8/17/07

"ROMAN SCANDALS"--AN EDDIE CANTOR SPLEEF

eddiecantor

Continuing on the obsessive pursuit to map out a film geeks education in pre-cable, pre-VCR, pre-O.J. Simpson Los Angeles in the early 1970's:

The LA County Museam showed old movies on a regular basis and that's where I got my first taste of Eddie Cantor--in a 1933 movie called "Roman Scandals" which--if I'm not mistaken--never (or rarely) turned up on TV because of pre-Code naughtiness involving scantily clad chorus girls (one of whom was a twenty year old girl from Jamestown named Lucille McGillicuddy--sorry, Lucille Ball).

Eddie Cantor was one of the biggest names in show-business in the 1920's and early 1930's and as far as I can tell is completely forgotten today, except by people who really ought to get out of the house more. (So let that be a warning, Ben Stiller.) Cantor was a vaudeville headliner, a Broadway star and a successful early "talkie" star--his hit Bway show "Whopee" was filmed in 1930 (lousily) and started him on a brief career of starring in movies produced by Samuel Goldwyn. None of these films are ever shown anymore. I remember 1931's "Palmy Days" turning up on TV when I was a kid. But not Leo McCarey's "The Kid From Spain" (which Peter Bogdanovich says is Cantor's best film, but whose seen it? And why is it out of circulation?) Later he was a radio star and employed a very funny comic named Harry Einstein who played a character called "Parkyakarkus". In real life, Einstein fathered a son whom he mischeivously named Albert. Eventually, Albert Einstein decided to change his name to Albert Brooks and made "Defending Your Life". Aren't you sorry you asked?

"Roman Scandals" has much to recommend it--even though I haven't seen it in years, I remember finding the humor salacious, quasi-hip and suprising. Plus it was photographed by Gregg "Yeah, I shot other films besides Citizen Kane" Toland in masterful black&white hues.( I once asked an older cinematographer why old black and white looks so much better than new black and white. The answer was surprising in its simplicity; silver. They used more silver in nitrate stock than they can afford to use now. Hence the glistening quality of a properly restored 35mm print from the true golden age of black and white--the early to mid 1930's.) Gloria Stuart (late--well, a decade or so ago--of "Titanic") is in the film. So is Edward Arnold. The script was authored by, among other, the famous Broadway writer and wit George S. Kaufman. And the great (and seriously troubled--car crashes, booze, failed suicide attempts, vehicular manslaughter charges, late MGM Ann Miller material) Busby Berkeley staged the dances.

Below is the delightful opening number, "When We Build A Little Home". The seemingly simple beginning gives way to a wonderfully conceived and ever more complicated production number--it doesn't look like other Berkeley numbers (with the overhead gimmicks and whatnot) but certainly contains as much ingenuity as anything else he did, leading me to think this is his work, and not the credited director Frank Tuttle's. I've watched this number over and over and it never fails to make me smile...

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