"Oh, Sailor Behave!" ** (out of ****)
Billed as "America's funniest clowns" the comedy team of Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson made their screen debut in the feature length musical - comedy, "Oh, Sailor Behave!" (1930).
I'm not sure who came up with the billing of this movie or why Olsen & Johnson are referred to as being any country's "funniest clowns". The comedy team even gets top billing when they are far from being the stars of the movie.
"Oh, Sailor Behave!" is one of many 1930s pre-code movie musicals made to capitalize on the success of Hollywood's newest genre, the musical, thanks to the movies now being able to "talk" with the introduction of sound. However, as is often the case with Hollywood's unquenchable thirst for money, they over saturated the market place and audiences quickly became tired of Hollywood's latest gimmick. In today's terms think of 3-D movies. They aren't as popular as they were say five years ago, when every other movie was being released in 3-D. Unlike some other musicals of the era however "Oh, Sailor Behave!" was released with songs intact. Many movies had all their songs scrapped, releasing some movies as straight comedies.
Based on a stage play "See Naples and Die", written by Elmer Rice, "Oh, Sailor Behave!" stars Charles King (Hollywood's first leading man in musicals) as reporter Charlie Carroll. He has been sent to Naples to interview a General (Noah Berry) but instead finds love and courts Nancy Dodge (Irene Delroy).
Without revealing too much, Nancy is called to London to help her sister, putting the brake on her romance with Charlie. A misunderstanding occurs (they usually do) and Charlie is left heartbroken and rebounds with a woman he believes is the General's mistress, Kunegundi (Vivien Oakland). If Charlie can gain the lady's trust, maybe he can get an interview.
Today's audience may only be interested in the movie, if they are at all, because it is an Olsen & Johnson comedy. The boys play two sailors, Simon (Olsen) and Peter (Johnson) sent to find a man with a wooden leg who has stolen from the Navy's storehouse. This portion of the movie actually has nothing to do with the rest of the movie and is used primarily as comic relief. The boys are given screenwriting credit but most likely because they wrote their own material but had nothing to do with the rest of the movie.
With a running time of approximately 67 minutes "Oh, Sailor Behave!" doesn't feel like a "complete" movie. Some story lines are never resolved and other story lines you simply don't care if they are. I also can't honestly say I cared much for the musical numbers despite normally liking Charles King as a performer.
Intending to have Olsen & Johnson only appear on-screen when they have funny material, I can't say I laughed much watching this movie. And I am by most standard's an easy target. I like other Olsen & Johnson comedies such as "All Over Town" (1937) and "Hellzapoppin'" (1941). I'm a fan of so-called "dated humor" and get a kick out of Wheeler & Woolsey, Joe E. Brown and the Ritz Brothers. But "Oh, Sailor Behave!" strikes me as an ill conceived project. By the time of the movie's release musicals had fallen out of fashion. Given the final product we see now, it feels like the Olsen & Johnson material was added on so Warner Brothers could call the movie a comedy. Heck, it even stars "America's funniest clowns"!
It is not that the humor in the movie is "dated", corny" or "offensive", as modern audiences sadly often accuse movies of this era of being, it is just that it lacks a wallop. There was no moment I found myself laughing out loud. If this movie serves as your introduction to Olsen & Johnson it is understandable why someone wouldn't find them funny. The movie does little to establish them as characters. It would be difficult to say who is the straight man and who is the comic. The answer by the way is Olsen is the straight man and Johnson, with his high pitch laugh, the comic.
The romance in the movie doesn't fare much better either. Charlie and Nancy aren't well defined characters. Though they may sing songs to each other, there is little romance between them and not enough for audiences to latch on to, to make us care about seeing them stay together by the end of the movie. According to IMDb, King would star in one more movie and then appear in some short subjects.
"Oh, Sailor Behave!" is a "tough sell". A lot seems to have been cut from the plot. The comedy doesn't gel and the songs aren't memorable. The characters aren't defined and the actors themselves don't appear to click with one another. There's no chemistry. This is a curiosity piece for those that like either early Hollywood musicals and / or Olsen & Johnson fans.
** (out of ****)
"Gold Dust Gertie" (1931) was the third comedy to feature Olsen & Johnson and are given larger roles than the previous two movies they appeared in.
Like "Oh, Sailor Behave" and "50 Million Frenchmen" (1931) this too was a musical. The latter was a Cole Porter musical which due to the public's negative reaction to musicals, had all of its songs scrapped. "Gold Dust Gertie" would find the same fate and be released as a straight forward pre-code comedy, which is pretty risque (so is "Oh, Sailor Behave"). The boys play a more intricate part in the plot of the movie but are still second fiddles as the movie is pushed as a Winnie Lightner vehicle.
I honestly can't say I am much of a fan of Lightner. You may also know her for appearing in "Sit Tight" (1931) with Joe E. Brown. Lightner plays Gertie, a gold digger quick with the get rich schemes and wise-cracks. Lightner just isn't funny to me. I prefer Eve Arden, who played similar wise-cracking smart-alec characters.
Gertie is a gold digger that has been married multiple times only so she can get divorced to collect alimony. Two of the men she has married are George (Olsen) and Elmer (Johnson), best friends that work at a bathing suit company. How Gertie met the men is not explained. If the men are best friends, why did they both marry the same woman? Was Gertie cheating with one of them? We don't know. Maybe there was a song cut out explaining it.
George and Elmer remarry as well, since their boss places a high value on employing respectable, family men. Neither man however has been keeping up with his alimony payments causing Gertie to stopped by their job to collect payment. She will even expose the men as having been married before to their boss. Gertie however finally decides on trying to trick their boss, John Arnold (Claude Gillingwater) into marrying her, as she pretends to be an innocent old-fashion woman.
This set-up has comedic potential and there are some laughs however with Lightner at the helm, I was just never fully engaged. Olsen & Johnson fare much better in this movie than "Oh, Sailor Behave!" but if you are a fan of the team I can see someone feeling "Gold Dust Gertie" is too restrictive for the team, not allowing them to branch out and really invoke their style of humor, which has been described as "nut humor". A lot of "Gold Dust Gertie" plays as bedroom farce. Both movies make a lot of sex jokes as well.
The movie was directed by Lloyd Bacon, who had a lot of success with movie musicals such as "42nd Street" (1933), "Footlight Parade" (1933) and "The Gold Diggers of 1937" (1936). He also had a long career in comedy, starting off as a actor and directing Joe E. Brown comedies: "You Said A Mouthful" (1932) and "Son of A Sailor" (1933).
A lot of "Gold Dust Gertie" moves fast and has some laughs. Olsen & Johnson are funny, at times, but Winnie Lightner never becomes a likable character and just isn't funny.