The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

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The Blackbird
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The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by The Blackbird » Tue Sep 06, 2011 5:41 pm

What is their best film? I've seen most of them and am leaning towards DIPLOMANIACS, with THE NITWITS, GIRL CRAZY and CRACKED NUTS following behind...

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Tue Sep 06, 2011 6:02 pm

I am no great W&W fan, finding Diplomaniacs mildly amusing and most of the rest falling short of that, so this surely counts as an atypical opinion, but it was entirely to my surprise when I had this to say after a Cinevent screening a couple of years back:
COCKEYED CAVALIERS (***) Years ago, a friend kept showing me Wheeler & Woolsey movies, in hopes I’d warm to them like he had. I think I laughed once in all, at Diplomaniacs. Somehow I never saw this one, which (like Laurel & Hardy’s The Devil’s Brother) puts the comedians into 17th century costume-- but it proves a miraculous transformation, giving W&W the ability (like Bugs Bunny) to simultaneously be part of a historical fantasy, and to comment on it and send it up. Throw in Thelma Todd and Noah Beery (bringing back fond memories of his musical numbers in The Golden Dawn) and there are plenty of bemused, self-aware historical laughs.
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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by mndean » Tue Sep 06, 2011 6:05 pm

The Blackbird wrote:What is their best film? I've seen most of them and am leaning towards DIPLOMANIACS, with THE NITWITS, GIRL CRAZY and CRACKED NUTS following behind...
Not a bad list. I favor Peach O' Reno (though Zelma O'Neal isn't as fun as she was at Paramount), and Hips, Hips, Hooray would be shoved in my list. I suppose we should cue the "I hate W&W" fan club, they should be here shortly. :mrgreen:

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by drednm » Tue Sep 06, 2011 6:36 pm

Well I love Jobyna Howland, a staple of W&W films, but my favorite W&W has to be Rio Rita. John Boles and Bebe Daniels are terrific, and the "Sweetheart, We Need Each Other" number with Bert Wheeler and Dorothy Lee is just about perfection.
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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by Joe Migliore » Tue Sep 06, 2011 7:16 pm

I've always liked KENTUCKY KERNELS, though if I'm honest, it is Spanky McFarland more than Wheeler or Woolsey who leaves the biggest impression in that film.

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by Richard Finegan » Wed Sep 07, 2011 3:38 am

This is very tough. How do I pick just one?
So, I won't.

These are all roughly tied as favorites:
Diplomaniacs (1933)
Hips, Hips Hooray! (1934)
Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934)
Oh Oh Cleopatra (1931) - short.
So This Is Africa (1933)
Half Shot At Sunrise (1930)
The Cuckoos (1930) - included because I like the non-W & W parts so much in addition of course, to W & W.

Very good, too, but not quite making the above list:
Peach-O-Reno (1932)
Cracked Nuts (1931)
Kentucky Kernels (1934)
The Nitwits (1935)
Hold 'Em Jail (1932)
Caught Plastered (1931)
Hook, Line and Sinker (1930)

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Jim Roots
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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by Jim Roots » Wed Sep 07, 2011 6:06 am

As far as I'm concerned, "The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question" is: when the *&%^(% is someone going to release a complete set of their films with captioning on DVD?

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by Ian Elliot » Wed Sep 07, 2011 8:14 am

For me HOLD 'EM JAIL is out in front for being consistently funny. Though I admire the spirit of outrageousness all through DIPLOMANIACS it doesn't work nearly as well for me. I saw PEACH O'RENO with a large audience, and it went over wildly, making me think all their pictures ought to be seen that way.

This may not be a welcome or original observation, but it took me quite a while to warm up to Robert Woolsey, he's a more than competent actor but seemed to me a somewhat derivative comic, but it's a seediness appropriate to the character. And he's a marvelous eccentric dancer, I'm always watching him in their numbers.

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by gjohnson » Wed Sep 07, 2011 10:22 am

As a team their parts are greater than their whole, so I enjoy all of their films (and they cranked out a lot in almost a decade) for those moments when their eccentric stage mannerisms rise to the top, when they perform routines which play almost as funny as they sound and whenever they break into song and dance (with or without Miss Lee).

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by precode » Thu Sep 08, 2011 12:35 am

Ian Elliot wrote:For me HOLD 'EM JAIL is out in front for being consistently funny. Though I admire the spirit of outrageousness all through DIPLOMANIACS it doesn't work nearly as well for me. I saw PEACH O'RENO with a large audience, and it went over wildly, making me think all their pictures ought to be seen that way.
I agree. JAIL and PEACH are my two faves, with maybe CAVALIERS third and NUTS and AFRICA just behind.

There's a great Screen Snapshot with W&W on the set of HALF-SHOT AT SUNRISE. Woolsey calls over Ralph Spence and tells him he thinks it will be the funniest picture ever, but then asks, "What can we do to make it even funnier?" Retorts Spence, "Get Laurel and Hardy."

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by Ray Faiola » Thu Sep 08, 2011 7:02 am

I'm planning on running a W&W film for our next April Fools Guest Star month at our Sons of the Desert tent. I think only one of our members has ever seen a W&W film. It will be very interesting to see the reaction. I have a few months to decide on which one to run (I have them all in 16mm except SO THIS IS AFRICA).

Has anyone ever seen a 16mm print of SO THIS IS AFRICA?? I have a crummy DVD (about 4th generation) from some cablecast and the Super 8 Sound abridgment.
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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by FrankFay » Thu Sep 08, 2011 8:20 am

Ray Faiola wrote:I'm planning on running a W&W film for our next April Fools Guest Star month at our Sons of the Desert tent. I think only one of our members has ever seen a W&W film. It will be very interesting to see the reaction. I have a few months to decide on which one to run (I have them all in 16mm except SO THIS IS AFRICA).

I'd go with DIPLOMANIACS. I think Hips, Hips, Hooray and Cockeyed Cavaliers are better, but Diplomaniacs has so much going on, and so many throwaway gags, that it's a good film for a crowd. It's kinda slow in the beginning but once W&W get off the indian reservation it gets crazy.
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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by CoffeeDan » Thu Sep 08, 2011 4:22 pm

Jim Roots wrote:As far as I'm concerned, "The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question" is: when the *&%^(% is someone going to release a complete set of their films with captioning on DVD?

Jim
About three years ago, someone asked that very question in an online chat with the people from Warner Home Video on the Home Theater Forum. They replied that, while they were aware of the demand for Wheeler & Woolsey, the elements for most of their films were in such bad shape that major restoration work would have to be done before they appeared on DVD. Apparently, PEACH O'RENO and GIRL CRAZY must have been in better shape than most, because they are now available in a 2-disc set from the Warner Archive.

UPDATE: More good news from Warner Archive on their Facebook page this past Tuesday: "We're working on some of [Wheeler & Woolsey's] best right at the moment. We hope their many fans will be pleased with the results of our efforts."
Last edited by CoffeeDan on Sat Sep 10, 2011 12:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by The Blackbird » Thu Sep 08, 2011 4:22 pm

precode wrote:
Ian Elliot wrote:For me HOLD 'EM JAIL is out in front for being consistently funny. Though I admire the spirit of outrageousness all through DIPLOMANIACS it doesn't work nearly as well for me. I saw PEACH O'RENO with a large audience, and it went over wildly, making me think all their pictures ought to be seen that way.
I agree. JAIL and PEACH are my two faves, with maybe CAVALIERS third and NUTS and AFRICA just behind.

There's a great Screen Snapshot with W&W on the set of HALF-SHOT AT SUNRISE. Woolsey calls over Ralph Spence and tells him he thinks it will be the funniest picture ever, but then asks, "What can we do to make it even funnier?" Retorts Spence, "Get Laurel and Hardy."

Mike S.

Ohh - WHOA - ooh...!!!

I'm pleased to see Bert & Bob getting so much positive feedback here. For sure, few would argue these two ever surpass, or even equal, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello (but what I wouldn't give to see somebody attempt it), but there can be much to enjoy in their pictures. Watching Wheeler abruptly going into a trance and turn kleptomaniac at regular intervals in COCKEYED CAVALIERS, or Woolsey treating his own hypnotic abilities like a super-power or attempting to sell Wheeler out to a lynch mob so he won't have to pay him the cab fare he owes him in GIRL CRAZY and it's difficult not to be charmed by them.

They were steeped in the training of vaudeville, so your view of them may depend on your opinion of vaudeville. Perhaps their big weakness in comparison with the other teams is their characters are not as well-defined and their routines lack the signature stamp of "Who's on First?" or "Why a Duck?" We'll never know if they would have given Abbott and Costello some lowbrow competition during the war, but it's easy to imagine.

DIPLOMANIACS has the same strength DUCK SOUP does, ie. it doesn't care what it's doing. Unlike DUCK SOUP, you'll never see this film reach the same level of universal appeal because it's so "politically incorrect," though the various sterotypes seen here are so patently exaggeratted and deliberately stupid you come to realize it's all part of the overall madness of the movie.

I always feel sad watching a desperately sick Woolsey struggling gamely to keep going in his last film HIGH FLYERS. Watching him closely you can tell he's not well, his face painfully drawn. He's surprisingly spry in his one dance number with Lupe Velez, though, ironically the last scene he ever filmed.

On YouTube you can check out some footage of Wheeler doing his thing on television in the 1950's, using Jackie Gleason and Pat Boone as straight men. It's touching to read of Dorothy Lee's remembering how Bert was like an uncle to her own kids in later years.

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by FrankFay » Thu Sep 08, 2011 5:34 pm

I like the clip of Wheeler with Pat Boone- he's sharp as a tack and plays the "doddering old Vaudevillian" bit beautifully. He probably was more comfortable with live audiences than on the screen.
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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by Jim Roots » Fri Sep 09, 2011 6:32 am

CoffeeDan wrote:
Jim Roots wrote:As far as I'm concerned, "The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question" is: when the *&%^(% is someone going to release a complete set of their films with captioning on DVD?

Jim
About three years ago, someone asked that very question in an online chat with the people from Warner Home Video on the Home Theater Forum. They replied that, while they were aware of the demand for Wheeler & Woolsey, the elements for most of their films were in such bad shape that major restoration work would have to be done before they appeared on DVD. Apparently, PEACH O'RENO and GIRL CRAZY must have been in better shape than most, because they are now available in a 2-disc set from the Warner Archive.
Yeah, but Warner Archives releases are never captioned.

Jim

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by gjohnson » Fri Sep 09, 2011 8:34 am

The Blackbird wrote: DIPLOMANIACS has the same strength DUCK SOUP does, ie. it doesn't care what it's doing. Unlike DUCK SOUP, you'll never see this film reach the same level of universal appeal because it's so "politically incorrect,"
And DUCK SOUP is......?

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by FrankFay » Fri Sep 09, 2011 8:56 am

gjohnson wrote:
The Blackbird wrote: DIPLOMANIACS has the same strength DUCK SOUP does, ie. it doesn't care what it's doing. Unlike DUCK SOUP, you'll never see this film reach the same level of universal appeal because it's so "politically incorrect,"
And DUCK SOUP is......?
an anarchic classic beloved of film critics.
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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by didi-5 » Sat Sep 10, 2011 6:29 am

I have them all except Cleopatra but like some more than others - my ranking would be:

- Peach O'Reno. Hilarious, especially Bert's drag act.
- Diplomaniacs. Underrated and a lot of fun.
- Cockeyed Cavaliers. For Thelma Todd as well as the boys.
- Hips Hips Hooray. Good song and a glimpse of Ruth Etting!
- The Rainmakers. Not as bad as I feared.
- Rio Rita. Bebe is wonderful.
- Half Shot at Sunrise. Rather risque.
- So This Is Africa. Cut to shreds I know but very good.
- On Again Off Again. Their last really good film.
- Hook, Line and Sinker. Entertaining.
- Girl Crazy. Despite the presence of Mitzi Green.
- Caught Plastered. Has its moments.
- The Cuckoos. For the finale.
- Hold 'Em Jail. For Edna May and a young Betty Grable.
- Cracked Nuts. OK.
- Dixiana. Mainly for Bebe and Bert and Dorothy's duet.
- Silly Billies. OK.
- The Nitwits. For Betty Grable but Bert is showing his age here.
- Mummy's Boys. Dreadful puns.
- High Flyers. Only worth watching for the Chaplin routine.

Have I missed any?
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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by FrankFay » Sat Sep 10, 2011 7:09 am

Their bit in THE STOLEN JOOLS is a little gem- a nicely polished routine that stands out where the other star cameos are inconsequential or silly (Though of course I have a soft spot for the duo of Frank Fay and his wife Barbara Stanwyck)

Here they are saying Good Bye, from THE CUCKOOS. I don't know how much is due to restoration, but this is some of the best early Technicolor I've ever seen.
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The Great Mitzi & Harry Question

Unread post by Richard Finegan » Sat Sep 10, 2011 8:09 am

didi-5 wrote:I have them all except Cleopatra but like some more than others - my ranking would be:

- Girl Crazy. Despite the presence of Mitzi Green.
Speaking of Mitzi Green, I have a question about her.
Looking recently through a 1930 "Motion Picture Herald" I saw a statement that she is the daughter of Harry Green. I must say I had NEVER heard that before nor had it even ever occurred to me that they might be related. It's not that uncommon a last name.
I haven't got around to doing any further research into either of their biographies to prove or disprove it, but I sincerely doubt it.
Has anyone ever heard of this possibility?

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by FrankFay » Sat Sep 10, 2011 9:02 am

That's just a publicists puff. According to IMDB Harry Green's real name was Henry Bitzer and Mitzi Green was born Elizabeth Keno. The only relationship they share was that he was born in Brooklyn and she in the Bronx.

BTW- anyone who thinks Mitzi Green couldn't act should watch NEWLY RICH.

For those who want to see a very different Mitzi Green here she is (the blond one) dancing with Mitzi Gaynor in 1952

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by Richard P. May » Sat Sep 10, 2011 9:59 am

I never thought I'd be participating in this thread, but seeing the color section of THE CUCKOOS, and Eric's comment on the quality of the color brought back the memory of its restoration. At the time Turner acquired the RKO Library (1988) we found that someone at RKO had stashed away the original 2-color (NOT 2-strip) negatives of this picture, as well as DIXIANA.
Restoration from these negatives to modern color film was done at YCM Laboratory, and you can see here (at least on the small image) the quality that could be obtained when having the first generation film element to work with.
Most of the time, when we see a surviving 2-color Technicolor presentation, it has been copied from a print, which causes a lot of detail to be lost.
If anyone gets a chance, try to see the last 30 minutes of DIXIANA, which has the same quality.
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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by mndean » Sat Sep 10, 2011 12:34 pm

FrankFay wrote:That's just a publicists puff. According to IMDB Harry Green's real name was Henry Bitzer and Mitzi Green was born Elizabeth Keno. The only relationship they share was that he was born in Brooklyn and she in the Bronx.

BTW- anyone who thinks Mitzi Green couldn't act should watch NEWLY RICH.

For those who want to see a very different Mitzi Green here she is (the blond one) dancing with Mitzi Gaynor in 1952

Oh, do you mean Forbidden Adventure? :mrgreen: She was a pretty good kid actor (no young Frankie Darro, though) with a bad shtick, although I admit some of her imitations were quite good. I found her alright in Dude Ranch, also.

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by FrankFay » Sat Sep 10, 2011 12:58 pm

I've seen that picture with both names, and don't know which takes first place LOL

Yes, she does have quite a bit of bad shtick, though to be fair I'd put most of the blame on the writers who gave it to her. When she gets a chance she's actually quite good, and certainly has more range than Jackie Searle who did variations on whiny.

I've always enjoyed Green's throaty and slightly malicious chuckle.
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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by brook » Sat Sep 10, 2011 4:37 pm

I haven't been able to see all of Wheeler & Woolsey's films yet, but of the ones I've seen, it would have to be three way tie between Cockeyed Cavaliers, Hips Hips Hooray, and Diplomanics. Although, there's always something fun to see in any of their films, so I always enjoy watching the duo (even in a lesser film like The Rainmakers).
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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by mndean » Sat Sep 10, 2011 10:23 pm

FrankFay wrote:I've seen that picture with both names, and don't know which takes first place LOL

Yes, she does have quite a bit of bad shtick, though to be fair I'd put most of the blame on the writers who gave it to her. When she gets a chance she's actually quite good, and certainly has more range than Jackie Searle who did variations on whiny.

I've always enjoyed Green's throaty and slightly malicious chuckle.
I like seeing Searl get the worst of it from Green. I laughed hard at her shoving him overboard in Finn And Hattie, with that pleased-with-herself smile. Come to think of it, I laughed pretty hard at Alison Skipworth getting her five pound note back from him in A Lady's Profession. Maybe I enjoy seeing he gets the worst of it, period.

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Re: The Great Mitzi and Harry Question

Unread post by Richard Finegan » Sun Sep 11, 2011 2:07 am

FrankFay wrote: (Regarding the 1930 Motion Picture Herald item claiming that Mitzi Green was daughter of Harry Green):
That's just a publicists puff...
I'd have expected such publicist fiction from some fan magazine, but not from a Trade Paper like The Motion Picture Herald.

But thanks for looking up that bio info on Mitzi and Harry.
And for the nice YouTube clip.

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by IA » Mon Sep 12, 2011 11:39 am

Peach O'Reno also gets my vote as top-drawer W&W. The highlight involves Wheeler in drag uttering a line that will shock anyone unused to pre-code comedy.

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Re: The Great Wheeler and Woolsey Question

Unread post by BixB » Mon Sep 12, 2011 12:54 pm

Richard P. May wrote:Restoration from these negatives to modern color film was done at YCM Laboratory, and you can see here (at least on the small image) the quality that could be obtained when having the first generation film element to work with.
Most of the time, when we see a surviving 2-color Technicolor presentation, it has been copied from a print, which causes a lot of detail to be lost.
If anyone gets a chance, try to see the last 30 minutes of DIXIANA, which has the same quality.

Both look great but, I think the color footage from DIXIANA looks even better. In fact I'd call it the finest surviving example of the two color process I've ever seen. The same might be said of FOLLOW THRU as it was restored from original negative as well by YCM, but as I've only seen it through the haze of a multi generational VHS, I can only assume.
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