Half Shot at Sunrise (1930) Review

Proof That It’s Pre-Code

  • Large chunks of satire aimed at the government and the military, which the Production Code enforcement would later directly prevent.
Woolsey gets seduced by another strong woman, and she rips his clothes off. Literally, piece by piece.
  • Our racy lines for this week are as follows:

“As Adam said to Eve, pick yourself a couple of leaves.”

An attractive woman coos: “Can’t you be nice to me?”
Woolsey’s response: “I can’t be nice to you, I’m married!”

“He wants me to make love to you so you won’t turn us in!”

“Lovely war we’re having!”

  • Just as a reminder, the word ‘make’ in a lot of Pre-Codes refers to the act of making love. So when Bert says something like the following, you may understand what the gag is:

“I may look like a million dollars, but I’ll be much easier to make.”

Surely You Can’t Be Serious

“I think it’s nice to meet a girl who’s beautiful enough to be dumb but doesn’t take advantage of it.”

For those just joining me, this is my fourth film covering one of the films by the early 1930’s comedy duo, Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey. They’re a pair of vaudevillians with an anarchist streak: Wheeler is the cute youngin’ who always gets in with a pretty girl, and Woolsey is the fast talker with a tendency towards gold digging. Together, in this movie, they’re a pair of soldiers on the run from their commanding officers.

The boys all ready for war.

Half Shot at Sunrise is the team’s first attempt at doing a satire on war, which they later managed to perfect in Diplomaniacs. It foresees the level of zaniness in that film, and manages to suffer from significantly few overwrought musical numbers, which are more often than not the downfall of these pictures. For one of their 1930 entries, this one manages a level of goofiness that few of the others haven’t held; heck, the Wheeler and Woolsey play characters so slippery that they even manage to escape a photograph at one point.

It’s that kind of over-the-top buffoonery that bring this film to life. The guys are doing everything they can in Europe to not fight in the first World War and instead schmooze their way through Paris. The top brass aren’t very fond of this, so a pair of Military Police are sent to chase them down.

They’re coming on behalf of Colonel Marshall (George MacFarlane), who unfortunately has a secret admirer, Olga (Leni Stengel), who continuously tries to seduce him away from his wife. The film finds Parisian women willing and wanting. Further complications arise when Wheeler falls for Annette (Dorothy Lee), the colonel’s coy daughter. The colonel sees this as an opportunity, and uses this bargaining chip to force the boys to run a dangerous message across No Man’s Land.

 And Never Call Me Shirley

“What he doesn’t know about driving could fill a hospital!”

The film’s setting during World War I does lend the film a weird sense of gravitas near the end of the film, as its climax involves Bert making the aforementioned run through No Man’s Land. Woolsey volunteers Wheeler, and gets a bit sentimental when Bert gets ready to run. When a massive explosion goes off, Woolsey, in an uncharacteristically serious moment, runs off to check to see if Wheeler is okay. The captain tries to stop him from going, but Woolsey shouts back:

“That’s my pal! He needs me, and I’m going for him!”

True romance

He makes it out to the dying Wheeler, and the film shows him trying to comfort his possibly-dying comrade. The movie does a great job subverting this moment with a quick joke– Bert can’t feel his hand because Woolsey is poking at the hand of the man Bert’s on top of. And the man Bert is on top of is an MP who have been chasing the two for the entirety of the film.

I’ve mentioned before (and will certainly mention again) that we’re dealing with films only about a decade out from the first World War, so it’s interesting to compare this to the more Depression-grounded Diplomaniacs. Half Shot deals with a pair of deserters who admirably do the right thing in the end; they fail in their jobs, but only because their initial charge to deliver the message was flawed– the secret orders were actually a love note from Olga.

More importantly, in attempting to deal with valor and friendship, Half Shot seems to maintain faith in the idea that dying for your country and your fellow soldiers was still something to be taken seriously amidst the chaos. Diplomaniacs, on the other hand, took nothing seriously, and set the world into war once again in middle finger to the bumbling leaders of the world.

Half Shot is the product of nostalgia rather than grief, which makes it less interesting but still a good amount of fun and definitely one of the team’s better early entries.

Trivia & Links

  • According to IMDB, this movie had three musical numbers cut out of it. As someone who isn’t a huge fan of early sound musical numbers, that’s kind of a relief.
  • Mitch Lovell over at The Video Vacuum gives this one a favorable review, and I pretty much agree with what he has to say.


Danny lives outside Tokyo, Japan, with his lovely wife, adorable daughter, and two yappy dogs. 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.

5 thoughts on “Half Shot at Sunrise (1930) Review

  1. This is a good one, though I will say it does have more cheesy one liners than nearly every other W & W flick. You’re not a fan of the various Wheeler/Lee duets though?

    In a lot of ways this is a VERY pre code entry. Let’s face it…can you imagine something like this coming out a decade or so later during WW2? Our heroes are two AWOL scumbags more or less and Bert is blatantly romancing the jailbait Colonel’s daughter (recall the jaw dropping “You couldn’t learn that in 16 years!” line).

    A word has to be said for the waiter routine. One of the duo’s best routines ever, as they torment the Colonel in the restaurant.

    1. The problem when I go a while between seeing the movie and finishing the review is that I forget some details– and that waiter routine is indeed pretty great. And, personally, I’m a big fan of cheesy one liners. 🙂

  2. Proof that it’s Pre-Code, you say?

    Dorothy Lee: This is for you! And THAT’S for your papa!
    Robert Woolsey: Papa gets the best of everything!

    1. Apparently your site didn’t want to include the stage directions- “That’s for your papa” refers to Dorothy waving her rear end in the air, hence Woolsey’s reply.

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