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From the 1930s through the 1950s, Pete Smith narrated a long string of shorts for MGM. Because they made so many, they must have been popular--though I have never understood their appeal. I've seen quite a few and usually I find Smith's narration to be very heavy-handed and unfunny...and annoying. Because of this, I was very surprised when I saw "Musiquiz", as I enjoyed it quite a bit. Part of this might be because Smith didn't try so hard to be funny--he just let the material speak for itself. Most of it, however, is that the film just seemed pretty interesting. As for the quiz, it really wasn't a quiz--as the answers were pretty ridiculous, but between questions, the short introduced a lot of strange instruments and cool musical acts. By far my favorite was the blindfolded guy who played two different songs as the same time on the piano. And, the keyboard was covered AND he was wearing gloves! All in all, a very good short--and I guess from now on I'll have to think twice before I dismiss a Pete Smith film.
The Pete Smith shorts were a staple of the MGM program for more than
two decades and audiences eagerly anticipated a certain number of
sub-series or series-within-a-series entries. Each movie-season
(running from September to August), there were a few Technicolor
"novelties" (usually a cooking demonstration or an athletic
spectacular), a football review of last year's newsreel clips, a cute
animal subject, three or more sports-reels featuring great stunts, a
couple of Dave O'Brien pantomime slap-sticks of the "you can't win"
mode and one or two "What's Your IQ?" quizzes. This title belongs to
the last of these sub-series and is also called "What's Your IQ No.
The whole concept of a quiz-reel sounds dry and boring on paper, but when presented on screen is quite enjoyable. That's because Pete Smith provides so much high comedy: measuring the weight of a piano by skunk and lion sizes and showing an offbeat news clip of a ship disaster that has NOTHING to do with the core subject of musical instruments. The audience participates in the multiple choice questions (this was during the heyday of "following the bouncing ball" sing-a-longs) and our witty narrator provides hilarious criticism for those of us who chose the wrong answer. For example, five weird words that Smith can't even pronounce correctly are tossed out as a which-is-an-instrument? question.
In-between the question and answer sessions are some Ed Sullivan-ish novelty acts, this time involving music. The best of these little acts is a pianist who plays blindfolded with a sheet over the keys. Others, like the blown-up glove "instrument" are strictly for laughs.
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