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.

The law secretaries during the day become the cigarette girls at night. Oh my.

  • 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.”

Irreconcilable Differences

 “It’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity!”

$100 for a divorce? I’d have to be crazy not to do it!
(Don’t tell my fiancee I said this.)

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.

Wheeler makes a hell of a woman.

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?”

Pick some adjectives off a list and, boom, instant divorce.

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.

Why am I thinking about Woolsey’s penis here? Anyone?

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!”


Danny is a writer who lives with his lovely wife, adorable children, and geriatric yet yappy dog. He blogs at, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934, and can be found on Twitter @PreCodeDotCom.


Karen · July 23, 2012 at 5:41 am

Great write-up, Danny — I have never heard of this film! Also, I’m too lazy to look it up, but I’m not even sure if I’ve ever seen a Wheeler and Woolsey movie. I will have to get caught up. This one sounds like a good place to start.

    Danny · July 23, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Definitely a better place than Diplomaniacs (which is also good). Of the ones I’ve seen now, this and that one are the best. Thanks for reading, Karen!

Brian · July 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Peach is the W & W flick that made me a huge fan. Absolutely one of the funniest movies of the 1930s in my book. I’m not entirely sure if Peach is the perfect intro to the duo, since I’d say it’s more of Wheeler’s showcase than Woolsey’s (it’s Bert’s best performance). I’d say Hips, Hips, Hooray is an ideal intro to a newbie. It was the first one my wife saw, and she loved it.

    Danny · July 24, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Hips Hips is now at the top of my queue. Thanks!

justjack · July 31, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Finally, my first W&W flick. I’d avoided them years ago when they were first getting shown on AMC and TCM because their movie descriptions sounded so derivative of better movie comedians. But reading about them here got me interested, particularly now that I get what “pre-Code” means, so when TCM this week aired Peach-O-Reno, I was ready.

Interesting that the first half of the movie is sort of conventional comedy, and not that impressive. Part 3 Stooges, part minor league Marx Brothers, part bad WC Fields. Woolsey’s timing in particular seems slow compared to Groucho, who would appear to be his model.

But I suddenly loved the movie during Bert Wheeler & Dorothy Lee’s song and dance number, “Niagra Falls to Reno.” I never expected Wheeler to be that talented! He and Dorothy Lee did a terrific job dancing to the jazz number, and when Dorothy whipped off her skirt, I was all in.

From that point on, the movie got crazier and crazier. The big courtroom climax was terrific. I was expecting the law firm of Jackson Jackson Jackson & Jackson to be your typical antagonist to W&W, but I was delighted to find that once Jackson was appointed to the bench, he was just as loony as everyone else.

Although not a masterpiece, this was quite enjoyable. I’m looking forward to more W&W.

    Danny · August 2, 2013 at 8:21 am

    Ha! Well, I’ll admit I’m different in that I loved all of Peach– Wheeler’s drag act is a blast– but I can see where you’re coming from. More than other comedians of the era, since RKO had them make so many films, Wheeler and Woolsey can still be rather hit or miss. If I had to pick two others to recommend off the top of my head, try Hold ‘Em Jail and Diplomaniacs (though the latter is horribly un-PC, so watch out for that). Diplomaniacs has my favorite musical number in pre-Code as Marjorie White and Bert Wheeler have a romantic diddy that goes horribly off the rails; it’s amazing.

    Anyway, good luck with more W&W. I should definitely get back to hitting more of their films myself.

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