New Faces of 1937 (1937) – reviewed by George

This movie stars Joe Penner, Milton Berle, Parkyakarkus, Harriet Hilliard, William Brady, Jerome Cowan, Thelma Leeds, Tommy Mack, and Bert Gordon. And Ann Miller gets 17th billing. It was produced by Edward Small (a Small production!), directed by Leigh Jason, with a screenplay by Nat Perrin, Philip G. Epstein, and Irv S. Brecher, adapted by Harold Kusell, Harry Clark, and Howard J. Green, based on the story “Shoestring” by George Bradshaw.
Jerome Cowan plays a Broadway producer of variety revues, and Milton Berle is his current investor who is trying to exercise some rights over casting. Milton thinks he is the sole investor and that 90% of the profits will be his in return for absorbing all of the cost. Cowan gets 10% of the profits for his name and offices and theater. Berle leaves and Cowan explains the mathematics of theater to Parkyakarkus: Get four investors, each of whom puts up the total cost of the show, each (like Berle) thinking his return will be 90%. Then, since you have final say over casting, you make casting decisions like hire the awful, reject the good, and selecting lousy songs over good ones in order to be sure you have a flop. Each of your four investors has lost everything, and you get the 75% you didn’t spend, plus the money you got for your name, etc.
Does this sound like the basic idea for “The Producers” to anyone else, or am I hallucinating? Yeah, there were little old lady investors in that film who could never buy more than a piece of the show, but still – sell more than 100% of the show, flop, and keep the investment money that’s left, that nobody but you knows about (and Parkyakarkus).
Well, Cowan is fine, hiring the worst over Berle’s objections, cutting the good numbers, keeping the bad, until Harriet Hilliard sees what is happening and invests for the full cost of the show (she’s investor # 5!) so that her boyfriend Jimmy (William Brady) will get the showcase he deserves. And she is very outspoken about changing wrong-headed decisions and keeping the show on track. The result is justice, so no surprise. One example of Cowan’s destructive proclivities: the song in the movie that I liked the best, “The Widow in Lace”, is the first number performed in the film and is the first number cut by Cowan. He is wasting no time!
The movie also features a host of revue performers in production numbers: The Four Playboys; The Rio Brothers; Lowe, Hite & Stanley (Hite is unbelievably tall!); The Loria Brothers; The Brian Sisters; and The Three Chocolateers.
Lots of wisecracks, lots of singing and dancing, it’s a pretty cute movie. I’d sure like to read “Shoestring” though.

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