Crashing Hollywood (1938)

Film Review

CRASHING HOLLYWOOD

Release Date: 7 January 1938

Studio: RKO

Director: Lew Landers

Stars: Lee Tracy, Joan Woodbury, Paul Guilfoyle, Lee Patrick, Richard Lane, Bradley Page, Edgar Kennedy

Writer: Paul Yawitz and Gladys Atwater, screenplay; Paul Dickey and Mann Page, play, Light’s Out (1922)

Cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca, Frank Redman

Synopsis

Herman Tibbets (Guilfoyle), a thief newly released from prison, and his wife, Goldie (Patrick), are taking the train to Los Angeles. At the train station they hear Michael Winslow (Tracy) trying to insure his bag for $50,000. They consider stealing it. Michael drops a newspaper cutting about a theft; they conclude that he must be a thief.

As he is about to board the train, another passenger asks Michael to hold her two young children. Barbara Lang (Woodbury), going to Hollywood, is being seen off by group of well-wishers. Michael, holding the children, bumps into Barbara, knocking her about. The woman takes back the children. Michael apologizes to Barbara and asks her to have dinner with him He takes her to her cabin; it is next to his.

Herman and Goldie jump Michael for the bonds they think are in his bag. However, they find it only contains stories he has written and hopes to sell in Hollywood for a lot of money. Herman says he’s a writer too, and Michael agrees to team with him.

Arrived in Hollywood, Michael and Herman are hired instantly by the manic head of Wonder Studio, Hugo Wells (Lane). They write a script about a bank robbery carried out by a criminal known as “The Hawk”. Unknown to Michael, Herman is a former associate of the real Hawk and had served jail time for the real bank robbery. Goldie is worried about the Hawk’s reaction to the true-to-life film.

Barbara, unable to get a job and planning to go home, learns that a story written by Michael is being filmed. She meets with him, and he hires her as his secretary. Thomas Darcy (Page), a wimpy, vain actor, who is a look-a-like for the real Hawk, plays the cold-blooded, tough-as-nails character in the film, The Trail of the Hawk, which is a smashing success. Michael and Herman write a sequel that is put immediately into production.

The film’s depiction of the robbery of the Austin Bank, in Melrose, Oklahoma contains details that had not been reported publicly. The bank’s president and his private detective travel to Hollywood to find the writer of the film, who knows more about the robbery than an innocent man should. The real Hawk (also Page) and his trigger man, dull-witted Al (Kennedy), simultaneously arrive in Hollywood, wanting to find this Michael Winslow who knows so much about him.

The Hawk and Al go to Michael’s house looking for him. Goldie sees them and rushes to the studio to warn Herman and Michael. The Hawk, Al, the banker, and the detective all go to the studio to find Michael. Meanwhile, Herman tells Michael the truth about his part in the robbery.

Michael and Barbara outsmart and capture Al, but the Hawk is still in the studio. The banker brings in the police to find him.

The real Hawk knocks out Darcey and takes his place. On the set, the new “Hawk” movie is being filmed, Michael and Herman come to watch. The Hawk recognizes Herman and shoots him. Michael chases the Hawk through the studio. On a catwalk above a set, Michael and the Hawk fight, and the Hawk pushes Michael off. Michael is knocked out. The police rush up and arrest the Hawk.

In the hospital, Michael, his head bandaged, proposes to Barbara. The wounded Herman, with Goldie at his side, is recovering in the next bed.

Discussion

This madcap little film is a low budget gem. Although all the actors play the action and dialogue as if movie people and movie making were being depicted realistically, almost every aspect of the story is a farcical version of actual moviemaking. Until the shootout at the conclusion, every character participates in the many funny situations and the absurd dialogue.

Unlike the usual story of newcomers struggling to break into the movies, these hopefuls come to Hollywood and are hired immediately by the manic head of Wonder Studio. A series of laudatory newspaper notices about their ludicrous film segues into the second focus of the plot. Both the banker and the Hawk arrive at the studio to find out who knows so much. Inside the studio and on the set of the Hawk sequel, a series of misidentifications result in the real Hawk replacing Darcey. The plot elements of the Hawk sequel are ridiculous; at the end of the movie, Hawk is overpowered by four men who give him the heave-ho out a window on the 42nd floor (the actor is shown crashing through a non-glass window and landing on a mattress). The romantic couple embrace and rejoice that the Hawk is out of their lives!

This is probably the best film made by Tracy at RKO, the studio he joined after his ouster from MGM (see our biography of Lee Tracy for a discussion of his downfall at MGM.) Tracy dominates the screen, and the film makes good use of his fast moving, fast talking style. Due to his rather plain features, Tracy was not a conventional, handsome, romantic leading man, but due to his potent screen presence, dynamism, and ability to put feeling into romantic dialogue, the audience accepts him as a lover for the pretty young leading lady. Tracy’s hero is treated roughly by the screenplay: he has several hand-to-hand combats and, unusual for a hero, he loses all of them.

Several supporting actors have stand-out roles. Paul Guilfoyle is very funny as the naive, well-meaning, mild-mannered, ex-bank robber. Lee Patrick is amusing as the cynical, but loyal, Goldie. Richard Lane gives a sparkling performance as the manic head of Wonder Studio. Bradley Page has a larger role than usual and makes the best of it, alternating between the tough gangster and the weakling, narcissistic actor. Edgar Kennedy, who usually played not-so-bright policemen or neighbors, is a perfect choice as the not-so-bright triggerman, Al; only in a comedy would such a mild, dull-witted character be the gunmen of a tough criminal.

Paul Guilfoyle (1902-1961) began his career in 1923, 21 years old, on Broadway, and for the next twelve years he appeared in 16 plays. In 1934, Guilfoyle left the theater for the movies. Between 1935 and 1960, he appeared in dozens of films. His roles were a mix of small parts in big budget films and more prominent roles in low budget films. Comic roles are rare in Guilfoyle’s filmography; he typically played weaklings and dour criminals. After 1952, he appeared frequently on television. During the last 10 years of his life, Guilfoyle directed many episodes of TV series and a few low budget films.

Bradley Page (1901-1985) had a relatively short film career, 1931-1943, but during those years he appeared in over 100 films, mostly low budget, often as a villain in the mode of the "Hawk". In 1933, Page was one of the 24 founding members of the Screen Actors Guild, the labor union representing all screen actors. Few actors turn their backs on making movies, even though their career remains as a supporting player in low budget films, but Page was an exception. In 1943, he left the movie business and never went back. His subsequent activities included running a dude ranch in Oregon and selling real estate in Northern California.

Lee Patrick (1911-1982) had a thirty year career playing hardbitten blonds and daffy housewives. These alternate aspects of her screen personality are seen in her best known roles, as Effie Perine, the cynical secretary of Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) in The Maltese Falcon (1941) and as Henrietta Topper, the dotty wife of Cosmo Topper, in the television series Topper (1953-1955). After more than 60 feature films and numerous television series Patrick retired in 1964. She came back for one last appearance playing an older Effie Perine, the secretary of Sam Spade, Jr., (George Segal) in the Maltese Falcon spoof The Black Bird (1975).

Director Lew Landers started his career under his birth name Louis Friedlander. As Friedlander he directed his best known feature, the pairing of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in The Raven (1935). By 1936, newly renamed, Lew Landers began his prolific career as a director of low budget films. He worked in the B units at Columbia, RKO, and the poverty row studio PRC. From 1951, Landers directed many episodes of numerous television series.

Landers best movies are satisfyingly fast-paced entertainment. He never worked on any projects of his own, but he produced some quality low budget films, including Crashing Hollywood, Flight from Glory (1937) with Chester Morris and Van Heflin, The Power of the Whistler (1945) with Richard Dix, The Mask of Diijon (1946) with Erich von Stroheim, and a 3D film, Man in the Dark (1953).

References

Lee Patrick, Actress who Played Secretary in Maltese Falcon. New York Times. November 27, 1982

Lew Landers. in The “B” Directors, A Biographical Directory. by Wheeler W. Dixon. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. 1985