Huntz Hall shines in dual role in amusing Bowery Boys entry
Huntz Hall fans will glory in "Paris Playboys" (1954), one of the funnier Bowery Boys movies, as their beloved Horace Debussy Jones, better known as "Sach," dominates the story and even puts the abusive Slip Mahoney (Leo Gorcey) in his place a few times. The clever premise has Sach recruited by a team of U.N. scientists to take the place of a missing French scientist, Maurice Gaston Le Beau, who looks just like him. An all-expenses-paid trip to Paris follows, with Slip and soda shop proprietor Louie Dumbrowsky (Bernard Gorcey) going along for the ride (leaving the rest of the "Bowery Boys" in nothing more than walk-on roles). Once in Paris, the U.N. team disappears from the film, leaving poor Sach at the mercy of a corrupt pair (Steven Geray and John Wengraf) who've been told Le Beau has amnesia and who spend much of the film trying to jog his memory enough to recall the high-powered rocket fuel formula he'd invented.
Sach has the time of his life, adopting a broad French accent and making comic attempts to fit in with the high life Le Beau enjoyed, including fancy French cuisine ("Finger bowl? My favorite soup!"); kisses from Le Beau's attractive fiancée, Mimi (Veola Vonn); the attentions of a gaggle of Le Beau's female admirers; alcoholic concoctions at a sidewalk café (with Fritz Feld as the waiter!); and even putting on a beret, sitting at an easel and attempting a painting. The diminutive Louie even gets into the act and dresses up as "TouLouie-Lautrec." Even though the material is never as funny as it ought to be (a frequent problem with Bowery Boys comedies), Hall just runs with it and gives it his all, making for a very entertaining 62 minutes.
Things get even better when the real Dr. Le Beau (also played by Hall, of course) shows up after a South Seas vacation spent with a flock of "native" girls (who oblige him every time he says, "You may kiss me") and confronts all these strangers in his house. Some great farcical situations play out as Sach and Le Beau pop in and out of rooms without knowing the other is there and poor Louie and Slip are ordered about by the outraged Dr. Le Beau, followed by Sach coming in and gently asking what the matter is. Le Beau finally challenges Slip to a sword duel, broken up only when Sach enters and the truth is revealed. Eventually they all have to take on the bad guys who want the rocket fuel.
Hall is hilarious in these scenes as he plays grandly against type as the womanizing French scientist who is quite aggressive and quite put out by all the "foreigners" in his house, mixing French words with his English in a way that Sach could never hope to have achieved. Hall must have had a ball filming the scenes where he plays the real doctor. He was an actor with great comic gifts that were never fully utilized by his role as second banana to Gorcey in the East Side Kids and Bowery Boys series. He may have reveled in sharing top dog status with Gorcey at Monogram Pictures throughout the 1940s and '50s and he may have lived comfortably off of it (until it all ended), but I can't help but wonder how Hall's career might have turned out had he gotten the chance to work with some great comedy directors along the lines of Preston Sturges or Frank Tashlin, or any of the old hands who guided Bob Hope's comedies at Paramount during Hope's peak years. Don't get me wrong, I love Hall's work in these films and am grateful to have been exposed to so many of them on TV while growing up. It's just that he might have done even greater work under other circumstances.
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