|Released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Directed by Nick Grinde, Edward Sedgwick and Malcolm St. Clair
Run time: 65 minutes
Proof That It’s a Pre-Code Film
- “Tell me, doctor, what part of the pig did all these sausages come from?”
- “Baby, you’d look good to me with nothing on!”
Remote Control: Change the Channel
“You’re quite fresh, aren’t you?”
“No, just well preserved!”
Remote Control is a spectacularly grating film, one in which star William ‘Billy’ Haines is pretty much given free reign to play one of the most awful characters to grace the film screen. His William Brennan starts out the movie as an employee at a record store. When beautiful Marion (Doran) walks into the store, Brennan gets himself fired so he can chase her all over town. She resists, but almost immediately finds herself in an awkward position– she’s a secretary at her brother’s radio station, and her brother is old friends with Brennan and instantly makes him her boss.
Brennan’s big plans to revitalize the radio station’s fortunes pretty much come from running about a dozen shows of himself showing off his different impersonations. They’re all pretty bad, though his character is one that finds himself endlessly funny. He also can’t ever turn off the jokes, constantly finding new and exciting ways to annoy everyone around him. There’s no connecting to Brennan, he’s like a one man “Saturday Night Live” sketch that endures 64 minutes, where Goat Boy or Peaches or whoever can never get tired of their own voice.
Since Brennan is such a nitwit, they had to make the villain even dumber just to get a plot out of things. Dr. Kruger, a phony spiritualist, is one of only two other acts that Brennan hires for the station. But Kruger takes a liking to Marion and her to him, so Brennan instantly mistrusts the man. It doesn’t help when Kruger’s broadcasts, which include things like mentioning “OPPORTUNITY is at a BANK in SUCH AND SUCH AREA”, making him the most suspicious villain of all time. Even an idiot like Brennan picks up on it after a single broadcast, so the rest of Kruger’s gang (who I’m never sure why needed the dumb radio broadcasts to plot their heists) pick him up and plan to frame him.
The film’s solution, which involves Roscoe Ates stuttering up a storm, the most conveniently placed newspaper headlines and the crucial use of dancing paper dolls almost has to be seen to be believed, though perhaps, sometimes, it’s better to believe on faith alone.
Brennan wins Marion, too, more out of a process of elimination that any real romance. Haines’ constant wisecracks are misses, and it’s nearly impossible not to root for him to learn a lesson or at least stub his toe.
I don’t think I can properly encapsulate in words how aggravating this film is. While the sound recording is fine and they sneak in a few good looking shots once in a while, unless you want to see Haines in a talkie, skip this one hard. And if you don’t listen to me, don’t be surprised if you, too, may suddenly feel that talking pictures aren’t all they’re cracked up to be after all. At least in a silent film he’d have had to shut up.
Click to enlarge. All of my images are taken by me at full screen size– please feel free to reuse with due credit!
Trivia & Links
- The film somehow had three (one source notes four) directors, none of whom are credited on screen.
- The New York Times gets it:
In view of Brennan’s lack of modesty, it is problematical whether this can be construed as a happy ending, for there may be some in the audience who might prefer to see this young man a victim of a crook’s bullet.
Jennifer - Flapper Flickers & Silent Stanzas · May 20, 2016 at 1:09 am
I can’t stand what talkies did to Billy – or what Billy did to talkies. He goes from “charming scamp” to supreme annoyance, bordering on harasser. It’s depressing.
Danny · May 23, 2016 at 10:04 pm
It’s really one of the most stark differences between silent actors and how they became their talkie personas. It’s interesting to study, but not enjoyable to watch.
Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman) · May 20, 2016 at 4:54 am
Okay. We’ve been warned!
Jim Stevens · May 20, 2016 at 8:21 am
Couldn’t agree more. This may be the worst Haines talkie I’ve seen…and most of them are pretty awful. He’s creates a new subcategory of annoying with this one.
brianpaige · June 7, 2017 at 3:35 pm
Yeah Haines is pretty bad in sound films. Danny, if you want a truly jaw dropping experience you need to see his 1930 film Way Out West (no relation to L & H). The guy goes around the entire film acting totally gay without attempting to play his actual character. Just amazing.
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