After helping a numbskull graduate college, a nebbish blunders into a job running an amusement park. There he wards off a variety of con artists and other miscreants while he pursues a nightclub singer. Written by
STRIKE ME PINK (Samuel Goldwyn/United Artists, 1936), directed by Norman Taurog, no relation to the 1933 musical play but based on Clarence Budington-Kelland's the Saturday Evening Post story/ novel, "Dreamland," marks the sixth and final screen collaboration of Eddie Cantor for producer Samuel Goldwyn, and Cantor's second opposite Ethel Merman. Unlike their previous effort in KID MILLIONS (1934), where Cantor and Merman were equally balanced,Cantor dominates in both story and comedy department while Merman, through her limited scenes duping Cantor into believing she's a damsel in distress, taking center stage with her vocalizing and addressing Eddie as "My Hero!" STRIKE ME PINK also goes on record as the only Goldwyn musical where Cantor doesn't perform in black-face.
The story begins at Millwood University where Eddie Pink (Eddie Cantor), a timid and cowardly tailor who finds himself constantly bullied by the students. He is befriended by "Butch" Carson (Gordon Jones), a fellow student who's strong with his fists by fighting Eddie's battles, but weak on brains when it comes to his studies. Eddie's weakness is Joyce Lennox (Ethel Merman), a famous night club singer whose photographs he keeps taped behind closet doors. Aside from helping Butch (a college student for seven years) to pass the final exams, Eddie works on being a strong and fearless through a mail ordered a book, "Man or Mouse: What Are You?" a record and a coin with a man on one side and a mouse on the other. After studying the book from cover to cover, Eddie gains some confidence as instructed through the use of his magnetic finger, magnetic eye and magnetic stand. After Butch miraculously graduates from college, the two come to Dreamland, an amusement park his widowed mother owns. Rather than assuming ownership of the park, Butch enlists four years in the Navy instead, leaving Eddie in charge with Claribel Hayes (Sally Eilers) acting as his over protective secretary. While assuming control of dreamland, Eddie proves his bravery when faced by Vance (Brian Donlevy), a mob boss and his hired thugs consisting of Copple (William Frawley); the knuckle cracking Thrust (Jack LaRue); Marsh (Don Brodie); and Shelby (Charles McAvoy) wanting to insert 150 crooked slot machines on property, and, to make matters worse, Eddie has a hired G-Man (G standing for "Greek"), named Parkyakarkus acting as his bodyguard, who happens to be no help at all.
With the score by Harold Arlen and Lew Brown, and choreography by Robert Alton, the songs include: "High and Low" (sung by Ethel Merman); "The Lady Dances" (sung by Eddie Cantor, and sung and danced by Rita Rio/chorus); "Calabash Pipe" (sung by Eddie Cantor and Ethel Merman); and "Shake It Off With Rhythm" (sung by Ethel Merman). While the songs and staging are unmemorable, "High and Low" is interesting because of its Depression related theme with camera doing most of the movement, rather than the ensemble, capturing every angle in all directions as Merman, in Harlem setting, stands under a lighted street post surrounded by black dancers. For the musical finale, "Shake It Off With Rhythm" comes across as a lively "hot" / "jive" number performed at the Club Lido where Merman sings the tune and Sunnie O'Dea tap dances to her reflection on the mirrored dance floor.
Also in the supporting cast is Edward Brophy, normally as a dim-witted hood, continues to do so here as "Killer," the one hired to do "rub out" Eddie only to find they have one thing in common, the "Man or Mouse" book. Because Killer only read up to page 45 gives Eddie the advantage of giving him his magnetic eye. Fans of the 1950s' TV series, "The Abbott and Costello Show" will take notice of the early screen presence of Gordon ("Mike the Cop") Jones and Sidney ("Fields, the Landlord") Fields. Sharing no scenes together, Fields, also a comedy writer in his own right, assumes his role as Chorley, Joyce's supposedly "dead" brother whom Eddie later believes to be a ghost.
Although portions of its comedy presented appears forced or unfunny, the well stage and often hilarious climax near the end simply makes up for it. Lasting close to 20 minutes, it starting off with a chase between Eddie and the gangsters through the amusement park, followed by a wild roller-coaster ride, then hot air balloon and finally the more deft-defying stunts reminiscent to those bygone silent comedies of either Mack Sennett or Harold Lloyd.
While former American Movie Classics Bob Dorian in a 1992 broadcast of STRIKE ME PINK once mentioned that producer Samuel Goldwyn had originally purchased the property of "Dreamland" for comedian Harold Lloyd, it eventually went to Cantor instead. In fact, I can envision Lloyd instead of Cantor playing the cowardly hero in dangerous stunts for its climax as he did in the silent era. It might have worked out better. Who knows?
STRIKE ME PINK, formerly available on video cassette in the 1990s, had frequent cable television revivals over the years ranging from Christian Broadcast Network (the 1980s), The Nostalgia Channel (early 1990s), Turner Network Television (1992), American Movie Classics (1992-1994, with one final broadcast in 1998), and finally Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: April 7, 2006). In regards to comedy, STRIKE ME PINK is an enjoyable 100 minute romp that should not disappoint any avid Eddie Cantor fan. (***)
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