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Released ten months before the start of the United States' entry into World War II, Road Show (1941) was a musical comedy from legendary producer/director Hal Roach who had launched the careers of Laurel and Hardy and The Little Rascals, to name but a few. Road Show has the kind of zany humor that was very popular during the Great Depression the Screwball Comedy which involved very rich people behaving stupidly until brought down to Earth by an ordinary working man or woman.
Road Show was written by men who knew comedy: Eric Hatch, who wrote the original story in 1934 was something of an expert having also written the Oscar® nominated My Man Godfrey (1936) about an oddball rich girl who falls in love with a homeless man she finds during a scavenger hunt. Working on the screenplay was Harry Langdon, who had been a big star in the silent days before his ego and his inability to keep up with the change in audiences' tastes nearly ruined his career. Langdon would work for Hal Roach in later years as a comedy writer and gag man. Also working on Road Show with Roach were his son Hal, Jr., as co-director, and his daughter Margaret, who played Priscilla.
Road Show seems to have been placed on the back-burner for a few years, as a 1937 issue of The Hollywood Reporter announced that Lyda Roberti would be cast in the role of Penguin Moore. Roberti died suddenly of a heart attack in March 1938 at the age of 32 when she stooped to tie her shoe on Hollywood Boulevard. The part would go to Carole Landis, who Roach had given her first starring role the year before in One Million B.C. (1940).
The premise of Road Show has wacky millionaire Drogo Gaines [John Hubbard] pretend to have a nervous breakdown so he can get out of marrying a gold-digger. In revenge, she has him committed to an insane asylum. Gaines escapes with another patient and former millionaire Col. Carleton Carroway [Adolphe Menjou] in a rowboat and the two get picked up by Penguin Moore [Carole Landis], a beautiful carnival owner. The plot becomes more twisted as it goes along involving all sorts of mishaps involving lion taming, brawls, fires, and misunderstandings galore with the inevitable happy ending.
Bosley Crowther, in his February 19, 1941 review of the film, felt that Road Show did not live up to Hal Roach's name. "Any loud noises you might have heard emerging from the Rialto Theatre yesterday were in all probability the thwacking at the slapstick which is continuously applied in Hal Roach's new Road Show plus the occasional laughter of the customers. For Mr. Roach's latest comic effort, compounded out of madness and confusion, strives much harder to be funny than it actually is, and often its figurative flailings strike the funny-bone with little effect. In other words, the slapstick, in this instance, has the shape of a boomerang. And that is passing odd, for Mr. Roach, as everyone knows, is an old hand at farcical contrivance, and the story by Eric Hatch, from which the present film is incubated, provides ample scope for madcap fun. [...] Adolphe Menjou plays the charlatan as though his principal delusion were that he is John Barrymore-a delusion which is imparted to the audience with amusing consequence. Charles Butterworth appears briefly as a wealthy whack who keeps a garage full of fire engines as his favorite form of transportation....But somehow the humors have a way of flattening out before they explode, and most of them have no more point than that on the end of a club. An odd document was handed out to all critics entering the Rialto yesterday-a little something which was described as a "humor quotient certificate." By some queer method, it invited one to test the reaction of one's humor. Maybe we used it incorrectly, but, according to this yardstick, our sense of humor definitely did not measure up to Road Show. Or perhaps it was vice versa."
Producer: Hal Roach
Director: Hal Roach
Screenplay: Arnold Belgard, Harry Langdon, Mickell Novack, Eric Hatch (novel)
Cinematography: Norbert Brodine
Film Editing: Bert Jordan
Art Direction: Charles D. Hall
Music: George Stoll
Cast: Adolphe Menjou (Col. Carleton Carroway), Carole Landis (Penguin Moore), John Hubbard (Drogo Gaines), Charles Butterworth (Harry Whitman), Patsy Kelly (Jinx), George E. Stone (Indian).
by Lorraine LoBianco
The New York Times " Road Show , A Slapstick Farce, at the Rialto", Feburary 19, 1941
The Internet Movie Database