When song-and-dance man Harry Van returns from World War I, he finds work hard to come by. His greatest success comes as straight man in a phony vaudeville mind-reading act with the tipsy Madame Zulieka. While on tour in Omaha he meets acrobat Irene Fellara, and they have a brief romance. Twenty years later while Harry is on tour in Europe with a troupe of leggy blonde dancers, his train is stopped at the Swiss border and he finds himself stranded in the Alps in anticipation of World War II hostilities. Harry and his chorines take refuge in an Alpine hotel with a group of disparate travelers who are also marooned there. Among them are an American pacifist, British newlyweds, a cancer researcher, a German munitions manufacturer, and a beautiful blonde expatriate Russian aristocrat who looks suspiciously like the Irene of two decades earlier. Written by
When Clark Gable had to sing "Puttin' on the Ritz," he actually had to be carried off by Harry Van's Les Blondes, so they saved that scene for last in case he was injured. On the day of the shooting Carole Lombard came to watch and was amazed that it only took one take. See more »
During the air battle in the ending shot for the international market the background film is clearly looped since the same twin-tailed airplane (similar to an American P-38) flies past the window 8 times. See more »
The actresses who play "Les Blondes" are not credited individually; they are given the credit "Harry Van's 'Les Blondes'......Themselves", similar to the manner in which the "Munchkins" were credited in "The Wizard of Oz", another film released that year by M-G-M. See more »
A Mediocre But Intriguing Film Version of the Celebrated Play
Robert E. Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning IDIOT'S DELIGHT was one of the great play of Broadway's "golden age of drama" in the 1930s: starring stage greats Lunt and Fontanne, it told a darkly comic tale of a group of people staying at an Alpine hotel--including small-time nightclub performer Harry Van and con-artist and sometime entertainer Irene, the latter passing herself off as a Russian of noble birth--whose largely shallow lives create a ridiculous and often disturbing counterpoint to the world as it edges toward war.
Unfortunately, and although it is fairly faithful the the stage original, the screen version of IDIOT'S DELIGHT is nothing to write home about, and not even starpower saves it; indeed, it proved one of Gable or Shearer's few box office failures. There are several reasons for this, but the overall problem is that the production has the feel of a filmed stage play rather than of a movie; director Clarence Brown fails to endow the production with anything approaching a cinematic quality. The cast is also problematic. Although he delivers a surprisingly effective song-and-dance turn with "Puttin' on the Ritz"--the only musical number he ever performed on screen--Gable is essentially miscast as Harry Van; Norma Shearer, almost unrecognizable in a blonde wig, is relentlessly over the top in her performance as the fake countess; and even the usually reliable Burgess Meredith (along with most of the supporting cast) seems overblown and stagey, as if he were playing to the balcony instead of the camera.
But in spite of these significant drawbacks, the disturbing nature of Sherwood's story still packs enough of a punch for us to recognize how powerful the material itself is, and the vision of fools dancing recklessly on the edge of war has clear resonation today. Still, unless you are die-hard Gable or Shearer fan, you might prefer to catch this one on the late-late show instead of purchasing the expensive and out-of-print tape.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
15 of 27 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?