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"Diplomaniacs" certainly lives up to its daft title and this movie probably
was one of the silliest of the Wheeler and Woolsey collaborations in the
1930s. The boys find themselves this time uprooted from their Indian
reservation barber's shop (where the Indians don't need shaving and only
ever seem to say 'oompah', that is, except the Chief who went to Oxford),
and sent to stop all wars at the Geneva Peace Conference.
Cue a swipe at every possible stereotype concerning the various peoples and countries of the world, from the Chinaman who wants to return to his wife, who he hates; to the Swiss national costume (don't ask), and even a number, 'No More War', in blackface! And Robert Woolsey even surfaces from sleep with a cigar; the guy must have gone through hundreds of them...
The songs, more of them than usual for one of their movies, are high points amongst the bizarre plot (including one sequence where Bert Wheeler recreates his old vaudeville act with 'Annie Laurie'). In support, Phyllis Barry is a hoot as smoke-breathing siren Fifi, while Marjorie White sizzles as Bert's violent love interest (brilliant number for them in 'Sing to Me'). Louis Calhern and Hugh Herbert also appear.
I know that this movie in particular annoys some commentators who see it as politically incorrect, but viewed in the context of the time, and accepting its mischevious spirit, it has enough good points to keep it watchable today. An excellent comedy classic!
DIPLOMANIACS is a really really funny 1933 film drawing happy comparison to Marx Bros and Euro-operetta farces of the Depression era. Deliberately as silly as possible with every race stereotype copping a hilarious racist pre code raspberry... even the squadron of French maids who un dress W&W out of their nighties and into hideous check streetwear and stovepipe hats. Everyone cops it and every character is playing unrestrained lunacy to the hilt. Instead of me carrying on about it, make sure you read the 'moviediva' link in the external comments panel along with the very informative other comments here. There is a wealth of information and insight into this forgotten but genuinely hilarious comedy team who seemed to toss very camp humor, cross dressing, insults, demented songs and skirt chasing into every conceivable mix in all their films. I have managed to see about 7 of their films and this so far is the best, fastest and outrageous. They often screen on late night TV in Australia where one channel seems to have almost every RKO pic from 1929-1946. DIPLOMANIACS has a terrific cast and a strong music score. I also love the Monogram pic of 1934 KING KELLY OF THE USA which joins this and DUCK SOUP with MILLION DOLLAR LEGS which you can read all about in other comments and the moviediva link. Enjoy!
A pacifistic Indian tribe sends two zany barbers to be
envoys at the Peace Conference in Geneva. The DIPLOMANIACS
soon find themselves up against the machinations of spies
working for a powerful munitions company who have a vested
interest in seeing that war continues the demand for their
Wheeler & Woolsey take a plot ridiculous even by their standards and manage to get some solid laughs out of it. The Boys (Bert Wheeler is the little fellow with the curly hair; Robert Woolsey is the skinny guy with the cigar & glasses) are always tremendous fun to watch, but the viewer who tries to find anything meaningful or coherent in this film would be wasting their time. However, in its own goofy way, DIPLOMANIACS holds its own against DUCK SOUP & MILLION DOLLAR LEGS, two contemporary films with which it shares an hysterical point of view.
The Boys are given a fine supporting cast, each of whom get to shine for a few moments, as they are given no chance for any real character development: Louis Calhern as the suave master spy; Edgar Kennedy as the harried head of the Peace Conference; elderly Richard Carle as an inebriated ship's captain; spunky little Marjorie White as Wheeler's violent love interest, choking him into submission (a very funny comedienne nearly forgotten today, a tragic car wreck would claim her life two years after the release of this film); and Hugh Herbert as an inscrutable proverb-spouting Oriental. Movie mavens will spot Charlie Hall as an eager beaver valet.
Wheeler & White fight their way through `Sing To Me' - while the Boys vocalize with `On The Boulevard' and `No More War.'
Wheeler & Woolsey have been about as ill-used & forgotten as Shakespeare's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern from the play Hamlet. In the abyss of the Great Depression our country turned to its clowns for solace and distraction from calamity. They did not disappoint us, keeping us howling with mirth lest we howl with despair. In return a grateful nation has given most of them an icon sheen, reviving their films, putting their visage on posters & t-shirts, and encouraging savants, pedants, and just plain journalists, to turn their histories into myths, and their myths into history. All of them, it seems, but Wheeler & Woolsey. These two fine cuckoos have been relegated to the basement of the Museum of Comedy. Their movie Diplomaniacs shows them to be sassy, musical and self-aware comics of the first water. So why is their memory as dead as the Firestone tire? Because the American public and its media minions insist on a simplistic & single view of our great clowns. No ambiguity need apply, seems to be the sign posted on the windows of our souls. Con man & boozer? Why that's W.C. Fields, only. Wisecracker? Groucho! Silly silent girl chaser? Harpo! Wistful vagabond? Only Chaplin. We have forgotten, or never knew, that there is a common gene pool for all great clowns and their comedy. Stan Laurel chased girls in early L & H ventures. Harold Lloyd portrayed a homeless stumblebum before inventing his glass character. And so it goes. Wheeler & Woolsey practised well and wisely the common foibles of the great-hearted boobies -- they drank to excess, warbled irreverent ditties, ogled the girls, and cracked wise at the drop of a pun. But they never got a RESERVED spot in the Hollywood parking lot. Groucho, Buster, each of you can make a little room for 'em, can't you? Your brother fools? Maybe Hollywood can even make amends by filming THE WHEELER & WOOLSEY STORY, with Jim Carrey & Steve Martin. I'd pony up the bucks for that!
This riotous, politically incorrect classic has a lot in common with the Marx Brother's film "Duck Soup". Consider: (1) Both films were released in 1933. (2) Both films had a strong anti-war message to them. (3) Both films starred Louis Calhern and Edgar Kennedy. (4) Both films had hilarious musical numbers in them. A film that is unjustly forgotten today, it has a lot of bizarre, but wonderful moments in it. The film opens with Wheeler & Woolsey as barbers on an Indian reservation. The Indians recruit the boys to attend the Geneva Peace Conference and convince all of the other countries to pledge to end war. However, the owners of an ammunition company sets out to stop them. A delight!
Not that I've seen them all, but considering the sorry comic quality of the many W&W films that I have seen, I'm personally delighted with this one and consider it their best. And most likely the scripting from Mankiewicz and Myers is the reason. They'd written the wacky insanity known as "Million Dollar Legs" (W.C. Fields) just before and kept up the same level of lunacy when they put this one together. A good thing because the loopy script provides W & W with plenty of funny moments removed from their usual stale vaudeville banter. The story itself is, like 'Million Dollar Legs,' almost indescribable. It's basically W&W as barbers on an Indian reservation(!) who end up going to the Geneva peace conference on behalf of the Indian tribe, with all manner of insane nonsense happening along the way. This nonsense includes: an Indian who speaks with an Oxford accent; arrows that fly in and out of the action from nowhere; a valet who exits out of a porthole instead of the door; Hugh Herbert playing a Chinese conspirator(!); people speaking and singing in pig Latin; Woolsey kissing a woman who swallows his smoking cigar; Edgar Kennedy playing the leader at the peace conference but wielding a tommygun; and a bomb exploding that transforms the cast into black-faced minstrels. Compared to their usual routinely handled and written comedies, this one is from another planet. It's a welcome place, and full of laughs.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey (Woolsey is the one wearing glasses) were highly successful in Vaudeville before making it big on Broadway which lead to their going Hollywood. The opening Barbershop scene was an old Vaudeville routine, but once you get past that it starts to take off, and I'm not just talking girls clothing They made 24 films together before Woolsey died at the age of 50 only five years after tonight's film was made. Some of their titles are: HALF SHOT AT SUNRISE; Cracked Nuts; CAUGHT PLASTERED; Hips, Hips, Hooray!; NITWITS & Silly Billies. O yeah, they also saved the RKO studio from going bankrupt during the Great Depression! Critics and film buffs often call them the poor man's Marx Brothers since they share a certain zany comedy and were successful during the same era. In fact tonight's movie which opened in May of 1933 was written by Joseph Mankiewicz who later redeemed himself by writing & directing ALL ABOUT EVE and his brother Herman Mankiewicz so liked this anti-war comedy that six months later he made one of his own with the Marx Bros. called DUCK SOUP which has many similarities including the same bad guy in both played by Louis Calhern as a war profiteer. Herman Mankiewicz later redeemed himself by co-writing CITIZEN KANE, which this soitenley ain't! And here's why you won't see it on TV it's not politically correct. In fact it may be offensive to some who are put off by bad Chinese stereotypes made by Jewish actors, the objectification and gift wrapping of pretty girls and blackface minstrel numbers. This film has it all, and I apologize but sometimes while examining film history you uncover a stinker, and well folks --- I hope you can enjoy this Pre-Code film made to take Depression era audiences minds of their troubles in a print pulled from the garbage aka DIPLOMANIACS.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When Wheeler and Woolsey set their sights on spoofing "Duck Soup", they
end up with "Ham Chowder". What the result turns out to be is a farce
that parodies practically every nationality they can insult: Native
Americans, blacks, the Chinese, various Europeans and even homosexuals.
It all surrounds their journey to the Geneva Peace convention to demand
peace as representatives of the collected Native American tribes now
living on reservations. You know immediately this isn't a serious film
when the scantily feathered Indian chief shows up in a Rolls Royce
sporting a British accent. In Geneva, Wheeler and Woolsey wake up in
bed together (looking very much like a married couple, much like they
did in "Kentucky Kernels") with a stereotypical gay valet and a chorus
girl alarm clock to give them their morning beauty treatments.
In Geneva, Wheeler and Woolsey become the targets of two femme fatals set upon them by the villainous Louis Calhern to get their hands on secret convention documents. Hugh Herbert plays a Fu Manchu like Chineseman (sporting ridiculous wisdoms) while Calhern has four evil rhythmic singing associates who toss a bomb into the convention which results in a black face musical number after it blows up like black smoke in their face. Marjorie White and Phyllis Barry are the two vixens, one a Winnie Lightner like loud mouth, the other a Theda Bara type vamp who knocks men out with her smoke-filled kisses, that is until she encounters the cigar chomping Woolsey.
All of this happens in just an hour, probably Wheeler and Woolsey's shortest film. There are similarities with their earlier farces, but some of the material here reminded me of Olsen and Johnson's not yet produced spoof "Hellzapoppin'" and the "Road" movies with Hope & Crosby. More musical numbers than normal here, the most memorable one is the kaleidoscopic "We're Saying Goodbye" production number at the Indian reservation with the boys being tossed around on a giant Indian blanket that ends with them whirling up towards the moon. If you can get past the blatant stereotypes, you'll find yourself laughing, reminding yourself as one of the boys quips, "A secret is something you tell practically everybody, confidentially!".
Diplomaniacs finds Wheeler&Woolsey as a pair of barbers who open up a
shop on an Indian reservation where the residents don't grow beards and
also do their own haircuts on themselves and others. Business ain't
good but their gift for gab has them chosen as delegates to a world
The Twenties and early Thirties abounded in conferences and treaties and pacts all in the hope of avoiding another World War. It was a great subject for satire as was shown over at Paramount the same year with the Marx Brothers Duck Soup. Seeing Diplomaniacs the comparisons are obvious.
No one goes to war here, but munitions manufacturer Louis Calhern wants to make sure the option is kept open. Bert and Bob have their instructions and he's going to stop them, aided and abetted by the 'Chinaman' as played by Hugh Herbert.
I did love the casting of Edgar Kennedy as the chair of the Peace Conference in Geneva. The most notoriously inpatient man in the history of the cinema, Kennedy strikes the right note here
The minstrel number at the end was offensive and if it weren't for that Diplomaniacs might rank as high and be as well known as Duck Soup. Still it's a great showcase for Wheeler&Woolsey and those who want to get acquainted with their comedy stylings can do no better than to check this out.
Chiefly because of Joseph L. Mankiewicz' free-association punning dialogue and his gags based on literal interpretations of clichés (not to mention the presence of Hugh Herbert), this comes across as a low-rent MILLION DOLLAR LEGS, Mankiewicz's manic comedy of the previous year. But Wheeler, Woolsey and White are no substitute for Fields, Oakie and Roberti! Unlike the earlier film, this follows a simple stage structure, with conventionally placed songs and musical numbers. The pre-Code elements--scanty costumes and the occasional off-color line ("They didn't want to sign, but we made 'em. The women were tough at first, but we...")--haven't got any freshness. There's a certain interesting tension between the cerebral Mankiewicz word-play dialogue and its absolutely mindless delivery by these journeymen comics, and it has what would be described as a "breezy" pace, so it's enjoyable to watch. But to say that it may be of the best Wheeler-Woolsey films doesn't take it very far.
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