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Road Show

Road Show(1941)

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One of the more recent curios from the Hal Roach Studios archives to have surfaced on DVD courtesy of Image Entertainment is Road Show (1941), an odd little screwball scenario peppered with low-end production numbers. One of the last projects that the great film comedy impresario personally helmed before his entry into the armed services and the commandeering of his production facilities for the creation of military training reels, it bears some intriguing elements, if not wearing particularly well as a whole.

As adapted from the novel by My Man Godfrey scribe Eric Hatch, the screenplay opens with marriage-phobic millionaire Drogo Gaines (John Hubbard) faking a nervous breakdown at the altar. His mortified, gold-digging fiancee (Polly Ann Young) decides that if she can't get commitment from him, she'd get commitment for him, and arranges an indefinite stay at the sanitarium. Unable to sell the doctors on his sanity, Drogo makes an ally out of fellow inmate Col. Carleton Carroway (Adolphe Menjou), an affable coot extolling the dubious virtues of his pre-Polaroid instant camera.

Availing themselves of the Colonel's long-sequestered escape route, the pair hitch a ride with a traveling carnival owned by a tough and gorgeous aerialist answering to Penguin Moore (Carole Landis). After finagling their way into staying on with the show as hands, Drogo has to deal with the multiple challenges of preserving his freedom, proving his worth to the skeptical Penguin, and surreptitiously bailing the willful ringmistress out of financial straits. All the threads wind up getting happily resolved in the course of a climactic fire engine chase.

Helping to move the hodgepodge along are assorted original, if lower-tier, compositions by Hoagy Carmichael (Calliope Jane, Yum! Yum!) as delivered by the Charioteers and Roach's daughter Margaret. The supporting cast is peppered with regulars from the Roach lot. Some contributions are more welcome than others, with Charles Butterworth as the Colonel's only slightly less loopy nephew being evidence of the former, and Patsy Kelly, shrill even by her standards as the medicine show barker, evidence of the latter.

The film offers up a nice showcase for Landis, a luminous presence who seldom found opportunities in more prestigious vehicles, and who sadly took her own life at age 29 in the wake of multiple professional and personal setbacks, capped by the end of an affair with Rex Harrison. Hubbard is serviceable as the hapless Drogo, but no more than that; Menjou is effective as the charming Southern eccentric. Ultimately, the best that can be said for Road Showis that it's a shade more memorable than the bulk of the cost-efficient programmers that marked the twilight years of the Roach era.

The DVD itself is bereft of extras, with the most added value represented by the lobby card reproductions offered up in the insert. The video presentation is full screen; the original 35mm nitrate positive master source isn't quite pristine, but certainly better than one would expect given the film's relative obscurity. Similarly, the mono soundtrack has a fair amount of hiss, but not so much as to detract from the presentation.

For more information about Road Show, visit Image Entertainment. To order Road Show, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jay S. Steinberg