Eddie Cantor was already an established stage star when his Broadway musical-comedy "Kid Boots" opened in December of 1923. He'd been headlining annual editions of the Ziegfeld Follies since 1917, and had toured the country in Vaudeville for years before that. "Kid Boots" proved to be a smash hit that ran for over a year (an impressive run in those days) but when Paramount signed Cantor to recreate his role for the cameras it was no sure bet that the venture would succeed. Movies were still silent, of course, and much of Eddie's appeal depended on sound: he was known for singing comic novelty songs in a high, reedy voice, and delivering wisecracks at a rapid pace. His Ziegfeld co-stars Will Rogers and W.C. Fields had tried their luck in the movies and although both were moderately successful their silent film appearances were never as popular with audiences as their live shows. Was there any reason to expect Eddie Cantor could do any better?
Well, oddly enough, he did. Kid Boots, the movie, is a highly enjoyable confection that packs a lot of laughs into its brisk 60-minute running time and never wears out its welcome. Mr. Cantor comes off surprisingly well in his silent incarnation, throwing himself into some strenuous-looking physical routines and emphasizing his trademark look of pop-eyed surprise at key moments without overdoing it. It helps that the writers equipped him with a steady supply of sight gags, some of which may be a tad familiar to silent comedy buffs but which still prompt laughter today. (I was lucky enough to see this film with an audience, and can attest that it's a real crowd-pleaser.) It also helps that the supporting cast offers notable examples of what was called 'feminine pulchritude' at the time: Eddie is paired with the one and only Clara Bow, seen here just as her career was starting to accelerate. Eddie and Clara make an unexpectedly credible couple, both bright-eyed and exuberant. They have a classic "meet cute" scene when Eddie, who plays a tailor's assistant, accidentally sews his suspenders to her dress and then pulls her along behind himself when he has to leave in a hurry. Also on hand is the exquisitely pretty Billie Dove, who unfortunately isn't given much to do, as well as fiery Natalie Kingston, a veteran of the Mack Sennett Studio, who plays 'bad girl' Carmen Mendoza. We're told by a sassy title card that Carmen has Missouri legs, "the kind that have to be shown," and a nice lazy pan shot of Miss Kingston provides that service. I guess the filmmakers were trying to compensate for the loss of the stage show's dancing girls; in any case, I'm not complaining!
The plot, as might be anticipated, isn't what you'd call substantial. Eddie, a hapless fellow known as "Kid Boots," is rescued from a bully by a handsome young playboy named Tom; in return, Kid agrees to help Tom get a divorce from his gold-digging wife. (It's made clear that the scheming wife, the aforementioned Carmen Mendoza, tricked Tom into marriage and that they've never actually lived together; so, in short, Tom's a decent chap who simply found himself in a spot of trouble.) Most of the story takes place at a scenic mountain resort, a setting which allows for gags on the golf course, gags by the pool, and more gags in the lobby. The thin plot is really just an excuse for comedy routines, and happily there are some good ones along the way. I especially liked the bit where Eddie succeeds in convincing Clara that he's with another woman by positioning himself next to an open door, rolling up one sleeve and playing the half-concealed "woman" himself. I also enjoyed the scene in the resort's clinic, where Eddie finds himself on the massage table, manhandled by a masseur who turns out to be the bully from the opening sequence, jealous of Clara and eager for revenge. (Chaplin fans will be reminded of a similar routine in his 1917 comedy The Cure.) It all winds up with a breakneck, race-to-the-rescue horseback chase over a winding mountain trail, which leads in turn to some Harold Lloyd-style thrill comedy. One moment, Eddie and Clara are dangling from a rope off a precipice, with a single parachute between them, and the next they've managed to save themselves, untangle the plot, help out good old Tom and defeat that no-good Carmen, all in the space of the film's last five minutes.
This movie is just the thing to lift your mood on a rainy afternoon. Cantor's follow-up feature Special Delivery is also enjoyable, but I'd rank this one a notch or two higher. Kid Boots, like its lead players, is cute as a button, short and sweet.
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