27 user 12 critic

Free and Easy (1930)

Approved | | Comedy, Musical | 22 March 1930 (USA)
A bumbling manager tries to get a small town beauty contest winner into the movies.



(scenario), (adaptation) | 1 more credit »

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Complete credited cast:
Fred Niblo ...
Director Fred Niblo
Edgar Dearing ...
Studio Gate Guard
Gwen Lee - Actress in Bedroom Scene
John Miljan ...
John Miljan - Actor in Bedroom Scene
William Haines - Guest at Premiere
William Collier Jr. - Master of Ceremonies at Premiere
Dorothy Sebastian - Actress in Cave Scene
David Burton ...
Director DavidBurton


Gopher City Kansas hosts a beauty contest. The winner, Elvira Plunkett, and her mother go to Hollywood. The Chamber of Commerce also provides Elvira with an agent, Gopher City's own Elmer J. Butz. Elmer likes Elvira and the shy Elvira likes him, but Mrs. Plunkett, a formidable woman, has little use for hapless Elmer. On the train west, they meet movie star Larry Mitchell, who takes a shine to Elvira and helps her meet MGM directors once they get to Tinsel Town. Elmer, meanwhile, wants to help Elvira with her career and he also wants to be her man. Movie stardom does come to the Gopher City entourage, but to whom is a surprise. And who will win the lovely Elvira's hand? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Comedy | Musical


Approved | See all certifications »





Release Date:

22 March 1930 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Easy Go  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Retitled "Easy Go" in order to avoid confusion with the similarly titled 1941 MGM release, this film was first telecast in New York City on the Late, Late Show Monday 8 September 1958 on WCBS (Channel 2). See more »


When Larry orders his car, a visible mike descends from the upper right hand corner of the frame while he says his line, then rises out of sight again. See more »


Elmer Butts: ...I had one too many vanillas, and I kissed her on the back porch!
See more »


Referenced in The Party (1968) See more »


The Free And Easy
(1930) (uncredited)
Lyrics by Roy Turk
Music by Fred E. Ahlert
Played during the opening credits
Sung and danced by Buster Keaton, with Marion Shilling and chorus
Copyright 1930 Robbins Music Corporation
See more »

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User Reviews

The question is -- why Keaton?
9 March 2006 | by (England) – See all my reviews

As a twist on the old 'innocent makes it big in the movies' theme, it's not a bad plot: a pretty blonde beauty queen from a sleepy provincial town comes to Hollywood in the chance of a lifetime... only, instead of Elvira winding up as a star, it is her Olympian harridan of a mother and incompetent booby of a would-be manager who end up with contracts -- as comic relief.

Trixie Friganza provides a wonderful performance as the stage-door mother from hell, with the bonus of some very attractive costume routines in the film-within-a-film. Anita Page is naive and sweetly shy as the unambitious Elvira, establishing sympathy and character in a relatively small part. Robert Montgomery is competent but unremarkable as the caddish movie star she falls for, and who ultimately repents and offers her the prize of every good girl's virtue: marriage.

But the question one is inevitably left asking concerns the casting of Buster Keaton as 'Elmer Butts', the shambling idiot. Nominally, this is a "Buster Keaton Production"; but in fact, his character is probably the biggest reason not to watch it, since most of the time Elmer is just embarrassing. Once you hide 'the great stone face' under sad-clown makeup, so that he can't use it to act with, and conceal the trained grace and expression of his body under tent-like trousers or padded tights, so that he can't act with that either, and then give him semi-moronic dialogue to recite so that he can't even act with his voice -- you have to ask yourself: why hire the talents of Keaton, of all people, in the first place?

Presumably, given a scene in which the character gets repeatedly hit in the face and flung to the ground by a succession of muscular ladies, it helps if you employ an actor who can take a fall without getting hurt. Keaton manages to work in a few trademark variations on the basic tumble during this tedious sequence, and elsewhere in the film there are a couple of acrobatic moments of note: when Elmer launches himself straight into a horizontal tackle at neck-height at Elvira's seducer, and the illusory dive into a shallow tank of water. In the final dance sequence he forgets to shamble, and gives us a glimpse of crisp vaudeville steps despite the obliterating handicap of the costume. Otherwise, the part doesn't appear to demand his particular skills at all.

The song and dance numbers raised a few -- I suspect not all intentional -- laughs, but tended to drag, an ongoing problem. Many of the dialogue scenes outstay their welcome, including the seduction sequence with its repeated cuts back to the chase, and almost all Elmer's allegedly amusing stand-up exchanges: I suspect you could shorten at least ten minutes out of this film and it would only be an improvement.

Comedy-wise, it's effective from time to time. I was surprised into a few genuine laughs, including a couple where Keaton gets to slip in a dry sotto-voce aside -- an acting style that would clearly have suited him much better than the verbose mumbling and misunderstandings he has to labour through in this script. I'm not familiar enough with Buster Keaton's voice to tell how much of the slurred delivery here was produced for 'comic' effect and how much was his natural vocal range... but frankly, in a number of scenes he sounds quite simply drunk, an effect that can't possibly have been wanted!

The ending, meanwhile, appears to lack effective resolution, and left me somewhat up in the air as to what message it was supposed to convey. Elvira marries her actor, as Elmer's stumbling attempts to confess his own love inadvertently contrive to bring together the estranged pair; but the film, mis-paced as ever, doesn't end at this point. Instead Elvira, still innocently unaware of Elmer's feelings for her, kisses him in gratitude, laughs at him, and sends him back out in front of the cameras to be comic (which, as ever, he fails in any noticeable degree to achieve)... and then we have yet another musical number, with the two love-birds caught up in each other's eyes, and Keaton just standing there immobile, grotesquely painted and (presumably) heartbroken.

Is it supposed to be funny? Is it trying for some ironic depth hitherto unheralded by the rest of the film? Are we supposed to feel sorry for Elmer -- and if so, just what sort of a comedy ending is that?

(Plus, an unpalatable point: if one of your actors has a mutilated forefinger, then don't have him fidgeting with the stump throughout in the foreground of a dialogue scene! In Buster's own films, spot-the-finger is an endearing game to be played by those in the know, with a complicit wink; here, it's painfully obvious.)

There were moments, at the beginning, when I thought this film might have potential; it was never going to be a classic, but it might have been an unpretentious contemporary spoof. The script needs tightening up throughout, often wasting its laughs by labouring the point instead of cutting out a line or two in favour of a reaction shot. But the outcome is basically doomed from the moment that the plot starts dressing the miscast Keaton up: he might just have carried Elmer off as a deadpan role in ordinary clothing, but in third-rate pier end farce he hasn't got a hope. And no amount of proclaiming on screen that the result is the biggest thing in comedy is going to help.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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