Jack Benny and Ida Lupino in Artists & Models (1937)


(director: Raoul Walsh; screenwriters: Walter DeLeon/Lewis E. Gensler/Francis Martin/Eve Greene/Harlan Ware/Sig Herzig/story by Eugene Thackrey; cinematographer: Victor Milner; editor: Ellsworth Hoagland; music: Robert Russell Bennett/Gordon Jenkins/John Leipold/Leo Shuken; cast: Jack Benny (Mac Brewster), Ida Lupino (Paula Sewell aka Paula Monterey), Richard Arlen (Alan Townsend), Gail Patrick (Cynthia Wentworth), Ben Blue (Jupiter Pluvius), Judy Canova (Toots), Charles Adler (Yacht Club Boys), James V. Kern (Yacht Club Boys), George Kelly (Yacht Club Boys), Billy Mann (Yacht Club Boys), Cecil Cunningham (Stella), Donald Meek (Dr. Zimmer), Hedda Hopper (Mrs. Townsend); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lewis E. Gensler; Paramount Pictures; 1937)

“Jack Benny excels in his first starring effort in films, showing off his flawless comic timing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Noted action director Raoul Walsh (“Sea Devils”/”The Naked and the Dead”/”Battle Cry”) helms this madcap musical comedy with vigor (the b&w busy musical is replete with vaudeville acts, musical revues and bits from radio programs). Legendary radio and TV comedian Jack Benny excels in his first starring effort in films, showing off his flawless comic timing. It was acclaimed by the critics and was a big box office hit for Paramount, and led to the follow-up film in 1938 Artists and Models Abroad that also starred Benny but was directed by Mitchell Leisen. The sequel did poorly at the box office.

Artist & Model’s only Oscar nomination was for Best Song, “Whispers in the Dark” by Friederich Hollaender and Leo Robin. Its most lively song “Sasha-Pasha” is performed by the Yacht Club Boys, as they are called in the film.

Struggling Brewster Advertising Agency head Mac Brewster (Jack Benny) is the chairman of the Artists and Models Ball and must choose a queen for the event. When Mac’s business is saved at the last minute as he’s out of the blue awarded the contract for a million dollar ad campaign by Alan Townsend (Richard Arlen), the young head of Townsend Silver, Mac promises his only client that he will make the next queen of the ball the “Townsend Silver Girl.” But Mac’s plan to fix the contest to have his professional model girlfriend Paula Sewell (Ida Lupino) win are vetoed by Townsend, who wants the winner to be a member of the social register. Sore loser to the fix Paula takes a new last name and flies down to Miami to fool Townsend into thinking she’s a debutante and they end up falling in love. Meanwhile Mac meets real socialite Cynthia Wentworth (Gail Patrick), who visits him to get the ball to contribute to her favorite charity the ‘Babies Health Foundation.’ Mac after seeing Cynthia in a swim suit promises her the fix is in for her to be the queen. They also plan to announce their engagement at the ball, which complicates things because he promised to announce his engagement to Paula at the ball.

While the mix up gets straightened out in the climax, the film serves up a delicious variety show. The most controversial number was staged by the then unknown Vincente Minnelli “Public Melody No. 1.” It angered several bigoted southern states, who objected to Martha Raye singing like a Harlem Negro and dancing with Negroes onscreen. Also in that number are Andre Kostelanetz and his orchestra and trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

In addition to Benny’s droll comical efforts, Cecil Cunningham is pleasingly tart as his secretary. Judy Canova is Lupino’s loyal but goofy roommate of three years. Vaudeville comedian Ben Blue is Canova’s screwball rainmaker boyfriend. Gossip reporter Hedda Hopper has a cameo as Arlen’s haughty socialite mother. Also doing a cameo is famed cartoonist Rube Goldberg, the man whose name became used for the term to explain outrageously complicated contraptions that perform simple tasks or nothing at all. Goldberg and several other noted cartoonists like Peter Arno appear as part of the number “Mr. Esquire” — an imaginative set-piece involving the Russell Patterson puppets, called the “Personettes.” These puppets were made to resemble famous Paramount stars of the day such as Burns and Allen, W.C. Fields, Carole Lombard and Claudette Colbert.