The Nitwits (1935)

Article 1844 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-2-2006
Posting Date: 8-30-2006
Directed by George Stevens
Featuring Bert Wheeler, Robert Woolsey, Fred Keating

When a music publisher is murdered by a mysterious phantom known as The Black Widow, two nitwits try to use a new truth-telling invention to trap the man they suspect is the real murderer.

I’ve only had the opportunity to see one other Wheeler and Woolsey movie to date, and that one (the totally forgettable MUMMY’S BOYS ) certainly didn’t give me a desire to pursue their oeuvre. Fortunately, this movie is much better; it not only has a decent amount of energy (especially in the climax), but it has some clever set pieces to boot. My favorite sequences involve Woolsey (the bespectacled man with the cigar) believing that Wheeler killed a man and trying to save him from being arrested by the police (and Wheeler, having committed no murder, being blissfully unaware of Woolsey’s intentions), and a rather surreal sequence where they put on stilts to try to visit a woman in prison who has been accused of the murder. Solid direction by George Stevens (who would go on to a distinguished career with such movies as GUNGA DIN, I REMEMBER MAMA and SHANE) no doubt helped. Willie Best is on hand, but his gags are largely the expected ones; acting scared and playing dice. Though I certainly don’t put Wheeler and Woolsey in the front rank of film comedians, at least this movie helps me to understand their appeal somewhat. The truth-telling machine adds a touch of science fiction, and the mysterious Black Widow (who dresses up as a skeleton at one point) adds some touches of horror to the proceedings.

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