Kay Kyser Double Feature: Swing Fever/Playmates [DVD]

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The much-maligned Playmates callously offers the appalling spectacle of a thoroughly dissolute John Barrymore in his final screen performance, but the film isn't quite as bad as it's supposed to be. Barrymore plays himself, a washed-up ham actor up to his ears in debts. When the IRS demands payment for back taxes, Barrymore's press agent Pete Lindsey (Peter Lynd Hayes) and manager Lulu Monohan (Patsy Kelly) suggest a sure-fire moneymaking scheme: the venerable thespian will transform bucolic bandleader Kay Kyser (also playing himself) into a Shakespearean actor, in exchange for a fat radio contract. Neither Kyser nor Barrymore are keen on this set-up, but while Kyser is willing to go through with the plan, Barrymore seeks various devious methods of wriggling out of the committment. Barrymore goes so far as to sic his peppery girlfriend Carmen del Toro (Lupe Velez) on poor Kyser, hoping to dissuade the bandleader from showing up at the climactic Long Island Shakespeare Festival peformance. When this fails, Barrymore spikes Kyser's throat spray with alum, only to be rendered speechless himself when the spray bottles are switched. Suffice to say that all ends happily, with Kay Kyser and his aggregation (Ginny Simms, Harry Babbitt, Ish Kabibble et. al.) performing a rather pleasant "swing" version of Romeo and Juliet. Admittedly, it's rather hard to watch Playmates knowing that John Barrymore had once been regarded as the greatest actor of his generation. Even so, a few bright moments shrine through, notably a poignant scene in which Barrymore briefly recaptures the old magic by reciting a few passages from Hamlet's soliloquy. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Swing Fever
In most of his movie vehicles, bandleader Kay Kyser played a bandleader named Kay Kyser. In Swing Fever, however, Kyser is cast as aspiring songwriter Lowell Blackford. Though he isn't too successful at peddling his songs, Blackford does have one unique talent: The ability to hypnotize boxer Killer Kennedy (Nat Pendleton) into winning fights. Blackford is coerced into using his "whammy" on Kennedy by Ginger Gray (Marilyn Maxwell). On the night of the championship bout, Blackford finds out he's being used, but goes through with his hypnosis to save Ginger from gangsters. The whole thing ends rather incongruously with a patriotic floor show, a specialty of MGM films of the period. Several guest performers lift Swing Fever out of the ordinary, including Lena Horne and the Merrill Abbott Dancers. Also appearing is an uncredited Ava Gardner as a sarcastic receptionist. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • John Barrymore
    John Barrymore - Himself
  • Lupe Velez
    Lupe Velez - Carmen del Torre
  • Ginny Simms
    Ginny Simms - Herself
  • May Robson
    May Robson - Grandma Kyser
  • Patsy Kelly
    Patsy Kelly - Lulu Monahan

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