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Going Places was one of those films that made Dick Powell more
determined than ever to get better parts or leave Warner Brothers.
After one more film there, he did just that.
Powell plays a sporting goods salesman in a department store and gets persuaded to impersonate a noted horseman and polo player who happens to be in Australia at the moment. Department store executive Walter Catlett is looking to market his wares among Maryland's horsey set and gets the bizarre notion to have Powell masquerade there. Catch is that just like in Cowboy from Brooklyn, Powell is deathly afraid of horses.
I think you can see where the rest of this is going. It's in the tradition of race track comedies like A Day At the Races or It Ain't Hay. Of course those films were in the hands of comedians like the Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello. Now Powell does look uncomfortable throughout and maybe his desperate wish not to be doing these kind of films translates into awkwardness.
Powell was one of the most realistic at self assessment of his talents. He said himself he was not a national icon like Bing Crosby or creative like Fred Astaire. His days in musical films were numbered any way it was sliced. He had to break out or see his career go up the spout.
But here in Going Places he wasn't even given anything good to sing. A few songs in the comic vein. The big hit number is Jeepers Creepers which sure was a big hit in 1938 and sung by the inimitable Louis Armstrong. Satchmo plays the groom of a horse named Jeepers Creepers who's one wild nag. Satch soothes the savage beast with his rendition of the song.
Of course he endures some of the racial stereotyping of the day as well in the role. That could never have been to his liking, even to get a big song hit.
Such Warner Brother veterans as Anita Louise, Allen Jenkins, Harold Huber and Ronald Reagan fill out the cast. Of his fellow contractees at Warner Brothers, Reagan for the rest of his life always singled out Pat O'Brien and Dick Powell as the most encouraging to a young player looking to rise.
Only fans of the players named above should bother with this one.
GOING PLACES (Warner Brothers, 1938), directed by Ray Enright,
capitalizes on the then current trend of horse racing stories, the most
famous of the time being MGM's A DAY AT THE RACES and SARATOGA (both
1937), and 20th Century-Fox's KENTUCKY (1938), among others. The
writers of GOING PLACES bring a more modern approach to an oft-filmed
story based on the William Collier play, "The Hottentot," previously
lensed as a silent in 1923, an early talkie in 1929, and again as POLO
JOE (1936) with Joe E. Brown. Starring Dick Powell in his third of four
comedies with occasional songs produced during the 1938-39 period, this
ranks the best and funniest of the four in many ways. First it presents
Powell as likable leading man, as he had been for quite some time, and
secondly, unlike his earlier effort in THE COWBOY FROM BROOKLYN (1938),
Powell shows his fine flare for comedy. As with COWBOY FROM BROOKLYN,
his character is also afraid of horses, but in GOING PLACES, it doesn't
come out as silly and/ or forced. GOING PLACES is given fine support
from Anita Louise, a very attractive blonde co-star, along with some
fine character actors, Allen Jenkins and Harold Huber, and especially
Walter Catlett, whose presence and comedic timing in confusion is most
As for the story, Powell plays Peter Mason, a sporting goods salesman at Detridge & Frome, with Franklin Dexter (Catlett) as his fellow assistant. Because Peter feels that not being able to sell their sporting goods is hurting business, he goes to Walter Frome (Robert Warwick), president of the company about this situation, and it is suggested that the store should advertise in order to improve sales and send someone to the Maryland steeple chase to demonstrate the horse riding outfits. Unable to get Peter Randall, the best gentleman rider in the world now vacationing in Australia, to do the demonstrating (and since the company has the rights to his name in advertising), it is suggested that Peter stand in and pose as Randall, with Dexter acting as his valet. Peter and Dexter then drive over to Maryland with a stock of sporting goods as an advertising stunt. Arriving at the hotel there, Peter makes the acquaintance a couple of Peter Randall fans, Cora Withering (Minna Gombell), and her beautiful niece, Ellen Parker (Anita Louise), who both know of the famous Peter Randall, but don't know of his physical appearance. Because of this pretense, Peter finds himself talked into riding Ellen's horse, Jeepers Creepers, in an upcoming race, causing Peter, who is terribly afraid of horses, to get the creepers. Along the way, Peter and Dexter encounter of race track gamblers down on their luck, Maxie (Harold Huber) and Droopy (Allen Jenkins), who insist that Peter ride in the race so they can collect on the winnings.
Featured in the supporting cast are: Ronald Reagan as Jack Withering; Larry Williams as Frank Kendall; Thurston Hall as Colonel Harvey Withering; Joyce Compton as Jean; Eddie Anderson as George; Louie Armstrong as Gabriel; and Maxine Sullivan as a maid and specialty singer.
With the music and lyrics by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer, the songs are as follows: "Jeepers Creepers" (sung by Louis Armstrong); "Say It With a Kiss" (very briefly sung by Dick Powell on the piano/ possibly a deleted song or number); "Oh, What a Horse Was Charley" (sung by Dick Powell, Walter Catlett, Allen Jenkins and Harold Huber); and "Mutiny in the Nursery" (sung by Louie Armstrong, Dick Powell, Anita Louise, Maxine Sullivan and others). Of the four tunes, only "Jeepers Creepers" remains the most memorable, being honored for an Academy Award as Best Song for 1939, losing to "Over the Rainbow" from THE WIZARD OF OZ (MGM). The "Oh, What a Horse Was Charley" segment is quite amusing, in which Powell tries to prove to Jenkins and Huber that he is only a composer, not the famous horse rider. In order to convince them, Powell, along with Catlett, make up the words to his new composition, ending with all four men participating in the song with their own "made up" lyrics, ending with Huber and Jenkins playing horsey and galloping out of the hotel room. "Mutiny in the Nursery" is a catchy but not-to-memorable jive number featuring nursery rhymes, including "Little Bo-Peep" to the lyrics.
In spite of some of its shortcomings, GOING PLACES is highlighted with several funny sequences, including two segments where Powell rides Jeepers Creepers, first accidentally landing on the horse's back by falling from the top of the barn, going about the country road minus a saddle, giving the people the impression of what a great rider he is while all along he is quite fearful and wants to get off. The climatic race is equally funny when Powell, Jockey # 13, rides Jeepers Creepers only to have the horse run off the track and around town, rushing through the back yards of residences and laundry lines, followed by the overly familiar routine where the horse runs through the ditch, causing the ditch-diggers to flop out one by one. With the help of the bugle playing Louie Armstrong and his musician friends, orchestrating to the tune "Jeepers Creepers," does the wild horse tame itself and return to the track where it belongs. Many of the comic gags presented here are standard and typical for the likes of such comedians as the Marx Brothers (A DAY AT THE RACES, 1937) or Abbott and Costello (IT AIN'T HAY, 1943), but in watching Powell doing the same makes GOING PLACES, which can be seen on cable television's Turner Classic Movies, both interesting viewing at 84 minutes, as well as a real curio. (***)
It's easy to forgive the inane plot when the music and comedy are so much fun. First, there's the great Louis Armstrong singing and playing his trumpet in two songs, including the Oscar-nominated "Jeepers Creepers." He plays a horse groom, so what is he doing leading an all-black orchestra and a dozen or so black singers and dancers at a party? Never mind the incongruencies - just enjoy the big production number of "Mutiny in the Nursery." Louis is in good form in this early role. The comedy is mostly supplied by two masters of comedy, Allan Jenkins and Harold Huber, as likeable but inept crooks trying to eke out a living betting on horses. I was in stitches when they try to get Dick Powell to be a jockey in a race, and in desperation, Powell says he know nothing about horses (which is true) and writes songs (which is not). They insist he write a song then and there to convince them. While Powell and his boss, Walter Catlett, grope for words, they are the ones who supply most of the lyrics to "Oh, What a Horse Was Charlie." It's one of the funniest scenes you will see in a 1930's movie, all done verbally without slapstick. Then, of course, there is Powell, impersonating a famous jockey as an advertising ploy, falling in love with Anita Louise, and winding up riding a dangerous horse in the Maryland Steeplechase even though his riding experience is practically nil. The horse is called "Jeepers Creepers" and runs well only when he hears the song of the same name. Powell can't possibly win the race after running outside the course for a while and taking a spill on one of the hurdles. Or can he?
This is a very forgettable though enjoyable little film that has a lot
going for it as well as a lot to hate. It's a very mixed bag, that's
for sure! First, what to like. Dick Powell plays a nice likable guy (as
usual) and there is some decent comedy in the film. It's the sort of
nice time-passer they made so well during the era--a mindless but fun
little bit of escapism. Plus, you do get to see a very early
performance by Ronald Reagan as well as Louis Armstrong. Of the two,
Armstrong definitely comes off best, as his singing is great and you
are left wondering why he didn't make more films during the 1930s.
Reagan is there mostly as window dressing and has little to do. He's
not bad, but also not particularly noticeable.
Now for the bad. If you are looking for a film to show your politically correct friends or to show to a local chapter of the NAACP, keep looking! Most of the Black people in the film are the typical stereotypical happy singing idiots that Hollywood loved during the 30s and 40s. It's sad to see Louis Armstrong, for instance, forced to play such a demeaning part--he was better than this. Also, the plot itself was majorly lame--really, really lame! Many films back then loved the idea of an animal or athlete responding magically to music. Most often it's a particular tune that makes the animal/athlete respond. In this case, the horse 'Jeepers Peepers' responds when he hears the song named for him. In the case of the Three Stooges, it was 'Pop Goes the Weasel' that made Curly box like a madman. There are countless other examples, but regardless this is a terribly contrived and stupid story element. Finally, although it's not as big a concern, it was awfully dumb to have Dick Powell playing an Aussie--especially since he sounded less Australian than Louis Armstrong or the horse!! Still, despite these many bad parts of the film, there are many genuinely good moments and you can't help but like Powell--no matter how contrived it all is.
This pre-war comedy of impersonation and manners at a race course is amusing. Watching Louis Armstrong and hearing him sing the old standard, "Jeepers Creepers," makes the movie. Hollywood's casual acceptance of racial bias and denigration of blacks is cooly reflected by two race track gamblers addressing Armstrong as "Uncle Tom" when they meet him.
Sporting goods salesman Peter Mason (Dick Powell) is tired of getting
customers that don't buy anything. He hatches an idea to advertise, and
his co-worker thinks it'd be a bright idea for him to pose as Peter
Randall, a famous jockey. He does so, but finds himself wrapped up in a
scheme to win big by riding Jeepers Creepers, a strong but unruly
horse. Anita Louise appears as the love interest, Ronald Reagan as the
horse's owner, and Louis Armstrong as a stable hand who tames the horse
with song. Nothing in this movie is really important; it is just
something fun to watch to pass the time.
The music is fun, especially the big dance number close to the end of the film. It seemingly has no place in the film, but it showcases Armstrong well. Powell carries the film along, but do not expect anything unusual in his performance. This is yet another musical that he was at this time tired of making.
GOING PLACES is a slight comedy about horse racing that features a terrific cast of supporting players, many of them like Walter Catlett and Thurston Hall some of the best characters actors ever seen on screen. Powell, in his pre-hardboiled detective days, plays a store clerk who poses as a jockey for promotional reasons among the horse set in Maryland. Catlett is his co-worker who poses as his valet. Much identify confusion and merriment ensue, with several musical interludes, the most memorable being Mr. Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong debuting the classic number, JEEPERS CREEPERS, which in the movie is the name of a cantankerous race horse the horse-shy Powell ends up riding. This sort of film and in some cases the exact same plot had been done before and would be done again many times, with better known names like Bob Hope, Abbott and Costello and The Marx Brothers. Horse racing was at its most popular in the 1930s and '40s, only to quickly decline in the TV era. The highlight of the movie is an amusing musical number called "Charlie the Horse" sung in four-part harmony by Powell, Catlett and two silly thugs who are pushing the horse-hating Powell to race. It may remind some of something out of GUYS AND DOLLS.
All the pieces are there - great cast, good story. Dick Powell, Allen Jenkins, Ron Reagan, and the amazing Louis Armstrong. Too many musical numbers, maybe ? and that bit where they prance Alan Jenkins around the apartment while they sing "Oh what a horse was Charlie" .... that must have been someone's favorite bit. They should have given more screen time to Cora and Colonel Withering. They don't show this one very often on Turner Classics... either it's not up to snuff, or maybe it's a rights issue. Very similar plot to the Marx Brothers' "Day at the Races", which came out the year before. Dick Powell pretends to be famed sportsman Peter Randall, which backfires later in the film. The horse at the center of all the excitement will only go when he hears L. Armstrong belt out the "Jeepers Creepers", which incidentally was the song from Warren & Mercer nominated for an Oscar, the film's only nomination. Directed by Ray Enright, who had started with Mack Sennett, served in WW I, then returned to the industry to work at Warner Brothers.
Sporting goods salesman uses the alias of a lauded horse-jockey from Australia to infiltrate Georgian high society to help promote his employer...how soon do you think it will be before he's on a racehorse himself? Semi-musical farce with romantic interludes also features Louis Armstrong performing the Oscar-nominated "Jeepers Creepers" to an unbroken horse who appreciates good jazz. Some amusing complications in an otherwise overly-familiar script adapted from the play "The Hottentot" by Victor Mapes and William Collier--it took even more writers to come up with the screenplay! In the lead, Dick Powell has such an easy, unassuming nature, one tends to give the film greater compliments than it really deserves. Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer wrote the songs, all novelty numbers. ** from ****
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