|Index||6 reviews in total|
Veteran Comedy Director Eddie Cline leads Wheeler and Woolsey in one of
their best vehicles. They pair off as partners in a pill manufacturing
company who can't stand each other and wrestle each other for the
company, with the loser to be the other one's manservant for a year.
The duo's timing and delivery is far better suited to the
Marx-Brothers-like exchange of insults liberally admixed with physical
abuse than the odd sort of friendship they demonstrated in some of
their other vehicles.
Cline starts the show out with a wonderful long sequence in which the two do a dance and abuse each other. Cline, whose career included Keaton's first solo shorts and the best W.C. Fields comedies would watch his career slowly begin to topple about now. If you get a chance to see this one, made while he was still at his peak, do so.
The boys are partners in a pill company but they battle constantly. So
their lawyer finally decides to settle it by a wrestling match. The
loser has to serve the other as a valet. But what they don't know is
that there is a take-over bid by a bankrupt company waiting to take
advantage of their bickering.
Silly plot but there are few funny routines. As always Wheeler and Woolsey are breezy and at ease together. Supporting cast includes Esther Muir as Woolsey's wife, Marjorie Lord as Wheeler's girl friend, Paul Harvey as the take-over executive, Russell Hicks as the lawyer, Patricia Wilder as the vamp, and Pat Flaherty as the thug.
As a Wheeler and Woolsey fan, I have run across a few people here and
there who cannot stomach W&W at all. While the duo can be an acquired
taste in general, I would imagine if this movie was my first exposure
to W&W, I probably would not have looked too much further into their
work. This is not a good vehicle and they seem a little tired in
general. Possibly explained by Woolsey's health issue mentioned in the
We start with the concept of the duo as enemies. Half the fun of a Wheeler and Woolsey film is watching them get out of trouble together. They occasionally stab each other in the back, but the underlying friendship is always there. From the start of On Again, Off Again, they are at odds, and their cinematic chemistry suffers as well. The comedy seems more forced than madcap.
The plot has them owning a big pharmaceutical company, but since they argue all the time, nothing gets done. They decide to wrestle for ownership of the company. Loser becomes the winners servant for a year. There have been worse premises, but this just goes nowhere.
Luckily, their next and final film, High Flyers, would end the duo's film career on a better note. Woolsey seems more like himself in that one and does some sublime dancing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The slap dance is back in this second to last Wheeler and Woolsey
comedy which features a few song numbers to liven it up and some of
their most amusing later day routines. The art direction here also
stands out a bit more, although it is obvious that this was a recycled
set from one of RKO Radio's "A" pictures, most likely one of the
musicals that starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, especially the
exorbitant office set and the massive mansion where Woolsey's pill
Opening up with a rousing musical number set amongst the bevy of secretaries and yes men working at Horton and Hobb's company (Wheeler only added on the pink sugar coating), it quickly moves into displaying the hatred between the two businessmen who get down and dirty when Wheeler and Woolsey start their patty-cake/slap routine that is as funny as when they first did it on Broadway and in the movie version of "Rio Rita". As corporate attorneys prepare, then rip up, dissolvement papers of their partnership, Wheeler and Woolsey continue to fight. The frustrated head attorney finally orders them to come to some decision of how to dissolve the partnership, and this leads to a comical wrestling match with Wheeler ending up as valet to the smug Woolsey. "That will cost you $100", Woolsey retorts every time Wheeler insults him, giving him a sudden slap when he comes upon the picture of a mongoose which Wheeler called him days before.
Also involved in the feud are Wheeler's fiancée (a young Marjorie Lord) and Woolsey's imperious wife (Esther Muir, his romantic interest in 1933's "So This is Africa"), as well as Patricia Wilder as a femme fatal who flirts with both men. The attorneys, sick of the constant bickering, realize that they are worse as boss and butler and plot to get them back together. There's quite a few laughs in the short running time, plus an early film appearance by Jack Carson as an irate cop who is pummeled on the head by a large document containing their dissolvement papers. Woolsey, who was apparently ailing at this time due to a kidney ailment which took his life in 1938, doesn't let that show. Their next and last film, "High Flyers", would be even funnier, which makes me wonder if they could have continued as a team had Woolsey not passed away while still in his prime.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I used to think Wheeler and Woolsey were a great comedy team, but that was before I saw Kentucky Kernels in which they were outclassed by Spanky McFarland. Alas, "On AgainOff Again" is even more disappointing. No-one overshadows them. They're just not very funny in what turns out to be a one-joke film with very few variations. Most of the support players have a minimal input I can't even remember what Marjorie Lord and Patricia Wilder look like, though I saw the movie only a few days ago. I do remember Esther Muir's brief appearance because she gives rise to one of the film's few mildly memorable gags. True, the players try hard. Russsell Hicks tends to outstay his welcome, but he actually collects more laughs than Wheeler and Woolsey, but almost all the efforts of the players are stifled by the moribund and repetitive script. Eddie Cline's routine don't-make-it-good-make-it-Monday direction is no help either. Admittedly, the movie has A-grade production values with classy sets and attractive photography, but that feeble, repetitive script is a real killjoy. Available on an excellent Warner Archive DVD.
I love comedies from the early years of cinema--such as the silents and
those that immediately followed. And while I have learned to enjoy and
appreciate most of them, I have never really understood the success of
Wheeler and Woolsey. While their routines are very energetic, I just
have never found them to be very funny or talented. I know that there
are a small number of die hard fans out there somewhere that think I am
an imbecile because I said this, but with so many funny comedians out
there (such as Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy,
the Marx Brothers and many others), why watch team that is at best
The film concerns a pill manufacturing company owned jointly by the two guys. However, in this film they can't stand each other and constantly argue. And the arguments are terrible for business and drive the employees nuts. Finally, after years of this, they decide to settle the problem--they will wrestle and the loser must be quiet and serve the other like a slave for one year. At the same time, there is a subplot involving some crooks trying to take advantage of Wheeler and Woolsey, but the two are so busy arguing that they never notice. Whether or not this reflected on the relationship the two had with each other outside of films, I have no idea.
While the idea for the film is pretty original and the film never lacks energy or enthusiasm, once again like the other films of theirs I have seen, the jokes tend to be pretty corny and often fall flat. Definitely a "poor man's version" of Laurel and Hardy or the Marx Borthers, though perhaps not as talentless and annoying as the Ritz Brothers.
The film, by the way, was directed by Eddie Cline--a veteran comedian and director of the silent days. If you ever have a chance, try to watch one of his early films--the ones I have seen were wonderful and he is a forgotten slapstick star.
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