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Wheeler and Woolsey: The RKO Comedy Classics Collection - Volume 2 [3 Discs] [DVD]

Release Date:10/18/2016
This classic comedy collection includes nine pictures starring Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey: Half Shot At Sunrise, Hook, Line and Sinker, Cracked Nuts, Caught Plastered, Hold 'Em Jail, Hips, Hips, Hooray, The Nitwits, Mummy's Boys, and High Flyers. Featuring Lupe Velez, Dorothy Lee, and Betty Grable.
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    Too Many Cooks
    When RKO Radio decided to split up the studio's moneymaking comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, in hopes of earning twice as much at the box-office, the results were sad indeed. Bert Wheeler's solo venture, Too Many Cooks, is marginally better than Bob Woolsey's Everything's Rosie but was still nothing to write home about. Based on a play by Frank Craven (previously filmed with Douglas McLean in 1920), the story details the trials and tribulations faced by newlywed couple Wheeler and Dorothy Lee when they decide to build a house in the wilds of Long Island. Before long, Lee's obnoxious relatives have descended on the couple en masse, making life miserable for poor, bumbling Bert. Coming to the rescue is Wheeler's wealthy, irascible uncle Edward McWade, who plays Santa Claus for the couple and puts the other relatives in their place. Bert Wheeler and Dorothy Lee play together beautifully as always, but their characters aren't terribly compelling nor is their dialogue terribly funny. The film's rare good moments belong to Sharon Lynn, as Dorothy's man-hating best friend. As a result of the poor showing of Too Many Cooks and Everything's Rosie, Wheeler and Woolsey were permanently reunited in 1931's Caught Plastered. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

    Hoping to repeat the success of its 1929 musical spectacular Rio Rita, RKO Radio reteamed leading lady Bebe Daniels and the comedy team of Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey for the equally lavish Dixiana. Set in antebellum Louisiana, the film casts Daniels as the title character, a lovely and charming circus entertainer. Dixiana is loved by Carl Van Horn (Everett Marshall), the son of plantation owner Cornelius Van Horn (Joseph Cawthorn). Though Cornelius approves of his son's choice, his imperious wife (Jobyna Howland) orders Dixiana out of her house, much to the delight of crooked gambler Royal Montague (Ralf Harolde), who has his own wicked designs on our heroine. Fired by her circus, Dixiana is forced to go to work at Montague's gambling establishment, and it is here that the love-struck Carl catches up with her. Hoping to bankrupt Carl and force him to relinquish the deed to the Van Doren plantation, Montague engages the young man in a crooked card game, but Dixiana turns the tables on the villain. Elected queen of the Mardi Gras, Dixiana is kidnapped by the disgruntled Montague, who intends to goad Carl into a duel, knowing full well that the boy's guns have been tampered with. Dixiana is the film debut of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who performs a "stair dance" routine during the Technicolor Mardi Gras finale. Incidentally, the film's final color reels were for many years considered lost, with only the black-and-white scenes remaining: thus, many TV prints of Dixiana come to an end long before the plot has been resolved. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

    The Cuckoos
    The Cuckoos began life as The Ramblers, a Broadway musical vehicle for the comedy team of Clark and McCullough. By the time the property reached the screen, it had been retailored to the talents of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey -- and the improvement was enormous. The scene is a fancy Mexican resort, where Sparrow (Wheeler) and The Professor (Woolsey), a pair of petty crooks, try to pick up a few bucks as fortune-tellers. Also staying at the resort is pompous matron Fannie Furst (Jobyna Howland), who is determined that her niece Ruth Chester (June Clyde) marry oily aristocrat Baron de Camp (Ivan Lebedeff). When Ruth evinces a preference for handsome aviator Billy Shannon (Hugh Trevor), the Baron, anxious not to let Ruth's millions slip through his fingers, orders a local band of gypsies to kidnap the girl and spirit her away to his private estate. Billy rushes to Ruth's rescue, as do Sparrow and The Professor -- though "rush" is hardly the appropriate word, since they play for time by singing "Goodbye" to the female chorus and waste even more precious minutes attempting to pilfer a keg of bootleg booze. Actually, our heroes are motivated less by chivalry than by cowardice: Gypsy king Julius (Mitchell Lewis) has threatened to kill both of them because of Sparrow's romance with sexy gypsy maiden Anita (Dorothy Lee). The boys manage to save Ruth from the Baron's clutches, but not before Sparrow distracts the gypsies by posing as a beautiful women. The Bert Kalmar-Harry Ruby score includes such standards as "All Alone Monday" and "Wherever You Are," both indifferently performed by June Clyde and Hugh Trevor. Far more entertaining are Wheeler & Woolsey's "Oh! How We Love Our Alma Mater!" (in which they pay tribute to all the prisons they've attended), Wheeler and Dorothy Lee's "I Love You So Much," and Lee's sizzling dance number "Dancin' the Devil Away." Though little more than a photographed stage play, The Cuckoos is a lot of fun, especially when Wheeler &Woolsey take center stage. For years available only in its 75-minute TV version, the film has recently been restored to its full 95 minutes with the inclusion of several long-unseen Technicolor sequences. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

    Silly Billies
    Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey star as Roy Banks and Dr. "Painless" Pennington, itinerant dentists in the Old West. Roy and Doc purchase a dentist's office from a crooked real-estate promoter (Richard Alexander), who neglects to tell our heroes that everyone in town is planning to head off via wagon train to the California Gold Rush. By the time they discover that they've set up shop in a ghost town, the boys have also uncovered evidence that the townsfolk are heading right into an Indian ambush. They quickly catch up with the wagon train, where Roy falls in love with cute schoolmarm Mary Blake (Dorothy Lee). Managing to convince the townsfolk that they're all about to be massacred, Roy and Doc are themselves accused of arranging the impending slaughter by Hank (Harry Woods) and Trigger (Ethan Laidlaw), the two greedy reprobates who'd cooked up the massacre in collaboration with the Indians. Escaping a lynch mob, the boys hide out at a nearby Indian reservation, where they discover that Hank is in cahoots with the Chief. Roy and Doc manage to make their way back to the wagon train, where they save the day by pelting the attacking Indians with chloroform-soaked sponges. Justifiably regarded as the worst of the Wheeler and Woolsey comedies, Silly Billes reaches its nadir when the two stars drunkenly attempt to extract a tooth from a billy goat! ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

    Cockeyed Cavaliers
    Considered by many to be the best of the many Bert Wheeler-Robert Woolsey vehicles of the 1930s, Cockeyed Cavaliers is set in Merrie Olde England, where the comic-opera ambience is immediately established when a Walter Winchellesque town crier (Franklin Pangborn) sings the local gossip. Bert and Bob play a pair of wandering indigents who are constantly in trouble because of Bert's chronic kleptomania. "My doctor tells me it's a sickness," he explains." Bob: "Well, why don't you take something for it?" Bert: "I've already taken everything." Bert's latest bit of unintentional larceny earns the boys a few hours in the local pillory, where the villagers pelt them with vegetables until they are rescued by a feisty young boy. Unbeknownst to our heroes, the "boy" is beautiful young Mary Ann (Dorothy Lee), who has disguised herself to escape an arranged marriage with the gross and gouty Duke of Weskit (Robert Grieg). Stopping over at a local inn, Bert, Bob and the in-drag Marian make the acquaintance of a lusty Baron (Noah Beery), who celebrates his recent hunting trip in song. Forced to make a quick getaway when the local constable shows up, Bert and Bob "borrow" the clothes of a pair of drunken royal physicians (Snub Pollard and Jack Norton) and escape in the doctors' coach, with Mary Ann still in tow. Following the instructions found in the coach, the boys stop over at the home of the Duke of Weskit, obliging Mary Ann to remain in disguise. Bert and Bob ingratiate themselves with the Duke by curing his stomach ache (using a horse-doctor book!), while Bob tries to make time with Weskit's gorgeous niece Lady Genevieve (Thelma Todd) -- never dreaming that "Genny" is the wife of the irascible Baron whom they previously met at the inn. All sorts of double-entendre nonsense ensues before Bert and Bob save themselves from the Baron's jealous wrath by capturing an elusive wild boar, a contingency that also permits Bert to wed Mary Ann, whose true identity has finally been revealed. Elaborately produced on leftover sets from RKO Radio's The Little Minister, Cockeyed Cavaliers is a gem of a comedy, filled to overflowing with clever dialogue and hilarious sight gags. Musical highlights include the novelty song "I Went Hunting (And the Big Bad Wolf is Dead)" and the delightful "Dilly Dally." ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

    Everything's Rosie
    Having built up the comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey into a surefire box-office draw, RKO Radio was possessed with the notion to briefly split up the team, showcasing each actor in his own separate vehicle in hopes of doubling their profitability. Woolsey's first (and last) solo effort was Everything's Rosie, which though ostensibly a screen original by Al Boasberg was actually a rip-off of the 1923 W. C. Fields stage vehicle Poppy (in which Woolsey had played a featured role). The bespectacled, cigar-chomping comedian is cast as Dr. J. Dockweiler Droop, a crooked-yet-lovable sideshow medicine man. Rescuing a two-year old urchin named Rosie from her harridan of a mother, Doc Droop raises the girl as his own. By the time she reaches maturity, the lovely Rosie (played as an adult by Anita Louise) is every bit the sharpster that her "father" is. When Rosie falls in love with wealthy Billy Lowe (John Darrow), Doc tries his best to make a good impression at a party given by Billy's mother, only to end up in the calaboose when he's accused of theft. Realizing that he's a millstone around Rosie's neck, Doc quietly shuffles out of her life, but not before smoothing the romantic path for the hero and heroine. Funny though he was in the Wheeler and Woolsey comedies, Bob Woolsey simply wasn't a strong enough performer to carry a picture by himself -- though in all fairness, it should be noted that Bert Wheeler fared almost as badly in his solo RKO effort, Too Many Cooks. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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