This was the first of two three-strip Technicolor live-action shorts, completed and released by WB four months before La Cucaracha (1934), which is often identified as the first one. Good Morning, Eve! (1934) was the second one. See more »
Polished but content-free fluff leaves one wanting more Cliff Hess
With Broadway comedian Leon Erroll having found a tidy following in a series of minor Warner Brothers' comedies on the West Coast, Vitaphone used him in several fast filler items like this lavishly produced short.
A great experiment in early three strip Technicolor (seldom have the colors lept off the screen in this kind of rich brilliance even in feature films), the only serious weakness in SERVICE WITH A SMILE is the "book" (a little morality tale/joke on the desirability of honesty in dealing with insurance companies). If stage musicals of the twenties and early thirties were *really* this vacuous - as popular imagination and Hollywood "history" would have it - we'd never have remembered any of them.
The unexpected strength in the film however (aside from Errol himself - and he doesn't get to shine with his usual bluster and physical comedy) is the delightfully accessible music of Cliff Hess. It's a minor Hollywood tragedy that Hess didn't follow others who found success on the wrong coast back to stage success in the East. He might be better remembered today (or remembered at all).
Hess had cut his teeth (and apparently learned a good deal about melody and lyrics) as a musical secretary to Irving Berlin from 1913 to 1918 and even served a term as chorus member in Berlin's Broadway cast of STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN in 1915! Hess's work on SERVICE WITH A SMILE is a consistently tuneful delight, well delivered by a cast that frequently has more enthusiasm than precision - but that seemed a hallmark of twenties and thirties choreography judging from earlier filmed stage musicals from the Marx Brothers' (and Irving Berlin's) COCOANUTS to Burt Lahr's (and Rodgers' and Hart's) HEADS UP!. Well worth a look and listen, but don't expect a lost masterpiece; just a bit of very enjoyable fluff.
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