Monday, February 02, 2015

Tonight's Movie: To Beat the Band (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

TO BEAT THE BAND (1935) is the second film in an RKO Johnny Mercer double bill just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

TO BEAT THE BAND was released a few months after the previously reviewed movie in the set, OLD MAN RHYTHM (1935). Both films feature a score with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, who also sings on screen.

TO BEAT THE BAND is a black comedy about Hugo (Hugh Herbert) who is informed by a lawyer (Helen Broderick) that he stands to inherit $59 million from his late aunt -- but he must marry a widow within three days. This is a problem as Hugo is engaged to the much younger Rowena (Phyllis Brooks, seen at right).

Hugo cooks up a plan to marry off Rowena to the suicidal Larry (Roger Pryor), who will then do himself in, leaving the widowed Rowena available to immediately marry Hugo while ensuring he can collect the money.

If Hugo doesn't marry in the allotted time, the money will instead be given to a band headed by Fred Carson (Fred Keating), and the band members (including Mercer) thus do everything in their power to keep Larry alive so that Rowena won't be an eligible widow. Larry and Rowena, meanwhile, fall in love.

The plot would be distasteful if it weren't handled so unseriously; it's a very flimsy film, with the chief drawbacks being the two leading men: That "cinematic toothache," the tiresome Hugh Herbert, and Roger Pryor, who is even more uncharismatic here than in the recently viewed BULLETS FOR O'HARA (1941). It's hard to imagine what the executives who cast the film were thinking.

While I'd class this film as strictly for fans of Mercer and RKO, it's quite a nice "bonus" to have it included on the disc with OLD MAN RHYTHM, and the film does have its compensations, starting with the rare opportunity to see Mercer onscreen; the always-funny Helen Broderick and Eric Blore, both appearing in this in between their appearances in the Astaire-Rogers classics TOP HAT (1935) and SWING TIME (1936); and the fabulous RKO set design by Van Nest Polglase, filmed in gleaming black and white by Nicholas Musuraca.

Some of the younger players are holdovers from the cast of OLD MAN RHYTHM, including Evelyn Poe, Joy Hodges, Ronald Graham, Sonny Lamont, and Lynne Carver, who can be spotted in the back row of the girls' orchestra.

TO BEAT THE BAND was directed by Benjamin Stoloff. It runs 67 minutes.

TO BEAT THE BAND, like OLD MAN RHYTHM, is a lovely print. The films in this Warner Archive set share a one-sided disc. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD set. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Roger Pryor AND Hugh Herbert? I fear that not even my fondness for Johnny Mercer could convince me to dive into this one.

6:14 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

LOL! I wonder, were tastes that different in the '30s, or were they hard to watch even then?

Best wishes,

10:27 AM  

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