Proof That It’s Pre-Code
- The film is a parody of the culture of the city of Reno in the 30’s. Back then it was a mecca for getting quick and cheap divorces. As such, this movie turns into a parody of the industry, with lots of nasty little pokes at the institution of marriage.
- As per the usual for Bert Wheeler, he’s in a dress for a good chunk of the movie. He notes:
“I can’t be a woman! I’m not masculine enough.”
- “I’ll tell you what– I’ll never again marry a man who snores!”
“That’s it, lady, and I bet you’ll have a lot of fun finding out.”
- Okay, my fiancee didn’t know this, so I wanted to make sure everyone is on the same page. When someone ‘makes’ someone else, that implies that they’re having sex. So when an old man chides Wheeler-as-a-woman in this next quote, you’ll understand why the both bust up laughing immediately afterward:
“That’s a football pin. You can’t wear one of these until you make the team!”
- The film ends with a courtroom battle involving play-by-play, dueling attorneys on the same side, and a peanut vendor. The jury even busts out musical instruments to play a nice rendition of “Here Comes the Bride.”
“It’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity!”
While not as deliriously unhinged as Diplomaniacs, Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey’s Peach-O-Reno continues to have the sharp knife of satire in its repertoire. This one takes on Reno, Nevada. Long before it was a gambling haven, Reno was famous as the place to get quick and dirty divorces for the people of the San Francisco and Northern California area.
Wheeler and Woolsey along with director William Seiter take this idea and elevate it to total farce. A bickering couple, Aggie (Cora Witherspoon) and Joe Bruno (Joseph Cawthorn) head to Reno separately to file for divorce. They get off the train and find the bus for lawyers Wattles (Bert Wheeler) and Swift (Robert Woolsey) ready to pick up passengers.
Both men are how Wheeler and Woolsey usually are– gleefully nutso. They have a couple of issues to contend with– the Bruno’s daughters (Dorothy Lee and Zelma O’Neal) as well as a pissed off former-husband (Mitchell Harris) who wants to put a couple of bullets into Wattles’ maw. The stakes are raised even higher when it’s revealed that Wattles and Swift run a side business and that their law offices turn into a casino at night.
Dancing around with vice and American values, the duo takes plenty of pot shots at the sanctity of marriage, and even traditional gender roles. Wattles decides to avoid the gun toting madman by dressing as a woman and soon submerges himself into the role.
Filling the Figure
This plays into the gender bending that the Bright Lights article I mentioned last time. Here’s a relevant sample:
Wheeler appears in a black V-neck gown with a white fur collar, but doesn’t alter the standard pitch of his voice, merely the inflections on words like “ducky.” So Wheeler doesn’t sound like a woman, so much as a stereotyped pre-Code pansy. For the viewer, who is more knowing than the characters in the film who don’t question that Wheeler is an actual woman, it’s not so much that he is a woman, but a man who is absolutely determined to erase all traces of conventional masculinity, but never totally succeeds. Gender is never so plainly a matter of performance as it is in glamour drag and Peach O’Reno is fully attuned to that. One of the Widow’s slobbering suitors remarks, on inspecting her costume, “that’s a swell-lookin’ dress you got on there, baby; I guess you believe clothes make the man.” Even before Wheeler dons women’s clothes, he balks by saying to Woolsey, “I could never pass for a woman, I don’t look masculine enough.”
“Danny,” you’re saying right now, assuming you know my name, “Are you just inserting other people’s commentary into your review instead of creating your own?”
Why, yes. Yes I am. Half because I’m shit at gender identity discussion, the other half because this is a pretty apt dressing down. The idea of gender as an assumed identity rather than a definitive thing is an interesting way to read the film, and plays a lot into the way Wheeler and Woolsey treat both their characters and their character’s sexuality.
The film’s dressing down of marriage is a little less interesting if only because it’s become so much more common. After the divorce rate skyrocketed in the last half of a century, it’s no wonder that some of the barbs feel a little behind the times. This is especially apparent in the prologue cataloging the quick descent of a blissful relationship to a ruinous event; it plays like so many turn of the millennium sitcoms that it seems unfair.
The film’s climax, though, remains a treat, as the legal proceedings turn the courtroom into something that would do the Marx Brothers proud. It’s always been easy to make fun of legal procedures, but the pageantry displayed here demonstrates a disturbing lack of faith in the government’s ability not to be a circus. Considering when this is made, that’s not much of a surprise.
Peach-O-Reno, with its playful regard to American vice and zippy structure, is one of the best Wheeler and Woolsey vehicles I’ve seen so far. Reno today is struggling to turn into something other than a den of vice, but this film remains as a humorous testament to its days as the sin capital of the country.
Trivia & Links
- No New York Times review this week, and nothing interesting from anyone else. Luckily, I ended up writing down a lot of quips from this one, so I guess I’ll go ahead and share:
“When I made poopie, it stays made!”
“Won’t you miss his vacant chair?”
“No, but I’ll miss his vacant face!”
“Do you remember your wedding day? Or don’t you want to?”
“What am I going to do with my head?”
“The same thing you’ve always done with it. Nothing!”