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When the Black Widow murderer strikes at the boss of a music production
business, THE NITWITS who run the cigar stand
down in the lobby find themselves under investigation for
homicide. Can the Boys find the real villain before he
A rather routine Wheeler & Woolsey comedy (Bert Wheeler is the one with the curly hair; Robert Woolsey has the cigar & spectacles) but the Boys are always fun to watch. Betty Grable is on hand this time as Wheelers love interest. Blustery Hale Hamilton is one of the Black Widows victims. Erik Rhodes has a small role as a suspect. Willie Best is on hand to add to the madcap finale. Film mavens will recognize Arthur Treacher as the man with the tennis equipment.
Wheeler & Grable sing You Opened My Eyes - Woolsey warbles The Black Widows Gonna Get You If You Dont Watch Out. There is some racial stereotyping, not unusual in Hollywood films of this period.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I didn't know the comedy team Wheeler & Woolsey before seeing this film
but, believe me, you must find out about them because they were very
effective and good, especially Robert Woolsey who reminds me a bit of
George Burns. See them! The wonderful Betty Grable is, as always, very
beautiful but one cannot believe, seeing her in that movie, how
subdued, poised and almost shy she was at that time. When one knows how
much energy she displayed in the Forties and how sassy she was, it is a
bit of a curio to see her in the Thirties. She doesn't have much of a
showy role but she's good and we have the pleasure of hearing her sing
in a duet with Bert Wheeler and do some steps with him.
Fred Keating is very handsome, laid-off and good. He should have been a leading man...why not Betty's? What a stunning couple they would've made in Technicolor! As for the movie, it is very good. Everyone work well together and, besides the comedy business, there's a little action and suspense.
Yeah, though simple, this film reach it's goal in that it is really entertaining. Don't hesitate to see it if you have a chance.
The Nitwits are of course Wheeler&Woolsey and in this film they own a
cigar stand in the building where music publisher Hale Hamilton has an
office. Hamilton's got a secretary played by Betty Grable that Bert is
stuck on. Hamilton's married to Evelyn Brent, but never lets that stand
in the way of a little nookie.
Anyway, a notorious criminal called the Black Widow is known for sending out letters of extortion demanding money or the victim would be killed. Hamilton decides not to give in and does wind up dead as a result.
Unlike Abbott&Costello's Who Done It which has a lot of the same plot premise, The Nitwits is better edited and the perpetrator doesn't come out of nowhere as in Bud&Lou's film. Unfortunately due to one of the gags which involves Woolsey inventing a chair in which a charge of electricity passes through you so you blurt the truth out, we learn a little prematurely in my opinion who the culprit is.
Anyway because Betty is a prime suspect, Wheeler&Woolsey get themselves involved in the investigation. They prove as much help to the cops as Abbott&Costello did, but like them they do stumble on to the perpetrator.
One reason this film is not revived too often is the climax also involves a bunch of black people being allowed by one of their peers who works as a janitor to use the basement for a quiet crap game. Their fright reactions in the climatic chase of the culprit plays into a lot of racial stereotyping.
Anyway I did like Woolsey's Rube Goldberg contraption as a gag. Maybe they could use a real one of those at Guantanamo.
The Nitwits puts Wheeler and Woolsey into a murder mystery and as you can
imagine, they manage to cause havoc as usual. Betty Grable is on hand as
Bert's love interest but she doesn't do much beyond one number they sing
together early on. Most of the film is took up with daft murder and chase
stuff, one or two set pieces working really well but the film isn't as
snappy and fun as some of their earlier work.
The director, George Stevens, went on to direct the likes of A Place in the Sun and Woman of the Year, but this early effort shows what he was up to in the first 15 years of his long career.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Rising director George Stevens had already directed the long-time team
of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey when he was assigned a second film
for them, this sometimes boring farce that looses interest when they
are not on screen or when young leading lady Betty Grable isn't showing
off those sexy gams which made her the toast of soldiers a decade
later. The success of "The Thin Man" made murder with a bit of comedy
thrown in ripe for rip-off, and in the case of "The Nitwits", that is
obvious what is happening here. Grable is the secretary to lecherous
boss Hale Hamilton whose wife (Evelyn Brent) has been receiving threats
from a stalker only known as "the Black Widow". Before you know it,
somebody gets a big hole in the head, and everybody in the plot is
suspect, including the too dumb to hurt a fly comedy duo.
Wheeler and Grable get an adorable musical number where they spin around down a flight of circular staircase. While the lyrics to "Music in My Heart" (by Dorothy Fields) aren't a threat to "With a Song in My Heart" or "There's Music in You", it is a cute moment in an otherwise occasionally tedious film. The movie comes alive during comedy moments where the boys take center stage, particularly a hysterically funny moment where a handcuffed Woolsey shows a cop how to get his hands free. The simple use of a tennis ball as comic prop may have you in hysterics.
There's a bit of racial comedy thrown in with the presence of Willie Best as the slow-moving young black man who becomes a victim of Woolsey's burglar trap. I'd rather see the cops made out as buffoons than a young black man continuously be forced to play the dumb sap who is only happy if there's a hidden mattress somewhere, a bottle of liquor around. or a crap game going on. It is obvious that in the three years between "Hold Em' Jail" (Grable's previous pairing with Wheeler) and "The Nitwits" that she's grown up a lot, not only in age, but in her singing and dancing abilities as well. This retains amusement when Wheeler, Woolsey and Grable are on screen, but downloads itself into boredom when they are not and becomes something pretty predictable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Some Spoilers) Almost totally unknown to todays movie going audiences
the comedy team of Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey was one of the most
successful, as RKO Pictures biggest money makers, as well as prolific,
making some two dozen films in a span of just under ten years, of the
It was in the mid 1930's when Robert Woosley started suffering from health problems that the comedy team started to go under and finally came to an end with Woosley's death at age 50 in 1938 of kidney failure. Ironically Robert Woosley died on Halloween of that year the very day that Orsen Wells made headlines with his unforgettable as well as shocking "War of the Worlds" broadcast on national radio.
"The Nitwits" is a both comedy murder drama with both Wheeler and Woolsey, as Johnnie & Newton,playing two cigar store employees who among other things have developed this truth machine that can force anyone who's put under it to tell the truth no matter how bad it would effect him or her. Even if the truth can send the person to prison for murder.
In the office building where Jonnie and Newton have their cigar stand record producer Winfield Lake, Hale Hamilton,gets a,threatening note from this person who calls himself the Black Widow. The Black Widow tells Lake to pay up, the amount of cash is never made clear, or die.
Getting top New York Private Eye William Darrell, Fred Keating, on the case doesn't at all help the concerned Winfield Lake with him ending up shot to death in his office by an unseen assailant. It's with the killer now targeting Mrs. Lake, Evelyn Brent, to come up with the blackmail money that PI Darrell suddenly and inexplicably decides, for the first time in his career, to give into the blackmailers demands!
While all this is going on Mr. Lake's pretty secretary Mary Roberts,Betty Grable,is implicated in his murder being that she was the last person to see him alive and also had a gun in her possession! A gun that her boyfriend Johnnie gave Mary as a present! It doesn't take long for both Johnnie and his friend Newton to get themselves in involved in Mr. Lake's murder in trying to clear the innocent Mary Roberts.
The killer himself is caught red-handed by Johnnie and Newton when he plops himself down on the chair that the truth detector, invented by Newton, is installed on. Screaming out uncountably that he's in fact the killer, the Black Weidow, the two "Nitwits" don't believe him thinking that the machine had malfunctioned! This gives the by now recognized, by the audience, Black Widow a new lease on life, as well as a scary Halloween skeleton custom, to end up murdering a number of other people including suspected killer, by the police, the auditor of M. Lake's enterprises Mr. Lurch, Arthur Aylesworth!
Hilarious final sequence with both Johnnie and Newton having it out with the Black Widow and his henchmen, as well as the bumbling police, as they end up throwing everything from beer bottles to one to five gallon jugs as well as the bathroom bathtub on top of their heads. There also Black comic Willie Best as Sleepy the building elevator operator who together with his neighborhood, Harlem, dice shooting friends uncover the secret way that the Black widow is to get his ransom money, through the ventilator shaft. That leads the killer, in his skeleton costume, to come out of hiding and scare the living hell out of Sleepy and his friends as well everyone else in the cast and audience until one of Newton's over-sized moonshine jugs puts him out of business.
For awhile it looks as though THE NITWITS will be fun along the lines
of an Abbot and Costello comedy that mixes mirth with murder in the
form of a who-dun-it, but by the time the murderer is revealed as the
man behind The Black Widow killings, the story has limped to a madcap
slapstick conclusion with an assortment of gags, some good, some
Along the way there are a couple of innocuous songs, one of them sung by a very young BETTY GRABLE before stardom at Fox, which she duets with BERT WHEELER. She's the secretary of a murdered executive and for awhile she joins the list of suspects, although we know she's innocent. ERIC RHODES has little to do as a man with a good reason to be one of the suspects, but the plot mainly has to do with Wheeler and ROBERT WOOLSEY (who looks like Phil Silvers on diet pills), and their scatterbrained encounters with the policemen trying to solve the case.
George Stevens directs the whole thing at a fast clip, especially the climactic ten minute scene of frantic over-the-top slapstick that concludes the story.
Summing up: Just okay if you're a fan of Wheeler and Woolsey. It's the kind of slapstick farce the kiddies usually enjoy at a Saturday matinée.
The first time I seen this film, I literally laughed myself sick! This film is many, many different types of movies rolled into one. You can call is a mystery for the who done it, science fiction for the speak truth machine, crime drama for the gangster activity, musical for the songs, thriller for the spooky scenes in the dark, love story for the scenes between Bert Wheeler & Betty Grable and of course, a comedy. The only catagory it wouldn't fall in is a western. This film has all the elements of the true classic comedy. It has the classic slap-stick which is extinct now-a-days. The scenes w/ Arthur Treacher as the poor victim always encountering the boys on the steps is this rare extinct form of comedy . I love it when they throw his tennis balls and land right in the cop's mouths. The scenes toward the end are also great. It's especially funny when these poor colored chaps try to have their crap game and end up having the bejesus scared out of them. They end up being chased by everyone else. This film is non-stop fun and unlike modern films, it is completely free of foul language & sex. Only a little bit of mild violence which I wouldn't be afraid to show even to small children. This is a film that will make time fly. It is total fun from start to finish. I would recommend this film to everyone except those of who who have a bad heart; they may laugh themselves dead!
Murders start occurring at a music publisher's and for no apparent
reason, Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey are in the middle of it. Can
these two idiots manage to solve the murder and save the day--or will
they be The Black Widow's next victims?!
This Wheeler and Woolsey film is a bit different for them, as normally Wheeler's girlfriend in his films is played by Dorothy Lee. Aside from appearing in their films, Ms. Lee had a very limited career--but the same cannot be said of Wheeler's love interest in "The Nitwits". Here, his lady friend, Mary, is played by a very young Betty Grable--well before she became a national sensation.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film is NOT different from most of the films made by this comedy team. Like most, it lacked comedy--yet, inexplicably, the pair were very popular during the 1930s. Why, I haven't the foggiest, as the film has barely a laugh in it. However, despite not being funny, the rest of the film is a typical sort of comedy-murder mystery...with one exception. Throughout the movie, the filmmakers tried to elicit cheap laughs playing on racist stereotypes. Most of the black men in the film spent their time shooting dice and being VERY afraid of a guy dressed up like a skeleton--two annoying and dumb clichés of the era. Today, this sort of thing makes folks cringe-- back then it was a laugh riot.
Overall, if you compare this to a comedy like Abbott and Costello's "Hold That Ghost" or Bob Hope's "Ghostbreakers", it comes up very, very short indeed. You could certainly do better with your time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Some of those old Wheeler and Woolsey comedies can seem too low-budget, or too odd, or too antiquated, to modern eyes. "The Nitwits" is probably one of their easiest films to watch for newcomers. It tries to do many different things, and it succeeds, more or less, in all of them: the music is tuneful, the comedy is amusing (if rarely hilarious), the slapstick at the end is furious, the mystery is mysterious, and the atmosphere is atmospheric. It's also interesting to observe the differences between "The Nitwits" and "So This Is Africa", which Wheeler and Woolsey had made only two years earlier: that one had practically no story and was loaded with provocative, visual and verbal, material; this one has a solid, coherent plot and it's so chaste that the young lovers (Wheeler and a fresh-faced, appealing Betty Grable) are barely even allowed to kiss! *** out of 4.
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