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A. Edward Sutherland
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Bert Lahr starred in several musical revues on Broadway, but one of his rare successes in a 'book' musical (with a plotline) was 'Flying High', a topical comedy which scored points off the aviation contests and wing-walking stunts that were so popular in America at this time.
The plot is some froth about rival aviators competing for a transcontinental air race; the winner to receive a large cash prize, fame, and so forth. Gordon is the wealthy playboy pilot who wants to sink his skyhooks into sweet little Eileen Cassidy.
Bert Lahr, in fine form and looking surprisingly athletic, plays Rusty Krause, the airfield mechanic who is (somewhat unwillingly) engaged to Pansy (Charlotte Greenwood), who seems to be some sort of airport groupie. Rusty, who has no piloting experience, accidentally goes aloft in an experimental 'aero-copter'. Not willing to let her man fly away that easily, Pansy jumps on the tail of the 'copter just before it leaves the ground. Once they're up in the air, something goes wrong with the 'copter. While Rusty moans in terror, Pansy climbs out on the fuselage and fixes the rudder.
Charlotte Greenwood is one of my favourite actresses: funny, intelligent, and extremely athletic despite her tall gawky physique. She often played super-competent women strangely attracted to weakling men. She's an utter delight here, doing her airborne acrobatics (despite some bad process photography). When 'Flying High' ran on Broadway, Lahr's leading lady was Kate Smith ... yes, the moon-mountainous singer. I can't imagine how the stage production managed the climactic scene in the aero-copter, high above solid ground ... and I also can't imagine the very plus-sized Kate Smith as Pansy, enacting a stagebound version of Charlotte Greenwood's acrobatics in this movie. That's not a cheap crack about Kate Smith's girth; I'm forced to assume that her characterisation was very different from Greenwood's.
The funniest scene in this film is Lahr's medical examination, in which Doc Brown straps him into a revolving drum and sends it spinning rapidly while Lahr howls in agony. But the best gag of all comes in the same scene, while Lahr's feet are on the ground. (I'll set up the joke by mentioning that this movie was made during Prohibition, when every red-blooded American male carried a hip flask full of booze.) The doctor hands Lahr an empty bottle and tells Lahr to give him a 'specimen'. Lahr doesn't know what this means. Just as the doctor is about to explain, his phone rings. While on the phone, Doc Brown pantomimes to Lahr that he must fill up the bottle. As the doctor looks away, Lahr whips out his hip flask and fills the bottle with amber fluid. (I assume it's amber; this is a monochrome movie.) Doc Brown rings off the phone, just in time for Lahr to hand him a full bottle and announce: 'Here y'go, Doc. I could only spare a quart.' The sophisticated audiences on Broadway gave this line the biggest laugh of Lahr's career. It's a pity that Lahr is remembered only as the Cowardly Lion, and his brilliant comedy portrayals are forgotten. I'll rate 'Flying High' 8 out of 10.
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