6 November 2002 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Vulgaria goober alles
"How to Handle Women" is a terrible title for a movie ... and also a dishonest one, as this movie's plot has almost nothing to do with male/female relations. I viewed a British print of this film, released under the much cleverer title "Prince of Knuts". (In 1920s England, "Knut" was a slang term for a dandified man who fancied his chances with the ladies.)
Glenn Tryon plays Leonard Higgins, a brash young New York cartoonist, all ego and confidence: the sort of character that Bob Hope usually played. (Bob Hope played a cartoonist in "That Certain Feeling".) Higgins meets Prince Hendryx, the ruler of the tiny nation of Vulgaria, who has come to America in hopes of persuading bankers and businessmen to invest in his country. Higgins decides to help Hendryx by publicising Vulgaria's peanut crop, although Vulgaria doesn't actually have a peanut crop. Higgins uses his cartooning talents to further his scheme. (It's not clear why a cartoonist is the man for this job: the scriptwriter should have made Higgins a journalist.)
Higgins invites bankers and businessmen to a banquet at the Vulgarian embassy, where the guests are served full-course dinners made entirely from peanuts: peanut soup, peanut steaks, peanut salad, peanut pudding, peanut pie. (I was off peanuts for a week after I saw this movie.) Meanwhile, the evil Count Olaff schemes to sabotage the banquet, so that he can overthrow Prince Hendryx and seize the Vulgarian throne for himself. (Why does he want it? Vulgaria has no assets and no resources.)
Higgins disguises himself as the prince, and hosts the banquet. There's some amusing business as the guests try to eat elaborate foods made entirely from peanuts, and which obviously taste awful.
This comedy film is very unfunny, except for brief flashes of humour. Cesare Gravina (an underrated actor) has one funny scene as an expert on peanuts. (Does that make him a peanut brain?) Charlie Chaplin's former stooge Leo White is mildly funny here in a small role. I was surprised to spot Bela Lugosi in a brief appearance as a member of the diplomatic staff ... but Lugosi has nothing to do in this film except to look European and glare sourly at the other actors.
Marian Nixon (an attractive but untalented actress) plays a "news hen" (female reporter) who suspects that Higgins is a fraud, and she tries to expose him. Her character in this movie is named Beatrice Fairbanks: this name was probably meant to raise a laugh. In the 1920s, "Beatrice Fairfax" (not "Fairbanks") was the pen-name for a popular "agony aunt" whose advice column was syndicated in many American newspapers.
According to IMDb's cast list, E.H. Harriman plays himself in this 1928 movie. Since Mr Harriman (an American railway executive) died in 1909, that would be quite a trick. In fact, the cameo appearance as "himself" in this film is made by George Herriman, the comic-strip author/artist ... wearing his bowler hat to conceal his Creole hair.
Any movie with a name like "How to Handle Women" starts out with at least two strikes against it. I'll rate this movie 2 points (just barely) out of 10. No peanuts for me, thanks.