Proof That It’s Pre-Code
- Jeez, just check out Velez’s dress, which is about an inch away from her genitals popping out to say hello.
- A montage in the movie shows the shadow of a clearly nude woman in the shower (she’s using a loofah in the screenshot below, don’t be dirty), on top of other shots of every inch of skin they could get away with showing.
- My Spanish ain’t what it should be, but I’ve been assured that one of Velez’s tirades is laced with Mexican profanity. There’s some good ol’ American profanity snuck in there too.
Hollywood Party: A Cavalcade of Crazy
“Do I look like a horse’s head?”
“No, not like a horse’s head…”
Let me start out with a brief explanation. I work in corporate America– yes, this site surprisingly does not cover the bills– and I work in software engineering. Part of that process includes dreaded downtime, where I’m waiting for a response or a project to work on, and am instead left begging for scraps less my bosses notice that I’m on my twelfth game of Spider Solitaire for the day.
Hollywood Party comes from the same sort of circumstances, where MGM noticed a lot of its contracted stars and directors needed something to do, so they simply threw them into a movie. Everyone trots out their routines, there’s dancing and skin galore, and the audience is left dazed as the whole movie, lacking any oversight, spins wildly out of control and into a nightmare landscape of debauchery and nihilism.
And I don’t just say ‘nihilism’ lightly, though almost any film with the comedic talents of Jimmy Durante alone are enough to inspire that. Hollywood Party was crafted by eight different directors and any chorus girl unlucky enough to be laying around into a wild, ungainly disaster. There’s bits of both Busby Berkeley and The Marx Brothers in the musical numbers, some Wheeler and Woolsey in the outfits, and more misguided opulence than you can shake a Lupe Velez at.
The film’s thoroughfare plot is in regards to Jimmy Durante’s faux franchise, Scharzan, “The Monarch of the Mudlands”. If you’ve ever wanted to see Jimmy Durante in a loincloth, well, congratulations, here’s the answer to all your prayers.
The films of Schnarzan– yes, it’s a joke about Durante’s nose, hope you love those– are going out of style as the public has stopped believing that the lions he wrestles are anything more than violent area rugs. They may have a point on that, so in-film Durante decides to throw a raucous party and invite an explorer named Baron Munchausen to sway the man to sell him his exotic and eternally irritable lions.
Subplots litter this movie like bodies on a battlefield. One involve Lupe Velez, playing Lupe Velez, being over-the-top angry at Durante for dropping her from the Schnarzan films. My memories of the last time I saw Velez and Durante team up in Strictly Dynamite certainly led to an overwhelming sense of dread in approaching this one, but, luckily they share few scenes. That still doesn’t help my general feelings on Velez’s persona, which is that of a temperamental hellion whose entire schtick is an on/off switch of horny and unintelligibly infuriated. It’s always more terrifying than funny.
Speaking of terrifying, Mickey Mouse himself makes an appearance in the movie, with Walt Disney providing the voice. During the party he takes turns mocking and hitting Durante (which is perfectly acceptable), but then introduces a short cartoon called “The Hot Chocolate Soldiers”. The cartoon, in vibrant three-strip Technicolor (which was just now coming into fashion), plays to the titular song by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed– yes, the geniuses behind “Singin’ in the Rain.”
The short itself is a glimpse into pure madness, though, a candy-coated version of All Quiet on the Western Front but lacking an anti-war bent until the last thirty seconds. We witness a battle between the worlds of chocolate and pastries, and it’s adorable because these are normally things we eat. It’s like if Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs was set in the middle of the Vietnam War.
The fight is pretty brutal, with the pastries beaten by the old Trojan Horse trick but with a chocolate dove instead of a lumbering horse. The wounds of the soldiers is horrifying, with many missing limbs (up to including their heads and torsos), but Disney decided to ramp this up by having an anthropomorphized sun turn to the audience, wink, and turn the Hot Chocolate Soldiers into a runny brown puddle, killing them all.
What the hell is the point of this?! You can’t give the audience ten minutes of glorified candy on pastry violence and then wipe it away with a winking Sun-god who melts the protagonists. Because, though we don’t see it, the pastries would not die under these circumstances. Is it because the Hot Chocolate Soldiers were the aggressors in this battle– some sort of coded warning to the very-isolationist Americans?
Hell if I know.
Okay, getting beyond my obsession with The Great Sugar Wars, there’s still much else to tackle in this movie. One of the more significant portions has Schnarzan’s rival trying to use a wealthy, if stupid, family of oil barons to purchase the lions. Charles Butterworth ends up violently failing at seducing Lupe Velez in the interlude, while Polly Moran is accosted by George Givot. While it’s fun to see just how amorally a 1934 film can portray wife-swapping, most of this falls flat on its face.
The family also has a daughter named Linda, played by June Clyde, who makes the mistake of using an elevator. Sexual predator Bob Benson (Eddie Quillan, who has the biggest, dumbest smile I’ve ever seen) instantly takes a shine to her and chases her around. They dance in a garden to a song whose choreography looks like someone went to a mental asylum and took notes.
God, what else. Oh, we get a few contracted comedy teams to show up and strut their stuff. Not even credited are Ted Healey and The Three Stooges, who stand out front of the party looking for autographs. A situation is contrived that involves all of them being hit on the noggin, if you can imagine such a thing.
Also there for the festivities– well, at the 50 minute mark of a 63 minute film– are Laurel & Hardy, a pair of interlopers who wish to reclaim the lions they sold to Baron Munchausen. They do their usual slow burn bits– attempting to enter the party against a surly butler’s wishes, engaging in a tit-for-tat egg smashing fight with Velez– and gracefully stumble out of the picture. Fans of theirs who aren’t completionists will do well in pretending this entry in their filmography doesn’t exist.
I should note that most of the songs here are beyond what most folks would consider music and verge more on crimes against your eardrums. The titular “Hollywood Party” is a mad jumble of words that attempts to be risque but functions better as bad beat poetry put to Hell’s orchestra. Durante gets his pick of numbers, including a romantic duet with Moran and a lengthy piece on reincarnation that only serves to give us nightmare fuel in that we see a horse puppet made up to look like Durante.
A lot of other reviews of this film prefer to focus on the film’s production, as it really is just a series of scenes shot with and by random people and eventually assembled and released in hope of turning a dime on the disaster. I suppose that it was ever released at all is considered a minor miracle, though it should be tempered with a reminder that ‘miracles’ do not always have to designate something of a universal good occurring.
Hollywood Party is one of those movies that’s undeniably bad, but also must simply be seen to be believed. Every time you read about the genius of Laurel & Hardy, the brilliance of Walt Disney, or the creative greatness of the Hollywood studio system, this serves as an unassailable counterpoint.
And, good god, that ending is awful.
Trivia & Links
- TCMDB takes an analysis of “The Hot Chocolate Soldiers” one further than me, illustrating how the cartoon mimics the film’s obsession with penises:
Also contributing to the fun are an unbilled bit by the Three Stooges as autograph seekers and a Technicolor cartoon spoof from Walt Disney, introduced by Mickey Mouse, titled The Hot Chocolate Soldiers. Despite it’s Disney credentials, the latter cartoon is a wild animated fantasy full of the most over-the-top phallic imagery from gingerbread men ramming the walls of a candy castle with chocolate logs to exploding custard eclairs to an orgiastic climax where everything gets covered in hot melted chocolate. Yikes! How did this get past the censors?
- This film does feature the ending to Queen Christina as part of its plot, but, don’t worry, unless you think the Queen dies or came somehow surmise the entire film from a thirty second stretch, it’s not much of a spoiler.
- Mordaunt Hall for the New York Times was pretty down on this one, and– besides spoiling the last minute twist in the subheader– notes:
“Hollywood Party,” the picture now at the Rialto, may have been very funny while it was being made, but as it comes to the screen it is not a little disappointing.
- The Random Movie Club enjoyed this film for all its dumbness. If you didn’t catch the goofiness going on with the film’s directors up above, they spell it out a bit more:
And get this – HOLLYWOOD PARTY had eight directors, including George Stevens (GIANT) and Sam Wood (DAY AT THE RACES/NIGHT AT THE OPERA), and none of them took a director’s credit. If HOLLYWOOD PARTY came out today, it would have been directed by Alan Smithee, Alan Smithee, Alan Smithee, Alan Smithee, Alan Smithee, Alan Smithee, Alan Smithee and the great Alan Smithee.
- One of the film’s many directors is Alan Dwan. You can read more about his films and their themes from Mike Grost, but you can also understand why he’s so critical to the completion of this film from IMDB’s Trivia Section:
Director Allan Dwan had just returned to Hollywood after three years living and working in England when he was invited to the MGM lot to watch the rough cut of “Hollywood Party.” After watching what he later described as “thousands of feet of film, all disconnected stuff,” Dwan was asked by E.J. Mannix, Louis B. Mayer’s assistant, what he thought of it. Dwan said, “It’s a nightmare” – and immediately Mayer seized on Dwan’s comment and decided to make the main part of the film Jimmy Durante’s dream. Dwan shot the beginning and ending framing sequences showing Durante falling asleep while waiting for his wife to get dressed for the party, and cast Durante’s real-life wife as his wife in the film. Dwan worked “two or three days” on the project and got “a nice fat check.” Though he wasn’t credited, working on “Hollywood Party” helped him re-establish his reputation in Hollywood, where he’d been forgotten during the three years he’d spent in England.
- The Skeins talks about the film on about the same terms as I do. They also explain Mickey Mouse’s relationship to MGM:
The non-human moments of the movie are the best, with a brash Mickey Mouse and the Chocolate soldiers providing more visual interest and mild entertainment than all the flesh and blood players combined. It’s strange to realize that a desperate Walt Disney had once approached MGM with a chance to buy his creation. According to Neal Gabler’s Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, MGM directors George Hill and particularly Victor Fleming were very enthusiastic about the mouse in the late ’20s, declaring to a threadbare Walt at a screening, “Man, you’ve got it! Damnedest best cartoon I’ve ever seen!” However, Metro mogul Louis B. Mayer, upon seeing one of the Silly Symphony cartoons “groused that men and women dance together, and boys and girls dance together, flowers do not dance together.” Cajoled into at least giving a Mickey Mouse cartoon a chance to beguile him, an outraged Mayer ordered the film to stop, declaring that “pregnant women go to see MGM films and that women are terrified of mice, especially a mouse ten feet tall on the motion picture screen.”
- For information about the crazy life and times of Lupe Velez, Classic Cinema Gold has got the lowdown.
- Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant, really got a kick out of this one, and apparently is a big fan of Lupe Velez, which I can’t even comprehend. He notes:
Also making a big impression is Lupe Velez, the original “Mexican Spitfire”. She bounds through the MGM back lot jungle in a costume made of little more than a few feathers, and is genuinely funny in her every appearance. As few in Hollywood knew how to write for Velez’s frantic verbal talents, she’s actually at her best here, where she can practically make up her scenes as she goes along. One setup has her throw a conniption fit over a telephone call. She kicks the phone around while letting loose a tirade of non-stop unintelligible Spanish, like Ricky Ricardo only much more ‘earthy’. I caught what may be two or three Spanish obscenities, but anybody who cocks and ear will hear Velez end her screaming fit by screaming a very clear, “YOU PIECE OF CHIT!” This is 1934 and the dumbbell censors must have thought it was just more Spanish. It’s phenomenal.
Hover over for controls.
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This film appeared in the Wikipedia List of Pre-Code Films.
- This film is available on Amazon and Warner Archive, and can be rented from Classicflix.
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brianpaige · January 3, 2014 at 7:08 am
Call me crazy but for whatever reason I kinda like this movie. I can certainly understand your negative review since none of it makes the slightest bit of sense (and yes, the horrid “it was all a dream” ending). I wouldn’t even use this as a negative against L & H since they really don’t have much screen time here.
If you want a fascinating read about this film, check out Henry Jenkins’ What Made Pistachio Nuts. That book has an entire chapter on the making of this film and how it was such a bizarre fiasco.
Danny · January 3, 2014 at 10:13 pm
I am definitely picking up that book next time I have a gift card. I don’t blame you for liking it, but I imagine the story behind it is so much better.
willmckinley · January 3, 2014 at 12:03 pm
This film has been sitting on my shelf, unwatched, for some time. And now, that must change.
Danny · January 3, 2014 at 10:07 pm
As the old saying goes, “to those about to die, we salute you!”
Kevin Scott Measimer · January 3, 2014 at 5:40 pm
I should find a copy. Mesmerized.
Danny · January 3, 2014 at 10:06 pm
I have all the links to it at the bottom. It’s luckily not hard to find now– but steal yourself.
John Mcclellan · December 18, 2014 at 4:02 am
Nice to find your site. I happen to own the 6 page 1933 contract between Disney and MGM for this movie, signed by Walter E Disney and E J Mannix. It is a fascinating contract specifically identifying a “silly symphonies” type of sequence featuring color and live action/animation which the contract states would be “novel”. The film itself is indeed a trainwreck put out to give out of work actors a job, but the disney sequences are rather endearing. Thanks for the article. Best of luck with your efforts to educate folks on pre-code hollywood history.
Danny · December 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm
Thanks, dude. And thanks for the story– that sequence is quite odd, but in a charming way. Quite unlike the rest of the film.
richroelandpark · March 28, 2016 at 5:14 am
Now I have to watch this !
Jonathan Tavaris · September 15, 2016 at 1:23 pm
I’m only acquainted with Jimmy Durante as the big-nosed ha-cha-cha caricature from old cartoons, but your sheer contempt of the guy never stops being funny. It’s one of many things that’s making going through and reading all your reviews so compelling.
I still have The Wet Parade from one of the Forbidden Hollywood collections sitting unwatched, and that’s a DRAMA starring Durante! Guess we’ll both have to endure that one of these days.
Beeja · December 2, 2016 at 6:45 pm
You’re crazy! One of my favorite movies!! Hilarious. Don’t take it so seriously xx
Mjm · December 29, 2017 at 9:43 am
Apparently there were a few skits that were filmed but then cut for time including a card playing skit with Durante, Moran, Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd impersonating Mae West (!); a swimming lesson skit with Velez, her then hubby Johnny Weissmuller and Jackie Cooper, “Black Diamond” with Joan Crawford as a Sadie Thompson-ish lady of the evening in blackface (a prelude to her infamous “Two Faced Woman” number from Torch Song?) a number with Durante and Moran spoofing “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” (the footage does survive for this number), musical number with Max Baer (I’m guessing this was similar to his mediocre number in The Prizefighter and the Lady)
Sketches planned for this movie but never filmed: “My Prayer”, a Rodgers and Hart song to be sung by Jean Harlow (which later evolved into the song “Blue Moon”), “I’m One of the Boys”with Marie Dressler spoofing Garbo and Dietrich, a sketch with Durante and Buster Keaton, a musical number with Marion Davies, and cameos by Clark Gable, Wallace Beery, Robert Montgomery, the kids of Our Gang and Norma Shearer
Steve Burstein · December 31, 2017 at 9:56 am
Have you seen the short subject GENTLEMEN OF POLISH? Look for it if you haven’t! It contains out-takes from HOLLYWOOD PARTY, including a wonderful dance by a pair waltzing to the melody that became “Over and Over Again” in JUMBO a year later. It’s miles ahead of anything that did get in the film!
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