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STAND-IN (director: Tay Garnett; screenwriters: Graham Baker/Gene Towne/novel by Clarence Budington Kelland; cinematographer: Charles Clarke; editors: Otho Lovering/Dorothy Spencer; music: Heinz Roemheld; cast: Leslie Howard (Atterbury Dodd), Joan Blondell (Lester Plum), Humphrey Bogart (Doug Quintain), Alan Mowbray (Koslofski), Marla Shelton (Thelma Cheri), C. Henry Gordon (Ivor Nassau), Jack Carson (Tom Potts), Tully Marshall (Fowler Pettypacker), Charles Middleton (Plays Lincoln); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Walter Wanger; Image/Castle Hill; 1937)

Inane spoof on Hollywood, deteriorates in the second half to drivel.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Inane spoof on Hollywood, deteriorates in the second half to drivel after taking some initial slightly amusing but gentle potshots on the Hollywood studio system and showing in an authentic way how low-budget films are made. Humphrey Bogart, in the only comedy he ever appeared in, is cast against type from his usual gangster role, before he became a big star. Here Bogie plays a good-natured but sour dipsomaniac producer. Director Tay Garnett (“The Postman Always Rings Twice”/”China Seas”/”Bataan”) goes Capra-esque with his goofy and unconvincing populist grassroots pro-capitalist ending, that ridiculously proclaims the true capitalists are the middle-class stockholders of the Hollywood studio.Writers Graham Baker and Gene Towne base it on the novel by Clarence Budington Kelland, which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post.

Despotic cranky old-time established NYC bank head Fowler Pettypacker (Tully Marshall) sends to Hollywood his young mathematician efficiency expert, the stuffed-shirt square Atterbury Dodd (Leslie Howard), to find out why their independent Hollywood studio Colossal Films is losing money. The first person Atterbury meets is street smart actress stand-in for the studio’s star, the perky Lester Plum (Joan Blondell), who gets him a room in her boarding house for extras and plies him with insider info on the studio. Atterbury meets producer Doug Quintain (Humphrey Bogart), in the process of making the film Sex and Satan with the temperamental star Thelma Cheri (Marla Shelton). With the help of Ms. Plum, who loosens the uptight bottom line only businessman up when hired to be his secretary, as the bespectacled Atterbury investigates the failing studio while learning on the job how Hollywood makes movies. In the end Atterbury shows he has heart and is not just a numbers cruncher, as he teams with reformed drunk Quintain to put out a re-worked film, from the turkey Sex and Satan, that will save the studio and stop it from laying off three thousand workers. If something doesn’t make sense about Hollywood, it gets the comment meant to explain everything of “that’s pictures.”

Alan Mowbray plays a greedy and inept director; Marla Shelton is undistinguished as the popular film star and former lover of Bogie who can’t act but sabotages the film with a bad performance and gets away with it because she has a contract that gives her more control over the film than either the producer or director; Jack Carson overacts playing an obnoxious publicity man; and C. Henry Gordon is weak as the main heavy, a financial manipulator who makes profits by buying studios on the cheap and laying off workers and then selling the studio for a large profit.

The screwball comedy in the end provides only softball shots at Hollywood, and could have benefited more with a smarter and more daring script.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”