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Mac Brewster (Benny) is head of an advertising firm that is in debt. The million-dollar Townsend Silver contract could save the firm, but the wealthy playboy Alan Townsend (Arlen) wants an amateur from high society rather than a professional model to become "the Townsend Girl." Upset that she was passed over sight-unseen as a professional, Brewster's top model (Lupino) goes to Miami with plans to bump into Townsend and pass as a society debutante.Written by
ARTISTS AND MODELS (Paramount, 1937), directed by Raoul Walsh, stars the legendary comedian Jack Benny in a lively musical as Mac Brewster, the head of a failing advertising agency who tries to promote a new campaign, the Artists and Models Ball. He uses Paula Sewell (Ida Lupino), his fiancée, to pose as a socialite who later falls in love with Brewster's important client, Alan Townsend (Richard Arlen), in fact, his only client. Brewster is given the task of crowning a queen of the Artists and Models Ball, and Paula goes after the crown to be awarded at the ball by Townsend. Because Paula is snubbed for being a professional model instead of a débutante, she grows more determined, taking the next airplane to Miami to compete against Cynthia Winworth (Gail Patrick), an attractive socialite who catches the eye on Brewster. In between song numbers, situations arise during the Artists and Models Ball when Brewster's engagement is to be publicly announced, first to Cynthia at 11:30, and to Paula at the stroke of midnight.
The supporting cast includes Cecil Cunningham as Stella, Brewster's secretary; Hedda Hopper as Mrs. Townsend, Alan's mother; along with Sandra Storme as herself in a brief model bit; Peter Arno, McClelland Barclay, Arthur William Brown, John Lagatta and Rube Goldberg as the artists; Russell Patterson's Personettos; and Andre Kostelanetz and his Orchestra.
While not "colossal, tremendous, gigantic, stupendous, the super special epic of the year" as addressed during the opening and closing of the story by Brewster's wacky associates (played by the Yacht Club Boys) who not only supply some wild antics, but one comedic musical number that opens up the story which has Brewster politely offering his opinion that "It stinks." Aside from that, ARTISTS AND MODELS succeeds with its amusing screenplay and its share songs and musical numbers in the lineup.
The musical program in order as they appear includes: "Sasha-Pasha" (performed by the Yacht Club Boys); "Pop Goes the Bubble" (written by Ted Koehler and Burton Lane/ sung by Judy Canova); "Whispers in the Dark" (written by Frederick Hollander and Leo Robin/ sung by Connee Boswell); "Stop, You're Breaking My Heart" (by Koehler and Lane/ sung by Judy Canova and Ben Blue); "Mister Esquire" (by Koehler and Victor Young/ instrumental with Ben Blue surrounded by puppet musicians); "The Ballad of Frank and Jesse James" (performed by The Canova Family); and "Public Melody Number 1" (by Koehler and Lane/ sung by Martha Raye and Louis Armstrong).
Judy Canova, who would specialize in hillbilly roles later in her career, is given a substantial role as Ida Lupino's best friend and roommate (labeled under her own name but addressed as Toots). Of her memorable highlights, the first finds Canova in the shower singing "Pop Goes the Bubble," stepping out to unwrap a towel, revealing a bathing suit underneath; and her confrontation with a "screwball" lover-boy named Jupiter Pluvius II (Ben Blue), a rainmaker whose father, it is revealed, was responsible for the Johnstown flood, leading to the amusing "Stop You're Breaking My Heart" number. Blue also takes part in a quite original number, "Mister Esquire," which is performed by Russell Patterson's Personnettos, or better known as "live" puppets playing musical instruments.
Interestingly, while Canova's interplays could have been performed just as well by Martha Raye, who had performed similar chores as the loyal friend-type from THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1937 (1936), is given a specialty musical act set in Harlem titled "Public Melody Number 1," opposite Louis Armstrong. Darkened up in the style of a light- skinned Negress, she belts out the lyrics with the sounds of Armstrong's trumpet playing and gun shots scoring out in the background. Vincente Minnelli is credited for direction of this production number. This Raye/ Armstrong number, along with the Canova Family ballad about outlaws Frank and Jesse James were usually eliminated from television prints in order to fit in this 100 minute movie into a 90 minute time slot plus commercial breaks. Fortunately the complete and unedited version of ARTISTS AND MODELS has turned turn up February 1, 2009, on Turner Classic Movies. On a final note, Connee Boswell, one of the singing Boswell sisters, seen only in silhouette, is the vocalist to the soothing "Whispers in the Dark," which becomes a large scale swimming number. This song was nominated for an Academy Award.
Aside from these production numbers taking a major part, its top-billed star Jack Benny does find time in supplying some real funny moments on screen, including he being mistaken by underwear salesmen as a model, and his physical examination with Doctor Zimmer (Donald Meek). There's even some inside humor as Brewster is escorting Cynthia (Gail Patrick) to the Artists and Models Ball and walking past a live radio where announcer Don Wilson is introducing Jack Benny, followed by Benny going on the air, "Hello, again, this is Jack Benny talking ..." Mac: "Very clever fellow, I've always liked him." Cynthia: "Oh, really, I've never cared for him." Mac: "Oh, well, everyone to his own taste.
The success of ARTISTS AND MODELS did intend for new annual musical series, which is hinted by the Yacht Club Boys ("Hey boss, have we got it, a great idea for the show next year.") Although Paramount did distribute another, ARTISTS AND MODELS ABROAD (Paramount, 1938), bringing back Jack Benny, this time playing Buck Boswell, and the Yacht Club Boys, with Joan Bennett assuming the female lead. Unfortunately, ARTISTS AND MODELS ABOARD didn't do as well to proceed with other editions to the series. However, in 1955, Paramount released a musical comedy, ARTISTS AND MODELS, starring the comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, but bears no relation to the Benny films except in name only. For a good time, stick with the original. (***)
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