6 April 2005 | showbiz-3
Great cast, so-so script, dreary female lead = 5
The script is a hoary show biz tale: a mother dies and leaves her baby in the care of a quartet of fellow performers. Two of them are Jimmy Savo, who provides one of the two top turns in the film, his famous "River Stay 'Way from My Door" routine. Savo's eccentric dancing earlier in the film is reduced to a few seconds to make room for a lucklustre singer. The second highlight is "The Song of the Woodsman", one of Bert Lahr's best routines. The third great comedian in the film is Alice Brady, one of Broadway's and Hollywood's most underrated actors. She dithers like Billie Burke, but in a few other films is a straight actor of considerable power, Stanwyck or Davis. Mischa Auer and Billy House are both in fine form, and they, Savo and Lahr play the four stepfathers. Louise Fazenda, Hattie McDaniel and veteran Richard Carle are underused, but Dave Apollon does his thing for his fans. The director, Irving Cummings was a Grade C hack who rushed through 76 movies in 29 years years, screwing up films starring comedians Groucho Marx, the Wiere Brothers and in this, Lahr and Savo. Cummings even made Spencer Tracy look bad in two of Tracy's worst films. This could have been a '8' out of a '10' movie, but the script, the pacing and the look take it down a few stars to a '5'. It seems (I have a 16mm copy) as though Unversal only allowed the production two cameras and three lights. Yet this film is a must for comedy buffs and students who wish to see two of Broadways great and most unusual comedians, Savo and Lahr, do their specialties and try to be funny when there is little to make amusing. Joy Hodges, the grown-up orphaned baby, is an awkward and lifeless presence in the film. Every minute she is on stage the energy and believability level drops below zero.