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Swing High, Swing Low (1937)

Passed | | Comedy, Drama, Musical | 12 March 1937 (USA)
In Panama, Maggie King meets soldier Skid Johnson on his last day in the army and reluctantly agrees to a date to celebrate. The two become involved in a nightclub brawl which causes Maggie... See full summary »



(screen play), (screen play) | 2 more credits »

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Complete credited cast:
Skid Johnson
Anita Alvarez
Harvey Stephens ...
Harvey Howell
Cecil Cunningham ...
Charles Arnt ...
The Don


In Panama, Maggie King meets soldier Skid Johnson on his last day in the army and reluctantly agrees to a date to celebrate. The two become involved in a nightclub brawl which causes Maggie to miss her ship back to the States. Now stranded, she's forced to move in with Skid and his pal Harry. She soon falls in love with Skid. Skid gets a job playing the trumpet at a local club and becomes a big success. Fame and fortune go to his head which eventually destroys his relationship Maggie and his career. Written by Daniel Bubbeo <dbubbeo@cmp.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Passed | See all certifications »





Release Date:

12 March 1937 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Comédia da Vida  »

Box Office


$739,621 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (2005 DVD release)

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


According to legend, the trend toward ladies not wearing hats began with this film. Lombard's character enters a restaurant and removes her hat, something previously taboo with women. See more »


Skid Johnson: I'm all washed up in the army. This is my last day. Say, there's an idea - we oughta celebrate.
Marguerite 'Maggie' King: Yeah, the army will probably do the celebrating!
See more »


Version of The Dance of Life (1929) See more »


The Black Rooster
(1937) (uncredited)
Written by Al Siegel, Phil Boutelje and Charles Kisco
Written for the movie but not sung
See more »

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User Reviews

Pangborn's great, Butterworth curdles, Lamour needs a makeover
10 October 2004 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

'Swing High, Swing Low' is a semi-musical, based on a Broadway play (not a musical) called 'Burlesque' which was originally filmed as 'The Dance of Life' when censors wouldn't approve the original title. The play and the original film took place in vaudeville and burlesque: this remake, surprisingly, spends most of its time in Panama City (well away from the Keith-Orpheum circuit). About all that remains of the original is the male anti-hero's name: Skid Johnson. In the original story, the nickname 'Skid' made sense because he was an eccentric dancer. In this remake, Skid Johnson is a jazz trumpeter ... so why is he cried 'Skid'?

Fred MacMurray got typecast as nice guys, but just occasionally he got a chance to show his acting ability in nastier roles. He gives an excellent performance as Skid Johnson: brash, bragging, conceited, yet nagged by self-doubts. But in this version, some of Skid's motivations are highly contrived. When Skid first meets unemployed singer Maggie (Carole Lombard, less impressive), he straight away starts bragging about what a wonderful guy he is. Oddly, he trumpets himself constantly yet he never says a word about his abilities as a trumpeter. There's an extremely contrived scene in a Panama nightclub, when MacMurray casually picks up the trumpeter's horn and blows a few licks. (Yes, professional musicians always leave their instruments lying about so the customers can have a go.) It turns out that Skid Johnson is a brilliant jazz trumpeter. So, why is this braggart so very modest about his one genuine talent?

There's a soap-opera plot line when Skid becomes 'The King of Trumpeters' in Manhattan while Maggie is growing Spanish moss in Panama. One of the cast members of the Broadway drama 'Burlesque' was Oscar Levant, who got to play piano onstage and fire off a few wisecracks. Levant repeated his stage role in the film 'The Dance of Life', but his part was seriously cut. In this remake, Levant's role is expanded again, but regrettably not played by Levant this time. Charles Butterworth plays Skid's pianist buddy Harry. I've never liked Butterworth, whose screen roles usually include some very contrived business to make Butterworth a 'character'. In this movie, he wears winter clothing during a Panama heat wave. Very credible, I don't think.

Maggie is courted by Harvey Dexter, a self-made millionaire who sincerely loves her. But this is one of those annoying movies in which the gal gives up the steady level-headed guy in favour of the unreliable bum who's handsome and charming, and we're supposed to approve her choice. There are bad motivations elsewhere, too. In the first scene, MacMurray is a soldier who talks on sentry duty ... because it's his last day in the army, so they can't fire him. (No, but they can extend his hitch while they give him a nice long sentence in the stockade.)

For all its faults and forgettable songs, 'Swing High' features some extremely impressive montage sequences: the best I've ever seen in a Paramount film. (Though not up to the standard of Warners.) Franklin Pangborn appears very briefly, playing his usual cissy role, but he gives here one of his most energetic performances: he twirls frenetically, he taps his fingertips together impatiently. This is one of Pangborn's very best performances, buried in an obscure film. Dorothy Lamour sings pleasantly here but wears a very harsh makeup. Fred MacMurray gives Anthony Quinn a punch in the nose. Any movie where Anthony Quinn gets punched in the nose is fine with me.

There's a good performance by Jean Dixon as Lombard's 'seen it all, dearie' pal. Dixon wisecracked her way through several major Broadway roles, but never caught on in film. There's also a good performance by an actress with the mannish name Cecil Cunningham, who plays a nightclub landlord known only by the mannish name Murphy. Cunningham was the ex-wife of vaudevillain Jean Havez, who wrote Groucho Marx's song 'Everybody Works But Father'. That song would have livened up this movie. I'll rate 'Swing High, Swing Low' 5 points out of 10.

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