FLYING HIGH (1931)
Article 4764 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Charles Reisner
Featuring Bert Lahr, Charlotte Greenwood, Pat O’Brien
What it is: Musical comedy
In order to get funding for his aerocopter to perform in a flying show, an inventor must marry a marriage-hungry woman who has the money.
Bert Lahr’s fame nowadays is primarily due to his having played the Cowardly Lion in THE WIZARD OF OZ; up to this point, I’m not sure I remember seeing him in anything else. Upon seeing him in a starring role in this, his first feature film, I made two discoveries: 1), that in playing the Cowardly Lion, he was just using his regular comic shtick, and 2) that comic shtick, which mostly consists of him repeating phrases twice and striking open-mouth poses, gets old very fast. I assume the shtick worked better on Broadway where he originated the role, but I suspect he didn’t tone it down when he appeared in the movie, and he ends up becoming more grotesque than funny. Fortunately, the movie does feature a solid comic performance from Charlotte Greenwood as the woman looking for a husband (Kate Smith performed the role on Broadway). The musical numbers are also fairly entertaining, though none of the original Broadway musical numbers were used. Still, the biggest attraction of this movie today is probably the pre-code sensibility of the movie, especially in a rather risque scene where a large number of chorus girls strip down to their underwear for a medical examination. For most of the movie, the fantastic content (the aerocopter invention) plays as a maguffin, but it gets used in the climax of the movie, so it finally does slip a little bit into science fiction at that time.