|Spencer “Spence” Brown
|An independent production released by Warner Bros.
Directed by Ralph Ceder
Run time: 62 minutes
Proof That It’s a Pre-Code Film
- Why do all the townies go to the hotel? It’s not for the drinks.
Meet the Mayor: Cutesy Crap
“Ain’t that the berries!”
From the realm of dreary folksy comedies comes A Fool’s Advice. Here we a have an elevator operator and part-time mechanic named Spencer Brown (Fay) who is beloved the town over and takes a special interest in getting the mayor (Berton Churchill) reelected– especially since his daughter is the beautiful Norma (Hall). To succeed, he must undermine Diamond (Hale Hamilton), the businessman running against the mayor, and the trio of thugs he’s recruited to help him win the election (led by the ever dependable Nat Pendleton).
There are ways to mine this situation comically or satirically or even dramatically, but A Fool’s Advice takes the bold route of shunning all of these. Instead, we have your typical “Sad Clown” story, the tragic figure who is kind to everyone and well-liked by everyone, but loved by no one. You see, Norma is in love with Spencer’s best friend, Harry (Meeker), and though Spencer saves the day (by complete accident), he must also give Norma and Harry his blessing, returning to his life as basically Superman without the brightly colored suit. Oh, and definitely without the Jewish undertones, too.
This movie is enough to make me want to throw up. I’ve talked extensively about Frank Fay before and have no desire to re-litigate that– especially after all the comments I’ve gotten recently about my dislike of Al Jolson. Fay at least ditches his usual persona of the wisecracking smooth know-it-all for a ‘gee, aw shucks’ sort of character. While this is obviously inspired by the success that Will Rogers and Joe E. Brown were having, Fay’s attempts are just kind of embarrassing; for a man pushing 40, and without the charm and verve of your Joe E. Brown, it just becomes a kind of insincere and pathetic.
A Fool’s Advice is a film of overly simple morality, where the rich people hiss bad guy dialogue like “I don’t pay you to think!” and the good guys say stuff like ‘shucks’ and ‘golly’. Some of the moments that are meant to be comic showpieces for Fay, like a rambling, incoherent speech he gives that revolves around just repeating platitudes about freedom and America fall flat with uninspired directing and rhythms. The film’s only really amusing moment is when Franklin Pangborn tries to pick up a woman. Sure, buddy.
The production history for this movie is so much more interesting than the end result, and I have it written up below for your pleasure. See? Sometimes this site has its uses.
Screen Capture Gallery
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Other Reviews, Trivia, and Links
- This is one where it’s production is much more interesting than the finished product. Frank Fay had a rough start in motion pictures. His role as the MC in Warner’s Show of Shows (29) seemed to portend a bright future, but his follow-up movies like Bright Lights and God’s Gift to Women went over like warm slop. While Fay’s film career floundered, he watched as his wife, Barbara Stanwyck, saw her career explode. Jealous and frustrated, Fay looked for a way to recalibrate his tuxedo and quip image into something more lovable and full of vaudeville corn.
- Using his and Stanwyck’s money, Fay wrote the story and script for A Fool’s Advice and independently financed it. It was shot over six painful days at Columbia. As per Victoria Wilson’s Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True:
- Though this one has its release date listed on IMDB as February 20, 1932, that’s just when the film was premiered. While Fay showed the movie in February of 1932, where it got reviewed in the Motion Picture Herald with overgenerous kindness, the movie would go without distribution for years. There were initially rumors that Columbia would distribute it, then Fox (so long as Fay and Stanwyck did a stage tour to promote it). By May, Variety was reporting that no one wanted to distribute the film.
- So who eventually released the movie? As per Steel-True, Warner Bros. agreed to, but only because Barbara Stanwyck stipulated in her contract renewal that they had to purchase the picture. There was no stipulation as to when they had to release it, though, and Jack Warner was embarrassed by the thought of putting it out under Warner’s label.
- In 1934, it looked like it might finally be distributed. This article in the Motion Picture Herald also reported that Warners was considering it on the recommendation of Father Coughlin, a nationally syndicated radio show host who spread antisemitic conspiracy theories and preached virtues of Hitler and Mussolini’s fascist governments, views he would have shared with Frank Fay.
- However, Warner Bros. would not release the film until 1938. As Steel-True explains, Fay negotiated a short walk-on part in their Stars over Broadway in 1935. As part of the deal, Warners was freed from having to distribute A Fool’s Advice, so they eagerly sold the picture to a film distributor in Chicago, the Times Exchange, who would retitle the film Meet the Mayor and finally release it in 1938.
- In an even more surreal touch to all this, the copyright notice on the film’s title card is inexplicably for 1927 rather than 1937.
- The blog Dead 2 Rights talks about the film. They snark, “Frank Fay once declared himself the world’s greatest comedian, and he strides through Meet the Mayor like he’s already earned the title just by showing up.”
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This film is in the public domain. I watched it on Amazon Prime, but you can also find it on YouTube.
More Pre-Code to Explore
Kia Julian · May 10, 2021 at 7:44 pm
I LOVE these reviews and my pupils dilate when I see the word “Dislike” in the banner! Lol! However, I wanted to hear you “relitigate” your discussion of Frank Fay, as, I for some reason, I must have missed it the first time. Your opinion of Al Jolson was hilarious and spot-on, and there are always people who aggressively cheer blackface and hokey, big-headed performers. So keep on doin’ what your doin’. I look forward to these reviews like you don’t even know!
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