Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Robert Woolsey, 1888-1938

1930s RKO comedy team Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey

Today is 125 years to the day since the birth of Robert Woolsey. Woolsey started his career on Broadway, and it was during the production of the Broadway musical Rio Rita that he met Bert Wheeler. The two were brought out to Holywood by new studio RKO in 1929 to make a movie version of the musical, and when that movie proved to be a hit, it made Wheeler and Woolsey a star comedy team for RKO, making a good 20 movies or so together over the next eight years until Woolsey's untimely death in 1938.

I don't know if I've done a full-length review of any of Wheeler and Woolsey's movies before, although I did mention the two of them back in October 2009, mentioning Girl Crazy as one of my favorite of their films. Their version isn't as well known as the 1943 version starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, which just aired last night. It doesn't help that George Gershwin's wonderful songs are not nearly the focus of the 1932 film the way they are in the 1943 version. The Wheeler and Woolsey version involves the two of them getting brought out west by a playboy friend (Eddie Quillan) to help him turn his ranch into a vacation resort; Wheeler gets elected sheriff and all sorts of comedic complications ensuing. A couple of Wheeler and Woolsey's early films had scenes in two-strip Technicolor, but Girl Crazy is not among them; the aforementioned Rio Rita is. Also, Rio Rita has received a Warner Archive release to DVD while Girl Crazy hasn't. I'd like to think that Wheeler and Woolsey deserve one of those four-film box sets that TCM likes to hawk, or even Girl Crazy deserves to be part of a two-movie set with the Garland/Rooney version. But I despair to think how few people would buy a non-MOD DVD of a Wheeler and Woolsey film. It's also far too infrequently that TCM shows any of these.

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