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Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra,
The Three Brown Jacks
"Service with a Smile" (1934) is a deluxe Vitaphone mini-musical filmed in the early 3-strip Technicolor process, and the brilliant colours in this short film are incredible! (Although some of the male performers look ridiculous in bright green shirts that are nearly phosphorescent.) The tunes are catchy, the lyrics are well above average, and the chorus girls are gorgeous. If you've ever wanted to see a line of chorus girls tap-dancing in riding boots and jodhpurs, this movie's your big chance.
Australian-born musical-comedy star Leon Errol (a headliner in the Ziegfeld Follies) plays Walter Webb, the owner of a small service garage with only one petrol pump. At 4 a.m., he's home in bed when one of his employees rings him up, telling him the service garage was destroyed in a fire. Fortunately, Webb has insurance. Now he hatches a plan: Webb will tell the insurance adjuster that his cheapjack little filling station was actually a super-colossal extravaganza business with hundreds of employees. The insurance company will have to replace the big fancy business which Webb CLAIMS he lost, not the small-time concern that he actually insured. In the insurance agent's office, Webb starts to describe his jumbo-sized filling station.
Now, thanks to some movie-musical magic, we SEE the gas station as Webb is describing it. He's got dozens of beautiful girls (in skimpy boiler suits) working as garage mechanics, gas jockeys, and waitresses. They sell gasoline for nine cents a half-gallon, and they transform a customer's beat-up jalopy into a gorgeous motorcar for $1.65, with a free lunch thrown in. There's even a 19-hole golf course behind the lube rack. Meanwhile, the girls have plenty of time for singing and dancing. If a guy wants a date, Webb's chauffeur will drive out to meet him with a lorry-load of girls dressed like the Stepford Wives, and you can have your pick. Yes, this is a FULL-service garage.
There are some very funny gags. One motorist is parking with his girlfriend, until a motorcycle cop comes along and persuades the girl to join him on his motorcycle. No problem; the motorist opens the boot of his car and takes out another girl! "I always carry a spare," he says.
SPOILER COMING. After Webb describes the super-colossal gas station he SAYS he owned, the insurance adjuster insists on inspecting the wreckage of the fire. Webb happily drives him out there ... and discovers that his service station (in its original grotty state) is intact. The phone call was an April Fool joke ... and now Webb is guilty of filing a false insurance claim. Oo-er!
"Service with a Smile" is a delight from start to finish. I have only one complaint. Leon Errol was famous for doing a hilarious rubber-legged eccentric comedy dance: he did it in the Ziegfeld Follies and in several of his "Mexican Spitfire" films with Lupe Velez. Unfortunately, Leon Errol DOESN'T sing or dance in "Service with a Smile" ... which is a shame, because his comedy dancing would fit right into the gorgeous musical numbers you'll see here. Still, I'll rate "Service with a Smile" 10 points out of 10. They don't make 'em like this any more. Do whatever it takes to see this knockout mini-musical.
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