Monday, July 21, 2008

“Rhythm Romance”: The “Other” “Some Like It Hot”

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

On Friday night Charles and I got home early enough to get to-go meals at Colima’s and I ran him a videotape I recorded during TCM’s last swing marathon: Rhythm Romance, a.k.a. Some Like It Hot, a 1939 Paramount film certainly not to be confused with the Billy Wilder classic from 1959 with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. This version of Some Like It Hot (its title changed for TV release to avoid confusion with the Wilder film) began life as a 1932 play by Ben Hecht and Gene Fowler called The Great Magoo and was first filmed by Paramount in 1934 as Shoot the Moon, with Jack Oakie as Nicky Nelson, small-time promoter and carnival spieler who’s trying to promote the band of Ben Bernie against the opposition of Axel Hanratty (Lew Cody), who manages in a series of rigged crap games to win Nicky’s new song and his girlfriend’s ring (said girlfriend, a band singer stuck with the awkward character name “Lily Racquel,” being played by one Dorothy Dell).

In 1939 Paramount revived this fun but rather creaky property as a vehicle for their new star, Bob Hope, who’d become a surprise success in The Big Broadcast of 1938 and introduced the song “Thanks for the Memory,” which he sang in the film as a duet with Shirley Ross. So Paramount re-teamed Hope and Ross and looked for another big song for them — which they found in Frank Loesser’s marvelous “The Lady’s in Love with You,” which also became something of a standard — and decided to exploit the popularity of Gene Krupa’s new band by using Krupa in the Bernie role (in which he turns out to be a surprisingly stiff actor — one’s surprised that someone with such a command of rhythm behind a drum set is so hopelessly out of time whenever he tries to deliver a line) and allowing Krupa to make his film debut as anything other than Benny Goodman’s sideman.

The result is a mild but entertaining film, directed by George Archainbaud and photographed (with vivid atmospherics that go way beyond the call of duty for a silly story like this) by Karl Struss, but one which suffers from Hope’s miscasting: the kind of small-time con man he’s playing here would be done to perfection, ironically enough, by Bing Crosby in the Road movies in which Hope would play his principal victim. Here Hope comes across as way too nice, too charming and too genuinely decent to be running these scams — and at the same time we can’t believe his naïveté either. (We watch him roll dice twice with Bernard Nedell, who plays Hanratty, and especially the second time around it’s almost impossible to believe that someone with some knowledge of the con hasn’t cottoned to the obvious — though never spelled out in the script — fact that Hanratty’s dice are loaded.) Krupa’s acting is atrocious and his playing is fine but hampered by the fact that he doesn’t get to do any of his swing specialties and he hadn’t yet developed his on-the-point-of-orgasm fervor that made his later film appearances so much fun; he makes much more of an impact in his one scene in Sam Goldwyn’s Ball of Fire (playing “Drum Boogie” behind Barbara Stanwyck, who as always did her own singing), than in all of Rhythm Romance.