West Rome, Colorado. Eddie, a good-natured but clumsy delivery boy with a passion for Roman history, is tired of the corruption in his home town. Humiliated and banned from West Rome, he daydreams and is transported to his idealised ancient Rome, where he becomes entangled in even more treacherous plots. As with the opening scene of the film, in which the Roman statues of the local museum are dressed in Eddie’s clothes, for Tuttle the story serves as a means of reconciling the old world and the new through popular entertainment. Should we be thankful that producer Samuel Goldwyn couldn’t acquire the rights to George Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion, leaving the duty of sending Eddie (Eddie Cantor) back to Roman times to the imagination of the scriptwriters (who in return offered a fabulously entertaining melange of genres)? Scandal indeed! The Roman slave market musical number (featuring Goldwyn Girls, among them the still unknown Lucille Ball and Paulette Goddard) is highly provocative, with its suggested nudity and sadism. As if that were not enough, the women’s bathhouse scene epitomises the pre-Code contempt for political correctness, and fascination with female skin. While the unbelievably comic-stripstyle chariot sequence was directed by Ralph Ceder, and the film was edited by Stuart Heisler, the musical numbers were directed by Busby Berkeley, serving as an experimental precursor to the full flowering of the ‘Berkeleyesque’ in the Warner period, as Martin Rubin has suggested. It is, however, Tuttle who should be fully credited for masterfully weaving everything into the fabric he had in mind, one of pre-Code eroticism and progressive politics. (Look at the uplifting Build a Little Home number – choreographed by Berkeley – echoing its leftist director’s utopian vision). As with the best of Tuttle’s early sound work, the viewer will be caught up in the rapid-fire succession of events, without the film ever losing its airiness.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: George Kaufman, Robert E. Sherwood. Scen.: William Anthony McGuire, George Oppenheimer,
Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin. F.: Gregg Toland, Ray June. M.: Stuart Heisler. Scgf.: Richard Day. Mus.: Alfred Newman. Int.: Eddie Cantor (Eddie/ Edipo), Gloria Stuart (principessa Sylvia), Edward Arnold (imperatore Valerio), David Manners (Josephus), Ruth Etting (Olga), Verree Teasdale (imperatrice Agrippa), Alan Mowbray (maggiordomo), John Rutherford (Manius). Prod.: Samuel Goldwyn per Howard Productions. 35mm
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