DOWN TO THEIR LAST YACHT (RKO Radio, 1934), directed by Paul Sloane, is a strange little musical- comedy somewhat inspired by Paramount's similar but far more entertaining venture of WE'RE NOT DRESSING (1934) starring Bing Crosby and Carole Lombard, each revolving around high society passengers on a yachting cruise ending up stranded on an island somewhere in the Pacific. Unlike WE'RE NOT DRESSING, which is bizarre in itself, DOWN TO THEIR LAST YACHT, is one to have earned its reputation of being a poor motion picture, a reputation that still stands today.
Opening with an overview of a social register introducing the high society family of the Colt-Strattons: Linda (Sidney Fox) and her parents (Ramsey Hill and Marjorie Gateson), through a passage of time (1929, 1930, 1932 to 1934) before showing how the Colt-Strattons were reduced to becoming the working class after losing their fortune in the 1929 stock market crash. With father in construction, mother in an office job and daughter working behind the perfume counter of a drug store, they've managed to have retained their yacht named after Linda. While on board, the Colt-Strattons are approached by Nella Fitzgerald (Polly Moran) with a perfect idea. Because she has a ship with a captain but no crew, and the Colt-Strattons have a yacht with no captain, a plan is worked out by having Nella renting the Linda with Dan Roberts (Ned Sparks) acting as captain, using former members of the social register and their servants as their passengers. Along the way comes Michael Forbes (Sidney Blackmer), a rich gambler in love with Linda, accompanied by his chauffeur, Freddie (Sterling Holloway), joining in on the cruise. With the Colt-Strattons as hostesses, with yacht equipped with gambling tables for entertainment, things turn out well until Captain Roberts purposely beaches the yacht on the island of Molakamokalo headed by its queen (Mary Boland) with Sir Guy (Charles Coleman) as her adviser. After having the captain placed inside a cage for his mischievous scheme of stealing the money from his "cargo" and taking off on the yacht without them, the queen strips the passengers of their expensive clothing, reducing them to native clothes consisting of hula skirts, sarongs and loincloths. As the queen beauties herself with fashionable clothing, furs and jewelry, she takes a fancy on Michael (retaining his dinner suit) whom she wants to marry and made king of the island, much to the dismay of the jealous Linda. To assure the wedding takes place and no chances of escape, the queen has her natives place a bomb inside the boiling room of the yacht. How the crew gets back to civilization is anyone's guess.
Playing like an extended comedy short, the film starts off promisingly, but falls short in comedy once it reaches its level of singing natives and the presence by the top-billed Mary Boland. Boland, who can either be a delight or annoying, shows her annoying qualities by overplaying her character to the extreme. Polly Moran, on the other hand, annoying or amusing, is the latter, especially through her broad and loud mannerisms reminiscent to that of comedienne, Patsy Kelly. Another setback is its tight editing to 64 minutes, leaving certain scenes to be either unresolved or unexplained. And then there's the poor deadpan Ned Sparks spending much of his second half of the story locked inside a cage pacing around for the exercise. He continues doing so even after Polly Moran's character gets locked up with him. What becomes of them is never actually revealed.
Satisfactory but non-memorable tunes along with one Busby Berkeley inspired production number are somehow worked into this awkward production, including: "Funny Little World" (sung by Sidney Fox/ and individual cast members) by Ann Ronell; "Tiny Little Finger on You Hand" (sung by Sidney Blackmer / and individual cast members) by Val Burton and Will Jason; "There's Nothing Else to Do But Ma-La-Ka-Ma-Ku But Love" (possibly sung young native enacted by Felix Knight) by Cliff Friend and Sidney Mitchell; "Beach Boy" by Ann Ronell; "The Queen March" and finale, "South Sea Bolero" by Max Steiner and Ann Ronell.
For the musical department, it does come as a surprise finding the likes of non-singers as both Sidneys, Fox and Blackmer, vocalizing adequately and in tune, though not being a threat to any popular singers of that time. Sterling Holloway offers some humorous moments with his saxophone, using the instrument for vibration purposes by moving the ball on the roulette wheel from landing onto the winning number, and later by attracting attention of the queen. Also seen in support are gangster-types of Tom Kennedy (Joe Schultz) and Maurice Black (Mr. Spivatti); with the broad and sassy Irene Franklin (Mrs. Gilhooley, a former cook of the Colt-Strattons), and Gigi Parrish (Patricia Gilhooley), among others, all sad looking specimens in their limited native attire.
Out of circulation since the film's initial release, and never distributed to home video or DVD, DOWN TO THEIR LAST YACHT saw some temporary life on cable TV, American Movie Classics around 1991, and limited showings years later on Turner Classic Movies. With its poor reputation and bizarre situations, a pity DOWN TO THEIR LAST YACHT couldn't have been better. It goes on record simply as a curio for film buffs if not much else. Funny little world. (*)