In the purposely plotless hour extravaganza, now on DVD from Warner Archive, Jimmy Durante loosely acts as the viewer’s guide through a harmless, happy-go-lucky who’s who of Hollywood at the time. Cameos don’t abound so much as provide the foundation, walls and ceiling.
In this story, Durante is the superstar of many a jungle picture, including the upcoming “Schnarzan the Conqueror!!!” (exclamation points theirs), so he’s a member of the in crowd, even if he’s often the butt of the joke. In various scenes and vaudeville sketches, Durante plays Adam, as in “and Eve” fame, bemoaning his missing rib, and is seen briefly as a horse, which is even more disturbing than it sounds.
Even Mickey Mouse appears briefly to do a Durante imitation. Later, there’s a color animated sequence from Walt Disney that looks more like the work of the Fleischer brothers: “Hot Choc-late Soldiers,” a candy parade number in which one soldier gets a kiss and promptly melts as he runs away, dripping in embarrassment. Read between the lines.
The other musical numbers — and there are many — are live-action, from one involving female phone operators (complete with a zipping-slip shot that likely had the same effect on male moviegoers as those Betty Grable pin-ups in the barracks) to another depicting black men as those stereotypical African natives in straw skirts (it was the ’30s; they didn’t know any better — the studio suits, I mean) alongside a gorilla named Ping Pong. Those who dig the songs will delight in the DVD’s “audio vault,” a jukebox of alternate takes and demo tracks.
Poor Ping Pong may be the only non-famous name among the proceedings, which include Laurel and Hardy, the saucy Lupe Velez and the Three Stooges. In that comedy team’s appearance, Curly is referred to as a “perfect specimen of the Neanderthal man,” and three guesses as to if he gets hit on the head. OK, no guesses.
Speaking of Stooges, released simultaneously with “Hollywood Party” is Warner Archive’s 1990 special “The Lost Stooges.” Never a big fan of the Stooges, I checked it out as part of my “research” to prepare for the Farrelly brothers’ upcoming “Three Stooges” feature film, and while I found it not at all painful, it’s clearly not for relative newbies, but those superfans who’ve absorbed every slapstick bit of the boys to the point of rote memorization.
Comprised of clips from their pre-superstardom days in other people’s vehicles, “Lost Stooges” shows them playing second fiddle to straight man Ted Healy, and even alongside an unofficial female Stooge. This must be manna for completists, of passing interest to all others. Leonard Maltin narrates. —Rod Lott