|Released by RKO | Directed by Luther Reed
Run time: 97 minutes
Proof That It’s a Pre-Code Film
- “Damn, damn, damn!”
Dixiana: Gone with the Broken Wind
“Wait until I polish this on your snoot!”
Do you ever sit and wonder what the antebellum South was really about? I mean besides owning people and getting smashed on mint juleps. Here’s a RKO pre-Code that takes you back to that time where all views of the South were colored with nostalgia goggles thick enough to be opaque. The bayou is charming, beautiful, and, of course, caught in moral swamps that are greeted with a smile and nod. But, dammit, they know how to throw a party.
I’m kidding. Most all of our main characters are essentially strangers to the South and its ways. Here in Dixiana, it’s the 1840s and old man Van Horn (Joseph Cawthorn) is a Dutch Pennsylvanian who inherited a plantation and grumbles about it. Apparently he keeps releasing his slaves, noting as his reason: “My slaves sing better than any of the other slaves around here!” His servants are all dimwits, too, often the butt of jokes and scaredy cats. It’s uncomfortable to say the least. He and his son, the dopey Carl (Everett Marshall), are supposed to be the Northerners trying to understand the customs of this foreign world, when the most they do is kind of shrug and laugh about it.
If there’s a less interesting protagonist in a film I’ve seen, I can’t think of them. And I’ve seen East German collectivist musicals.
At best, opera star Everett Marshall seems to have influenced the cadence of Dudley Do-Right many years down the line. He’s big and loud and properly portrays someone who’s pretty dim overall. He falls in love with circus performer Dixiana (Daniels), which is all fine and good until his Southern stepmother (Jobyna Howland) finds that she’s theater folk and begins to wretch.
Bebe Daniels is gorgeous as Dixiana, though a bit underwhelming, often looking less like she’s swooning and more like she’s about to faint. And since the movie is heavily compartmentalized, you’re treated to lengthy sequences between Daniels and Marshall swooning at one another, which, frankly, I could have lived without. The villain of the film is Ralf Harolde, which is great, because he looks like James K. Polk dipped in baby oil, but, sadly, the extent of his villainy is murdering drunken idiots, which was a pretty common hobby back then.
The other compartment in Dixiana are the mirth-makers Wheeler and Woolsey, who spend a majority of the movie shuffling along the sidelines. Most of their material is lacking in this go around, often a replay of a ‘cigar’ trick that involves kicking one another in the hinder. The only bright spot in the film, besides a gorgeous two-strip Technicolor Mardi Gras finale, has to be their late film duel over the love of Nanny (Dorothy Lee). They have a sword fight that lasts through lunch, to put it lightly.
Bill Robinson, who would find fame tapping along with Shirley Temple, gets a two minute Technicolor sequence to do some fancy footwork. But, I mean, my highest praise for this three hour– I’m sorry, 90 minute– movie is a five minute comedy sequence and a brief bit of dancing. It’s a lumbering, oafish movie that looks at horrible things, chuckles mightily, and then launches into Romantic Plot #3 without an ounce of wit or charm. Screw it.
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Other Reviews, Trivia, and Links
- Mordaunt Hall in the New York Times seems to like it well enough:
Its scenes possess the glamour of ninety years ago, and Harry Tierney’s musical contributions enhance the effect, but the rowdy jesting is not quite so old, especially the lines of the jokesmiths. Hence it is an incongruous piece of work, not to be taken seriously, it is true, but often its comedy may be. […]
In fact they lead one to expect more than one is apt to get out of this production.
- KQEK is frustrated at the film.
Both the comedy bits and the songs feel like distractions to prevent audiences from realizing there’s barely any story in Dixiana, and whatever conflicts arise just sort of pop up from nowhere, and are resolved with very banal direction.
- Ed Watz’s essential Wheeler & Woolsey quotes star Dorothy Lee declaring this one, “a bomb.”
Dixiana is, ironically, one of the two Wheeler and Woolsey films that have lapsed into the public domain , meaning that it is commonly available on videotape from any number of fly-by-night exploitation companies. Pity the comedy fan who purchases his duped copy of this prehistoric turkey expecting a few honest laughs.
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This film appeared in the List of Pre-Code Films.
- This film is available in the Wheeler & Woolsey RKO Comedy Classics Volume 2, along with The Cuckoos, Too Many Cooks, Everything is Rosie, Cockeyed Cavaliers, and Silly Billies. A big ‘thank you’ to Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this film.