5 March 2017 | lugonian
Alias the Champ
PALOOKA (United Artists, 1934), an Edward Small Production for Reliance Pictures, directed by Benjamin Stoloff, is a boxing comedy based on then popular comic strip character by the name of "Joe Palooka," as created by Ham Fischer. Starring Jimmy Durante in his first leading role, the title character goes to the third billed Stuart Erwin, a yokel farm boy who develops himself into a prizefighter like his once famous father.
The under five minute prologue opens in the horse and buggy/gas-lit "Shine On, Harvest Moon" 1890s era of New York City's Broadway district that presents Joe Palooka as the infant son of famous boxer, Pete Palooka (Robert Armstrong), notable for his corkscrew punch. Pete enters the backstage entrance of the theater to meet with his wife, Mayme (Marjorie Rambeau), in her dressing room to get a good luck kiss from her for the upcoming fight. After winning the boxing title, Pete has a victory party, forgetting his promise to spend it with Mayme. Mayme, however, enters the celebration where she catches her womanizing husband with Trixie (Thelma Todd), which thus ends their relationship in marriage. Twenty years later, Mayme, a retired entertainer country living on a farm in Brookfield, New York, has done well raising her son, Joe (Stuart Erwin), now a young yokel helping with the farm chores. While driving down the road to deliver eggs to the train station for his mother, Joe witnesses an incident on the side of the road involving a prizefighter, "Dynamite" Wilson (Al Hill) socking Knobby Walsh (Jimmy Durante) for money owed him. In Knobby's defense, Joe knocks out Dynamite in one punch, thus, having Knobby talking Joe into becoming his prizefight manager once he learns of Joe being the son of the grand champ in his day. Because Mayme wants nothing to do with fighters and her association with husband, Pete, Joe tells his mother about acquiring a big city job working for Knobby in "the leather business," while his best girl, Anne Howe (Mary Carlisle), knows and keeps his secret. Mayme, however, learns the truth while listening to a sports radio program and hopes her son "gets his block knocked off." Although Joe is not a natural fighter as his father, he does have a stroke of luck fighting with Al McSwatt (William Cagney, James Cagney's look-alike brother), who arrives drunk at City Stadium in Paterson, N.J., unable to function at his best. Now that Joe is phony champion through a series of fixed fights arranged by Knobby, Nina Madero (Lupe Velez), a cabaret entertainer, changes her affections from McSwatt to Joe, changing the country boy yokel to an over-confident, obnoxious leather-pusher, no longer the good boy his mother had raised nor the prizefighter Knobby had earlier discovered. If that's not enough, McSwatt wants to have a rematch fight against Joe Palooka to win back Mona's false love and affections.
Other members of the cast include: Franklin Ardell ("Doc' Wise, McSwatt's Manager); Tom Dugan ("Whitey," Joe's trainer); Louise Beavers (Crystal, the Palooka Maid); Frederick "Snowflake" Toones ("Smokey"); Stanley Fields ("Blackie"); Gus Arnheim and his Orchestra; and Rolfe Sedan (Alphonse, the Dressmaker). Look quickly for Guinn Williams ("Slats") in one brief scene at the start of the movie. Though there are several songs credited for PALOOKA, only "Would You Like Me a Little Bit More?" (sung by Lupe Velez in the Paradise Club sequence); and Jimmy Durante's signature song, "Inka-Dinka Do" are performed.
Aside from watching early Jimmy Durante with full head of dark hair with his familiar (sometimes forced) mannerisms to get his quota of laughs, and the casting of Stuart Erwin in the title role, there's that Mexican Spitfire Lupe Velez arousing much attention as the flirtatious Mona, who is called a "tramp" by Joe's mother. Robert Armstrong, better known for his leading role in KING KONG (RKO Radio, 1933), makes a satisfactory former boxing champion hoping to win back both wife and son in the latter portion of the story. Marjorie Rambeau, (in a performance that makes one think of actress, Gladys George) essays both younger and later middle-aged portrayal as a tough gal with conviction, even down to packing a wallop as good as her boxer husband.
Initially theatrically released at 86 minutes, PALOOKA was later reissued with Astor Picture distribution in edited form of 74 minutes along with elimination of Thelma Todd's (1906-1935) name from the opening cast credits. The reissues have been those that were made available to television for many years.) PALOOKA also became a 45 minute featurette on public television's "Matinee at the Bijou" in the early 1980s). It was also in the early 1980s that PALOOKA, now a public domain movie title, was distributed to video cassette (and later DVD) by various distributors. Only the Hal Roach Company was the only distributer to release the film to home video in complete 86 minute edition. In later years, American Movie Classics cable channel broadcast the complete/unedited PALOOKA during the 1999/2000 season.
Although Joe Palooka and Knobby Walsh were later portrayed a decade later by Joe Kirkwood Jr. and Leon Errol in a second feature film series for Monogram Studios (1946-1951), it's the Jimmy Durante and Stuart Erwin combination that's better known for being amusingly good to the last punch. Inka Dinka Do. (**1/2 boxing gloves)