>> Sunday, June 3, 2007
USA/B&W-68m./Dir: William Seiter/Wr: Douglas MacLean, Ralph Spence, & Eddie Walsh/Cast: Bert Wheeler (Tommy Tanner), Robert Woolsey (Egbert G. Higginbothom), Dorothy Lee (Peggy Norton), Lucy Beaumont (Mother Talley), Jason Robards, Sr. (Harry Waters)
Popular prohibition-era comedians, Wheeler and Woolsey, inadvertently dispense moonshine-spiked drinks from a drug store soda fountain in Caught Plastered. The duo portrays out-of-work vaudevillians who stumble across a little old lady in distress. The elderly woman is in danger of losing her drugstore to a medicine wholesaler (and secret bootlegger) to whom she owes a great deal of money. Although the boys know nothing about the drug store business, they agree to help the old woman run the store and soon turn a profit by stocking the shop with everything but drugs. When it looks like the old lady will be able to pay off her note, the bootlegger tries to gain control of the business by framing the widow and the boys by spiking their lemon soda.
Although Wheeler and Woolsey are virtually unknown by today’s audiences, they were box office champs during the Depression and kept RKO afloat almost single-handedly. Their best comedies--Peach O’Reno (1931); Hips, Hips, Hooray (1934); and Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934)--are as good or better than those of their contemporaries (such as the Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy). Unfortunately, Caught Plastered is not one of the team’s best efforts. The plot creaks and the wisecracks the boys are forced to deliver are mostly unfunny or corny. Being professional funnymen, Wheeler and Woolsey still manage to wring a few chuckles from this weak material.
After a slow start, the second half of the film contains some genuine laughs. Bombed on 100-proof lemon soda, the patrons of the store (including the most recognizable movie drunk of the 1930’s, Arthur Housman) raise out-of-control havoc--making slurred pronouncements, singing Sweet Adeline, and playing London Bridges. Dorothy Lee, the boy’s most regular co-star, is also amongst the accidental drunkards. Dottie was always an enormous asset to W&W vehicles, with her kewpie doll cuteness (imagine a blonde Betty Boop), natural humor, and musical talent. Her inebriated scenes in Caught Plastered are amongst her best. She is absolutely adorable whilst getting giggly amorous on joy juice and bouncing her way through a musical duet with Bert Wheeler. All in all, Caught Plastered is a mixed bag, but the delightful moonshine-fueled scenes toward the film’s end are enough to recommend it.
Drinks Consumed--Lemon soda (spiked with moonshine)
Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, hiccups, harmonizing, and loosened inhibitions
Potent Quotables--COP (doing a spit-take): Chief, this stuff is just full of booze.
TOMMY & EGBERT (in unison): Booze!
Video Availability--Not officially released on DVD, but Hollywood's Attic provides a collector's copy of Caught Plastered
Similarly Sauced Cinema--In their first film together as a comedy team, Rio Rita (1929), Wheeler and Woolsey get spifflicated on old Aztec wine.
Wheeler & Woolsey: The Vaudeville Comic Duo and Their Films, 1929-1937 (McFarland Classics)