'Is Zat so?' was originally a stage play co-written by James Gleason, who played one of the lead roles in the play's Broadway run. Anyone who's seen Gleason's memorable screen performances as a wise-cracking Brooklynite can easily imagine him speaking this movie's title phrase. But James Gleason isn't in the film's cast, and his character isn't the one who speaks this line. (And the movie is silent, anyway.) Gleason's stage role has been given to Edmund Lowe: a very different type from Gleason, but more leading-mannish. As played by Lowe, the character is something of a spiv. In the other lead role, George O'Brien is very well cast, in a part that makes splendid use of his impressive physique.
Wiseguy promoter Hap Hurley (Lowe) is riding a tram when the brawny motorman gets into a fight with a lorry-driver and lays him out cold. Hurley is impressed with the motorman's fighting technique, and offers to represent him as a prizefighter. The pug's name is Ed Cowan (played by O'Brien), but he's nicknamed 'Chick'. O'Brien is quite funny in this role; he shovels bananas into his face in a style that reminds me of Kevin Spacey's performance in 'K-PAX'. Whenever Chick has no intelligent response (which is quite often), he falls back on his catchphrase 'Is zat so?' This is conveyed in the intertitles, but O'Brien's slow look of incomprehension (each time Chick drawls the words) is hilarious.
Until they can get a boxing bout, Hurley and Chick get jobs in a posh Fifth Avenue mansion: Hurley as butler, Chick as footman. Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, near the beginning of his career here, is very impressive as a drunken playboy. His sister Sue is bullied by her husband Robert, so Hurley and Chick teach Doug to beat up the cad. Meanwhile, as if they weren't in enough trouble, Hurley falls in love with the household's secretary, while Chick falls for the nanny who supervises Sue and Robert's bratty son Jimmy.
SPOILERS COMING. I found this entire movie immensely contrived. The two separate relationships between the main characters (as prizefighter and manager, and then as uncouth servants in a posh household) never mesh properly. Why would two such people apply for these jobs, and why would they be able to obtain them? Eventually, Chick gets to contend for the lightweight championship. The bout is staged mostly offscreen (reflecting this story's origins as a stage play), but there is some cinematic vitality in the climactic scene in which Sue and little Jimmy listen to the fight on the radio. And of course Chick wins and becomes champ.
That 'of course' points to the problem here, which is that this very contrived story is also extremely predictable in its contrivances. Despite several good performances (especially O'Brien's), I'll rate this movie just 3 points out of 10. It might have been more interesting, and funnier, if James Gleason had reprised his stage role.
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