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A free-spirited young girl has three middle-aged admirers, each of whom sees her from a completely different perspective. Unknown to her, they also happen to be the guardians of a wealthy young man to whom she is attracted.
Very few performers can take an ordinary or above average script and make the movie stand out and make you want to see it again. I think Clara Bow was one of the few actresses that had that ability- not just with this film (and this story arguably centers around the father-son characters, not Clara's), but many of the others throughout her career. Without Clara in the part of Lou, this is just an average pre-Code film that would have been long forgotten (they certainly weren't trying to put anything by the censors in this one- a skinnydipping scene, Clara undressing, and Nifty's girlfriend upset because she can't spend the night with him because he doesn't want his son to know- by 1935 the Hays Office would would not permit any of this on screen). Watching her seduce the naive son of the carnival barker was fun to watch, as was the scene when she gets busted by a cop and a father for conning a ring from another young man. Hoopla does provide an interesting glimpse into carney life and rail travel in the early 1930s. The supporting cast is fine, particularly Richard Cromwell as Nifty, but I think with a little more effort on the writing and direction this could have even better.
Although this may be one her better sound films, I wouldn't rate it at quite at the same level of Clara's best silent films, It and Mantrap, but it's still enjoyable. Clara clearly thrived in the silent environment and some have said that dialogue and the the constraints of the early sound stages restricted the uninhibited It girl. Maybe so, but I would argue that much of that can be attributed to the average material she was given to work with. This actress was capable of much more if she had been cast in better roles throughout her career. According to her biographer, Clara was not enthusiastic about making Hoopla, she just wanted to get it over with so she could fulfill her contract to Fox and retire. Regardless, if you are a Clara fan or just a fan of pre-Code films, odds are you will enjoy this one. I know I did and will watch Clara again and again!
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