DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

WHOOPEE! (director: Thornton Freeland; screenwriters: based upon the play "The Nervous Wreck" by Owen Davis/William Conselman/story by Robert Hobart Davis, William Anthony McGuire and  E.J. Rath; cinematographers: Lee Garmes/Gregg Toland/Ray Rennahan; editor: Stuart Heisler; music: Gus Kahn/Walter Donaldson; cast: Eddie Cantor (Henry Williams), Eleanor Hunt (Sally Morgan), Paul Gregory (Wanenis), Albert Hackett (Chester Underwood),  Ethel Shutta (Mary Custer), John Rutherford (Sheriff Bob Wells), Betty Grable ( Goldwyn Girl), Walter Law (Jud Morgan), Chief Caupolican (Black Eagle), Spencer Charters (Jerome Underwood); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Samuel Goldwyn/Florenz Ziegfeld; Warner's Archive (MGM); 1930)

"Snappy stage-bound musical comedy."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Thornton Freeland ("Flying Down to Rio"/"Brewster's Millions"/"Jericho") directs this snappy stage-bound musical comedy, a huge hit in the early days of talkies. It's noted for three memorable songs: "Makin' Whoopee," "A Girl Friend of a Boy Friend of Mine" and "My Baby Just Cares for Me," for its innovative use of two-tone Technicolor (one of the first films to use color) and surviving the nebbish antics of the overbearing eye-rolling wit of Eddie Cantor (a love him or hate him actor). It was remade by Samuel Goldwyn in 1944 as Up in Arms, with Danny Kaye as star. Freeland adapted it from Flo Ziegfield’s popular 1928-29 Broadway musical, which was based on the play by Owen Davis entitled "The Nervous Wreck."

This was the film that launched Eddie Cantor into a major film star. The innocuous film, whose fluff comedy is derived from a case of mistaken identitys and its drama from an unrequited love story. The tiresome plot gets repeatedly refreshed by the Goldwyn “girls” going through their drills to show us their sexy gams in dance numbers arranged by the iconic choreographer Busby Berkeley. The lead chorus girl is Betty Grable.

The story takes place at an Arizona ranch, where there are real cowboys and Indians. The nervous wreck protagonist is the hypochondriac Henry Williams (Eddie Cantor), who is convalescing in the dry climate. Henry makes up his mind to save the ranch owner's daughter, Sally Morgan (Eleanor Hunt), from marrying the domineering Sheriff Bob Wells (John Rutherford) when he learns she loves another.

In one revolting scene Cantor manages to be in blackface, like in his minstrel man vaudeville act. Also, like his neurotic imitator, Woody Allen, Cantor fires away throughout with one-liners, such as "Last week I looked so terrible, two undertakers left a deposit on me."

Ethel Shutta plays Cantor's harried nurse, who proposes to her patient but is rejected because he thinks he's too sick to marry. Paul Gregory is the singing son of Chief Black Eagle (Chief Caupolican), whose mother is white. Henry pines for the white heiress Sally, and she says her heart belongs to the Indian. But their marriage is taboo for racist reasons. Anyway, it turns out Henry is actually white--so the racial prejudice plot angle suddenly vanishes and true love prevails.

REVIEWED ON 2/27/2015       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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