An unimpressive but well intending man is given the chance to marry a popular actress, of whom he has been a hopeless fan. But what he doesn't realize is that he is being used to make the actress' old flame jealous.
Gopher City Kansas hosts a beauty contest. The winner, Elvira Plunkett, and her mother go to Hollywood. The Chamber of Commerce also provides Elvira with an agent, Gopher City's own Elmer J. Butz. Elmer likes Elvira and the shy Elvira likes him, but Mrs. Plunkett, a formidable woman, has little use for hapless Elmer. On the train west, they meet movie star Larry Mitchell, who takes a shine to Elvira and helps her meet MGM directors once they get to Tinsel Town. Elmer, meanwhile, wants to help Elvira with her career and he also wants to be her man. Movie stardom does come to the Gopher City entourage, but to whom is a surprise. And who will win the lovely Elvira's hand?Written by
The three main characters of the film - Elmer Butts, and Elvira and Ma Plunkett - come to Hollywood from Gopher City, Kansas. Trixie Friganza, who plays Ma Plunkett, was in fact from Kansas. Buster Keaton, who plays Elmer Butts, was also born in Kansas. See more »
When Larry orders his car, a visible mike descends from the upper right hand corner of the frame while he says his line, then rises out of sight again. See more »
All the boys, with high blood pressure/ All the girls, with too much flesh/ Your day has come at last/ Here's a dance, you poor wall flowers/ Once you try, you'll dance for hours/ I'll explain it fast/ Hot stuff is taboo/ Follow me and do/ The Free and Easy...
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What you think of it depends on your perspective...
If you are looking for a study in early talking film and how MGM simply did not know how to utilize Buster Keaton, this is your movie. If you're looking for competition with Buster's great silents of the 20's look away and elsewhere. It's a 9 if you are in the first category, a 5 if you are in the second. I average the two together to get my rating of 7.
The story is a simple one - Anita Page is a small-town beauty contest winner from the Midwest - Elvira Plunkett. She and her mother (Trixie Friganza) along with Elvira's agent, Elmer Butts (Keaton) are taking the train out west where Elvira will seek a career in movies ... with no contacts ... and no name recognition. What follows are their adventures on the train and in Hollywood once they arrive at their destination. Probably nothing would have happened if not for the fact that Elvira and her mother wind up running into movie star Larry Mitchell (Robert Montgomery) on the train. Larry takes a shine to Elvira and thus gets her invited to his studio - MGM of course - for a look at how films are made.
This is the fascinating part. You get to see the actual MGM movie factory during the transition to sound. You see a completely inane and awful musical number - maybe intentionally so but I doubt it - that is exhibit A in why audiences rebelled against the early musicals. Poor Robert Montgomery is forced to dress up like a cossack and sing a duet. As Buster is chased through MGM by security guards you get a look at Lionel Barrymore directing a film - he did so for just a few years at MGM - complete with the camera blimps that allowed the cameras to emerge from the static booths and enabled more fluid motion in movies. You also get to see some of MGM's prominent directors of the time in conference, including Cecil B. De Mille who was employed there briefly at the dawn of sound.
Now for the bad part. Buster is forced into a grueling "who's on first" kind of verbal comedy scene at the middle of the film that simply didn't suit him, is generally depicted as a bumbler when he had always been the innovative problem solver in his silent films, and during the finale musical number his beautiful face is covered in ridiculous clown makeup. The finale musical number is actually pretty good with a catchy tune and Keaton dancing about like a pro, doing his familiar "Highland Fling" if you've seen some of his silents. However, at the very end of the number he emerges as a puppet on a string - emblematic of Keaton's career at MGM. At least the studio let Keaton speak his first film words in front of a train - his favorite film prop.
If you see this make sure you watch the documentary "So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM". It really helps put Keaton's MGM career in context and explains, as narrator James Karen says, "how Buster Keaton came to MGM as one of the greatest comics in the whole world, and ended up being regarded as totally unemployable just five years later."
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