Friday 28 November 2008

Crashing Hollywood (1938)

After all the shenanigans Lee Tracy got up to in the precodes, it wouldn't be surprising to find him play an ex-con being released from Jefferson Penitentiary, but it's Paul Guilfoyle who gets that part. He's Herman Tibbets and he's done a stretch safecracking for the Hawk, but he's very keen on not going back and spending the rest of his life raising ducks. Unfortunately his wife Goldie has a black heart, to the degree that she even picks him up in a stolen car and she quickly talks him into robbing a fellow passenger, Mike Winslow, played by Lee Tracy.

Unfortunately for them, Winslow isn't the thief they think he is and he doesn't have $50,000 of stolen bonds in his briefcase for them to liberate for their own end. He's really a screenwriter heading for Hollywood to make his fortune. Fortunately though, he writes crime stories without really knowing anything about crime, and the Tibbetts are just the people to make them realistic. They have a real story to tell too, to show the entire world what a heel the Hawk is. The catch is that in doing so they deliberately use real names and real events and it isn't too surprising that the Hawk gets a little upset to find out that Trail of the Hawk is all about him and the Austin Bank & Trust robbery.

Unfortunately for us, this isn't a precode. Like Warren William, there just weren't parts for Lee Tracy once the code hit because he was at his best playing fast talking characters that slid back and forth wildly from morality to immorality and back. He's fine here but the part isn't worthy of him and there's only so much he could do with it. Paul Guilfoyle (not the modern one best known for CSI) is terribly wooden to begin with but he's actually a pretty good fit for the part. Lee Patrick and Bradley Page are decent, but best of all is Richard Lane as Hugo Wells, the effusive studio boss at Wonder Pictures. He comes out with lines like, 'It'll take more than a Hawk to stop a Wonder picture!' and is responsible for most of the joy in this film, probably presaging his work as an announcer of wrestling, roller derby and midget car racing.

The story is pretty dumb, even for Hollywood. There's a love interest angle that's almost entirely pointless and almost entirely annoying, even though there's nothing wrong with Joan Woodbury's performance. You won't be surprised to learn that the Hawk and the actor playing the Hawk look so alike that they're played by the same actor, Bradley Page, and there's the inevitable comedy of errors nonsense. Winslow may need Tibbetts to write his scripts but the writers of this one could have done with our help to make it a little less obvious. However dumb it is, there's still fun to be had, but surprisingly it's more for Richard Lane than Lee Tracy. It's good to see him in something where he doesn't lose out the way Inspector Farraday always seemed to do in the Boston Blackie films.

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