Scottish song-and-dance man Jack Buchanan made a few Hollywood films, but spent most of his career on the London stage, starring in frothy West End musical comedies. "This'll Make You Whistle" is not among his better films, but it holds a unique place in Buchanan's career. Buchanan starred in the stage version and the movie version of "This'll Make You Whistle" concurrently, reporting to the film studio in the mornings and afternoons (except on matinée days) and then rushing to the West End for the evening performances onstage. Even more surprisingly, the film version of "This'll Make You Whistle" actually played in West End cinemas during the run of the stage show, thus putting the two versions in competition with each other! This movie survives as our best record of what a typical Jack Buchanan musical must have looked like onstage: it's all froth and candyfloss, with no substance and no songs of more than passing interest.
Most of Buchanan's London stage musicals were too inconsequential to merit transfer to Broadway. In America, the film version of "This'll Make You Whistle" had the bad luck to open during the weekend of the 1938 "Martian" radio broadcast by Orson Welles ... so it flopped, but it likely would have flopped anyway.
"This'll Make You Whistle" has a larger-than-usual budget for a British movie musical of this period, and it manages to "open up" the stage material with some large-ish sets. The film stars Buchanan as a glib playboy; he and his pals Archie and Reggie are always mucking about and getting into trouble. David Hutcheson, as Archie, has a long horse-like face which makes him look quite funny (he resembles the French comedian Fernandel) except in one bizarre scene in which Hutcheson and Buchanan disguise themselves with long black beards in order to blend in with a long queue of identically-dressed men in long black beards. This looks like a scene from a Doctor Seuss story, but it manages to be weird rather than funny. Hutcheson had one of the most comical faces ever to go in front of a movie camera; by covering his face with a false beard, he becomes *less* funny, not more so.
There's a very tasteless scene in a nightclub, in which Buchanan's buddies borrow a baby so that they can pass it off as Buchanan's child, to discourage some woman from getting romantically involved with him. Buchanan claims paternity of the child without taking a look at the baby first. Then we see a close-up of "his" baby boy ... and the baby is black. Racial humour is SO sophisticated. Not half! (Yes, this joke was offensive even in 1936, because we're meant to laugh at Buchanan's humiliation when circumstances make it seem that -- gasp! shock! -- he might have had sex with a black woman.)
Anthony Holles is hilarious in a supporting role as a very respectable businessman who never once in his entire life has ever put pleasure ahead of business ... "and look where it got me!" splutters Holles, before joining Buchanan for a night on the tiles.
Jack Buchanan made a lot of money during his years of stardom, but (unlike so many other wealthy people in show-biz) he was also extremely generous to his co-workers and chorus dancers who made so much less money than himself. Most of his money was gone by the time of his long slow death from cancer.
"This'll Make You Whistle" is more interesting as a social document than as a comedy: it's a fair example of what Grandpa laughed at, in the days between the World Wars. The songs, alas, are too few and not very good. Several other British comedians of this period (George Formby, Max Miller, Ivor Novello) had much better musical material than Jack Buchanan usually got. I'll rate this movie 2 points in 10.
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