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Before producer Samuel Goldwyn teamed with Danny Kaye for a series of popular musical comedies, Goldwyn had worked in a similar vein with Eddie Cantor as his star. United Artists' Strike Me Pink (1936) is the sixth and last of the Goldwyn-Cantor collaborations and has the added distinction of featuring 27-year-old Ethel Merman in an early film appearance. Merman previously had appeared with Cantor in Goldwyn's Kid Millions (1934).
Strike Me Pink was developed from a Saturday Evening Post story and novel by Clarence Budington Kelland. In a role for which Goldwyn had originally wanted Harold Lloyd, the banjo-eyed Cantor is Eddie Pink, a mild-mannered laundromat worker who takes a "Man or Mouse?" mail-order course in assertiveness. He soon finds himself the manager of Dreamland, an amusement park plagued by a gang of slot-machine racketeers headed by Vance (Brian Donlevy).
Despite the presence of an attractive secretary (Sally Eilers, a former Mack Sennett "bathing beauty"), Eddie has a big crush on famous nightclub singer Joyce Lennox (Merman). To get Eddie to agree to his terms, Vance involves Joyce in a fake murder. Matters are resolved in a climactic chase at the amusement park that involves a rollercoaster and hot-air balloon and recalls slapstick silent comedies.
Among the actors playing comic hoodlums are William Frawley of later I Love Lucy fame, Jack La Rue, Charles McAvoy and Edward Brophy. Also in the supporting cast are Gordon Jones and Sidney Fields, both of whom would later play recurring characters on Bud Abbott and Lou Costello's popular television show of the early 1950s.
The musical score by Harold Arlen and Lew Brown includes Cantor in the elaborate production number "The Lady Dances"; Merman performing "First You Have Me High" and "Shake It Off With Rhythm," accompanied on the latter tune by tap dancer Sunnie O'Dea, whose reflection on the shiny dance floor appears to have a mind of its own; and Cantor and Merman teaming on "Calabash Pipe."
"First You Have Me High" is given an unusual staging in a Harlem setting where Merman is all but motionless and the camera provides the movement with constantly changing angles. "Calabash Pipe," performed on a Ferris wheel, features a dream sequence in which the two costars become a middle-aged farm couple from horse-and-buggy days. For once in a Goldwyn/Cantor movie, Cantor does not perform in blackface.
Although the choreographer for Strike Me Pink is Robert Alton, several overhead shots during the production numbers recall the intricate styling of Busby Berkeley, who had choreographed the earlier Cantor movie musicals Whoopee! (1930), Palmy Days (1931) and The Kid from Spain (1932).
Cantor (1892-1964) continued to appear in movies through 1952, although with lessening frequency. He was the subject of a film biography, The Eddie Cantor Story (1953), and was given an honorary Oscar® in 1956 for "distinguished service to the film industry." Merman (1908-1984) would perform in four more films of the 1930s before returning to movies as a full-fledged star in an adaptation of one of her stage hits, Call Me Madam, in 1953.
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: Norman Taurog
Screenplay: Walter DeLeon, Francis Martin, Frank Butler, Philip Rapp (additional dialogue), from Clarence Budington Kelland novel Dreamland (uncredited)
Cinematography: Merritt Gerstad, Gregg Toland (dances and ensemble numbers)
Art Direction: Richard Day
Original Music: Harold Arlen
Editing: Sherman Todd
Costume Design: Omar Kiam
Choreography: Robert Alton
Cast: Eddie Cantor (Eddie Pink), Ethel Merman (Joyce Lennox), Sally Eilers (Claribel Higg), Harry Parke (Parkyakarkus), William Frawley (Mr. Copple), Helen Lowell (Hattie "Ma" Carson), Gordon Jones (Butch Carson).
by Roger Fristoe