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
Idiot's Delight (1939) served as the basis of the stage musical "Dance a Little Closer" (book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Charles Strouse). Directed by Lerner and starring Len Cariou and Liz Robertson, it opened in New York on May 11, 1983, closing the same night. See more »
As Gable enters his hotel room after Shearer is waiting there for him, she pretends to do the act with his sock over her eyes, guessing that he is holding up a room key. He tosses his hat into a chair in front of the table where she is sitting. Instead of the hat staying at the back of the cushion, it bounces to the front, and he sits on his own hat. See more »
The six actresses who play Les Blondes are not credited with individual character names. Instead, they are credited using the group character name "Harry Van's Les Blondes" followed by a list of the six actresses names. This appears on a separate title card after the cast list of the other credited roles. See more »
Clarence Brown's "Idiot's Delight," based on a play by Robert E. Sherwood, is like a can of mixed nuts: a few classy cashews, the rare Brazil nut, and lots of boring peanuts. On the verge of World War II, a motley crew of travelers is stranded at an Alpine hotel in an unnamed country. However, the film is no "Grand Hotel," more a "Chalet of Fools." The highlight is Clark Gable's famous or infamous song-and-dance routine, "Putting on the Ritz," with a bevy of blonde showgirls. Gable's endearingly clumsy dancing is classic and probably best seen as an excerpt in "That's Entertainment." To the amusement of Gable and the audience, Norma Shearer in a blonde wig and a deliberately thick Russian accent camps shamelessly. Obviously enjoying herself, Shearer steals the scenes as a phony playing a phony when Gable is not hoofing.
However, the fun stops there. Burgess Meredith brings the film to a halt every time he appears to rant anti-war propaganda at the other guests. Charles Coburn muddles around with cages of rats and talks about curing cancer, and a pair of innocent newly weds do nothing but occupy screen time. The blonde showgirls that accompany Gable are standard stereotypes from the Southern belle to the perky pixie, and Joseph Schildkraut is the handsome but stern stereotypical military officer. The girls cavort with the soldiers; the young husband must return to defend his country; the bad guys drop bombs. Too many stale peanuts.
After the clichés have played out, the film takes a dark turn that dampens, no, actually drowns, any fun that preceded it, and the finale is absolutely ludicrous. About half way into "Idiot's Delight," Sherwood strives to add "meaning" and "significance" to his work and forgot "entertainment." A stellar cast and a few good scenes are generally wasted in a film whose best bits appear in "That's Entertainment."
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