsey: HALF SHOT AT SUNRISE (RKO 1930) & COCKEYED CAVALIERS (RKO 1934)

Welcome back to the wacky world of Wheeler & Woosley! Bert and Bob’s quick quips and silly sight gags kept filmgoers laughing through the pain of the Depression Era, and continue to delight audiences who discover their peculiar type of zaniness. So tonight, let’s take a trip back in time with a double shot of W&W comedies guaranteed to keep you in stitches!

1930’s HALF SHOT AT SUNRISE was their 4th film together, and the first exclusively tailored for their comic talents. In this WWI service comedy, Bert and Bob are a pair of AWOL soldiers on the loose in Paris, chasing girls while in turn being chased by a couple of mean-mugged MP’s (Eddie DeLange, John Rutherford). Bert winds up falling for Dorothy Lee (who appeared in most of their films, almost as a third member of the team), the youngest daughter of cranky Col. Marshall (cranky George MacFarlane), who’s having troubles of his own with frisky Frenchwoman Olga (Leni Stengel), to the consternation of wife Edna May Oliver (a frequent film nemesis of the boys).

This all sets the stage for W&W’s patented brand of lunacy, with snappy patter galore, and since it was made in the Pre-Code Era, some of it is pretty racy :

Girl: “Monsieur, you are making a bad mistake”

Bob: “You may be bad, but you’re no mistake!”

Each gets their own song, as Bert teams with Dorothy for a cute little number called “Whistling Away the Blues”, while Bob and Leni warble “Nothing But Love”, a tune that ends with Woolsey in a fountain dressed in nothing but his skivvies! The comedy comes fast and furious, as do the quips, and a standout scene finds W&W disguised as waiters in a fancy French restaurant serving the Colonel and his family. After a truly bizarre musical number featuring an all-female-soldier chorus line, Bert and Bob wreak their usual havoc, and Bob gets off some funny one-liners at the Colonel’s expense:

Colonel: “How’s your turtle soup?”

Bob: “Very snappy, very snappy”

Colonel: “Have you a wild duck?”

Bob: “No, but we can take a tame one out and aggravate it for you”

(Corny, I know, but I still laughed!!)

Eventually, Dorothy and Leni persuade the boys to deliver some secret plans to the front so they’ll be heroes (and her Dad won’t throw them in the brig), and things take a brief dramatic turn – but just briefly, as everything’s wrapped up in a neat comic bow and Bert and Bob get the girls, while the Colonel gets a reprieve from his sourpuss wife! HALF SHOT AT SUNRISE would make a good introduction to those who haven’t yet experienced Wheeler & Woolsey (and as a side note for film buffs, disgraced former silent star Fatty Arbuckle had an uncredited hand in the screenplay).

Most fans of the duo cite 1934’s COCKEYED CAVALIERS as their best picture, but while I would opt for the delirious political satire DIPLOMANIACS , this outrageously funny costumed musical comedy set in Medieval Olde England found me laughing out loud from start to finish! Bert and Bob are a pair of vagabonds who hitch a ride underneath the carriage of the portly Duke of Weskit (Robert Greig) and his niece Lady Genevieve (the delightful Thelma Todd ). The Duke has come to this small village to marry pretty young commoner Dorothy Lee (who else?), who wants nothing to do with the lecherous old toad, and disguises herself as a boy!

Bert suffers from kleptomania (Bob tells him, “Yeah, well why don’t you take something for it?), going into a comical convulsion every time he gets an urge to steal. He gets caught taking the Duke’s horses (and then the carriage!), and the two are put in stocks and pelted with rotten vegetables until Dorothy helps them escape. They waylay the King’s physician and his aide and ride off to the Duke’s estate. Lady Genevieve, believing they’re the real deal, flirts shamelessly with Bob, who flirts right back (Her: “Oh dear, I think you’re making a mistake” Him: “Not with you, baby, not with you!”), not knowing her husband is the rough, gruff Baron (Noah Beery Sr) they met at the local Inn.

Genevieve has called in the King’s physician to cure the Duke’s ills, and the boys proceed to “operate” on him, using a horse training manual! While the Baron goes out hunting the killer wild black boar that’s been terrorizing the countryside, Bob and Genevieve continue their *ahem* flirtation. Bert discovers Dorothy’s not a boy after all, and the quartet all do a comic song and dance number called “Dilly Dally”. The Baron returns and catches Bob messing with his Lady (thanks to his trained Great Dane!), Dorothy consents to marry the Duke to save her father from being beheaded, and everything winds up in a chaotic finale where Bert and Bob capture that devilish wild boar to save Dorothy and her Dad.

COCKEYED CAVALIERS is loaded with outrageous puns, sly double entedres (Thelma: “Don’t you just love wild game?” Bob: “The wildest game I ever played was post office”), plenty of slapstick humor (and you know how much I love slapstick humor!), and silly songs like “Dilly Dally” and the tongue-twisting “And The Big Bad Wolf Was Dead”, sung in the tavern by Bert, Bob, a bevy of extras, and the bass-voiced Beery.

It also features their best supporting cast, including everyone’s favorite comic “Ice Cream Blonde”, Thelma Todd, who also made HIPS HIPS HOORAY with W&W, and costarred with virtually every classic comedian of the era until her untimely death in 1935. Robert Greig (The Duke) was featured in the Marx Brothers’ ANIMAL CRACKERS and HORSE FEATHERS (also with Thelma), and later became a member of Preston Sturges’ movie stock company. Noah Beery Sr (The Baron) played the villain in both comedies and dramas, and was the older brother of Wallace Beery. Other Funny Familiar Faces in COCKEYED CAVALIERS include Billy Gilbert (The Innkeeper), Charlie Hall (the coach driver), Esther Howard (sitting on Bob’s lap at the Inn!), Hollywood’s favorite souse Jack Norton (The King’s physician), prissy Franklin Pangborn (The Town Crier), and former silent star Snub Pollard (the physician’s aide).

Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey’s comedy is timeless, and the team is ripe for rediscovery. In this mad, mad, mad world we live in today, with everyone at each other’s throats on social media over stupidity (read: politics), we all need a good laugh, and the team certainly delivers the goods. The world needs to find it’s sense of humor again, and watching either of these classic comedies may not end the divisiveness, but they’ll sure make you laugh! All Hail Wheeler & Woolsey!!