THE DVD SHELF: "The Royal Tenenbaums," "Metropolitan" and the Absurdist Comedy "Million Dollar Legs"

By Steven Suskin
02 Sep 2012

Fields plays second banana to Jack Oakie, one of those low-comedy masters of the double take who is all but forgotten. Oakie does fine here. (His most memorable role — which resulted in his only Oscar nomination — was as the savagely satirical, Mussolini-inspired Benzino Napaloni, opposite Charles Chaplin's Adenoid Hynkel in "The Great Dictator.") Mata Machree, "The Woman No Man Can Resist," is played by the sizzling Lyda Roberti. She had made a splash on Broadway the year before in Harold Arlen's first musical, You Said It!, singing "Sweet and Hot." (She pronounced it "sweet and ccccchot.")

Andy Clyde is wryly funny as the speedy presidential aide, and the uncredited Billy Gilbert — who built a career on his comic sneezes — can be found in the cabinet meeting, sneezing. The Angela of the occasion is one Susan Fleming, who manages to hold her own against scene-stealers Oakie and Fields. She soon retired to marry another scene-stealer, Adolph Marx (better known as Harpo).

Adding to the hilarity are two songs, the first of which is Roberti's "It's Terrific (When I Get Hot)," by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin. The other is the Klopstokian national love song, "Woof Bloogle Gik." This is an inside joke; the nonsense lyric is set to Richard Whiting's title tune for one of Paramount's then-current hits, "One Hour with You." But the whole film is blissful nonsense. The only thing that comes close is "Duck Soup," and not coincidentally. Herman Mankiewicz produced that one — his third Marx Brothers film — a year later.

TCM has packaged the film with three other '30s titles. (All are from Paramount, despite the "Universal Rarities" label.) The others are Mae West's "Belle of the Nineties" (1934), a risque tale of, well, Mae West; "Artists and Models," a Jack Benny musical of 1937; and — as a distinct change of pace — the 1937 adventure tale "Souls at Sea" starring Gary Cooper.

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