Manhattan Parade (1931) Review, with Winnie Lightner and Charles Butterworth

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Doris Roberts
Winnie Lightner
Herbert P. Herbert
Charles Butterworth
Lou & Jake
Smith & Dale
Released by Warner Bros. | Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Run time: 75 minutes

Proof That It’s a Pre-Code Film

  • Set in the world of costume design, it’s a good excuse to showcase good figures.
  • “Henry the VIII wore nightgowns. Pajamas weren’t introduced into bed– into England until much later.”
  • One of the film’s repeating gags is a gay costume designer named Paisley. He’s all the stereotypes you can imagine, including answering to “madam” at one point.
  • “We got an order of Lady Godiva costumes. Only Lady Godiva didn’t wear anything. I referred the woman to the wig department, only they’re out of long wigs.”
  • The main character’s husband chases secretaries. “You want me, Mr. Roberts?” “Yes.”
  • “Aw, these are sissy pajamas!”
  • Jokes about suicide.
  • Divorce saves the day.

Manhattan Parade: Rain, Rain, Rain

“How do you think we felt when our friends explained what that meant?”

I’m gonna go ahead and steamroll through this one and save us all precious moments of our far-too-short lives. Manhattan Parade is a void of humor. It’s dull, it’s predictable, it’s bad.

YEARGHHHHHHH

In Manhattan Parade, Lightner has the misfortune of being the dramatic center of a comedy. This is especially strange since Lightner was a no-holds-barred great comedienne. Instead, she’s the Atlas who carries the film’s plot on her back while the supporting characters all dance for the camera, sweat on their brows, that legendary vaudeville hook waiting offstage for the right moment that, sadly, never comes.

The comedy, as it is, is a mix of bland innuendos and constant shouting, as if shouting something wacky with conviction makes it instantly funny. And, you know what, sometimes that does work. I still wouldn’t base a 75 minute film on that alone, though.

Little Timmy is stuck on the phone?!?

Lightner plays Doris, who runs a Broadway costuming company. She manages the place while her husband John manages the secretaries. You know to boo and hiss John the moment he harangues his wife into staying home with their kid, and nods to her acquiescence with, “That’s a good girl!”. I can’t even imagine how my wife would react to that one.

John runs away from the business. This leaves two verbose, bickering Broadway backers (Smith & Dale) in a lurch, as well as the company’s researcher (Butterworth) and fey costume designer (Bobby Watson). Lightner shoots back in with a scheme to save the day, but there’s always that husband lurking. The only upside to the dramatic arc of the film is that Lightner’s character is proved to be more than a competent businesswoman; her skills are better put to the use of providing life and livelihood to dozens of employees rather than putting up with her brat at home.

Oh, hey, cabbage patch Miriam Hopkins

Besides that, the redeeming features of this movie I can name include “it’s not quiet very often” and “Charles Butterworth holds an ostrich who is wearing a bonnet”, but the list grows sparse from there. Unfortunately, it looks bland and moves slow. This is a movie perfectly representative of just the kind of movie it is, and wisely forgotten in the mists of time.

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Other Reviews, Trivia, and Links

  • Two Winnie Lightner numbers were cut from the film before release because of the great musical backlash of 1931.
  • Originally released in color; it only appears to survive in black and white.

Awards, Accolades & Availability

  • This film is a rare one, but plays oh-so-often on TCM.

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Danny

Danny is a librarian who lives on the coast of California with his lovely wife, adorable daughter, and yappy dog. He blogs bi-weekly at pre-code.com, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934, and can be found on Twitter @PreCodeDotCom.

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