Swing Time in the Movies

Director: Crane Wilbur

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

A comical tale of back-lot doings while filming a B western musical, Swing Time in the Movies (1938) is only nineteen minutes long, incorporating big dance numbers for four tunes by M. K. Jerome & Jack Scholl.

During a lunch break away from filming, the cast repairs to the studio's cafeteria, where the waitresses sing "Swinging through the Kitchen Door" while balancing trays in elaborate dance. There are several cut-away moments to see quick unspeaking cameos of big stars having lunch: Pat O'Brien, John Garfield, & "the crime school kids" including Leo Gorcey being babysat by Humphrey Bogart, plus others less well remembered today, most of 'em phonily spliced into the restaurant sequence though they obviously weren't there on the same days.

One waitress (Kathryn Kane) has been writing home pretending she's a starlet. When friends from back home suddenly appear, the director Nitvitch (Fritz Feld) covers for her, then realizes that with her southern belle accent she's the perfect girl for his wild west musical, & she instantly replaces the disinterested & lisping leading lady. One of her big numbers is set in a saloon/cantina & incorporates a choras line doing the can-can, to the tune "The Toast of the Texas Frontier."

Though mostly a promotional film for Warner Brothers than a real comedy musical, it did have an Oscar nomination for best short. It definitely has fast-paced charm. And being three-fourths musical numbers, it comes off as a precursor to music videos, even though done as a technicolor film.

The climax arrives with an unspeaking cameo appearance by Jerry Colonna, a great comic in his day who never had the film roles that'd prove it to later generations, but still familiar because often caricatured in Warner Brothers cartoon classics of the time.

This little film is well worth the time for the songs & cameos at least. It's been included as an "extra" mismatched with the film noir They Drive by Night released that same year, & 'twas quite the unexpected treat.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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