Hal Le Roy & Betty Hutton star in the two-reel musical comedy Public Jitterbug No. 1 (1936). In what looks like the Oval Office of the president rather than the FBI, government agents have declared jitterbug a national menace.
They're about to spread a nationwide net to bring in the Public Jitterbug No. 1, who is hiding underground with an unknown identity. Undercover agents soon focus on a nightclub called the Killer-Diller Cafe.
In this G-man movie spoof, one of the undercover agents, Hal Sturgess (Hal LeRoy), is posing as a dancer, but by no means, supposedly, a jitterbug. There's a country western band, Tom Emerson's Hillbilly Sextette, playing the "legal" stuff as the vocalist with guitar sings a cover of Patsy Montana's wonderful "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart":
"I wanna ride old paint going at a run/ I want to feel that wind in my face/ A thousand miles from the city line/ Goin' to the cowhand's pace..."
The Hillbilly Sextette kind of seems to have been dashed together just for this film, but Tom Emerson's Mountaineers were a well known hillbilly band verging into western swing.
They had a big national-network radio career, did a handful of films mostly no lengthier than Public Jitterbug No. 1, & in 1941 filmed several three-minute soundies for the Phonovision jukebox company.
Despite the jitterbug subject the title suggests, most of the film has no such music in it, & there's much more country swing & a bit of big-band swing -- although the David Mendoza Orchestra heard on the soundtrack is never actually seen on the screen.
Hal is introduced by the nightclub's manager for a song & dance routine. Hal comes out & mounts a dais that is part table part drumhead, & his "song" is really only a rap:
"I don't wanna sing; I might as well dance/ I don't wanna sing; I haven't a chance/ I got two feet that were built for swingin'/ Sounds as sweet as the sweetest singin'/ I don't wanna sing, might as well dance."
His routine is pretty basic tapping, not bad. He then sits down at a table to get to know a certain gal (Betty Hutton). He wangles an invite to a private party she's having the following night.
At the party, Hal's so focused on dancing, whereas Betty doesn't like to dance, so she begins to feel jealous of his desire to keep on tapping. She sings "The Gentleman Prefers to Dance" by Sammy Cahn & Saul Chaplin, as Hal taps around the living room.
"What's it gonna be?/ Your dancing or me?/ (Must I make a choice?)/ But definitely!/ I keep singing the blues/ Playing second-fiddle to your dancing shoes..." She sings it well enough, but neither Betty nor Hal are dynamos.
The Hillbilly Sextet's performing at Betty's party, & they liven things up with a squaredance instrumental, though nobody square dances; rather, they do rather sedate waltzes. Not long after that, Tom Emerson sings lead on a Bob Miller country western classic, with some mild yodeling tossed in:
"When the white azaleas start blooming/ I'll come back to you/ When spring's in the air with its freshness so rare/ We'll make our dreams come true..."
A little character actor, Chaz Chase, has been sneeking around the edges of the story. He provides comedy relief with some so-so sight gags the height of which is a routine where he lights then eats a cigarette then lights the matches of a matchbook & eats that.
He then starts eating his clothes & a flower arrangement & empties a saltshaker so he can eat the saltshaker. This was Chaz's vaudeville act pretty much filmed as it would've been performed on stage.
One of the things he eats is a badge he picked from Hal's pocket, but then he coughs it up with a belch & Betty sees it, discovering thereby that Hal's a G-man spying on her friends.
She gets mad, but then she does a lead-in for her second song: "Well the jig is up I guess/ Off with the mask! Might as well confess," then bursts into the film's only jitterbug number, previously a hit for the pre-doowop harmony group The Cats & the Fiddle:
"I start swinging in the morning, with the rising sun/ That's why they call me, Public Jitterbug number one."
The agent starts snapping his fingers & clapping his hands. She concludes by dancing the jitterbug with the junk-eating character actor & with Hal, though Hal never does jitterbug. It ends with a silly shoot-out as Hal becomes a renegade & flees the feds with Betty.
There's another very short short-subject that will stand eternally in commemoration to that commedian & character actor's most famous routine.
Chaz Chase the Unique Commedian (1928) places him on a vaudevile stage dressed as a tramp outside a restaurant, faint from hunger, lending his routine an element of pathos.
He takes a big package out of his pocket, unwraps it & unwraps it as it gets smaller & smaller, finally finding the single cigarette which he lights at both ends then eats, following with a chaser of lit matches.
Yep, pretty much bit for bit what he later did in Public Jitterbug Number One, including the devouring of a harmonica. A performer not on the radio or later television could keep a successful vaudeville act for twenty, thirty years.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl