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Hips, Hips, Hooray!

Hips, Hips, Hooray!(1934)

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teaser Hips, Hips, Hooray! (1934)

Miss Frisby and her assistant, the oily Armand, are struggling to keep their cosmetics firm Maiden America Beauty Products from going bankrupt. Armand, however, is a corporate spy working for a rival cosmetics firm; his promotional schemes are deliberately intended to drive Miss Frisby's firm out of business. Daisy Maxwell, one of the firm's salesgirls, has befriended a pair of fly-by-night traveling salesmen, Andy Williams and Dr. Bob Dudley, who work the sidewalk across the street hawking flavored lipstick. Duped by Dudley's claims of wealth, Daisy urges her boss Miss Frisby to take the salesmen on as partners. To pull off the scheme, Williams and Dudley trick Mr. Clark, an investment banker, into leaving his office temporarily so they can pass it off as their own. When Mr. Clark returns, he discovers that they have switched his bag full of securities with their flavored lipsticks, and hires a pair of private detectives to track them down. When they learn about the accusation - the switch was in fact accidental - Williams and Dudley are dismayed to discover that the securities have been stolen. While fleeing the detectives, they wind up in a madcap cross-country auto race in which Maiden America and the rival firms are competing for promotional purposes.

Hips, Hips, Hooray! (1934) is one of two films that Thelma Todd made with comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey; the other is Cockeyed Cavaliers, released the same year. At this point in her career, Todd had appeared with some of the biggest names in screen comedy: Charlie Chase, Harry Langdon, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and The Marx Brothers. Afterwards, she would appear in some two-reelers with Patsy Kelly and one more Laurel and Hardy feature - Bohemian Girl (1935, released 1936) - before her untimely death in 1935. She made an ideal comic partner thanks to her good looks and her unflinching enthusiasm for going along with absurd comic stunts.

The success of RKO's Wheeler and Woolsey films helped secure the studio's fortunes; the comedy team's films remained popular through the Thirties, though their reputation as an RKO mainstay would be eclipsed by King Kong (1933) and the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals. While a teenager, Robert Woolsey (1889-1938) worked as a jockey in order to support his family; he then switched to acting and played at various regional theaters before moving to Broadway in 1919. Bert Wheeler (1895-1968) started acting as a young boy and played the vaudeville circuit with his wife. Wheeler and Woolsey first played together in Florenz Ziegfeld's smash 1927 Broadway hit, Rio Rita. For the 1929 film produced by RKO, they were brought in to reprise their roles. Thanks to that film's success, the duo made 21 features together before Woolsey's untimely death in 1938. In 13 of those films, Wheeler and Woolsey teamed up with the vivacious Dorothy Lee, who typically played Wheeler's love interest.

Plot was never the strong point of Wheeler and Woolsey films; rather, it provides the pretext for some delightfully anarchic gags. In this respect, perhaps the high point of Hips, Hips, Hooray! is the sequence where, having taken over Mr. Clark's office, Williams (Wheeler) and Dudley (Woolsey) invite Daisy (Lee) and Miss Frisby (Todd) inside and the four break into the song "Just Keep On What You're Doin'." While the interplay between Wheeler and Dorothy Lee is sweetly innocent, Thelma Todd proceeds to tear off Woolsey's clothes in a manner which could only have survived the censors before the Production Code crackdown took effect in July of 1934 (the film was released in February). The sequence culminates in the gleefully choreographed destruction of the entire office. Mark Sandrich, one of the best directors at RKO during this time, allowed the actors a great deal of improvisatory latitude both on this film and on Cockeyed Cavaliers, making them Wheeler and Woolsey's most entertaining vehicles. Indeed, Sandrich's fluid direction in Hips, Hips, Hooray! points the way toward much his greater achievements in the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals, starting with The Gay Divorcee (1934). Similarly, this film is enriched by the airy Art Deco sets of Van Nest Polglase and Carroll Clark; Walter Plunkett's costumes give Thelma Todd an improbable degree of glamour for a comedienne.

Wheeler and Woolsey may have been one of RKO's top box office attractions for a while, but they were never darlings of the critics. The reviewer for The New York Times wrote: "Those who admire the comic gifts of the cigar-smoking Woolsey and the cherub-faced Wheeler will find their faith nourished by the usual sum of ponderous jocosities. The mirth of the Roxy's audience yesterday at the irresistible humors of the team was not, in all candor, wild and uncontrollable." The reviewer for Variety wrote: "Not too exacting lovers of stale jokes may forgive this one's transgressions, but they'll probably be in the minority. For general appeal it has little else besides a generous display of hotcha femininity in various forms of peek-a-boo dress or undress." Still, Hips, Hips, Hooray! remains an enjoyable entry in the Wheeler and Woolsey canon thanks to talented production crew and cast that surrounds the comedy team - not least among them Thelma Todd.

Director: Mark Sandrich
Producer: Merion C. Cooper
Screenplay: Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar, Edward Kaufman
Music and Lyrics: Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby
Photography: David Abel
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase and Carroll Clark
Costumes: Walter Plunkett
Editing: Basil Wrangell
Principal cast: Bert Wheeler (Andy Williams); Robert Woolsey (Dr. Bob Dudley); Thelma Todd (Miss Frisby); Dorothy Lee (Daisy Maxwell); George Meeker (Armand Beauchamp); Phyllis Barry (Madame Irene); James Burtis (Epstein); Matt Briggs (Sweeney); Spencer Charters (Mr. Clark); Ruth Etting (as herself).

by James Steffen

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