6 August 2017 | kevinolzak
Puttin' on the Ritz
1938's "Straight Place and Show" was one of the later vehicles for Fox's talented Ritz Brothers, just before their greatest triumph "The Three Musketeers," which in turn was followed by their most accessible feature "The Gorilla." Their patter here isn't as bad as some insist, but the script clearly lets them down, unable to do much to enliven shopworn material. The straight story features lovely Phyllis Brooks obsessed with her race horse Playboy, to the jealous chagrin of fiancée Richard Arlen, who bets her that if he doesn't win a race for three months running she loses Playboy to him to do with as he pleases. As one would expect, Arlen wins the bet and decides to just give away Playboy to the Ritz Brothers, a trio of pony ride barkers who figure that Playboy makes a better jumper for a major steeplechase. Phyllis manages to find the boys and become a partner in the venture, but they need $1000 for the entry fee, so Harry Ritz has to pose as champion wrestler Running Deer to win a purse to get by, probably their best scene in the film. The climactic race carries no dramatic weight whatsoever, all the riding done by stunt doubles, the brothers impersonating three crooked Russian jockeys who had planned to sabotage Arlen's riding of Playboy as one last chance to prove his love for Phyllis. Ethel Merman, ending her brief Hollywood career, gets to sing two songs, Sidney Blackmer plays wealthy gambler Lucky Braddock, and Lon Chaney (seen in the earlier Ritz comedy "Life Begins in College") gets a decent bit as Lucky's chauffeur Martin (this early scene inspires the Ritzes to go from pony rides to the race track). A disappointment even for Ritz Brothers fans, but hardly the awful film that some make it out to be. "The Gorilla" later proved an unhappy experience, confined to one setting with no song and dance patter, and after one final picture at Fox, Sol Wurtzel's B unit production "Pack Up Your Troubles," a vehicle for pint sized Jane Withers, Harry Ritz famously quipped that their career had gone "from bad to Wurtzel!" Four subsequent features at Universal failed to improve their fortunes, so they left Hollywood for good in 1944, missing out on the mystery musical "Murder in the Blue Room," which at least would have suited their talents better than "The Gorilla."