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This hilarious and racy staged musical is correctly commented upon here as probably as close to a genuine Ziegfeld Broadway show of the 20s as any of us will ever see. In glorious two strip Technicolor too! A fore runner to GIRL CRAZY, HATS OFF, some ELVIS bumpkin re treads like STAY AWAY JOE or TICKLE ME and WHEN THEY BOYS MEET THE GIRLS (in itself a 60s remake of Girl Crazy)...WHOOPEE is by turns hilarious, gorgeous and utterly fascinating for a study of early talkie musicals. It also shows how Woody Allen mannerisms of the 60s with his nervous romantic stchik is not all new given Cantor's romance-tics here. I can watch the musical numbers over and over and find the STETSON HAT number with its excellent clunky tap dancing sound quite compelling. The SUNRISE FINALE is just jaw dropping with the most astonishing costumes draped over almost nude skinny showgirls. 200 eagles must have died in the feather department to create some of those outfits. Overall, the dance numbers have indicated just how modern this film truly is, not just for its time but even today, it just looks new: clothes, hairstyles and those fresh lovely faces. The haircuts on the boys are very much apparent today. One young cowboy in the early scenes of the STETSON number looks exactly like 80s actor Treat Williams (Noah Beery Jnr?), and the white jeans with the red berry patterns were revived as modern 90s. It is the pinnacle of the state of the art for the time and thoroughly hilarious in its risqué racist free pre code way.
Sure, the pacing is leaden (there's silence after every joke so the
can laugh or applaud), there is no camera movement, it is essentially a
photographed stage musical comedy, nobody can act - BUT - if you don't
expect too much of this early talkie as film, and just sit back and enjoy
it's two assets - early two-strip Technicolor and Eddie Cantor - you may
just enjoy yourself immensely.
There are eight songs and two reprises, most memorably MAKIN WHOOPEE and MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME.
Cantor is irrepressible and a total original. The Jewish shtick and the blatantly gay innuendo in so many of the jokes lay testimony to this being pre-Hayes code, and make viewings by today's audiences that much funnier.
Other reviewers on this site have elaborated on the inane plot, so I won't go into it. The colors are vivid (reds, browns greens)and give this an other-worldly look. The art direction earned an Oscar nom. If you can find it, get it and enjoy it. We have very very few surviving two-strip Technicolor films and just over a dozen two-strip Technicolor talkies that have managed to come down to us with their color elements intact. This is a little treasure.
If for no other reason, this is an amazing film because it was shot in
Technicolor - in 1930! It's primitive color, but very interesting at
times and intriguing to view. Although the story and humor are very
dated, Eddie Cantor is very funny at times playing the super
There are lots of gags, and like the Marx Brothers films, so many that you can't catch them all. Also like the MB, some of the humor is topical, so audiences of today aren't going to get what people would laugh at in 1930.
Through all the jokes - many stupid and many clever - Cantor is a likable guy and also a good singer. As I wrote with another review (Roman Scandals) I am just sorry this talented man doesn't have his films out on DVD. The songs in here are decent, too, some of them very catchy. They also have the added attraction of having the Busby Berkeley joining in.
Make no mistake: this is a "sappy" film, so dated it's extremely stupid in spots....but definitely something for the film collector.
WHOOPEE (United Artists, 1930), directed by Thornton Freeland,
subtitled "A musical comedy of the great wide west," produced in
collaboration with Florenz Ziegfeld and Samuel Goldwyn, is another one
of those reworking Broadway shows to come out of Hollywood during the
early days of talkies. Headed by Broadway's own Eddie Cantor, with
co-stars, many of whom recreating their stage roles, WHOOPEE ranks one
of the better stage-to-screen musicals released during the 1929-30
season. It's also the film responsible in elevating Cantor into major
box office attraction. Not only was this his first for Samuel Goldwyn,
but the introduction of choreographer Busby Berkeley to the motion
picture screen. While Berkeley's now famous dance direction trademarks
are evident here, they're far from the best to what he later created at
the Warner Brothers studios in the 1930s.
Set in an Arizona dude ranch, Sally Morgan (Eleanor Hunt) is about to marry Sheriff Bob Wells (John Rutherford), though she really loves Wanenis (Paul Gregory), a young Indian living on an Indian reservation near her father's ranch. Because Wanenis is of Indian blood, it is not permissible for a white girl to marry a "red skin." Also staying on the ranch is Henry Williams (played by Eddie Cantor with horn rim glasses), a hypochrondiac pill popper from the east, there for a rest cure, accompanied by his nurse, Mary Custer (Ethel Shutta), who not only feeds him medicine, but happens to be in love with him. Unable to go on with the wedding, Sally arranges for Henry to drive her away in his ran-shackle Ford, leaving Wells and guests at the altar. Since Wells refuses to take "No" for an answer, he goes in hot pursuit of them, as does Miss Custer, leading them all to another ranch, leading to complications, songs and dance numbers.
The musical program includes: "The Cowboy Number" (sung by Betty Grable); "I'll Still Belong to You" (sung by Paul Gregory); "Makin' Whoopee" (sung by Eddie Cantor); "The Mission Number" (sung by chorus); "A Girl Friend of a Boy Friend of Mine" and "My Baby Just Cares for Me" (both sung by Cantor); "Stetson" (sung by Ethel Shutta); "I'll Still Belong to You" (reprise by Paul Gregory); "The Song of the Setting Sun" (sung by Chief Caupolian) and "My Baby Just Cares for Me" (reprise by Cantor).
Of the song tunes, only three show off the Berkeley style: First "The Cowboy Number," featuring two overhead camera shots of dancing cowboys and girls doing circular formations shots climaxed by snake-like effects; "Stetson" having cowgirls dancing while passing their hats to one another, followed by individual close-ups and camera panning through a leg tunnel; and "The Setting Sun," highlighted with one overhead camera shot of Indian doing formations with their feather hats. Among those in the supporting cast are Albert Hackett as Chester Underwood; Marian Marsh as Harriet Underwood; the George Olson Band, and the 1930 Goldwyn Girls (the most famous one here being Betty Grable).
WHOOPEE, the only Cantor musical reproduced from stage to screen, is a prestigious production. Done in early two-strip Technicolor, considering how many early Technicolor musicals are lost, it's fortunate this one has survived. Unlike the subsequent Cantor/Goldwyn musicals, WHOOPEE never played on commercial television in the 1960s and '70s. It was by 1980 did it finally turn up on cable television before turning up on home video in 1986. While the video transfer to this film is excellent, the color on the TV prints are not as good. It's reflection of the times by ways of making reference to popular hit names as Lawrence Tibbett and Amos and Andy are definitely names that would be of a loss today. Cantor's nervous wreck characterization would be carbon copies by future film comedians, especially Danny Kaye, who's Samuel Goldwyn debut, UP IN ARMS (1944), was a partial reworking to WHOOPEE, though not its remake.
As with other Cantor comedies of the day, some gags are humorous (such as Cantor and character actor Spencer Charters comparing their operations, a gimmick they briefly reprized in Cantor's second Goldwyn musical, PALMY DAYS in 1931), others don't come off as well. One low point occurs when Henry (Cantor), disguised in black-face, calls out to Sally Morgan,. Failing to recognize him, she responds very bluntly, "How dare YOU speak to me!" Quite an uneasy feeling for its viewers that could have been handled differently, with her politely replying, "Do we know each other?" Ethel Shutta, repeating her Miss Custer role from the stage version, is a fine comedienne reminiscent to Warner Brothers' own Winnie Lightner. Unlike Lightner, who appeared in numerous films of the early 1930s, Shutta made this her only screen role during the "golden age of Hollywood."
When WHOOPEE became one of a handful of Eddie Cantor musicals to play on cable channel's American Movie Classics in the 1990s, at one point, host Bob Dorian, before the presentation of the film, asked his viewers to watch the film as it was originally intended and not be offended by some racial slurs, jokes, and Cantor disguised in black-face to keep from being arrested. In spite of how viewers might have felt towards this film then and now, WHOOPEE, played longer and more frequently on AMC (1992 to 1998) than any other Cantor musical. WHOOPEE is one of those Broadway transfers to give contemporary audiences a basic idea of the kind of entertainment endured many generations ago. WHOOPEE, as it stands, remains an interesting antique. (***)
An eccentric hypochondriac staying at an Arizona dude ranch
finds the time - when not popping pills - to make a little
The emergence of two diverse talents make watching this film special. Banjo-eyed Eddie Cantor, already the darling of the Ziegfeld Follies, became a fully fledged movie star in this tale of utter lunacy, his own special brand of innocent insanity completely at home in these surroundings. Never still for long, legs & hands constantly flittering about, he punctuates every double entendre with eyes rolled up as if in mild shock at his own dialogue. His handful of songs, including his signature tune Making Whoopee,' only further showcase his abundant talent.
This was also the first significant assignment for choreographer Busby Berkeley. He displays his genius in embryo with his precision movements (greatly influenced by his exposure to military drills) and initial examples of his trademark overhead shots. The film's production entirely in early Technicolor gave Berkeley a rich palette with which to work and he acquits himself well, even if his Indian maiden costumes near the end of the picture exhibit rather dubious taste.
Cantor dominates the cast, but Ethel Shutta has a few good moments as Eddie's stern nurse and elderly Spencer Charters, playing the ranch's owner, has a hilariously bizarre sequence in which he & Cantor examine each other's surgical scars. Movie mavens will recognize a young, uncredited Betty Grable as the chorus girl with the lasso in the first song.
A glance down the credits shows a couple of names of note: Nacio Herb Brown was among the foremost movie songwriters of the era; Greg Toland would later be hailed as one of Hollywood's finest cinematographers.
The film makes a point of dealing with bias against Native Americans. Cantor's blackface comedy sequence will then perhaps be a bit of a surprise to some, but it should be remembered that this sort of racial insensitivity was not unusual in the movie industry of 1930.
I just watched Whoopee! on an excellent laserdisc print, and my nostalgia conceit was fed yet again. The world seemed happier and lazier, the chorus girls sweeter and prettier, the tunes bouncier and brighter. Viewers' comments about Eddie Cantor prancing in blackface miss the point: it is not racism that is projected, but a society in which racism is meaningless. My conceit, of course, is absurd; there are no "good old days", and it was no bed of roses to be an average Joe or Jane in 1930 when Whoopee! was made. But movies like these are my escape to Happyland, and while a steady diet of the same would be cloying, a dip into an old musical guarantees me a dreamy uplift.
Eddie Cantor's a legend name of showbiz, but he's been lost to time, unlike,
say, Laurel and Hardy or Jack Benny. Mainly, we've just heard his name.
Whoopee! is a chance to finally see his act and--well, uh--he was quite
energetic. The film's really just an excuse for Cantor to strut his stuff,
so your loving of the film will depend mostly of your love of Eddie.
However, there are several things for a film buff to enjoy. The early two-strip Technicolor is quite nice and the print I've seen on TV is really quite gorgeous. (It seems strange that this, of all early talkies, would have been so well preserved.) Outside of Cantor's vaudeville style, Whoopee! feel nearly it's age. The camerawork can be quite clunky at times, like the jiggly attempt at an overhead shot during a dance number, but generally its acceptable for a simple musical. Additionally, the dances were the work of a young Busbey Berkley and you can tell it's his handiwork. Oddly, the dancers seem to have a problem dancing in-sync with one another, which seems to be a hallmark of every early musical I've ever seen.
This film seems ahead of its time in regard to technical advances, such as color and visual effects. The acting is hilarious, though a little slow in a couple of scenes. A great one for late-night relaxing... comedy, music, singing, and choreography that appeal to lovers of early films AND modern progress shown by many film makers of the 1930 era.
"Whooppee!" was made at a perfect time, 1930. It has experimentation with the new two-strip Technicolor process (which gives an unreal, pleasing pastel quality). The Hays Office (the censorship arm of movies from 1934 to 1956) hadn't come in, allowing for some funny off-color jokes, and some wild costuming of shapely dancing girls. The star, Eddie Cantor was in his prime. Eddie plays a hypochondriac on a cross country auto trip. He winds up at an Indian reservation, wrongfully hunted by the Sheriff. The film moves from being a comic gift from long ago, to a scary reminder of poor race relations only 70 years ago. Eddie hides in coal stove that explodes, and he emerges in black face, allowing him to walk past his pursuers in disquise. He approaches the leading lady of the film. She sees him and yells "How dare YOU speak to ME?!" Looking past the social-incorrectness of the film, the dance numbers have some amazing choreography by Busby Berkeley, who was just beginning to discover new and exciting ways to film dancers.
This is one of the oldest surviving all-color talking films. The only
other one I can think of from 1930 that is still with us is Universal's
"King of Jazz" and "Under a Texas Moon". It will probably seem odd to
you at first that the sheriff and his deputies - I assume they are
deputies - are all dressed in rather cartoonish over-sized cowboy hats
and pink scarves, but you have to remember two things. First this is,
at heart, a musical farce and the costumes are part of that farce.
Secondly, remember that two-strip Technicolor was all they had in 1930,
that it was still considered a treat by the public, and that pink and
blue were the colors this process rendered best.
The tale that acts as a vehicle for all of Eddie Cantor's antics is a simple one, and one that is repeated in several films over the years - that of forbidden love between races. Sally, a white girl, falls in love with Wanenis, an Indian. Since such marriages were forbidden, Wanenis goes away into the wilderness to deal with the fact they cannot be together. In the meantime, Sally's father arranges for her to marry Sheriff Bob Wells. Wanenis returns on Sally's wedding day, not knowing it is her wedding day. When Sally sees Wanenis, she knows she cannot go through with the sham wedding and runs away. The fun comes in with how she runs away. She tells sickly Henry Williams (Eddie Cantor) that she and Bob are planning to elope, and that she needs him to drive her into the next town. However, she leaves a note for everyone else saying she has eloped with Henry. Not only is the vengeful sheriff, his men, and Sally's father soon hot on their trail, but Henry's aggressively love-sick nurse is after them too. Only Wanenis finds this whole thing an odd turn of events and takes a short cut to go looking for them, separate from the rest of the pack. Complications and opportunities for Cantor's always enjoyable remarks, eye movements, and musical interludes ensue.
This film survives intact in splendid shape, and the Technicolor truly yields a spectacular painted desert. Although best remembered songs from this film will always be title song "Makin' Whoopee" and "My Baby Just Cares For Me", both performed by Eddie Cantor, I also really liked the love ballad sung by the star-crossed lovers Sally and Wanenis -"I'll Still Belong to You". It has an operatic quality that is typical of love songs from that era, and oddly enough was written by Nacio Herb Brown of MGM songwriting fame.
Finally, let me mention the fact that some of the racial aspects of this film might leave the modern viewer squeamish such as the stereotypes of native peoples and the fact that Eddie Cantor usually appeared in black-face as part of his act and does here too. Try to remember that none of this is out of character for a film made 80 years ago and no mean-spiritedness was intended at the time.
Highly recommended for a chance to see Eddie Cantor in one of his best.
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