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William A. Seiter
The action takes place in Ephesus in ancient Asia Minor, and the story concerns the efforts of two boys from Syracuse, Anthipholus and his servant Dromio, to find their long-lost twins who, for reason of plot confusion, are also named Anthipholus and Dromio. Complications arise when the wife of the Ephesians, Adriana and her servant Luce, mistake the two strangers for their husband, though the couples eventually get sorted out after Adriana's sister Luciana and the Syracuse Antipholus admit their love. Written by
Alessandro Martini <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Usually Rogers and Hart are credited with the second great book musical with their 1941 flop (later hit) "Pal Joey". That is the show that is most likely to be revived of all their book shows (although "On Your Toes" was successfully revived a few years ago). However, they had several shows with some type of book involved that blended with the songs (and did not just set up song cues). One of the first was "The Boys From Syracuse". It predates Cole Porter's similar Shakespeare based musical comedy, "Kiss Me Kate" by a decade. While that was based on "The Taming of the Shrew", this was based on "The Comedy of Errors". It had a flamingly good score, such as "This Can't Be Love", "Sing For Your Supper", "Come With Me Where The Wine Is Free", "He and She", and "Falling in Love With Love". It was a successful show, starring Eddie Albert, Ronald Graham, Murial Angelus, Marcy Westcott, Wynn Murray, Jimmy Savo, and Teddy Hart. It also stuck pretty close to the original play.
Came this 1940 version, only two years after the Broadway hit. It was jazzed up, with a number of anachronistic "jokes" (set in ancient Greece, someone makes the announcement, "Good evening Mr. and Mrs. Ephesus, and all the ships at sea!", imitating the radio introduction of Walter Winchell's show). The Duke of Ephesus was played by that normal tower of strength, comedian Charles Butterworth. Eddie Albert and Ronald Graham played the two Antipholos twins on stage, Allan Jones played both brothers in the film. The twin Dromios were Savo and Hart on stage - an interesting piece of casting. The two comics looked very much alike, and Teddy Hart was the younger brother of lyricist Larry. Savo was a stage comedian who critics compared to Chaplin. Both were known to movie audiences (Savo not too successfully). Hart had been in supporting parts in "Three Men On A Horse" and "After The Thin Man" among other films. For some reason the role of both Dromio was given to Joe Penner.
Penner is one of the mysteries of 1930s humor. He was one of a set of "zanies" who were popular in the early and middle 1930s. They included Jack "Baron Von Munchausen" Pearl, "the Mad Russian", Parkyarkarkus on Eddie Cantor's program. Many of them had some catch phrase that swept the country, like the Mad Russian's "How do you do?", or Pearl's "Vas you dere Sharley?" when his companion dared to question him. Penner had two: "Yooou nahsty man!" and "Wanna buy a duck?" (he had a pet duck named "Googoo"). There was no questioning of their popularity, but this was during the depression. Their success shows that in that trying period, people were desperate to laugh at anything.
Heard nowadays most of their material is trying, particularly the inane and witless Penner. It is odd that the only reason to recall Penner's "Yooou nahsty man!" catch phrase is that a murderer and amateur nightclub singer named Kenneth Neu used it in a song lyric he wrote in prison, awaiting execution (in 1935). Neu used it to refer to the hangman. Hardly a reason to really recall Penner at all.
But it is Penner's presence (twice over) in the film, so we are stuck with it. Jones sings his portion of the songs well. Irene Hervey, Rosemary Lane, and Martha Lane do nicely in this film. So does Alan Mowbray, dependable as ever. Even Butterworth is tolerable to an extent. But Penner sinks it. It was his last real chance for movie success, but as he had little to offer in the way of talent to begin with what could one really expect.
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