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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Queen High began life as a non-musical play called "A Pair of Sixes,"
which ran on Broadway back in 1914. The story concerns two men who
manage the Eureka Novelty Company, makers of ladies' undergarments. The
partners bicker constantly, and finally settle on a highly unusual
method to resolve their differences: they draw cards, with the
understanding that the man who holds the winning hand shall run the
company on his own for one year, while the loser must act as the
winner's manservant. A wacky idea? Sure, but a dandy premise for a
farce comedy. In 1926 the show returned to Broadway with songs,
rechristened "Queen High." This time it starred Charles Ruggles as one
of the two partners -- the one who, much to his dismay, winds up
playing butler to the other. And in 1930 this version (minus most of
its songs) was filmed at Paramount's Astoria Studio, with Ruggles
reprising his stage role opposite Frank Morgan. It's an inspired
casting choice, for these two gifted performers play off each other
beautifully. In support, as Morgan's niece, we find Ginger Rogers,
still a teenager, still a brunette and still a flapper, but
recognizably Ginger and absolutely adorable.
With Ruggles, Morgan, and Rogers in the central roles you can't go far wrong. And indeed, Queen High is quite enjoyable over all, but prospective viewers should be advised it's very much a filmed play, not unlike the first two Marx Brothers movies produced at the same studio around this time. Aside from one brief sequence on a subway platform and in a train (presumably written for the film), it all looks very much like a stage performance. But seeing as how the material generally holds up well, and the lead players are so charming, what's wrong with watching a filmed play? Anyone who misses seeing the great outdoors on screen will find plenty of Westerns available.
Most of the early scenes take place in the offices of the Eureka Novelty Co., the garter firm co-managed by T. Boggs Johns (Ruggles) and George Nettleton (Morgan). Art Deco buffs will get a kick out of the office's ultra-sleek design, while viewers who appreciate the sight of cute young lingerie models should be ready to hit the Pause button. One of the film's best sequences unfolds in Nettleton's office, a sprightly, seemingly spontaneous musical number called "Brother, Laugh It Off." Ginger introduces the song, then turns it over to several young workers who harmonize while one of the girls goes into a dance. Towards the end of the number, a second girl with a Louise Brooks bob dances on a small table. Watch her closely: that's 17 year-old Eleanor Powell, making her movie debut. And then, in a surprise finale, Morgan and Ruggles finish the song. This delightful scene is worth the price of admission by itself.
Later, at the behest of their lawyer, the feuding partners decide to settle their disagreements with a card game, in the fashion described above. This is another good scene, suspenseful and funny. The second half of the film takes place at Nettleton's estate, where "Boggs" is now unhappily installed as butler. I confess I have mixed feelings about the film's second half; for me, some elements work better than others. On the plus side, there is Ruggles' rendition of a bizarre, outlandish number called "I Love the Girls in My Own Peculiar Way," in which he endeavors to frighten the other servants by boasting in song that he's a serial killer. (Think Sweeney Todd, played for laughs.) On the debit side, there's a low comedy maid played VERY broadly by an actress named Nina Olivette, whose style suggests Martha Raye, but without the finesse. To be charitable, her material isn't the greatest, but nonetheless Olivette's man-hungry shtick wears thin almost immediately. However, she does provide an interesting, real-life trivia note: Olivette's two sons both became actors in later years, Guy and Dean Stockwell. So for those who care, here's a rare look at their mom!
In any case, and despite a very abrupt ending, Queen High is an amusing, novel treat for fans of early talkie musicals. I'd say the good sequences make up for the aspects that don't hold up so well. And for fans of Charles Ruggles, Frank Morgan, and Ginger Rogers, it's an absolute must.
... and not think very hard. The title brings forth images of perhaps
the world's first film about high school angst with Ginger Rogers as
the queen of her senior class? Not at all. Instead "queen high" is a
card term that has to do with a bet that feuding partners in a garter
company have made at the encouragement of ... their lawyer? The bet
will have the winner running the business alone for one year and the
loser being the winner's manservant during that same time. Wouldn't a
simple split of the assets be easier? Well, yes, but not nearly as much
fun as this early screwball comedy.
Frank Morgan and Charles Ruggles play the feuding captains of industry and play off of one another like a high-class version of Edmund Lowe and Victor McLaglen in their buddy movies. Paramount always cast Ruggles as the drunk in his early films, but here they let him play it sober and it suits him. The fact that the business is a garter manufacturer gives an excuse for lots of scantily clad young ladies to wander in and out of scenes modeling the concern's latest products.
Complicating matters for the feuding business partners is that Ruggles' character's nephew (Stanley Smith) and Morgan's character's niece (Ginger Rogers) have fallen in love. They mainly handle the musical scenes which are quite charming. Ginger Rogers was still going through her flapper persona phase in 1930 and her singing is pretty good and adds to the fun.
The plot resolution is rather abrupt and not very satisfying, but the journey getting there is lots of fun. Highly recommended.
The Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto showed this as their kick-off film in a Ginger Rogers Retrospective. A fun, fast-paced film with Ginger Rogers in a cute role as the female lead. Charles Ruggles and Frank Morgan play well off each other as rivals in work and romance. Betty Garde is a little over the top as a harassed maid. Her mugging and blank expressions are definitely from the old vaudeville school of acting. However, Ginger Rogers definitely shines as the female lead, playfully acting opposite Ruggles and Morgan. Also look for Nina Olivette (Mother of Dean Stockwell) in a saucy bit. Watch quickly for a bit by Eleanor Powell. This film will also be shown at Cinefest 2008.
This is a great comedy with a few songs, which pop up at just the right
moment. Unlike many 1929-1930 musicals, the songs usually pertain to
the action and fit right in. None of the melodies are intrusive: they
fit right in and are played in the score.... which is better than most
1929-1930 films. Music is used for effect in several key comedy scenes.
Also, this should be labeled one of the earliest screwball comedies. Ruggels and Morgan are great in their roles, and a VERY young Ginger Rogers is great as a cute flapper. You can also catch Elanor Powell dancing in one scene very briefly.
It is a shame that this movie is not widely available, as I enjoyed it more than most musicals of the 1929-1930 cycle.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
QUEEN HIGH is a nice example of what musicals were like before the Busby Berkeley days at Warners and the Astaire/Rogers series at RKO. The story is silly but mildly amusing, the songs pleasant and catchy, and the cast, including Frank Morgan (Wizard of Oz), Charlie Ruggles (Bringing Up Baby) and Ginger Rogers (Top Hat), is exceptionally strong. We even get the first screen appearance of Eleanor Powell, though to me at least she's quite unrecognizable dancing on a table during the film's bounciest number. On the negative side of the ledger, the camera is static, the plot structure clunky, and the film stock has deteriorated badly. Morgan and Ruggles are already their established personas while Rogers is still in her 'Betty Boop' flapper phase, but cute as a bug anyway. She's known as Astaire's partner but actually covers a wider swath of musical history than practically anybody: an early musical here, the two greatest Berkeley efforts, 42ND STREET and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, the Astaire RKO pictures of course, and even an early 'modern' musical, LADY IN THE DARK, and the classic MGM effort with Fred, BARKLEYS OF Broadway. And on stage both HELLO DOLLY and MAME. Amazing when you think about it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When Broadway patrons came out of "Queen High" (1926, 378 performances)
they were chuckling at the genial folksy comedy of Charlie Ruggles, so
in 1930 when Paramount decided to film the musical it was a "no
brainer" that Ruggles would be cast in the role that made him a star.
So even though the movie would be remembered as an early feature of
Ginger Rogers, it was the rapid fire back and forth patter of Ruggles
and Frank Morgan (not from the original stage cast) that gave the film
Ruggles stars as T. Boggs Johns who is in partnership with George Nettleton (Morgan) in a garter and novelty business and their heated bickering sees them agree to a winner take all poker game - the winner gaining control of the business for a year, the loser having to become a butler in the winner's household!! In the meantime Ginger (who because of the film's being made at Paramount's New York Astoria Studio allowed her to continue her stage role in "Top Speed") - she plays Polly Nettleton and is in a secret romance (was there any other kind in a 1930 movie??) with Johns' nephew Dick (Stanley Smith who more than earned his salary at Paramount in 1930 !!) Polly is given the job of stenographer in her uncle's firm. Dick also has a job there and at first they think none too highly of each other - "flirty, half baked flapper" is how she is described by Dick!! Of course that is before they meet and when they do, in a crowded subway, it is love at first sight!!
There is a terrific number to start things off - "Brother Just Laugh It Off" - there's Ginger in her cute "baby talk" voice, a harmony group and plenty of dancers demonstrating the Charleston!! The poker game is played, with Johns the loser but definitely not in the comedy stakes as Ruggles milks the demeaning demotion of butler for all the comedy it is worth. He also gets to perform "I Love a Girl in My Own Peculiar Way", hoping to discourage a very amorous parlour maid!!
Meanwhile Polly and Dick continue their romance. "I'm Afraid of You" is sung as a duet at a restaurant but unfortunately, the hit song of the film "Seems to Me" was only given to Smith, it looked like Rogers was going to have a chorus but - nothing happened!! The real stars are Morgan and Ruggles - Johns' decides to try to romance Nettleton's nervous wife then realizes that Nettleton is making a shambles of the business. Then they both realize the bet isn't legal - it was all thought up by their lawyer to teach them a lesson!!
Ginger was such a cutie in this but with two over the top comedy stars vying for top honours she would have to wait a couple more years for roles that would put her in the spotlight!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the 1952 comedy "Monkey Business", Charles Coburn told secretary
Marilyn Monroe, "Go find somebody to type this!". Ginger Rogers played
the wife of Cary Grant in that, but only 22 years before, she played a
"stenog" even dumber than Monroe in one of her very first films, hired
by uncle Frank Morgan in this comedy with songs that makes it seem like
an overlong short. It reeks of bad office politics gone rancid as
Rogers is made a pawn between partners Morgan and Charlie Ruggles who
can't stand each other while finding romance with a songwriter she met
on the subway.
This was made around the same time that Rogers got a big Broadway break in "Girl Crazy", but like that show, she was second fiddle (even as the leading lady) thanks to a newcomer named Ethel Merman. Rogers isn't at fault here. She is directed as if in Helen Kane's shoes (who was also at Paramount and a bigger star), but unfortunately, what works for one poop-poop-de-doop song stylist doesn't work with Rogers. Even as one of the biggest gold diggers of 1933, she didn't make your skin crawl, but that is exactly what happens here, making it obvious that her future success in movie musicals wasn't instantly assured.
Some old movies do score highly with Gracie Allen type dumbbells being smarter than their leading men, but Rogers is over the top and unbelievable in her idiocy. A few musical numbers thrown in for good measure prove to be bad inches. After only 35 minutes, I was ready to cash it in. A huge fan of Rogers, Morgan and Ruggles, I found this totally tedious. Wheeler and Woolsey did much better with virtually the same plot in one of their lesser movies ("On Again, Off Again") than the Morgan/Ruggles feud here. Ruggles did better as a boss with a dumbbell secretary, asking Jane Wyman in "The Doughgirls" (of all people) if she took dictation verbatim, only to have her respond, "No I do it word for word!".
According to her autobiography, Ginger Rogers once reached out to Judy Garland in an effort to help her get through some hard times, but sadly in this movie, even the future "Wizard of Oz" couldn't help this turkey.
'Queen High' is ever so slightly a musical, based on a 1914 Broadway
play that became a 1926 stage musical: the film jettisons most of the
Broadway score and adds two new songs. Top billing goes to Stanley
Smith (who?) and Ginger Rogers as the young lovers, but they warble
their songs in operetta voices, and Ginger stands aside while the only
dance number is performed by others! Smith's singing voice is badly
dubbed by some guy who rolls his R's and broadens his A's, bearing no
semblance to Smith's speaking voice. Ginger speaks all her dialogue in
Gracie Allen's voice, and sings ditto.
The actual lead roles are performed by Charles Ruggles (reprising his part from the 1926 musical) and Frank Morgan as equal partners in a firm that makes only one product: ladies' garters. (What we Brits would call "suspenders".) This premise offers huge potential for musical numbers (I kept expecting "Garter sing, garter dance!") but is ultimately wasted. Ruggles went through most of his film career with an annoying little moustache; midway through 'Queen High', he trades it for some annoying sideburns. For once, Ruggles isn't typecast as a meek husband; here, he earnestly courts Betty Garde and shows some backbone. He's also pursued by Nina Olivette, who's quite pretty but she's lumbered with a hideous hairstyle and even worse dialogue ... which is written in some horribly phony bad grammar that's vaguely prole American and vaguely prole British but really from Movie Cliché-Land. In one scene Ruggles cries her 'Australian', but she's definitely no Ozzie sheila, too right. (Another IMDb reviewer is mistaken; it's Olivette, not Garde, who plays the 'harassed maid'.)
The two best songs here were written for the movie, both with lyrics by Yip Harburg: "Brother, Just Laugh It Off" (tune by Ralph Rainger) and "I Love the Girls in My Own Peculiar Way" (Henry Souvaine). The latter is a bizarre ditty in which Ruggles claims to be a serial killer of women. He's not much of a singer; he gets one of Yip Harburg's trademark wordplays -- "When you get pneumonia, I'll 'phone ya" -- but Ruggles clearly enunciates "phone YOU", queering the rhyme. He also mistreats a black laundress.
In the opening shot, William Steiner's camera trundles forward lugubriously, twiddles its casters awhile, then trundles back again. The rest of the camera-work is merely adequate, except for one impressive set-up with Ruggles in a doorway. There's an attempt to give Stanley Smith an "entrance" by staging his first scene with his head hidden, gradually revealing his face. William Saulter's set designs throughout are excellent, especially a very convincing sequence on a New York subway platform and aboard the rush-hour train. Frank Morgan's tycoon character and his wife have a huge mansion, with twin beds about twelve feet apart.
Modern viewers get the usual old-movie reminders that money's not what it used to be: in 'Queen High', Mrs Rockwell has an annual income of $6,000 yet serves her guests caviare.
Most of the dialogue (from the original play) is quite witty, though we get a few clunkers. An orchestra musician plays "second bass", so we know this is the set-up for a baseball joke. Still, any movie that ends with a lawyer getting chucked into a pond can't be all bad.
There's an acetate print of "Queen High" in the Library of Congress, duped from a bad nitrate print; the soundtrack pops, and many scenes are dark. In one dialogue sequence, Smith calls himself "red-headed", yet throughout the movie (this LoC print, at least) his hair looks jet-black. "Queen High" really isn't good enough to rank high on the list of films wanting restoration. This movie was released while Lon Chaney was on his deathbed, but I'll bet he wasn't dying to see it. The original 1914 play was titled 'A Pair of Sixes': I'll add one more six and rate this movie 6 out of 10.
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