John Barrymore, Kay Kyser, Ginny Simms, and Lupe Velez in Playmates (1941)


(director: David Butler; screenwriters: James V. Kern/Arthur Phillips/story is by James V. Kern and M.M. Musselman; cinematographer: Frank Redman; editor: Irene Morra; music: Roy Webb; cast: Kay Kyser (Himself), John Barrymore (Himself), Lupe Velez (Carmen del Toro ), Ginny Simms (Herself), May Robson (Grandma Kyser), Peter Lind Hayes (Pete Lindsey), Patsy Kelly (Lulu Monohan), Harry Babbitt (Band Member), M. A. Bogue (Ish Kabibble), George Cleveland (Mr. Pennypacker), Alice Fleming (Mrs. Pennypacker), Sully Mason (Band Member); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David Butler; RKO; 1941)
John Barrymore’s last film is a stinker.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Barrymore’s last film is a stinker. It’s hard for a great film career to sink any lower than end it with such a clunker. The once great film actor plays a caricature of himself and embarrasses himself in a role that leaves a lot to be desired. David Butler(“Road to Morocco”/”Calamity Jane”/”Leave it to Beaver”) directs this musical weirdo comedy to be funny only in a sophomoric way. The story by James V. Kern and M.M. Musselman comes off as idiotic. Writers Arthur Phillips and James V. Kern turn in an inadequate screenplay.

The dissolute, washed up, down-on-his-luck and much married John Barrymore agrees to turn bandleader Kay Kyser into a Shakespearean actor, which is supposed to be a real hoot. Barrymore is in deep debt and is being helped out by Kyser and his band when the IRS haunts him for back taxes.

Barrymore’s press agent Pete Lindsey (Peter Lind Hayes) and manager Lulu Monohan (Patsy Kelly) suggest that if Barrymore does the nearly impossible and transforms the stiff bandleader into a fiery articulate Shakespearean actor, in exchange he will receive a fat radio contract. Neither is interested in going through with the deal, but Kay will do it as a favor to Barrymore. But Barrymore chooses various devious ways to get out of this entanglement. It gets very silly when Barrymore turns loose his forward feisty girlfriend Carmen del Toro (Lupe Velez) on the timid Kyser, hoping Kyser will not commit to his promised performance at a Long Island Shakespeare Festival. It only gets worse, as Barrymore tries more stupid ways to keep Kyser off the stage. But, alas, as the saying goes: all’s well that ends well.