Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Half-Nakd Truth

Last night's DVR watch was The Half-Naked Truth, a vintage RKO movie available on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.

Lee Tracy plays Jimmy Bates, a carnival barker in a traveling show that's not doing very well. Bates' attraction is Teresita (Lupe Velez), a hoochie-koochie dancer. With things going badly for everybody in the carnival, and not just Jimmy and Teresita, Jimmy gets the bright idea to spice things up with a thoroughly fraudulent story. He claims that Teresita has tried to shoot herself over her shame at being the illegitimate child of a citizen (long-since deceased) of the small town where the carnival is performing, and that she'll name the name at that night's show. The cops figure out it's a fraud, and try to arrest Jimmy and Teresita.

But the two are able to stay one step ahead of the cops, and along with the attraction Achilles (Eugene Pallette), they make their way to New York City. Here, Jimmy comes up with another bizarre plan, this time to try to pass Teresita off as the Turkish Princess Exotica, with Achilles being a harem eunuch. The hope is that they can attract the attention of Broadway producer Merle Farrell (Frank Morgan), who will then cast Teresita/Exotica in his new revue. It takes a lot of shenanigans for Jimmy to pull this one off.

But just when it seems that Teresita is going to hit it big, things hit a snag. Teresita's Turkish gag is a flop, although the song "Mr. Carpenter" is a big hit. And Farrell begins to take a personal shine to Teresita. This last thing is the really big problem, since Jimmy loves Teresita and was planning to propose to her. Farrell's unintentional interference threatens to split Jimmy and Teresita up professionally, not just personally....

I've mentioned in several other movie reviews that Lee Tracy was really good at playing cynical in the pre-Codes that he made. Here, he's playing something somewhat related, the dishonest but lovable con man. It reminded me of some of the things Jack Carson would do in the 1940s, but here, I found Tracy's character so dishonest that it turned me off. Also, the schemes came across to me almost as unrelated sketch comedy. There are movies where this works; I generally enjoyed International Hotel for example. But this one fell flat. It's a bit of a shame, since everybody around Tracy does well in their roles. Lupe Velez is a force of nature, and Pallette gets some bizarre scenes, perhaps most notably having to run a phony nudist colony. Franklin Pangborn shows up for a few scenes as the put-upon hotel manager, a role he could have played in his sleep.

The Half-Naked Truth is another of those movies that really could benefit from being on one of those four-movie box sets that TCM used to put out.

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