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SWING HIGH, SWING LOW (director: Mitchell Leisen; screenwriters: adaptation of the George M. Watters-Arthur Hopkins play “Burlesque”/Virginia Van Upp/Oscar Hammerstein 2d; cinematographer: Ted Tetzlaff; editor: Eda Warren; music: Phil Boutelje/Victor Young; cast: Carole Lombard (Maggie King), Fred MacMurray (Skid Johnson), Charles Butterworth (Harry), Jean Dixon (Ella), Dorothy Lamour (Anita Alvarez), Harvey Stephens (Harvey Howell), Franklin Pangborn (Henri), Cecil Cunningham (Murphy), Anthony Quinn (The Don); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Hornblow Jr.; Paramount Pictures; 1937)
Any film that has Franklin Pangborn, no matter how little screen time, should have been able to swing more high than low.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The formulaic and dated cutesy musical drama is based on the stage play “Burlesque.” It was first filmed in 1929 as The Dance of Life and remade in 1948 as “When My Baby Smiles at Me.” Mitchell Leisen (“Easy Living”) adequately directs this unexciting black and white film, as he keeps things reasonably heated up in tropical décor. Any film that has Franklin Pangborn, no matter how little screen time, should have been able to swing more high than low.

Ex-serviceman Skid Johnson (Fred MacMurray) and passenger Maggie King (Carole Lombard), a hairdresser on a cruise ship passing through the Panama Canal, meet on the cute. The talented trumpet player wins the heart of Maggie after she and her shipmate friend Ella (Jean Dixon) miss their ship’s departure while involved at a port stopover nightclub brawl started by Skid. When wise guy patron (Anthony Quinn) made a pass at Maggie, Skid jumped in with fists flying and all parties were jailed. The stranded Maggie and Ella move in with Skid and his hypochondriac roommate Harry (Charles Butterworth). Nightclub owner Murphy (Cecil Cunningham) hires the pair as performers, as they pose as a married couple. Their act catches fire, but there’s a bit of trouble in paradise when the jealous Maggie goes at Skid for being with the sexy performer Anita Alvarez (Dorothy Lamour). As a result, Skid proposes to her. A New York agent catches the trumpeter blowing up a storm and hires Skid for a great gig at New York’s chic El Greco, where Anita works. Skid takes the Big Apple by storm and takes up with Anita, neglecting to send fare money for his wife back in Panama. Maggie borrows dough from Murphy and arrives in New York, only to find hubby with the vamp. She files for divorce, while hubby gets depressed, grows a beard and his career hits a low note. Maggie takes up with her former beau (Harvey Stephens), and the newspapers announce their engagement. Skid hits the skids and becomes a drunken bum, unable to get work. But before the third act concludes, the couple get back together and everything is again hunky-dory.

In this routine film, Lombard gets a chance to sing “I Hear a Call to Arms.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”