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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

RKO's Answer To The Marx Bros.?


Wheeler and Woolsey Make Love and War in Cracked Nuts (1931)

Wheeler and Woolsey make merry for RKO. Their comedies were nicely profitable for a company otherwise hip-deep in red ink (Nuts saw $150K in profit). A first act parts the boys, a joining delayed until Bert arrives to the mythical kingdom Bob has won in a dice throw. Romantic interest in these was always for Wheeler, it being too hard to imagine Woolsey in a clinch. Habitual femme partner Dorothy Lee is a pin-up girl for old movie freakdom, and for good reason, her appeal not a whit dated and she's got enough "It" to put others in shade. Verbal ying-yang W&W engage anticipates Abbott/Costello, but minus machine-gunning of words the later team would master. Not all jokes work, but name a comic(s) to have escaped that law of averages. It's enough that Wheeler/Woolsey are in there pitching, not afraid to go offbeat places, and dispensing enough Depression idiom to fill a glossary on same. Sideliners peak interest, one being immediate pre-Frankenstein Boris Karloff as articulate double-dealer. If owner (from 1959) UA-TV had syndicated W&W as a feature group (there's a bushel of them), we'd have more boomer fans to carry banners. As it is, the pics were spread too thin among packages to make deep-as-deserving impression. Only now are they getting together, courtesy Warner Archive, to win converts to the blue-ribbon farcing pair. Several DVD sets are available, all recommended.

5 Comments:

Blogger Kevin K. said...

I have a friend who has a Christmas card written by a family friend in 1931. In it, she mentions that she just saw "Cracked Nuts" and remarks how funny Wheeler & Woolsey were.

I find it somewhat disappointing compared to their other early movies, the political storyline promising more than it delivers. "Caught Plastered" and "Peach O' Reno" from the same year are better representations of W & W. Still, even at their best -- and they made plenty of funny movies -- they're more of an acquired taste than ever before. Other than "Diplomaniacs," I've never recommended their movies to anyone.

RKO must have tried turning them into the Marx Brothers, considering S.J. Perelman and Kalmar & Ruby wound up writing for them at one time or another.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Ed Watz said...

The Marx-Wheeler & Woolsey crossover wasn't a planned effort for W&W to appropriate the Marx Brothers' style. S.J. Perelman, Lew Lipton and Al Boasberg, to name a few, wrote for Wheeler & Woolsey before they worked with the Marxes. Groucho's later collaborators and friends Norman Krasna and Harry Tugend worked on Wheeler & Woolsey pictures before they even knew Groucho. And both Herman Mankiewicz and his brother Joseph wrote for W &W before either man had film associations with the Marxes. Nat Perrin and Kalmar & Ruby of course did work with The Marxes first but they also worked on films of many other comedians (Joe E. Brown, Eddie Cantor, Abbott & Costello, etc.). in 1933 Paramount was eager to sign Wheeler & Woolsey to take the place of The Marx Brothers when the Marxes threatened to walk out on that studio. W&W meanwhile were assessing offers that other studios were presenting, after they agreed to a one-picture deal at RKO (DIPLOMANIACS). There are similarities to the Marx Brothers style of humor, but one can also see some of those qualities in the work of other Broadway comedians who appeared in films of the thirties.

3:01 PM  
Blogger b piper said...

All Wheeler and Woolsey films are hit and miss, but at their best I find them funny and engaging. I'd Recommend COCKEYED CAVALIERS to the uninitiated.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Ed Watz said...

From my experience COCKEYED CAVALIERS and PEACH-O-RENO seem to work best as introductions to Wheeler & Woolsey's comedy style. We ran PEACH for The Lambs Club's "Bert Wheeler Night" and it played beautifully to a packed and appreciative house. Thank you John for highlighting Bert and Bob, I hope that you will profile the team again in the future!

4:24 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Ed --- I expect there will be more W&W down the line, as I really do enjoy their stuff. Of what I've seen, "Peach O'Reno" came off best --- very funny and very, very precode.

4:42 PM  

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