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Hal Roach Studios (Spotlight)
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Broadway Limited

Hal Roach tried to launch a new star with his 1941 farce Broadway Limited only to discover what most of Hollywood already knew: Stars aren't made, they're born. But he still came up with a spirited comedy that provided a nice showcase for some of Hollywood's best comic sidekicks. He even launched another Hollywood stalwart, though it wasn't a human one.

The star Roach tried to create was Marjorie Woodworth, a blonde beauty he was grooming to become the next Jean Harlow. After a few walk-ons, she had signed with Hal Roach Productions, where she started out with a supporting role in 1941's Road Show, which also featured Broadway Limited co-stars Patsy Kelly and George E. Stone. She followed with her first leading role, as a rising star riding the "Broadway Limited" from Chicago to New York. Her producer (Leonid Kinskey) arranges to borrow a baby for a publicity stunt, only to get them all implicated in a high-speed kidnapping investigation.

To provide the right setting for his new star, Roach surrounded her with experienced comic players like Oscar®-winner Victor McLaglen (Best Actor, The Informer, 1935), as the railroad engineer who helps find the baby, Kelly as the producer's secretary, ZaSu Pitts as the president of Woodworth's fan club and Stone as a mystery man with eyes on Woodworth and the baby. Kelly and Pitts were Roach regulars, having co-starred at different times with Thelma Todd in a series of popular comic shorts. Former vaudevillian Stone had worked steadily in films since playing the Sewer Rat in Seventh Heaven in 1927, most notably as New York street types. He would be best remembered as The Runt, the comic side kick he started playing in the Boston Blackie films that year.

Leading man Dennis O'Keefe may have had a Roach connection of his own, though some sources question reports that as a teenager he contributed gags to Roach's "Our Gang" shorts. More recently, he had been working his way up to supporting roles, mostly in low-budget pictures, with a special knack for breakneck farce.

And that's just what Broadway Limited was. In its tidy 75-minute running time, the baby changed hands numerous times as Woodworth and her entourage tried to dodge suspected kidnappers and federal agents. The New York Times critic noted that "...the various characters fly wildly about, as if Donald Duck were behind them." Unfortunately, it also noted that the film seemed a little too similar to Twentieth Century (1934), which had involved John Barrymore and Carole Lombard in a similarly speedy train ride to much better effect. That unfortunate comparison did a great deal to damage Broadway Limited's critical reception.

As a result, Woodworth's career never took off. The Times critic noted, "For the record, this film marks the emergence of the widely-heralded Miss Marjorie Woodworth as a leading lady. For the record only; no other reason." Although praised for her figure, which was amply displayed in various degrees of undress, Woodworth did not make a strong impression on moviegoers. Roach continued to star her in his comic films for three years, after which she moved on to smaller roles at other studios before fading from sight.

More enduring was the career of the steam engine used in the film. Roach had secured the cooperation of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the principal locomotive featured on screen proved so photogenic that it kept turning up in films for decades afterwards, most notably as an historical engine in the turn-of-the-century set for Hello, Dolly! (1969). In the '70s, it was finally retired, but remains on display in the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

Producer: Hal Roach
Director: Gordon Douglas
Screenplay: Rian James
Cinematography: Henry Sharp
Score: Charles Previn Art Direction: Nicolai Remisoff Principal Cast: Victor McLaglen (Mike), Marjorie Woodworth (April), Dennis O'Keefe (Dr. Harvey North), Patsy Kelly (Patsy), ZaSu Pitts (Myra), Leonid Kinskey (Ivan), George E. Stone (Lefty), Eddie Acuff (Engineer's Assistant), George Chandler (Photographer at Train), Gibson Gowland (Café Customer).

by Frank Miller



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