There's a minor subgenre of silents in which a small town full of country folks somehow supports a lavish speakeasy filled with hundreds of folks in tuxedos, until the country folks toss them out. This has some connection to 1920s reality, as little towns comfortably in the sticks suddenly found themselves a short drive from a big city by car, and easily corrupted by big city money; places like Cicero and Calumet City, Illinois became wholly owned subsidiaries of the Chicago mob, and even Southern Wisconsin, for instance, is dotted with roadhouses and "inns" boasting "Al Capone slept and gambled here." But we rarely if ever see the big city in movies like The Country Flapper, Delicious Little Devil, The Strong Man or The Boob; the tuxedo-wearing swells seem to generate spontaneously at night, like mushrooms.
The Boob is one of these tales and it suggests that by 1926, the subgenre was familiar enough that it could be kidded and caricatured along the way; the movie is full of broad, humor as well as a special effects dream sequence that seems to have walked straight in out of Winsor McCay's Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend. George K. Arthur is The Boob, Peter Good, whose girl May has fallen for the big city swell who runs the speakeasy (which, speaking of lavish, was apparently a redressed Ben-Hur set!). An old-timer teaches him the rudiments of being a rootin-tootin' gunslinger, he sets out after the speakeasy and its owner like Bill Hart in Hell's Hinges, and in a farcical manner reminiscent of The Strong Man, he does bring it down, if not exactly as he planned. If you doubt that The Strong Man was the model, note that Joan Crawford turns up in the decidedly thankless, if at least impressively feminist, role of a big city law enforcement agent whose bestowal of approval on Arthur helps him eventually win May over. Well, if'n a collige-edjicated gal like that thinks he's swell... Miss Crawford would like to speak to her agent please...
William Wellman, like John Ford, had a tendency toward both pious humbug (be sure to catch the jawdropping The Next Voice You Hear on TCM, which is like a Twilight Zone episode produced by the National Council of Churches) and breezy, wheezy cornpone humor-- how David Mamet, apostle of terse tough-guy dialogue, can see past the goofy swimming scene with Andy Devine and his kids in No Island in the Sky and rave about it as one of his favorite films is a mystery to me. Pious humbug is nowhere to be found here (though there is a rather sweetly sentimental subplot involving an elderly widow who Arthur sort of adopts at one point) but the broad humor is in full force. It works best in the sequence of Arthur riding to the rescue; normally that sort of sequence would be telescoped to a brief montage, but Wellman plays it out like he's Frodo bearing the ring, and the open air setting and Wellman's comfort in the outdoors is obvious and makes the gags go down more easily than on the studio sets. From here to a fine silent road movie drama, Beggars of Life, and two near-great early sound ones, Wild Boys of the Road and Heroes For Sale, is less of a jump than it seems at first.
I've now seen George K. Arthur in three prominent roles-- two solid comic ones, here and in Kiki, and a very touching dramatic one in Lady of the Night, and I can't figure out why he didn't have a long career as a supporting actor in talkies. His moon face and capable comic expressiveness ought to at least have ensured him George E. Stone's career, say, and given the tendency to cast him in serious parts (he stars in The Salvation Hunters as well) he clearly had range. He had the bad luck to be paired with Karl Dane, whose accent doomed his sound career, and sound no doubt would have revealed that the all-American lad was actually British, but it also seems that he drifted into other parts of showbiz, including producing on a somewhat low level (Army shows during World War II, later filler for television). Still, see him as Ronald Colman's butler conspiring against Norma Talmadge in Kiki and you'll see a sharp, intelligent sense of comic playing which should have sustained a bigger and longer career than it did.
We should respect the other fellow's religion, but only to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is attractive and his children intelligent. —H.L. Mencken