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DVD Review: Hollywood Party (1934)

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Pre-code MGM curiosity Hollywood Party plays exactly like you would expect a film with eight writers (only two credited) and eight directors (none of them credited) to play. Not a coherent narrative or even a serviceable revue, Hollywood Party is nonetheless full of intermittent pleasures, thanks to several discrete scenes.

Loosely tying the whole affair together is Jimmy Durante, playing a version of himself who’s the star of the Schnarzan jungle man franchise. Worried about the encroaching threat of knockoff Liondora the Untamed (George Givot) and audiences’ genre fatigue, his producer urges him to give the series a shot in the arm with wilder, more dangerous beasts.

The key to the scheme lies in the figure of Baron Munchausen (Jack Pearl), a wealthy lion owner just back from Africa. Durante throws a lavish party in an attempt to win over the Baron’s favor and his beasts, preparing the way for the increasingly surreal events to come.

As the shamelessly mugging Durante stages a grand evening full of song and drink, he has to deal with his uninvited and bad-tempered costar (Lupe Velez as herself) crashing the party, the devious Liondora looking to win the lions and eventually, one of the lions itself engaging him in an all-out brawl.

The musical numbers in Hollywood Party mostly remind one of better iterations — kaleidoscopic overhead shots of choral girls are pale Busby Berkeley rip-offs and a humorous romantic duet between Eddie Quillan and June Clyde is like proto-Astaire and Rogers with much less impressive dancing.

But just as often, the film feels like its own bizarre creation, like when Durante gets into a fight with Mickey Mouse, who then segues into a Technicolor animated song about chocolate soldiers that turns downright morbid. Equally strange but less pleasant is Liondora’s seduction of an oil baroness that becomes uncomfortably rape-y, all while her husband observes, nonplussed.

The Three Stooges, still with Ted Healy, show up for a bit that will likely satisfy fans of their trademark pugilistic humor, but the film saves the best for last when Laurel and Hardy arrive. Playing a pair of investors supposedly cheated by the baron, the duo instead finds themselves in a contest of wills with Velez. The weapon of choice? Eggs, a giant bowl of which are sitting at the bar for no apparent reason. The mostly wordless sequence is a fine comedic capper to the uneven film.

Running a mere 68 minutes, Hollywood Party knows its limits, and flits away as a mere dream in the end. It’s insubstantial, sure, but a novelty worth checking out anyway.

This Warner Archive disc comes saddled with the most bonus material I’ve ever seen from the usually bare-bones, burn-on-demand line. In addition to the theatrical trailer, there are a handful of audio-only scratch tracks and outtakes of the film’s songs, including MGM musical mastermind Arthur Freed singing “The Hot Choc’late Soldiers.” Hardly earth-shattering extras, but it’s nice to see Warner digging up some archival material once in a while.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.
  • Nice to see a Warner Archive release with special features for a change.