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  Hook Line and Sinker Hotel Hysteria
Year: 1930
Director: Edward F. Cline
Stars: Bert Wheeler, Robert Woolsey, Dorothy Lee, Ralph Harolde, Jobyna Howland, Natalie Moorhead, Hugh Herbert, George F. Marion, Stanley Fields, William B. Davidson
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Insurance salesmen Boswell (Bert Wheeler) and Ganzy (Robert Woolsey) are pedalling their tandem along the road when they hear a siren and a motorcycle cop appears, pulling them over. He tells them they're going to get a ticket for a traffic violation, but the fast-talking duo manage to distract him with one of their policies; as Ganzy does so, another driver draws up and stops to wait for them to finish. Sensing another business opportunity, Boswell is dispatched to discuss a policy with her, finds out she is rich heiress Mary Marsh (Dorothy Lee), and before they know it they have decided to help with her hotel...

The comedy team of Wheeler and Woolsey truly belonged to another era of entertainment, not least because in film in the 21st Century the notion of a Hollywood comedy team who regularly made big screen appearance seems so archaic. In television, for whatever reason, it remained common up to a point, but for the movies it was as if there came a stage when comedians settled on vehicles which highlighted themselves as solo performers, or would see them coupled with another star for wider box office appeal - just not over and over again. There was of course another reason why this particular team seemed rather past it.

Not back in the thirties, when Wheeler and Woolsey could boast a level of success up there with the likes of Laurel and Hardy and The Marx Brothers - indeed, Hook Line and Sinker was one of the biggest hits of its year, and helped to keep its studio RKO afloat as the Depression began to bite across the nation. Their humour had a reputation for being far more risque than many of their contemporaries, a quality which dipped once the censorious Production Code was put in place and caused it to grow broader and more toned down; that said, even watching something like this among their Pre-Code titles it surprising what was considered near the knuckle to our modern eyes.

Sure, there are a few mild double entendres, and one character keeps calling Ganzy "Pansy" much to his chagrin, but jokes would get away with a lot more decades later. Opinion is split on Hook Line and Sinker anyway: although it was one of their biggest hits, there are those who don't regard it as their best, and it's true it is somewhat in the shadow of The Marx Brothers' breakthrough from the previous year, the similarly hotel set The Cocoanuts. It could be what audiences found amusing then has not endured, and that Wheeler and Woolsey remain of largely academic interest to students of the era, though even then they are fairly forgotten except amongst the diehards.

This was not a double act with a straight man, as both shared the comic lines, though they had fairly well crafted personas, with Wheeler the more childlike one and Woolsey the go-getter who leads them both into their schemes. In this case it's the hotel business, which for added complication is where gangsters stash their loot in the basement, which was not a problem until Boswell and Ganzy spruced it up and planted stories in the media that it was actually the haunt of the rich. Their ruse works and soon they are enjoying the presence of the great and good, who place their valuables in the safe, which becomes the main target of the criminals when they show up to sort things out to their satisfaction. It was basic stuff, merely an excuse to stage various skits very typical of the era, though vintage comedy fans might be interested to spot Hugh Herbert before he adopted his "Woo-hoo!" catchphrase as the house detective. It all ends in a big shootout, an action flavoured climax which at least livens it up.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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