In the summer of 1924 this film was shown at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention in New York. In his real-life role as journalist, Will Rogers personally covered both conventions. See more »
Interesting for historians, but the humor has faded with time
Will Rogers was killed in a plane crash in 1935, but when I was growing up in Oklahoma in the 1960s he was still considered a pretty famous guy. In my hometown of Tulsa there was a school, a movie theater and a motel named after him, and he was frequently mentioned (along with Mickey Mantle) as one of the state's major celebrities. Older people boasted of having met him or seen him on one of his personal appearance tours. A local TV station once devoted a week's programming to several of his movies, one per evening for five nights running. These were the talkies he made for Fox in the early '30s, incidentally, carefully selected to avoid the ones featuring Stepin Fetchit; Will Rogers was a beloved figure in his time, but unfortunately some of his movies feature racial humor that doesn't play at all well nowadays.
As time has passed Rogers' fame has dwindled. This is to be expected, I suppose, especially considering that so much of his humor was based on topical events. You need to know a fair amount about American history and popular culture circa 1915-1935 to understand many of Rogers' punchlines now, and for most people the necessary homework isn't worth the effort. As for the movies themselves, needless to say some are better than others. On the plus side, Rogers' easy-going naturalness as a performer is fresher today than some of the mannered acting of his co-stars, but, as noted above, a lot of the humor in these films reflects the events and attitudes of the distant past, and doesn't transcend the passage of time as well as the best work of W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, etc.
Contemporary viewers may find Will Rogers' silent movies even more problematical than his talkies. Rogers, like Fields, needed his voice to be fully effective, so even the best of his silent comedies don't convey what made the man a top star. During 1923-24 Rogers made a dozen or so two-reel comedies for the Hal Roach Studio, but they were not very successful either critically or commercially. Aside from a couple of Hollywood satires that are still quite funny (for silent movie buffs, anyhow) perhaps Rogers' strongest work for Roach was represented by three films in which he played an ongoing character, a shiftless but lovable lout named Alfalfa Doolittle who is selected by local political bosses to run for Congress. In the first film, Going to Congress, we observe Doolittle's campaign as he awkwardly delivers patronizing speeches before unlettered rubes. Naturally our hero wins, and the rest of the trilogy traces the course of Doolittle's political fortunes.
I wish I could say that Going to Congress is an unsung gem, but it suffers from the problems typical of most of Will Rogers' silent movies. There's little action, and most of the humor is delivered via title cards; full appreciation depends on familiarity with persons such as Calvin Coolidge, William Jennings Bryant, Henry Ford, and Babe Ruth, all of whom are mentioned in punchlines. Unhappily, there is also some unpleasant material involving African-Americans, although it could be argued that the sequence in question reflects the hypocrisy of the politicians being satirized rather than the filmmakers' own attitudes. (And at least the bit passes quickly.) It's also worth noting that the general tone of the film is sharper and more acerbic than some viewers might expect. This too is characteristic of the 1920s, but for those whose knowledge of Will Rogers extends only to his much-quoted line about never having met a man he didn't like, the cynicism might be surprising. The tone is set from the very first title card, which reads: "American politics is the most obliging thing we have. One hundred million people have six men in every state who make up their minds for them every four years." But considering that Going to Congress was made at the height of the Teapot Dome scandal (which is mentioned obliquely) and subsequent public disillusionment with the political process, we shouldn't be surprised at the film's depiction of cigar-chomping political bosses who manipulate their hand-picked, ignorant puppet of a candidate, or by the spectacle of that puppet becoming pompous and self-important-- but no smarter --once he arrives in Washington.
Hmmm . . . who says Will Rogers' material is dated?
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