Speak Easily (1932) Poster

(1932)

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Admiring fans with open minds will find much to enjoy here.
Martin Banner13 October 2004
While it is true that SPEAK EASILY doesn't hold a candle to the genius of Keaton's best films, neither is it worthless as some have suggested. Outside pressures (namely MGM and his deteriorating family life) held Keaton back from performing at the inspired level he might have. SPEAK EASILY's main weakness lies in MGM forcing an uninspired pairing of Keaton with a vaudeville comic like Durante. The tension between Buster's physical comedy (which is never allowed to ignite as it once had) and Durante's verbal punning is something that never really works. Keaton's characters in all of the MGM talkies seem, for lack of a better word, dense. The inherent cleverness that Buster showed in his silent work was totally abandoned. Never again would Buster show the bravado, daring and quickness he was famous for. Instead, he would be shoe-horned by MGM into a series of roles as loser, victim and sap. For all those inherent problems, SPEAK EASILY still contains at least two slapstick sequences that prove Keaton could be just as funny in his talkies as he was in his silent work. The 'drunken seduction' with Thelma Todd's gold-digger is very funny. Miss Todd proves herself not only a fine comedienne, but shows excellent chemistry with Keaton. Also, Buster's utter, and totally inadvertent, destruction of the Broadway play during it's opening night performance is hysterical and features some fine stunt gags. Those looking for the sublime genius of THE GENERAL or SHERLOCK JR. will invariably be disappointed. That 'Buster' was long gone by this point in his career. SPEAK EASILY should be viewed as an enjoyable programmer that kept Buster working, if not at his peak, still as a capable gag man and entertainer. Admiring fans with an open mind will find much to enjoy here
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The great ones can always adapt.
mkilmer20 August 2006
Keaton fans, you will not "die a thousand deaths" if you view this. Nothing Keaton does is bad, if for nothing else then for his presence. That being said, Buster was a silent start who was best when doing stuff created by his own mind. By 1932, the silent era was dead and the studios owned the movies. That Buster Keaton of "Seven Chances" and "Steamboat Bill Jr." was no more. That could never be recreated.

Times changed, films changed, and Buster adapted. Better this Buster than no Buster.

The story is funny, and there is some amusing slapstick. Buster plays his role well, adds some Buster to it, and is believable as a clueless college professor. Jimmy Durante is larger than life, in a hammy sort of way, but it's a good contrast with Keaton if anything. The movie works, and the closing scenes – the show on Broadway – is madcap with a modicum of brilliance.

We can ask what if. What if the silent era had never ended? What if Keaton and Arbuckle had not been separated so suddenly? What if the studios had taken over the industry with their formulae? Look, this is a pretty good film. It's not Keaton being tragically reduced to nothing. (Such was never possible! The great ones always adapt.) The tragedy is what happened to Roscoe Arbuckle. What happened to Buster? He hung in there and made people laugh.
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Delightful movie, a classic gem
sbibb117 January 2004
Despite what other users have said about this movie, I found it delightful and very funny. Buster Keaton plays a college professor who thinks he has become a rich man. He decides to invest money in a bad show because he likes one of the girls in the show, and he takes the show to Broadway. Buster Keaton has a very nice speaking voice, and this is the first "talkie" of his that I have seen. Of note also in the film is Thelma Todd. She plays a golddigger, but her performance is very funny and holds up today just as well as it did then. The scene where she and Keaton get drunk I found hysterical.
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8/10
Underrated gem worth another viewing
fitzsweetpea26 August 2006
I watched 'Speak Easily' one night and thought it was o.k., but missing something. Maybe Buster Keaton strangely speaking threw me off, or the labored line delivery of a leading lady. The next day I kept thinking about the movie, though. I couldn't get Durante's song out of my head, I kept trying to better remember Thelma Todd's first scene, I considered that maybe Keaton did do some funny falls and physical comedy. The next night I watched a scene with Thelma Todd as a conniving chorus girl trying to impress Buster and Jimmy with her sex appeal. A very funny scene, the actors excellent, their faces, their eyes, their silly expressions. So I watched another scene, their show is opening on Broadway. Buster in his blissful innocence botches every act. Again, I was laughing out loud, appreciating Keaton's clowning and tumbling. So the next night I watched the whole movie again, and this time I see it for the first time: It's Stupendous! It's Sensational! It's Sublime! Three great comedians! Todd dances! Durante sings! Keaton speaks! Sure it ain't poifect...but there's a lot of laughs in this picture.
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6/10
OK early talkie that didn't really need Keaton as part of its formula
calvinnme31 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
If you're a Keaton fan your eyeballs will not melt in their sockets if you watch this - it really is not bad. It would be a rather enjoyable early talkie if it were not for the fact that Buster Keaton's talents are being wasted in this film. Since I know that by this time (1932) MGM gave him no creative control and treated him just as a performer, I can only wonder what the film would have been like if someone had listened to his ideas. However, at least there are no moments in which you must look away in embarrassment at what MGM is doing to the man, as there are in Free and Easy.

The good aspects of this film include Buster getting the girl in the end, unlike in Free and Easy (a real embarrassment of a film). Also Buster shows a real penchant for dialog and verbal comedy, demonstrating that he was not outside his element in talking pictures. Then there are the seduction/morning after scenes with Buster and Thelma Todd. Todd gave the best supporting performance in the cast. What a shame she died so young. Finally there is the ending where Keaton disrupts the show but scores a hit with the audience. It's not the most clever stuff he ever did, but it is funny.

The bad parts of this film include Buster being made to play a straight man to Jimmy Durante, Buster's expressive eyes being hidden behind his pince-nez spectacles, and finally there is the issue of Buster bungling into a happy ending. In his years as an independent filmmaker his character would often start out lost and fumbling around, but he figured things out in the end and came up with resourceful and deliberate solutions.

In the end, I have to wonder why this film really needed Buster Keaton anyways. Lots of comics less talented than Keaton could have been employed to recite the dialog that was written for this script and take a few pratfalls.
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6/10
Fascinating for Keaton Fans, Unwatchable for Others
Jay Raskin18 May 2006
There have been a lot of very perceptive comments made by previous reviewers and I don't have much to add.

I have to agree with those who said it was a rather flat comedy with flashes of wit and charm.

Keaton gives an interesting performance as Professor Post. It seems a bit of a parody on Harold Lloyd, but also a precursor to Danny Kay's professor character. The movie is wise when it centers itself around him, but it seems that the scriptwriter wrote it for Keaton to improvise wildly, only to find Keaton sticking to the script. I imagine there was some tension between him and the director, with Keaton simply giving in and following the director's orders.

Thelma Todd stands out. She lights up the screen and exudes a knowing sophistication that only a few other actresses (Jean Harlow, Mae West and Katherine Hepburn) reached.

Again, I don't think that anybody but Buster Keaton fans will enjoy the movie and only Buster Keaton fans will have a few laughs out of it.
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6/10
Nothing special, not too bad
Igenlode Wordsmith20 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"Speak Easily" actually isn't as bad as I'd been given beforehand to expect. True, Jimmy Durante, playing a stand-up (or in his case, sit-down) comic called 'Jimmy', is basically playing himself, but in this context it is at least appropriate. True, adorning Buster Keaton with a fussy pair of pince-nez throughout the entire film deprives him of his principal means of expression -- his eyes -- but on the other hand, it establishes the character and does actually suit him: Keaton in his thirties had always borne a resemblance to a sculpted bronze bust, and as he administers a professorial stare through his perched glasses, his features appear more strongly modelled than ever. True, Keaton is clearly struggling with the 'refined' vocabulary and accents required for the part -- possibly his most extended piece of vocal acting -- but in the context of comedy his strained and somewhat artificial delivery is not out of place...

This is a perfectly decent little 'smalltown act makes it big on Broadway' story, nothing special but nothing worse than a dozen others in the genre. It's reasonably entertaining, although it has its share of lines that simply fall flat. And I can forgive a great deal for the sake of Keaton's wickedly accurate take-off of Napoleon Bonaparte in the opening scene; as proved so memorably in his 'ape act' on-screen back in "The Playhouse" (1921), given the opportunity the man was a truly gifted mimic.

Having said all this, however, it has to be owned that the one thing that really isn't necessary to this story is the presence of Buster Keaton. Which is unfortunate, because realistically speaking the only reason why anyone is likely to revive it these days is because of his name on the title screen! There's just one laugh that depends on Keaton's persona, and that's when Jimmy Durante attempts to demonstrate the effectiveness of his stage patter on this passer-by, whom of course the audience know to be incapable of cracking a smile. As so often with MGM's chosen vehicles for their unwilling star, one ends up wondering why they wanted him in it -- wouldn't any actor have done as well? In the case of this material, at least, there were almost certainly actors who might have done better...

Increasingly, all that the studio required of Keaton was the ability to take a fall and/or look bewildered, and that's about all he does here; the grand finale consists chiefly of swinging him round and round on a loop of rope, the humour of which does tend to wear off after a bit. The entire final sequence is based on what I had found to be the least successful section of "Spite Marriage" -- made by MGM only three years before -- in which Keaton's character blunders through the performance of a play, including the blatant re-use of a title-card gag from the silent feature in which the harassed stage manager hisses "Shoot him, they'll think it's part of the act!" Sooner or later, as Keaton's name lost its old shine, the penny was inevitably going to drop. MGM *didn't* need Buster Keaton for this sort of stuff, not when they had comics who could both fall over and talk. And with the once-meticulous performer reduced by the experience to an increasingly unreliable shell, his net worth to the studio was rapidly decreasing.

"Speak Easily" is not a bad film; it can still raise a few laughs. (It's not an especially outstanding one either, but that's another issue.) What it is not is in any sense a film representative of Keaton's strengths; given the disintegration of his personal and professional life at this stage, and the resultant number of days lost during filming to the fact that he had drunk himself into a condition unfit to work, it is perhaps surprising that he gives a performance as collected as this ultimately appears, but there's little trace left of his own distinctive style. He does a job that anyone else could have done, and does it more or less as well as can be expected.
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7/10
Good, not stellar, comedy punctuated by Thelma Todd
Simon27 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Lonely Professor Timoleon Post (Buster Keaton) is deceived into believing he has received a large inheritance. The plan works however and under the illusion of new wealth the professor leaves his work at the college to seek life and love outside of stuffy academia.

He quickly finds attractive dancer Pansy Peets (Ruth Selwyn), part of a travelling vaudeville act. The amateur, cash-strapped act relies on the professor's generosity to pay off debtors and agree to move to New York with ambitions of a Broadway hit.

The Professor's attention is split between the production and the advances of gold-digging, man-eating Eleanor Espere played by Thelma Todd.

As creditors demand payment, the law comes looking for the professor with news of his fictitious inheritance. Can the company hold off the law and allow the show to continue, reap in the profits and pay off their debts?

A lower rung comedy by Buster Keaton, not hitting the heights of the silent era but there are great moments including a flirtatious drunk evening with the wonderful Thelma Todd.

Speak Easily is in the public domain, so expect plenty of terrible prints on DVD. Powis Square Pictures (UK) have released a good looking print, imperfect but very watchable and recommended.
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4/10
A genuine horror movie.
Alice Liddel26 March 2001
What is the most harrowing movie ever made? The gynaecological nightmare of 'Cries and Whispers'? The acid psychodramas of Fassbinder? The discomfiting black comedy of 'Last House on the left? I'm sure for that portion of the film-loving public that tie their masts to the good ship Buster Keaton, there is only one answer - any one of his sound films.

I don't know what flayed my soul more poignantly in this movie - the grounding of Keaton's intricate and expansive physical art to humdrum slapstick; the painful hesitation of this master filmmaker with dialogue - not that he hasn't a lovely, comic voice, or that he can't make dialogue funny; it's just that the studio don't seem to have given him enough takes, and so he seems to be trying to remember his lines before he delivers, which only makes him - Keaton, not his character, look silly; or is it the humiliation of seeing Keaton caught up in a tawdry sex farce, when he has given us some of the richest accounts of romantic frustration in film?

No, I know what was most disturbing - having to watch Buster Keaton, cinema's greatest comedian, sit aside to observe Jimmy Durante doing his schtick. It is horrors such as this that get yer Dantes composing yer Infernos.

MGM seem to have got the curious idea that the best way to adapt Keaton to sound was to turn him into a Marx Brother, complete with verbal pedantry, elaborate, tedious 'clowning', shambolic slapstick, theatrical setting, triumph through chaos, and Thelma Todd. Keaton was just not that sort of comic, and where Groucho's malicious tongue and gleeful opportunism might just have made this plot work, Buster's socially inept professor can't, he is too studied and predictable.

What Buster needed was to be allowed experiment like Lang in 'M', or Rene Clair; he would never have tried to hold back the tide like Chaplin. When a film like 'The General' is alluded to - messing about with trains - the loss becomes even more apparent.

And the thing is, in patches amid the flat direction, the film isn't all that bad - there is an excellent jolt when a camera on the bus leaves Keaton alone at a railway station; and the denouement, if hardly original, is at least livelier than what went before. There is something almost endearing about the way Keaton slows down a plot that needs all the zip it can get.

There is a film in here about loneliness, emotionally paralysing order, the numbing effects of education etc., struggling to get out. The best way to appreciate this film is to watch not the narrative of Professor TZ Post, but of emasculated genius Buster Keaton, trapped in a prison of mediocrity, confounded by new technology, mocked by a malevolent fate (in this case the studio), retaining a stoical grace. Looked at like that, it becomes a kind of masterpiece.
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2/10
Buster's heartbreaking decline
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre20 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
To be a Buster Keaton fan is to have your heart broken on a regular basis. Most of us first encounter Keaton in one of the brilliant feature films from his great period of independent production: 'The General', 'The Navigator', 'Sherlock Jnr'. We recognise him as the greatest figure in the entire history of film comedy, and we want to see more of his movies. Here the heartbreak begins. After 'Steamboat Bill Jnr', Keaton's brother-in-law Joseph Schenck pressured him into signing a contract that put Keaton under the control of MGM. Keaton became just one more actor for hire, performing someone else's scripts. Then his alcoholism got worse. After 'Steamboat Bill Jnr', Keaton never again made a truly first-rate film. A couple of sources describe a would-be masterpiece comedy that Keaton claimed he *almost* got to make at MGM: a parody of 'Grand Hotel'. Biographer Tom Dardis has offered convincing evidence that Keaton made up this story.

The heartbreak increases because, among the many years of Keaton's long steady decline, he just occasionally came up with a good film ... such as his short comedy 'Grand Slam Opera'. I continue to search for the lost footage of Keaton's dramatic scene with Spencer Tracy in 'It's a Mad Mad World': a sequence in which embittered cop Tracy telephones an old retired crook (Keaton) and tries to recruit his assistance in stealing Smiler Grogan's cash. That footage is almost certainly gone forever, but I keep looking.

'Speak Easily', alas, is one of Keaton's films from the beginning of his decline. MGM were trying to build up Jimmy Durante (who, coincidentally, played Smiler Grogan three decades later) as a new comedy star. Unfortunately, MGM tried to build up Durante by teaming him with Keaton, whose style of comedy was simply incompatible with Durante's. (I'm a fan of both.) Throughout his career, Durante was a merciless scene-stealer: commendably, he knew that he was being built up at Keaton's expense, and Keaton was the only co-star whom Durante never attempted to upstage.

Keaton was often cast as the victim of extremely cruel machinations. In 'Speak Easily', he plays a didactic and humourless Midwestern college professor named Post (because he's as wooden as one) who receives a letter informing him that he's inherited $750,000, which he must travel to New York City to claim. Does he make a 'phone call to verify this? Does he even check the postmark? No; he takes his life's savings out of the bank and rushes to New York. As soon as he's gone, Post's manservant confesses that he wrote the (fake) letter to jostle Professor Post out of his rut!

Post, who thinks he's a 3/4-millionaire, crosses paths with Jimmy Dodge (Durante), who's trying to produce a musical revue but hasn't any money. The characters which these two brilliant comedians are playing onscreen simply fail to intermesh. Keaton is playing one of those eggheads (like Mister Logic in 'Viz') who intellectualises everything. Durante plays one of those annoying hepcats who is incapable of making any straightforward statement because the script requires him always to speak in slang. There's a painfully unfunny dialogue scene in which Durante is trying to talk to Keaton about money, but - instead of coming straight out with it - Durante has to use increasingly contrived slang terms like 'kale', 'cartwheels' and so forth ... while Keaton of course has no idea what Durante's on about. I'll give Keaton credit: his own dry and dusty prairie voice, his flat Kansas accent, is absolutely perfect for the character he's playing here.

Sidney Toler, looking much leaner and more handsome here than he would be just a year later, is impressive as the excitable director of the revue bankrolled (on tick) by Professor Post. Henry Armetta, whom I've never found funny, is even less funny than usual here, offering a running gag with a stupid payoff. Thelma Todd impressed me here, in a more villainous version of the role she played in 'Horse Feathers' (a much funnier movie). Edward Brophy, one of my favourite character actors, is wasted.

Part of the problem with 'Speak Easily' is that supporting characters behave in completely inappropriate ways. Keaton's lawyer shows up at Durante's theatre with an urgent message for Keaton ... but he isn't there, so the lawyer proceeds to divulge Keaton's personal business to the first total stranger he meets. (Fire that lawyer, Buster!) In another scene, Professor Post - the guy who's perceived as bankrolling this musical - blunders into the chorus girls' changing room, and all the chorus girls immediately squeal and cover themselves. I know for a fact that *modern* chorus girls would never react this way, and I seriously doubt that chorus girls in 1932 behaved that way either ... certainly not in response to the 'angel' controlling their show's pursestrings.

SPOILERS COMING. About half an hour into the unfunny 'Speak Easily', the great Jimmy Durante seats himself at the piano, grins into the camera, and does that distinctive little shake of his head as he starts to play a tune. This is the moment when I thought that, at long last, this movie was finally going to settle down to its purpose of entertaining us. Alas, no. Most annoying of all is the ending of this film, which uses the single most hackneyed and implausible cliche in all of comedy: the one in which an utterly incompetent dimwit becomes a star comedian through his own ineptitude. (Keaton would be forced to replay this cliche in a 1955 episode of 'Screen Directors Playhouse'; Chaplin had already used it in 'The Circus'.)

I very nearly wept - in anger and sorrow - at the wasted opportunities in 'Speak Easily'. Mostly out of respect for the work that Keaton, Durante, Toler, Brophy and Miss Todd have done elsewhere, I'll rate this movie 2 points out of 10.
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6/10
lesser Buster
SnoopyStyle11 September 2017
Professor Post (Buster Keaton) lives a sheltered life at Potts College. He is surprised by a $750k inheritance. He boards a train where he meets a group of performers including James (Jimmy Durante) and dancer Pansy Peets. James convinces Post to pay for a Broadway showing of their musical Speak Easily. Diva actress Eleanor Espere (Thelma Todd) lures the unsuspecting Post into a compromising position.

While Buster may still be a star during his talkies, there is no doubt that they are his lesser work. It has some stunts but nowhere near his earlier risky action scenes. He is a perfectly fine comedic actor but his silent personality is far more charismatic. He dominates in a silent movie. In a talkie, he is only a part of the cast. This does have Jimmy Durante but they don't really act as a comedy team. This is fine but pales in comparison with his earlier legendary work.
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4/10
Poor, poor Buster
Mike-7644 May 2003
T.Z. Post, college professor, receives a false letter stating he inherited $750,000. Now with financial means, he withdraws his life savings of $4,000, and decides to finally going out & live. After having his baggage sent on a train to Chicago, he meets a traveling vaudeville troupe, and decides there good enough for him to put on a show on Broadway. The night of the show, poor Prof. Post has to hide from his creditors, settle the relationship woes between girlfriend Pansy and & floozy diva Eleanor, and still make sure the show must go on. After watching many of Keaton's silent gems, this one is a pain to sit through, but I felt, it could have been a lot worse. Supporting cast Durante, Todd, & Selwyn come off very annoying at times, but still likeable. A pre-Charlie Chan Toler is good as the frustrated show director. 90% of the script is badly written as MGM is trying to pass this off as a poor man's Marx Bros. film where many of the sight gags fall flat from the beginning. Compiled with Keaton's drinking problems at the time, this movie just is a sad moment in Buster's life. Rating- 3.
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4/10
Not horrible as long as you are not looking for a comedy and don't mind seeing Buster Keaton debasing himself.
MartinHafer5 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
For most younger viewers out there, they probably have no idea who Buster Keaton was. So, because of this, they probably won't feel nearly as sad when watching this film as I did. I happen to be a silent comedy freak--having see just about every Keaton film still in existence. My being a huge fan made this film very painful from start to finish. This is because during his silent days, Keaton was a very vibrant and creative comedian. He was amazing in his physicality and his films were almost never dull. However, in a move that movie historians still are baffled by, at the end of the silent era, Keaton gave up his independence and became a stock MGM actor. Instead of being a great creative force, MGM now saw Keaton solely as an actor--and they wrote scripts for him that had no respect for what made him great. At first, these films with MGM were not that bad (such as THE CAMERAMAN) but with talkies, the studio really blew it--putting him in several films with Jimmy Durante. Durante's humor was based on his gift for gab and was abrasive. Keaton, in contrast, was quiet and based on action. Two more unlike and incompatible actors would have been hard to find. As a result of this deadly combination, Keaton made some truly dreadful films.

Now this isn't to say that SPEAK EASILY is a terrible film. No, instead it's just more of a time-passer and an amazingly unfunny one at that. In fact, if you go into the movie assuming it's a comedy, it will probably make the film harder to enjoy. Instead, it's sort of like a drama with a few comedic elements. It is NOT a film that will produce belly laughs--especially for Keaton fans.

The film begins in an odd setting. Keaton is cast as a college professor whose entire life is teaching. He knows nothing of the world and has his nose stuck in his books. In a bizarre move, Keaton's servant tricks him into believing Keaton has received $750,000 from a dead relative--hoping that this would spur Keaton to get out and enjoy life. This is amazingly contrived but somehow it manages to work. Not terribly well, but it works.

Keaton immediately leaves school and goes on a journey to New York to have some fun. On the way there, he meets up with an incredibly untalented theater troop. Because he knows nothing of the world, he doesn't seem to realize they stink. And, because he thinks he's rich, Keaton decides to take them all to New York to perform on Broadway. However, just before the show opens, his friends find out that Keaton is NOT rich. So, they decide not to tell Keaton and try to keep him away from process servers that want to close the show. They assume that if the show is a hit, then they can pay off the debts and everyone will be happy. However, they forget that the show itself stinks. What are they to do? And, will Keaton get the nice girl, get roped by a gold digger (Thelma Todd) or be flat broke and alone? If you care, see the film.

As for Keaton, he has few stunts in the film, though there are some dandy ones near the end. Instead, Keaton just kind of walks through the part in a very subdued manner. There's really little to love about this film or hate. It's just blah....when it SHOULD have been a heck of a lot better.
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7/10
You can find the genius from Keaton even in his worst films.
mark.waltz1 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Genius college professor Buster Keaton has the knack for getting himself into situations that would get other people either arrested or committed, but here, even unintentionally, he proves that his old stone face routine could be just as funny with dialog as it was without, even though his critics consider this mediocre at best. With butler Jimmy Durante assisting him, Keaton believes he has the money to back a supposed Broadway bound show and ends up stealing it unintentionally as he continuously ends up on stage trying to save it which he seems to do without realizing it. The show within the film itself isn't very good, a typical early sound view of what a Broadway musical should look like, and is often static and lifeless. But when Keaton gets on the stage, all hilarity ensues, and while some of the gags are dated, many of them are equally as funny as some of his classic moments in silent films.

One of the funniest bits has Keaton getting schnockered with gold-digging leading lady Thelma Todd, trying to get her out of his apartment before they are caught together by picking her up in ways that just a few years later the Hays code might have objected to. In his professor guise, he ends up on stage trying to assure the audience that the fiasco they are seeing is going to go on, and in the process, takes over the audience's hearts who really think that his droll manner is a part of the show. (Apparently, they must not have looked in their programs to see that his name isn't listed.) Edgar Kennedy keeps going around looking for his "thing", and stage manager Sidney Toler (pre-Charlie Chan) is having a nervous breakdown. There's a collection agent on site, some wicked fur pulling rivalry between Todd and Ruth Selwyn, and even the presence of future gossip columnist Hedda Hopper as Selwyn's mother. Durante gets a few nice moments too, particularly when he tries to claim one of the great songs of the day as his own. This may not be a particularly great film, but it is filled with a lot of great moments that will be something that you will remember. Heck, I remember it already!
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8/10
Footlights and Fools
lugonian16 September 2017
SPEAK EASILY (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1932), directed by Edward Segwick, stars Buster Keaton in one of his better sound comedies for the studio. Still unable to recapture the creativity and wit from his silent movie days of the 1920s, SPEAK EASILY did manage to resort Buster back to character-type of old as a good-natured half- wit, this time with the comedy support of Jimmy Durante. For their second of three movies as a team, though here more basically as partners, it allows each to perform their individual styles before joining forces together for the climax.

Taken from the story by Clarence Budington Kelland, the plot introduces Timoleon Zanders-Post (Buster Keaton) as a professor at Potts College, whose life is a lonely one. Aside from his classroom teachings, he has no friends nor any outside interests. His servant, Jenkins (Sidney Bracey), advises him to go out into the world and find life. After getting a bogus telegram of he inheriting $750,000, the Professor quits his job, cleans out his bank account, and goes out to enjoy life, even if he has to buy it. While on board a train bound for Chicago, the professor encounters James Dodge (Jimmy Durante), a member of the a theatrical troupe called The Midnight Maids Company. Also in the troupe are a would-be actress and dancer named Pansy Peets (Ruth Selwyn) and her stage mother (Hedda Hopper), Reno (Edward Brophy); among others. Because the troupe is in financial straits, the Professor offers to pay off its back dues. By doing this, he is made manager of the company. Taking the show titled "Speak Easily" to New York City for a tryout, its stage director, (Sidney Toler), calls it the worst show he's ever seen in his 30 years on Broadway. During the course of the story, the professor falls victim to another member of the troupe, a vamp named Eleanor Espere (Thelma Todd), while comedian James tries to make his witless jokes funny. Problems arise on opening night when a summons man (Fred Kelsey) comes to the theater with an injunction to close the show because of the professor's mythical inheritance.

With the title being a parody of bars at the time called a "Speakeasy," SPEAK EASILY might have been a title used for a Three Stooges comedy short, but turns out to be one for MGM's 80 minute feature. The roles of both Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante are difficult since it calls for both to be acceptable and likable through their comedy performances. Before Clifton Webb made being serious funny in his movies of the 1950s, Buster Keaton does so here playing a no- nonsense yet shy professor, dignified with glasses, speaking in high vocabulary words and always carrying an umbrella for a rainy day. As in his previous MGM efforts, Buster often acts confused and resorts to occasional pratfalls. Co-star, Jimmy Durante, is completely opposite. He's outgoing, confident and obnoxiously talkative. He often tries getting laughs through his unfunny jokes but does get the love of his audience through his traditional piano playing songs communicating with the camera through his eyes. Durante does have a memorable scene that was later clipped in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT (1974) as he plays the piano to stage director (wonderfully played by pre "Charlie Chan" actor Sidney Toler) introducing his latest composition of "Singing in the Rain," a song originally introduced in 1929, which for 1932, be far from original. Other moments of comedy include one at the train station mishap involving Buster's trunk and later the baby of a stereotypical Italian couple, Tony (Henry Armetta and Rosa (Inez Palage); Thelma Todd's vamping Buster and each getting drunk should have been funnier than played; and the climatic show where everything goes wrong. Also included are songs such as: "Good Times Are Here Now," "I Could Do Without Broadway" (sung by Jimmy Durante) and "Speak Easily."

Built upon the premise of an outsider taking part of show business, SPEAK EASILY is a kind of attraction to hold an audience attention, mainly due to total opposites as Keaton and Durante taking the limelight separately or together. Otherwise, just another MGM comedy that tries hard to become a comedy classic. Distributed on video cassette in the 1990s, and later DVD, availability on cable television is often found these days on Turner Classic Movies. (**1/2)
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5/10
Pretty boring
gridoon201827 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
"Speak Easily" is apparently considered one of the best Buster Keaton talkies, and yet I found it much inferior to "Parlor, Bedroom & Bath", after I watched them both back-to-back. For one thing, it is a much tamer, more family-friendly picture. It is also meandering and plot-less. Keaton's character is likable, but there is not much visual comedy until the last 10 minutes, and even then it's nothing to write home about. Thelma Todd adds spice when she appears (after half an hour), but her part is all-too-typical. ** out of 4.
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7/10
More antics and witty dialog would go a long way
SimonJack26 January 2017
Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton were the best of the silent era comedy actors. All three transitioned into sound movies in the 1930s. But, none of them flourished as actors after that. Chaplin was the oldest and was well off, so he semi-retired but kept writing and made just a few more films, but very good ones. Lloyd made barely half a dozen more films over 17 years. Keaton wasn't well off and stayed in films, but played in dozens and dozens of films, ending with bit parts and small scenes in TV series.

Except for Chaplin's writing and wealth, which allowed him to produce his own stuff, the great comedy actors of the silent era just fizzled as comedians when sound came on the screen. Some reviewers attribute it to studios that didn't give them leeway. Others blame writers and plots. While those may be true to some extent, it seems to me that one of the biggest factors was in the nature of the productions. Silent films relied mostly on the antics and visuals of the actors. Sure, the dialog snippets on the screen may have humor. But it wasn't funny if it didn't show it on the screen first. But with sound, those same actors had to have funny dialog as well as the antics. Without it, the antics lost some of their punch. I think the biggest factor in the demise of the silent comics with sound was lack of very funny dialog to go with the antics. And, that combined with the reduced antics in the plots, because the studios and people now expected more sound.

An example of great success of the mixture of dialog and visuals is the Marx Brothers. They had several smash comedy hits in the 1930s. Their crazy antics would run in three or four scenarios and the rest of each film would be loaded with wacky or hilarious dialog. Where antics ruled in the silent comedies of Keaton, Lloyd and Chaplin, they were relegated to a couple of scenarios or a few scenes in most of their sound films. And, the dialog didn't make up for it or add much. What most of their pictures needed was a continuation of the crazy antics plus some supporting dialog peppered between comedy takes.

This movie of Buster Keaton's is a good example, on both accounts. "Speak Easily" has both. But the antics are reduced some. And, the dialog is just mildly funny in places. Keaton's character is fine and his formal attitude is OK. Add a little more of his crazy antics and spice up the dialog with much better witty and funny lines, and this would be a terrific comedy. As it is, it's fairly good. It's worth a look for anyone who would like to see a great comedy star of the past.
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extremely saddening
Kieran Kenney21 November 2003
This film really, really depressed me. Not only was it completely unfunny, it did absolutely nothing with it's star Buster Keaton. It was odd to hear his voice, but even stranger to see him not do any of the routine that he's so famous for. Thelma Todd is also dreadfully waisted. She's beautiful, as always, but that's the film's only redeeming quality. And the story was atrocious. I've never seen a film so padded (well, maybe Blue Crush). This one should only be seen so people will see how hard the advent of sound struck film history. If it had come thirty years later, after more work and evolution, films like Speak Easily might never have been made.
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4/10
Struggling With Sound
Bill Slocum6 February 2014
The greatest film comedian of all time? Well, if he had made better sound films than this, I think that would have been indisputable. Or as his partner here, one Jimmy Durante, may have put it, "indispicable."

Buster Keaton's transition to sound went over well at the box office. He had some of his biggest hits in talkies, including this one. But watching "Speak Easily" makes you wonder why. It doesn't move like classic Buster. It doesn't make you laugh like classic Buster. It just gives you Buster, playing a fish out of water - too convincingly.

As Professor Post, Buster is urged to leave his lonely sinecure teaching the classics at a fancy college and "go out and find life." Led to believe he has just inherited $750,000, he does so, and meets a troupe of traveling showpeople. Falling in love with one, Pansy Peets (Ruth Selwyn), he decides to take them to Broadway on his dime. Only he doesn't really have as many dimes as he thinks.

There are actually three comedy legends in this film. In addition to Durante, who is the troupe's combination comic and piano player and pretty good here with his miles-of-malaprops-a-minute manner, you have Thelma Todd. People who talk about Buster's tragically curtailed career should take stock of Todd, who died at 29 just as she was poised to take off in an era of funny women. She shows a lot of her realized potential here, as a gold-plated vamp who latches onto Buster when she learns he is putting on the show.

"Have you ever thought seriously of marriage?" she asks Professor Post.

"Yes, that's why I'm single," he replies.

There is also a sequence where Todd's character attempts to blackmail Post by having him caught out in his bedroom, something that could really happen back in the 1930s. This is set up by a beautiful two-hand drunk scene (just watch Todd's reaction after gulping Buster's cocktail!) before moving on to a variation of a routine Buster did many times, trying to carry an unconscious woman to bed, before Durante shows up to give the sequence a terrific capper. The scene is so good it belongs in a much better movie.

Durante isn't overbearingly antic here, but he has little to do except tell lousy jokes and string along the willing professor (whom he calls "that guy with the face") about his dog-and-pony show's prospects. Selwyn's a weak female lead, even with a fourth Hollywood legend, gossip-page pioneer Hedda Hopper, playing her overprotective mother.

Buster is at the center of what's wrong. He's not convincing as a professor, and his comedy mannerisms tend to be slow and obvious. It's been said he struggled in the sound era when MGM tried to make him play sad and sympathetic. There's some of that here (in the beginning Post is warned his lonely condition may drive him to suicide) but also a tentative quality to his line readings, long pauses and repetitious head bobs that may be his famous drinking problem showing up on screen or else just difficulty managing the different demands of talkie comedy.

The film limps along, an occasional funny line or good physical comedy bit standing out all the more for the tedium around it, until reaching an awful finale where the show makes its Broadway debut with assorted mayhem both on- and offstage. Every tired gimmick is trotted out, while Buster overplays Post's idiocy for the sake of some lame slapstick. It's a real wince-producing conclusion that leaves a more sour aftertaste than "Speak Easily" deserves.

People who want to see the worst of Buster will be disappointed with "Speak Easily," though not nearly as much as those who come to it wanting to see more of why he was so great.
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5/10
Nuts to You from Buster Keaton
wes-connors15 June 2012
Bookish college professor Buster Keaton (as Timoleon Zanders "T.Z." Post) decides to go out on an adventurous vacation, after receiving word he has inherited $750.000. He joins a vaudeville group led by wise-cracking Jimmy Durante (as James "Jimmy" Dodge), after admiring Mr. Durante's pretty dancer Ruth Selwyn (as Pansy Peets). Taken by Ms. Selwyn's feminine charms and Durante's friendship, Mr. Keaton decides to use part of his new fortune to put the group's show on Broadway. Lingerie-flashing Thelma Todd (as Eleanor Espere) also joins the troupe. But the "Speak Easily" show needs work, and Keaton's funds may be mythical...

Keaton never made a sound feature to match his silent classics; his performance "timing" stayed primarily silent, and you can see it both here and in film appearances through the 1960s. Staying with the old style worked for Charlie Chaplin; due to superior choice of material, he was able to transcend the genre. Keaton did not have the same luxury with film projects. "Speak Easily" also has Keaton operating outside his persona, awkwardly; his "Professor Post" is an okay, if not fine, characterization. Though much-maligned, MGM gave him a relatively good supporting cast and crew. Turn the sound down low and you may see flashes of brilliance.

***** Speak Easily (8/13/32) Edward Sedgwick ~ Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante, Ruth Selwyn, Thelma Todd
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2/10
Dreary dreck
Chrissie8 September 2009
Watching "Speak Easily" is painful for fans of Buster Keaton. Seeing such a phenomenal writer, actor, comic, director, and stunt man subjected to this humiliating spectacle is like seeing a Picasso used as a drop cloth, or perhaps more like seeing the finest Camembert adulterated with whey solids and processed into Cheez-Whiz.

Keaton is ill-cast as Professor Post, whose overblown vocabulary is the only thing keeping him from saying, "Tell me about the rabbits, George." (Post would have said something like, "Kindly inform me as to the status of the small mammals in the family Leporidae of the order Lagomorpha, kind sir, who I believe is primarily addressed with the epithet 'George'.") When Keaton created his own characters, they might be situationally clueless but they weren't stupid. They were quick studies and became masters of their worlds. Not so with Post, who never stops stumbling and bumbling and who who has no more control of his destiny than a bilge rat had of the Titanic. And while Keaton's original characters had a charming naiveté and innocence, Post comes across as such a profound sexual retardate that if he ever did become physically aroused, he'd put an ice bag on the swelling and seek medical help.

There are a couple of small, redeeming moments, such as Keaton's attempts to get rid of the vampish Thema Todd or his suggestion as to appropriate attire for a Greek dance, but it's just not worth enduring the entire film to see them.

If you're a fan of bad movies, get drunk and watch "Speak Easily" with friends, a la "Mystery Science Theater 3000". But other than that, stick with the silents. Let them be 100% of what Buster Keaton is remembered for.
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9/10
Funny, funny, funny!
JohnHowardReid27 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Despite a slow start and several misfired moments along the way, Speak Easily comes to a grandly amusing climax with Buster Keaton in his acrobatic element as he conspires to wreck/save a Broadway revue. Mind you, it's not all plain sailing for Buster. Right up to the last reel when Buster really cuts loose, it's actually Jimmy Durante who steals all the laughs and the super-sexy Thelma Todd (in her best role ever) who captures all the limelight. True, the lovely Ruth Selwyn is on hand too, plus Sidney Toler, Ed Brophy and Fred Kelsey who liven up all the proceedings no end. I assume that writer/director Edward Sedgwick received professional help from co-stars Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante. I could also put my fist in the pie and say that some more songs would have been welcome, but as is, it's certainly a fast-paced 82 minutes, and definitely one for the permanent collection. My excellent DVD came in a 50-movie Comedy Mega-Pack.
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6/10
Palatable compared to the other Keaton-MGM talkies
MissSimonetta5 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Out of all of the talkies made during Buster Keaton's ill-fated partnership with MGM, only The Passionate Plumber (1932) and Speak Easily (1932) are watchable. The others range from sleep-inducing to infuriatingly bad, but these two have funny moments and Buster is allowed to play characters with dignity and functioning brains.

In this film, Buster plays a timid college professor who decides to live it up once he believes he has inherited a large sum of money. He does well in the role and actually has some comedic chemistry with Jimmy Durante, who proves himself not irritating here. Thelma Todd is sexy and funny as the vamp out to get Buster's money and Ruth Selwyn is good as Keaton's love interest.

Despite being somewhat entertaining, this is still no classic. The climax on the stage is lifted from a similar sequence in Spite Marriage (1929) and even uses some of the same lines. Some scenes are forced and painful, like when Buster and Thelma get sauced. But if you had to sample a few of Keaton's MGM talkies, this would be one to see.
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10/10
high slapstick
Cristi_Ciopron3 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
A comedy of austere and quirky humor, again testifying for an age when there were relatively large audiences for this. It's more of a work, with thorough performances from the players, than of a show.

A rightly legendary cast: Keaton, Durante, Ruth Selwyn, Thelma Todd, Toler. The editing is very good: there are accomplished vignettes, like the professor lecturing about Athens (a 'college town') and Greek dance, etc., a keen sense of each scene being achieved, a sharp dramatic thought. A highbrow comedy about an intellectual who, with his stylized, thoughtful, quirky, refined slapstick, convinces; thinking about the main character, his experiences don't modify him, he returns like he had leaven, his attempt at worldly learning leads to no result, so that the plot ought to be thought about in these terms as well, but equally important is that, while unmodified by the world, he has found a relationship, and his story ends on a dawn, the scholar got a relationship without learning something, it's a question not of learning, but of finding. The lead's astounding role rang very true. So that his subtle slapstick hints at abstractionism (perhaps Tati has been the one who carried forward this style). The other actors give different, but also refined performances.

Durante's comedy is shrewd, not lowbrow at all. Ruth Selwyn, a very nice actress.

The humor isn't conventional, but sometimes very subtle and even austere; there are scenes of popular comedy, but also others astonishingly stylized and ambitious, of an abstractionist and unruly beauty: the professor's odd overruns on stage, when he disrupts the show and handles it, reshapes it. Seen from the audience, the professor's overruns in the show couldn't have fooled anyone as deliberate goof, the show doesn't morph into a new poetry, it looks precisely as it would have in real life …. It's highbrow slapstick: the 2nd degree show looks like mayhem, not like a smash; the audience shown in the movie wouldn't have enjoyed it. The audience seems too experienced not to sense the mayhem, and not savvy enough to acknowledge the precise and austere Absurdism; so this interplay of realism (the lead, believable as an intellectual) and excess (the smash, when none would of been fooled …) is very ambiguous.
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