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Elmer, rich society loafer, falls for Mary, but she'll have nothing to do with him until (mistakenly thinking that he's hiring a new chauffeur) he accidentally volunteers for the army. Luckily, Mary's signed up to entertain the troops. Unluckily, Elmer's sergeant likes Mary, too. And worst of all, they're all about to ship out for France. Written by
DOUGHBOYS (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1930), directed by Edward Sedgwick, stars that deadpan silent film comedian Buster Keaton in his second sound comedy. Not essentially a movie about those working for the Pillsbury Company, this is one about soldiers during the first World War, then commonly known as "doughboys." Though an improvement over Keaton's initial talkie, FREE AND EASY (1930) set in the Hollywood movie studio, it's far from his silent masterpieces made during his peak years of the twenties.
The plot revolves around Elmer Julius Stuyvesant Jr. (Buster Keaton), a hapless millionaire hopelessly in love with a shop-girl named Mary Rogers (Sally Eilers), whom he waits for every day holding a bouquet of flowers hoping she'd go out with him. In spite of her constant rejections, he refuses to give up hope. As he awaits once again by his limousine outside the store, a recruiting parade headed by a pretty blonde passes by, attracts the attention to Elmer's driver to abandon his post and enlist. At the advise of his manservant, Gustave (Arnold Korff), Elmer goes over to an employment agency to hire a new driver. While doing this, Elmer unwittingly enters a recruiting office where he finds himself enlisted into the Army. While in the platoon with other "dumb clucks" consisting of the ukulele playing Nescopeck (Cliff Edwards), Elmer ends up under the tough watch of Sergeant Brophy (Edward Brophy). As Elmer intends to resign, he soon encounters Mary, also in the Army now acting as hostess in the entertainment division. After some basic training and constant yelling by Brophy, the troop finally heads over to France where the outcome of the war is anything but all quiet on the western front.
With war themes as surefire material for many comedians dating back to the silent era, and future comedians as well (Abbott and Costello in Universal's BUCK PRIVATES (1941) being a classic example), DOUGHBOYS is obviously a wise choice selection for Keaton. It's been said that some comedy material used in this production was based on Keaton's own experience in the war. It must have been a funny war where Keaton is concerned. Being a straightforward comedy, there's time during its 79 minutes for some brief song interludes composed by Howard Johnson and Joseph Meyer. Though "Military Man" is heard briefly during the early portion of the story, the second in command, "Sing" (Sung by Cliff Edwards and reprized by an unidentified soldier) gets the full treatment during a canteen show that concludes with an Apache dance with Keaton in drag. On the humorous side, many of the comedy routines are carefully planned out and don't extend themselves to boredom. One, in particular, where Keaton's Elmer is forced to go through a physical, ends abruptly. Considering how amusing that scene was, it makes one wish for its continuance to what's to take occur afterwards. Another amusing bit, clipped into the well documented, "So Funny It Hurt, Buster Keaton and MGM" (2004), is one where Elmer, ordered to go out and get some German prisoners, finds some at the dugout where he has a friendly conversation with them and their leader, his former manservant, Gustav. As in most cases in DOUGHBOYS, some routines work, others do not. From what I can see, the funny gags outnumber the weaker ones. Interestingly, since the story takes place "over there" during World War I, take note where the lovesick Keaton briefly sings a few bars of the then popular tune to "You Were Meant For Me" that was originally introduced in the 1929 MGM musical, "The Broadway Melody."
Of the members of the cast that include Victor Potel (Svendenburg); Frank Mayo (Captain Scott); and Pitzy Katz (Abie Cohn), Edward Brophy playing the tough sergeant is truly worth mentioning. He's a sheer reminder to the latter yelling sergeants in Army comedies, namely that of Frank Sutton's Sergeant Carter in the popular TV sit-com, "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." for CBS(1964-1969) starring Jim Nabors in the title role. Shows like this indicates how the military comedies never seem to go out of style.
As with most Keaton comedies during his MGM years (1928-1933), DOUGHBOYS is forgotten. Having initially watched DOUGHBOYS on late night television in 1978 from WKBS, Channel 48, in Philadelphia, then the home to many MGM film titles, it's good to know that, good, bad or indifferent, DOUGHBOYS still available for viewing long after it ceased showing on broadcast television. Thanks to the Ted Turner library where this and other Keaton MGM titles have became readily available on home video (1993) and DVD, DOUGHBOYS continues to be shown on Turner Classic Movies as a insight to those interested in learning more about the comedy legend of Buster Keaton and why his career slowly dipped into decline while under the reign of the MGM lion. (**)
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