Rupert Pupkin Speaks: WAC'd Out Sets: Wheeler And Woolsey Ride Again ""

Monday, March 18, 2013

WAC'd Out Sets: Wheeler And Woolsey Ride Again

Wheeler & Woolsey are a sadly underappreciated comedy duo to be sure. They are contemporaries of the Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, and Laurel & Hardy and yet they are still largely forgotten by most. This may have a good deal to do with the fact that their films were not really run on television all that much at a time when the films of these other comic teams' films were. Their films were in fact kind of difficult to see until recently outside of a few VHS released and the occasional TCM airing. Thankfully Warner Archive has resurrected them in full force with their previous dvd releases(DIPLOMANIACS, KENTUCKY KERNELS, ON AGAIN OFF AGAIN and a few others) and this excellent new 9-film set. I was unfamiliar with most of these films so it was quite nice to dig in and marathon them over a week or so. One great thing about these films is that their average running time is about 65-70 mins. They just fly by. One can become quite addicted to these fellas(especially Woolsey, with his cigar-chomping "Whoaaaoo!" shouting ways). Here are the films included:

CRACKED NUTS(1931; Edward F. Cline)
From the director of THE BANK DICK and MILLION DOLLARS LEGS(2 of my W.C. Fields favorites) comes this outlandish, if slightly-less-lunacy-filled comedy. Wheeler & Woolsey get themselves mixed up in a Latin American kingdom's revolution and wackiness ensues. Comparisons to DUCK SOUP could be drawn, though this film preceded it. W&W can be seen here doing a version of a "Who's on First" kind of gag, but I am unsure if they came up with it before Abbott & Costello did. This film also features a young(ish) pre-FRANKENSTEIN Boris Karloff (this came out in April and Whale's film came out in November).

HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY!(1934; Mark Sandrich)
Bert and Robert play 'cheap humbug' street salesmen Dr. Dudley(Woolsey) and his assistant Andy(Wheeler) who manage to con their way into selling their flavored lipstick 'company' to a larger cosmetics firm.
Before his outstanding work with Astaire and Rogers(TOP HAT!), director Mark Sandrich would demonstrate his musical sequence abilities with some wonderfully silly numbers in this film.  Also, there' a great bit near the beginning that gives new meaning to the phrase "living out of your car" in this film. Very funny stuff. Probably my favorite film from this set. One of their best.

MUMMY'S BOYS(1936; Fred Guiol)
As obvious as it is, this film is Wheeler & Woolsey's ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY. One minor thing though - no mummy. Co-scripted by Philip J. Epstein(of CASABLANCA fame among others). Good running gag where Wheeler can't remember anything.

THE NITWITS(1935; George Stevens)
George Stevens is a favorite director of mine and he worked with W&W a few times(here and on KENTUCKY KERNELS, which I like quite a bit). This whodunit, comedy musical has lots of pep. Reminds me a bit of Abbott & Costello's WHO DONE IT?(1942) actually. Would go well with some of the films in the Warner Archive Horror Mystery Double Features set. Also has a little Scooby-Doo feel as well, especially at the end(which I liked).

HOLD EM' JAIL(1932; Norman Taurog)
I immediately thought HORSE FEATHERS(football) and THE LONGEST YARD(jail/football) when I saw this poster. Not quite either, but raucous just the same. Bert and Robert are two irritating novelty salesmen who get duped into jail time and end up helping out the warden with his prison football team.

CAUGHT PLASTERED(1931; William A. Seiter)
This was the only film in the set that I'd already seen. I had tracked it down after it got high praise from my friend & Canuxploitation proprietor Paul Corupe in his Favorite Film Discoveries of 2011 list:

HOOK, LINE & SINKER(1930; Edward F. Cline)
Insurance salesmen Bert & Robert happen upon a young runaway girl who happens to be from a wealthy family and on the way to her hotel. W&W join her in trying to fix up the place and make it a new playground for the rich. Gangsters get involved, things get complicated. One of the lesser films in the set for me, but still funny.

HIGH FLYERS(1937; Edward F. Cline)
Wheeler & Woolsey's final film together(Woolsey died prematurely of kidney failure in 1938). The boys get tricked into smuggling jewels via stolen police seaplane in this outing. There's a bit of Marx Brothers flavor here in that it features Margaret Dumont as one of the players. Jack Carson makes an appearance here too! And I couldn't help but think of Sofia Vergara's character on Modern Family when watching Lupe Velez in this.

HALF SHOT AT SUNRISE(1930; Paul Sloane)
Wheeler and Woolsey play two goofball soldiers who go AWOL and run loose in Paris, during World War I. It's no predecessor to STRIPES or anything, but it's still a hoot. My favorite bit of small talk from Wheeler: "Lovely war we're having."


Hal said...

Really glad you're enjoying the box set Rupert. Getting W&W on DVD was a longtime wish of mine for sure. :)

HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY! is my favorite of these films. I really think they had a great chemistry with Sandrich.

Gotta say it is really fun seeing Karloff turn up in a W&W flick though.

Edgar Kennedy as The Warden is another big plus for HOLD 'EM JAIL; having a bald villain is another common quality with LONGEST YARD (Ed Lauter)

The only film of this bunch that I don't care for is MUMMY'S BOYS. It's a very good set overall and long overdue.

Bob Lindstrom said...

Hey Rupe:

Abbott and Costello didn't work together until 1935, so W&W's wordplay in 1931 definitely predated "Who's on first?"

FWIW, it was a pretty big deal in the '80s when the W&W films widely became available on LaserDisc.