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Depression Lessons #6

A toast to the intoxicated style of early talkies and their tendency to go joyfully awry.
"Skeets" Gallagher would arise from his perennial stupor to say, apropos of nothing, "Good old Mandalay, where the fish are aviators." Or the ebullient Wynne Gibson might stagger in, flopping down on your lap with a "whoops!" I'm thinking of those pictures that, once upon a time, glutted Paramount—not "stories" but stupendous fiascoes of continuity. Somehow Skeets and company managed to wrap entire productions around miscellaneous pranks and fatuous one-liners. And the whole thing was an open sesame. Perhaps the mercurial ghost of vaudeville was afoot in Hollywood, drunk again, to give us pretzel-shaped movies, twisted glee. Today's "lesson" is actually a toast to the intoxicated style of early talkies and their tendency to go joyfully awry—to vignettes, lurches, ruptures, and zigzags—to klutziness and chintziness and failures of craftsmanship. Case in point, the opening to 1931's The Road to Reno:

Part of our on-going series Depression Lessons.
Sure it might be a “failure of craftsmanship,” but now I want to watch the rest of the film—which is saying a lot more than what most contemporary Hollywood fare offers, Paramount or no. It could be that “the mercurial ghost of vaudeville was afoot,” milking those rim-shots for all they were worth, until a certain script-savvy sneaked in through the back gate loaded with rat-a-tat-tat repartee, when lo, studios tripped over the era of “screwball” comedies—still a beloved plume in Hollywood’s cocked hat.

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