Monday, September 16, 2013

Service With a Smile

I see that TCM has scheduled the short Service With a Smile for a little aftre 7:40 PM this evening, following An Ideal Husband, which begins at 6:00 PM and has a listed running time of 93 minutes.

Leon Errol, who made a whole bunch of two-reelers in the 1930s, is the star of this one, released by Warner Bros./Vitaphone in 1934. Errol plays Walter Webb, who runs a service station, back in the days when they weren't just gas stations attached to a convenience store, but offered mechanics and more for all your motoring needs. Webb is woken up one night by his assistant, who tells him that the service station has burned to the ground. That would be a bad thing, except that Webb has insurance! And the insurance money will enable him to build the service station of his dreams.

Not only does Webb have insurance; Leon Errol has three-strip Technicolor: Service With a Smile is one of the earliest live-action movies in three-strip Technicolor, which had first been used by Disney for its animation a few years earlier. Anyhow, Webb uses the insurance money, and the studio uses its Technicolor, to come up with a service station that looks like it could have come out of a Busby Berkeley dance number. The workers entertain the patrons with elaborate song and dance numbers, while wearing greens and purples that clearly must have been selected with the intention of showing off the new three-strip Technicolor process. There's no realistic way a service station like this could be a going concern, as it would never turn a profit. But this is Hollywood.

Service With a Smile is reasonably entertaining, and an above average effort for a Vitaphone short. To be honest, though, the main reason to watch it is for the Technicolor. The last tiem I saw this on TCM, they had what looked like a pretty good print for a 1934 short. The color is much better than what you see in any of the Traveltalks shorts that TCM airs, for example. The music and dancing is more dated than anything else, but there's nothing particularly wrong with it by 1930s standards. People who don't care so much for old movies might only find the Technicolor interesting; those of us who are fans of 1930s films will probably enjoy the movie as a whole.

I don't know if TCM marks any of its shorts as being available on DVD, as they'd only be extras accompanying some other feature. IMDb, however, does a somewhat better job of linking to Amazon when there is a DVD out there that has some short as an extra. In the case of Service With a Smile, there's no such link, so I'm guessing it's not available on DVD at all. That's surprising, since you'd think its early Technicolor would make it a more likely candidate to get included on some other DVD.

No comments: