Thursday, February 05, 2015

Tonight's Movie: It Happened in Hollywood (1937)

Richard Dix gives a charming performance as silent movie cowboy Tim Bart in IT HAPPENED IN HOLLYWOOD (1937).

Dix is simply delightful as the hero of countless American youngsters. When sound comes in and it's initially too challenging to shoot movies outdoors, Tim's studio, Perfect Pictures, pronounces Westerns dead. The folksy Tim is uncomfortable being pulled off his horse and into drawing rooms, giving stilted line readings, and his career may be at an end.

A sympathetic colleague gives Tim a break playing a gangster and Tim does quite well, but finds he cannot go through with completing the role and disappoint all the children who look up to him. After causing the film to shut down production, Tim is all washed up.

Meanwhile Tim's longtime leading lady, Gloria Gay (Fay Wray), initially makes the crossover into talkies but unbeknownst to Tim, her career later flounders also. Tim and Gloria have feelings for one another but they're both shy and reserved about admitting it, and their career issues during a tumultuous time in the industry make things even more awkward.

Tim must sell his huge ranch and is about to leave Hollywood for good when a little boy (Billy Burrud) he'd inspired on a hospital visit shows up at his door. Tim "borrows" back his ranch to throw the little boy a big party, where countless movie star stand-ins convince the boy they're seeing the actual stars.

An incident at the party puts Tim in the right place at the right time to be an offscreen hero, and the tremendous publicity leads Perfect Pictures to decide perhaps they're now ready to make sound Westerns after all.

This is such a sweet little movie, with Dix really wonderful as a very good man who loves what he does and also loves kids. I've called Dix "stolid" in the past but that couldn't be further from the truth here; this is the loosest performance I've seen him give. His happy, upbeat attitude is quite winning. In a word, he's terrific.

Likewise, Wray is perfectly cast as the lovely and lovestruck Gloria; I only wish she'd had more screen time.

I love older films in which Hollywood depicts Hollywood -- CRASHING HOLLYWOOD (1938) with Lee Tracy is another favorite of the era -- and this one has lots of great studio atmosphere. The on-set discussions seem a little more "real" and less exaggerated than in some other studio-set films, which is all to the good. The movie's perspective is also interesting in that it was shot just a handful of years after the transition from silents to sound, rather than decades later.

The party with the stand-ins is quite unique. It's obvious to the viewer that the actors seen aren't the real McCoy, but there are some good lookalikes and it's not inconceivable that a naive young boy would be dazzled by people who look "close enough" to the actual actors. Roughly 20 stand-ins appear, with some pretty good facsimiles of Harold Lloyd, Joe E. Brown, Loretta Young, and Charlie Chaplin, among others.

Child actor Billy Burrud, incidentally, is the very same Bill Burrud who would grow up to appear in nature programs on TV. His teary performance is a bit overwrought at times -- some of that is due to the dialogue -- but that's my only real complaint about the film.

The cast also includes Victor Kilian, Franklin Pangborn, Charles Arnt, Byron Foulger, and Granville Bates. Child actors seen in the film include Delmar and Bobs Watson, Scotty Beckett, and Sammy McKim.

IT HAPPENED IN HOLLYWOOD was directed by Harry Lachman; one of the film's three screenwriters was future director Samuel Fuller. The film was shot in black and white by Joseph Walker. It runs a fast 67 minutes.

IT HAPPENED IN HOLLYWOOD is available on DVD in a beautiful print as part of the The Samuel Fuller Collection. I've previously reviewed another film in the set, SHOCKPROOF (1949).

Richard Dix films previously reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: SKY GIANT (1938), TWELVE CROWDED HOURS (1939), MEN AGAINST THE SKY (1940), THE ROUNDUP (1941), and TOMBSTONE: THE TOWN TOO TOUGH TO DIE (1942).

For more on IT HAPPENED IN HOLLYWOOD, visit Cliff's 2012 post at Immortal Ephemera.


Blogger Maricatrin said...

Sounds like yet another film to put on my wish list. Thanks for the informative (and, as always, well-written!) review:-)

I haven't seen much of Dix's "lighter" side (another reason to check this one out), but I did notice that he's a pretty versatile actor from seeing his work in the Whistler films. Playing a different character in each one gave him opportunities to be good, conflicted, mad, or just plain evil.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for your kind words, Maricatrin, I'm delighted you enjoyed the review and have been enjoying the site.

I haven't yet seen the WHISTLER films so was interested to hear your thoughts on his performances in those films. More ahead to explore!

Best wishes,

2:04 PM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Oh, you're quite welcome; thank you for an excellent site (which I am enjoying very much.)

I think I've seen all the Whistler films at this point (I'm hopelessly mixed up on the titles, though), they are well made and I enjoyed them, but be forewarned that some are pretty grim. Dix is in all but The Return of the Whistler, the last Whistler movie... there! I remembered one title;-)

9:20 AM  

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