A couple of years after Will Rogers took the ‘wayback’ machine to King Arthur’s Court in A CONNECTICUT YANKEE/’31, Eddie Cantor, his old ZIEGFELD FOLLIES stablemate*, time-traveled from modern day West Rome, Oklahoma to Ancient Rome for this tiresome comedy. A few of the gags still land, but hardly a thing is done with the fish-out-of-water premise. Why couldn’t Eddie teach some Romans the Charleston? Organize Praetorian Guards into a baseball team . . . or unionize them for a wildcat strike with real wild cats from the Forum? Maybe serve up some ‘exotic’ cuisine like pizza or spaghetti? Instead, the usual young lovers & laughing gas routines; a trio of medium Harry Warren/Al Dubin songs; an over-extended chariot race to the finish. Even Busby Berkeley comes up short on his patented dance routines (BLACKFACE Alert!), but for one bit of perversity where Cantor in BlackFace shrinks to half his size in the steam room (Berkeley had a penchant for midgets) only to hydrate back to normal size & color after a dip in the pool. Many hands worked on this one . . . too many.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Cantor & Rogers only shared a FOLLIES stage in 1917 & ‘18. Elsewise, Flo Z. used one or the other most years from 1919 thru ‘27.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID/LINK: Cantor’s demeanor & delivery, in spite of so-so material, is fascinating, much like BIG BANG’s Jim Parsons at times. (The short Jewish version.) He was even better before producer Sam Goldwyn defanged him for Hollywood. Check out how modern his stage persona was in this sound-on-film short from 1923. He could step in for Jimmy Kimmel tomorrow. (And yes, that’s no typo, 1923.) https://archive.org/details/eddie_cantor_1923
DOUBLE-BILL: Cantor took the wayback machine again (to diminishing returns) in ALI BABA GOES TO TOWN/’37.