—A Weak Script, but Fun Film—
Your Bogie Fix:
Director: Ray Enright
For all of the horrible things that I’d heard about this movie, I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as its reputation. It’s got a 4.5 user rating on IMDB and that seems unfairly harsh, but perhaps my expectations were so low that anything would’ve seemed better than the horror that I expected.
Bogart is Ed Hatch, a traveling professional wrestling promoter who’s trying to break into the big time at Madison Square Garden. The wrestler that he’s attached himself to is a big, dumb, lummox of an ape named Joe Skopapoulus (Nat Pendleton) who’s so brainless that even the dinging of a hotel bell will send him into a wrasslin’ fit. Pendleton plays Skopapoulus unrealistically dumb to the point that the character would be much more at home in that one pro wrestling Bugs Bunny cartoon rather than walking around in the real world.
Hatch, his girlfriend Cookie (a wonderful Penny Singleton), Skopapoulus, and Hatch’s crew (Trainers? Marketing Men? Cronies?) find themselves deep in the Ozarks in a little town named Plunkett when they stumble across a possible opponent for Skopapoulus that they can use to garner some attention. Why do they think that wrestling their champ in the middle-of-nowhere will garner them attention? I don’t know, and they really don’t seem to either.
Enter Sadie Horn (Louise Fazenda), a rough and tumble ox-like woman who works as a blacksmith and has the ability to lift Hatch’s car right out of a pothole when it gets stuck. Hatch sees a potential intergender novelty match in the making, and starts to set up the fight. But just when things start to fall into place, the big, dumb ape falls in love with the ox-like blacksmith – they kiss – and the fight is off. Luckily for Hatch, there are plenty of enormous hillbilly bumpkins running around, and one of Sadie’s unrequited suitors, Noah Wulliver (Daniel Boone Savage), comes running in to defend the woman that he loves from the traveling wrestler.
So a new match is on! Skopapoulus vs. Wulliver, and Sadie will be the prize for the winner! Except Hatch doesn’t want to drag Sadie all over the country with his champ, so he tells Skopapoulus to take a dive. (So why are they in this town? To gain attention by losing? But no one will notice because they’re in the Ozarks, right? So why go on with the match???) Yet, lo and behold, the powers that be in professional wrestling get wind of the fight, and offer the winner a match . . . get ready for this . . . at Madison Square Garden! So now Hatch’s fighter needs to win!
Fortunately, what the movie lacks in plot coherency, I thought it actually made up for in charm. Are a few of the characters a little over-caricatured? Sure. But every one of them was able to squeak out at least one or two laughs from me.
And don’t be fooled like I was by any of Bogie’s biographies that make it sound like he was unhappily sleepwalking through this role. He’s Bogie, and even with so little to work with, he’s a lot of fun to watch as the slick, big city promoter who’s always thinking two steps ahead of his current scheme.
Script flaws not withstanding, this movie is far more watchable than I’d been led to believe, and if it reran on TCM, I’d probably watch it through again. It’s harmless, family-friendly fun. Ronald Reagan even shows up in a very small role as a reporter towards the end of the film.
Penny Singleton’s character of Cookie doesn’t have a whole lot to do or say, but when she starts singing (Oh, did I forget to mention that this movie is almost/kind of a musical?) she is so doggone wonderful and cute that I gave the rest of the movie a pass. Turns out that Cookie is a bit of a hillbilly at heart, and she jumps right in with the locals on a few song and dance numbers. Most will remember Singleton as Blondie Bumstead from all of those 40’s movies. Her second song towards the end of the film is so adorably endearing, I admit that I may have developed more than a little crush on her.
Hmmmm. I easily made it all the way through the movie even though I’d been led to believe that I wouldn’t. That’s good, right? The supporting cast is adequate here, mostly diving deep, deep, deep into hillbilly cliché and caricature. That being said, I think if you go into the movie with the knowledge that it’s an over-the-top screwball comedy, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Classic Bogie Moment
Bogart gets to use his comedy chops here, as only he can do. It’s great to see someone who can be so menacing, effortlessly play light as well. One of my favorite exchanges comes when Hatch asks Sadie if she’s interested in a match:
Bogart: Do you wanna wrassle?
Sadie: What fer?
Bogart: For money.
And she immediately lunges at a wide eyed Bogart as if he meant for it to happen with him on the spot.
There’s also a great little interrogation scene where Bogart and his crew are trying to find out what’s wrong with Skopapoulus. Bogie slips back a bit into his gangster persona as he yells, “Now listen ya conniving baboon, I’ll give you one more chance! I’ll make ya talk!”
The Bottom Line
If you don’t mind gags that involve chickens falling out of cars and moonshine jugs, you won’t be offended by this. It’s fun. Don’t take it too seriously. If nothing else, Bogie gets to play a character that we don’t see him tackle much in the rest of his films, and I dare say that it looks like he might even be having a little fun!
Penny Singleton was the voice of Jane Jetson! Really??? I may have to go back and watch this movie sooner than later!