Friday 14 December 2007

Cracked Nuts (1931) Edward Cline

We're at the Venus de Milo Arms where Bert Wheeler is trying to get in. He was half of the Wheeler and Woolsey double act from the early sound era who I read about at the excellent Booze Movies blog. Here, Wheeler is a rich idler called Wendell Graham who wants to propose to young but dumb society girl Betty Harrington, but he has to reckon with her aunt first. As her aunt is played by the inimitable Edna May Oliver you can imagine how well that goes. Betty and her aunt head abroad to the country of Eldorania, where Aunt Minnie owns more land than anyone else.

As I came to the film because of Wheeler and Woolsey, seeing her name in the opening credits was the first of two pleasant surprises for me. The other was the presence of Boris Karloff and he's how the plot progresses. He's a Eldoranian revolutionary plotting to get rid of King Oscar and he persuades Wendell Graham to put up $100,000 for the crown. He deserves more screen time but then this was still pre-Frankenstein.

Of course by the time he gets to Eldorania, the other half of the double act has already won it in a craps game by impersonating Groucho Marx and playing with the King's own loaded dice. The king wants to lose the crown honestly and thus avoid assassination, which doesn't work, leaving Zander Ulysses Parkhurst, or ZUP, as the only monarch. That is until his former roommate Wendell arrives to claim his purchased throne.

The Groucho comparison is a good one and not just because of ZUP's snappy dialogue and cigar. Cracked Nuts plays out like Duck Soup as played by only Groucho and Zeppo, complete with musical interludes and quips too quick to count. The differences are in the details: the lack of Chico and Harpo, inferior writing and the lack of any musical virtuosity at all. Edna May Oliver steals every scene she's in (best line: 'Don't speak while I'm interrupting!') and all the others would have been better for the presence of at least one Marx brother.

This induced so many groans that I feel guilty to have enjoyed it. It's really bad stuff, but in and amongst the barrage of jokes, some of them stick. How many is up to you, the viewer.

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