ONCE IN A LIFETIME (Universal, 1932), directed by Russell Mack, is a film comedy based on the 1930 stage success by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The screen adaptation, often stagy and mostly all-talking, does manage to come across with some funny lines given by veteran comedians, headed by Jack Oakie (on loan from Paramount) as George Lewis, the lovable dim-wit who cracks and chews nuts, with Aline MacMahon (on loan from Warner Brothers) as the serious-minded, acid-tongued May Daniels, whose mannerisms sometimes reminds me of Audrey Meadows character role of Alice Kramden in the classic TV sit-com "The Honeymooners" starring Jackie Gleason.
The story begins with a trio of vaudevillians, George, May and Jerry Hyland (Russell Hopton) who find there is no longer a future in performing to almost empty houses while crowds line up outside movie theaters to watch the new phase of "talking pictures," the premiere of THE JAZZ SINGER starring Al Jolson. May suggests the trio take their once in a lifetime chance, pack up their bags and take the next train out to Hollywood where they can land jobs as voice-culture experts, even though they know nothing about the subject. On the train they encounter Helen Hobart (Louise Fazenda), a gossip columnist, conversing with Susan Walker (Sidney Fox), an young hopeful who is heading for Hollywood to break into the movies. George becomes very much interested in young Susan, but before long, Susan starts to call him "Georgie." After making a good impression with Helen Hobart, George, May and Jerry con her into letting them visit with the studio boss, Herman Glogauer (Gregory Ratoff) who agrees on setting up a school of elocution. Because George boldly talks back to the heavily accented Glogauer, telling him truths that his "yes" men keep from him, George is made supervising producer. Funny moments occur when George is given a movie assignment, but to Glogauer's rage, learns that George has filmed the wrong movie by taking a script from a 1910 Biograph production. As for Susan, who auditions by stump marching her feet and reciting "Boots, Boots, Boots, Boots ...." gets a small part in George's movie as a bride who says "I do," but after seeing the sneak preview, becomes outraged by the outcome, believing her career is finished before it's begun. More complications ensue.
Featured in the supporting cast are Onslow Stevens as Lawrence Vail, a young playwright (reportedly inspired by Kaufman himself) who sits in the studio waiting area for SIX months hoping to see Mr. Glogauer, eventually getting frustrated at Glogauer's scatterbrained receptionist, Miss Leighton (ZaSu Pitts), before taking the next train back East; Jobyna Howland and Robert McWade as Susan's parents; Gregory Gaye as Rudolph; Carol Tevis, the one with that baby voice, as Florabelle Leigh, auditioning for a movie role by crying; and appearing briefly is Margaret Lindsay as George Lewis's secretary.
Once considered to be a lost movie, the found ONCE IN A LIFETIME did gets its rare TV presentation on education television (PBS) and revival theaters in the early 1970s before going out of circulation again. While other Hollywood's Hollywood stories of 1932 occasionally do get revived these days, including the serious "What Price Hollywood? (RKO); the hilarious Harold Lloyd comedy, "Movie Crazy," and comedy-drama, "Make Me a Star" (both for Paramount), which get to be shown here and there on Turner Classic Movies, ONCE IN A LIFETIME is worthy of rediscovering again, and to see it shown after decades resting in some dark studio vault, would definitely be a once in a lifetime experience. (***)
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