High Flyers (1937)
Directed by Edward F. Cline and written by Bert Granet Byron Morgan and Benny Rubin from a play by Victor Mapes this (Burt) Wheeler & Woolsey B movie was the comedy duo’s last; the bespeckled Robert Woolsey died the year after this film was released. The cast includes: Lupe Velez Marjorie Lord Margaret Dumont Jack Carson and Paul Harvey (among others). The two comedians (in the title roles) play carnival sideshow performers – they operate a mechanical airplane ride – that unknowingly get mixed up with jewel smugglers (led by Carson) whose plan is to steal some valuable diamonds from a rich family. Of course the smugglers don’t realize they’ve hired a couple of goof balls (the Wheeler and Woolsey characters) either; hence the humor in the story. If you are unfamiliar with this duo’s work this one should serve as a pretty good introduction to their combined and/or separate styles and talents. Wheeler the younger of the two by almost seven years does a credible Charlie Chaplin (and a black-face) routine while Woolsey “sings” (not like only Groucho Marx could) and dances with Velez while he tosses out one-liners and chomps on his unlit cigar.
Wheeler plays Jerry Lane who’s learned to fly by reading books and Woolsey plays Pierre Potkin who’s a two time loser that doesn’t want to get caught up in anything illegal nor miss an appointment with his parole officer for fear of being jailed. Jewel thief Dave Hanlon (Carson) has been schmoozing the wealthy Arlene Arlington (Lord) to get an inside track on when her father Horace (Harvey) will be receiving the matching diamonds he’s been collecting overseas for his wife Martha (Dumont). Pretending to be a reporter Hanlon hires small time carnival vendors Jerry and Potkin whom he thinks really are pilots for $500 (!) ostensibly to pick up some photographs needed for a story by seaplane from the yacht that’s really carrying Mr. Arlington’s solitaires. Though the theft is successful Jerry and Potkin discover what they’re really carrying shortly before crashing the plane (ironically) on the Arlington estate! Velez plays Maria Juanita Rosita Anita Moreno del Valle the Mexican Arlingtons’ maid (Soledad Jiménez appears uncredited as her Auntie the cook). Lots of stereotypical (foreign) language confusions ensue. Horace rushes to the accident site where he assumes that the duo are undercover police officers; Hanlon had provided them with a seaplane stolen from the police who had shot down the plane precipitating the crash. Horace offers Jerry and Potkin every convenience including his place to stay which they’re more than happy to accept especially when Potkin eyes Maria.
Meanwhile Hanlon is in trouble with his foreign-born benefactors (Charles Judels Lucien Prival and Herbert Evans) who want the now missing stolen jewels. Fortunately for him he learns from a phone call with Arlene that per her description Jerry and Potkin are on the estate. Thinking quickly he advises her that the pair have actually just escaped from a mental institution and that she and her family will be O.K. until he gets there as long as they humor them. Maria ends up conveying the message to the Arlingtons (Velez either badly imitates Gloria Swanson Katharine Hepburn and even Shirley Temple or I couldn’t even figure out whom she was attempting to copy). Herbert Clifton plays the family’s butler named Stone. Arlene ends up being entertained by Jerry’s Chaplin routine and as mentioned previously Potkin sings & dances with Maria. When Hanlon and company pretending to be psychiatrists arrive the hijinks continue especially when the diamonds are fetched and then buried by the Arlington’s dog that unbeknownst to everyone except the audience has been taking and burying similar objects throughout the movie.
Maria Arlene and virtually everyone else in the household finally call the police (George Irving plays the chief) who arrive in droves causing Horace a headache. This final third is the film’s weakest – it involves everyone criminal and police officer alike digging up the estate grounds looking for the buried treasure – and most predictable (Woolsey & Wheeler get their gals).