Hold 'Em Jail


1h 13m 1932
Hold 'Em Jail

Brief Synopsis

Two salesmen sent to jail on trumped-up charges build a prison football team.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Prison
Sports
Release Date
Sep 16, 1932
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 13m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Film Length
7 reels

Synopsis

When Elmer Jones, the warden of Bidemore State Penitentiary, receives a goading letter from Charles Clark, the warden of Lynwood Penitentiary, about an upcoming prison football match, he orders Butch, his coach, to find better "recruits" for the team. Butch telephones Mike Maloney, the president of the prison "alumni association," and solicits the gangster's help in finding players. At the same time, novelty salesmen Curly Harris and Spider Robbins sneak into Maloney's nightclub office and, mistaking Elmer for Maloney, unleash their sales pitch on the harried warden. After Elmer leaves in a dazed huff, Curly and Spider meet Maloney and his cohort Whitey and try to pass themselves off as expert football players. By substituting their toy guns with real weapons, Whitey tricks the salesmen into holding up the nightclub and getting themselves arrested. Spider and Curly are sent to Elmer's prison and ingratiate themselves with Elmer's daughter Barbara and his spinster sister Violet. After the duo, who have been assigned to work in the blacksmith's shop, unwittingly aid a convict in an escape attempt, Elmer threatens to toss them into solitary confinement but instead is fooled into making them trustees by Violet. Under Elmer's nose, Spider romances Violet, while Curly flirts with Barbara, who makes a nine o'clock date with him in the prison courtyard. Unknown to Curly, a group of prisoners are planning an escape that night, and when Curly inadvertently mutters the time and place of his date to another convict, the convict assumes that Curly is "passing the word" about the breakout. To Curly's horror, his date is thwarted by gunfire from the guards, who have been tipped off about the escape, and as punishment, he is sent to toil on the rock pile by Elmer. When Elmer learns that his star quarterback has been pardoned by the governor, however, he is persuaded by Spider that Curly is his only hope to win the upcoming game with Lynwood. During the chaotic match, which is dominated by Curly and Spider's unusual style of play, the duo discovers Whitey on the Lynwood bench. Bent on revenge, Curly and Spider steal the referee's bottle of chloroform and, by dousing their towels with the chemical, knock out all of the players on the field and force Whitey into the game. While Whitey is under the chloroform's influence, Curly and Spider make him sign a confession and then score the game-winning touchdown. Vindicated by Whitey's confession, Curly kisses Barbara, while Spider embraces Violet.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Prison
Sports
Release Date
Sep 16, 1932
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 13m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Film Length
7 reels

Articles

Hold 'Em Jail


Remember Robert Aldrich's rough 'n' vulgar prison football comedy The Longest Yard (1974), with Burt Reynolds? Just to prove that nothing is new under the sun, it's quite a bit like Wheeler and Woolsey's early talkie Hold 'Em Jail (1932), a wild comedy about a prison where football is more important than anything, including the law. Four screenwriters labored on the script and more writers contributed jokes for the radio stars Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey's foray into football comedy, a genre much in favor in the Great Depression. The silly story sees joke shop salesmen Curly Harris (Wheeler) and Spider Robbins (Woolsey) fooled by crooks that swap their joke guns for real hardware. A conviction for robbery lands them a stretch in Bidemore State Penitentiary. Working as blacksmiths, they accidentally aid in an escape but owing to the screwball logic of the prison, are unaccountably rewarded with jobs as trustees. Bidemore's warden Elmer Jones (slow-burn comic Edgar Kennedy) is hard pressed to find good footballers to oppose Lynwood Penitentiary on the gridiron, especially when his best players are receiving inconvenient pardons. Curly and Spider help out while romancing Elmer's daughter Barbara (a sixteen-year-old Betty Grable) and his sister Violet (venerable Edna May Oliver). The film's second half is a desperate football game that provides a steady stream of slapstick gags. Our boys use chloroform to render the opposing team unconscious. Helping out with the lowbrow laughs is the stuttering comedian Roscoe Ates; the joke is that he's the game's signal caller. Director Norman Taurog had just graduated from comedy shorts but proved adept in various genres; he worked on films for W.C. Fields and Eddie Cantor and scored in prestigious shows for MGM, among them Boys Town (1938), Young Tom Edison (1940) and Words and Music (1948).

By Glenn Erickson
Hold 'em Jail

Hold 'Em Jail

Remember Robert Aldrich's rough 'n' vulgar prison football comedy The Longest Yard (1974), with Burt Reynolds? Just to prove that nothing is new under the sun, it's quite a bit like Wheeler and Woolsey's early talkie Hold 'Em Jail (1932), a wild comedy about a prison where football is more important than anything, including the law. Four screenwriters labored on the script and more writers contributed jokes for the radio stars Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey's foray into football comedy, a genre much in favor in the Great Depression. The silly story sees joke shop salesmen Curly Harris (Wheeler) and Spider Robbins (Woolsey) fooled by crooks that swap their joke guns for real hardware. A conviction for robbery lands them a stretch in Bidemore State Penitentiary. Working as blacksmiths, they accidentally aid in an escape but owing to the screwball logic of the prison, are unaccountably rewarded with jobs as trustees. Bidemore's warden Elmer Jones (slow-burn comic Edgar Kennedy) is hard pressed to find good footballers to oppose Lynwood Penitentiary on the gridiron, especially when his best players are receiving inconvenient pardons. Curly and Spider help out while romancing Elmer's daughter Barbara (a sixteen-year-old Betty Grable) and his sister Violet (venerable Edna May Oliver). The film's second half is a desperate football game that provides a steady stream of slapstick gags. Our boys use chloroform to render the opposing team unconscious. Helping out with the lowbrow laughs is the stuttering comedian Roscoe Ates; the joke is that he's the game's signal caller. Director Norman Taurog had just graduated from comedy shorts but proved adept in various genres; he worked on films for W.C. Fields and Eddie Cantor and scored in prestigious shows for MGM, among them Boys Town (1938), Young Tom Edison (1940) and Words and Music (1948). By Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Helping a prisoner to escape? I'll put you on the rock pile for this!
- Kravette
If you do, we'll throw rocks at you!
- Spider Robbins
That's funny - I can't seem to hit that top note.
- Violet Jones
Perhaps it's just as well. Where did you learn to sing, anyway?
- Spider Robbins
I spent four years in Paris. Of course, I'm not a virtuoso.
- Violet Jones
Not after four years in Paris, no.
- Spider Robbins
I trust we're both talking about the same thing?
- Violet Jones

Trivia

Notes

All of the reviews credit Mark Sandrich, not Eddie Welch, as the third screenwriter. Sandrich is not given screen credit, however. A May 1932 Film Daily news item adds Marshall Duffield, Ernie Pinckert, Dink Templeton, Ward Bond, Harold Schlickenmayer, Jim Musick, Nate Barrager, Roy Baker and Dutch Hendrian to the cast, noting that they were all "All-American football stars." Their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. According to modern sources, this film lost $55,000 at the box office.