Starting in 1913 movie director Connors discovers singer Molly Adair. As she becomes a star she marries an actor, so Connors fires them. She asks for him as director of her next film. Many silent stars shown making the transition to sound.
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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
The three main characters of the film - Elmer Butts, and Elvira and Ma Plunkett - come to Hollywood from Gopher City, Kansas. Trixie Friganza, who plays Ma Plunkett, was in fact from Kansas. Buster Keaton, who plays Elmer Butts, was also born in Kansas. See more »
At approx. 1h 25min in, after the clown is pulled up, the circle of girls waits for him to come back; they turn to run off stage; cut to new film, they are still waiting for clown to return, then they turn to run off stage again. See more »
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.
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