Monday, January 26, 2009

Hot For Paris (1929)

Hot For Paris” is another of those infuriatingly missing Fox films from the early days of sound features. The Fox vault fire that occurred on July 9th, 1937 in Little Ferry, New Jersey may have destroyed the last copy of a truly interesting film. Not only, the fans of this blog, because it is an El Brendel feature and period reviews reported it was a hilarious picture, but also because it was directed by the great auteur Raoul Walsh. Walsh, who had an incredible 52 year career in Hollywood, also oversaw El a few months before in the second film in the series of “Flagg and Quirt” films, “The Cock-Eyed World”, and right after “Hot For Paris” would start production on the John Wayne epic, “The Big Trail”.


I jazzed up the background to the lame AFI listing to give a more thorough understanding of what “Hot For Paris” was all about:

John Patrick Duke (Victor McLaglen), a rough sailor fond of women and liquor, is ignorant of the fact that he is the winner of a million dollar lottery on a horserace at The Grand Prix de Paris and, having previously caused a riot in a French hotel, misinterprets the efforts of two officials (Lennox Pawle as Mr. Pratt and August Tollaire as Papa Gouset) to inform him of his good fortune as an effort to arrest him, so Duke stays one step ahead of the duo. Duke and his pal, Axel Olson (El Brendel), travel around together and Duke meets and eventually falls in love with the seductive Fifi Dupré (Fifi D’Orsay). After a spat with Dupré, Duke lets Pratt and Tollaire catch up to him so they can put him under “arrest”, but is overjoyed when they inform him he has won the grand prize and as a result are able to entertain their French friends royally. The film ends with Duke telling Fifi they will be married and he’ll lavish her with all the nicer things in life, although the viewers never see the ceremony.



The story seems tame enough but the script and film contained enough early 30’s “pre-code” raunchiness to draw the attention of the censors. I have the files from the Education Department, Motion Picture Division of New York State and it shows first that a script dated November 18th, 1929, was deposited with the division which appears to be a copy of the shooting continuity. (I have some other scripts from the same time and they are just dialog taken from the screen). The finished film was first viewed by the State censors on December 18, 1929, but was rescreened on December 20th (by a Mrs. Minsterer and a Miss Farrell) and in a memo to Dr. James Wingate, head of the division, wrote their recommendations for eliminations:


A similar letter was sent on the same day to famed writer Hettie Gray Baker, who I assume was working on the film in her position as a censor’s representative:


Miss Baker then sent the edited “Hot For Paris” back to the New York censors along with a letter dated December 26
th, 1929, documenting the edits made:


And on December 27
th, the film was rescreened and deemed at that time to be “satisfactory” and ready for release. Although in a New York Times article by Ernest Marshall, published March 9th, 1930, critics in London saw it differently:

Special objection has been taken to the new Victor McLaglen film' "Hot for Paris." One London critic denounces it in no measured terms, alleging that "of the indecencies which are Gallic it can at least be said that they are clever, after the manner of Lubitsch, but of the exploits of Mr. McLaglen as an American sailor in the less reputable resorts of Havre it can only be said that they are offensive. 'Bawdy' is the word chosen by the owners to describe Mr. McLaglen's present series of films, and bawdy they are." Another critic writes. "It is a long time since a film as deliberately vulgar as 'Hot for Paris' has been seen in London. I hope it will be longer before anything of its type is seen again. A modified vulgarity, natural to the characters, as in 'The Cock-Eyed World,' may very occasionally have its place even on the screen. 'Hot for Paris' has not that justification." This censorious critic admits, nevertheless, that "Hot for Paris" was received "with hilarious applause at the trade show"; and it may be added that when the writer saw it yesterday at the Capitol the audience appeared to show no signs of dissatisfaction.
As with many Fox films at this time, “Hot For Paris” included many musical numbers provided to the production by the talented songwriters, Walter Donaldson and Edgar Lesie . Two, “If You Want To See Paree” and “Sweet Nothings of Love” were sung by Fifi D’Orsay and strangely, Victor McLaglen made his vocal debut with “Duke of Kak-I-Ak”. El offered up “Cuckoo Song” but its lyrics show that the song probably wasn’t much to write home about. This may or may not be the "Cuckoo Song", but it is the only instance of the "Axel" character singing in the script:


“Ay going through the woods ay saw a cat,

Said come here kitty, I gave it a pat,

It wasn’t the kind of cat I supposed, Ay had to go home and burn my clothes…..

You like that? Ay sing another one…


I went to the country, the weather was fine,

Ay had a very nice time,

Ay sat on a beehive sad to say,

Spoiled the end of my perfect day”.




The herald also shows the introduction of a gag called “The Swedish Salute” which appears to be no more than a kick in the pants given to someone who actually performs a military salute. (See lower left of the scan). What the purpose of this is unknown, other than just something new to draw a laugh out of the audience and it is used a few times in the script.



Reviews for the film were pretty positive, with Motion Picture magazine calling it a “riotous, colorful comedy”. The January 11
th, 1930 issue of Harrison’s Reports stated, “At the Roxy, where it was shown for the first time, everyone in the audience seemed to enjoy it. At least they laughed to their heart’s content.” The New York Times reviewer wrote “It is a rowdy, raw affair with quite a number of humorous incidents”, although, “Mr. Walsh has given too much attention to the flamboyant cavorting of his performers and not enough to the actual story”. But the Times reviewer did like the film’s comedy by writing that “El Brendel’s face is virtually the only placid thing in this film”.



An interesting article appeared in the Los Angeles Times around this time that certainly showed Brendel’s popularity had risen just a bit:

“Twelve Wear Actor’s Tog’s in ‘Swede’ Act

El Brendel, co-featured with Victor McLaglen and Fifi Dorsay in Raoul Walsh’s “Hot For Paris” at the Criterion, is complaining that they are stealing the clothes right off his back. By “they” he means several vaudeville comics performing here and there in the remaining two-a-day houses and burlesque theaters, and the clothes meaning his famous costume of his well-known comedy act. There are something like twelve “Swede” funny persons wearing Brendel’s former rig, according to word received by the Fox comedian via the trouper’s grapevine.

The process of losing one’s clothes and still having them is a vexatious problem, according to Brendel. One can’t issue and ultimatum to the world at large and performers in particular to quit wearing his clothes. For if he were asked to describe them, he could only say something about a pair of baggy trousers that almost fall off but don’t, and undersized “hick” derby, etc…which, legally might refer to articles in any comedy studio wardrobe department.”

It appears, in this case, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.


5 comments:

KING OF JAZZ said...

Zounds. That's all I can say. I can only hope there's a nitrate print under some Czech floorboards awaiting discovery.

Jonas Nordin said...

Louie,
Congratulations on a very rich and all together splendid post!

Ay vant women!
Jonas

Kate Gabrielle said...

Wow! Now I want to see it!!! I was thinking exactly what King of Jazz said-- I hope there's a print hiding away somewhere waiting to be discovered!

Louie said...

Well, these things certainly pop up from time to time, hopefully this one will see the light of day!

Stacia said...

Wow, great stuff!

El and Fifi were the cutest couple ever. I wish I could see them in a film together.