Milky Way The (1936)
Co-directed by Leo McCarey and Norman Z. McLeod (uncredited) this Lynn Root-Harry Clork play was adapted by Grover Jones (The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)) Frank Butler and Richard Connell into what is perhaps Harold Lloyd’s best sound era comedy. Lloyd plays a milkman in this feature one who finds himself thrust into the role of a prizefighter by the manager (Adolphe Menjou) whose boxer (William Gargan) was thought to have been knocked out by the great silent comedian’s slight delivery man character. Of course that’s not the way that it happened but when the press believes it the manager come promoter sees an opportunity to exploit the situation for financial and his own fighter’s gain. Verree Teasdale plays Menjou’s wisecracking seen-it-all-before girlfriend; Helen Mack plays Lloyd’s sister and Dorothy Wilson his girlfriend. George Barbier plays Lloyd’s initially disgruntled milk company boss. Lionel Stander plays Menjou’s dim-witted assistant. Charles Lane plays a member of the press and Marjorie Gateson plays a philanthropist.
Two men who’ve had too much to drink later identified as Spider Shultz (Stander) and Speed McFarland (Gargan) harass the club’s hat check girl Mae Sullivan (Mack) while she’s waiting for her less than successful (per his boss Wilbur Austin; actor Barbier) milkman brother Burleigh (Lloyd) to pick her up in his horse drawn delivery cart. Burleigh rushes to her aide and is certainly no match for the two brutes so she runs to get a policeman for assistance. Shortly afterwards when she returns with one the crowd parts to reveal that Burleigh is alright but one of the two other men is unconscious. A member of the crowd shouts that the knocked out man is Speed McFarland the middleweight champion!
Gabby Sloan (Menjou) who’d been out of town trying to arrange another fight for his boxer learns that his champ has been knocked out by a lowly milkman who’s later dubbed ‘Tiger’ Sullivan. Gabby rushes back to New York & their hotel where he promises the press that he’ll have a statement for them shortly. After chastising Spider for not keeping Speed out of trouble and briefly conferring with his long suffering (14 years!) fiancée Ann Westley (Teasdale) he receives a call that Burleigh is in the lobby. Burleigh is invited to come to the room where he explains that as child that was teased and ridiculed he’d learned how to duck to avoid being beaten up by the bullies that would try. To demonstrate he challenges Spider and Shultz to try to hit him and the result is the same as the previous night – Spider starts to hit Burleigh while he’s being held from behind by Speed but when Burleigh ducks Spider’s full swing hits and knocks out Speed. Of course at this moment the impatient press (including Lane’s character Willard) rushes into Gabby’s room and captures a picture of the recurrence for their newspapers.
With his million dollar boxer now seemingly useless to him Gabby hatches the idea to build up Burleigh as an up-and-coming boxer having him win several fixed fights until he can meet the champ in a ring bout. He sends Spider out to “capture” Burleigh but with help from his trusty horse Agnes the milkman is able to avoid him. Later when Agnes falls ill (really the horse is just pregnant but this isn’t revealed until later) Burleigh meets Polly Pringle (Wilson) whose telephone he uses to call for help then needing money for the vet Burleigh will agree to sign a contract with Gabby though the milkman thinks it’s only for one fight. The day after Burleigh met Polly she calls Sunflower Dairies trying to reach Burleigh who she describes as a nice man with a great smile. She makes the call from the barber (Eddie Dunn uncredited) shop where Burleigh just happens to be a customer and she’s the manicurist. The two fall in love before Burleigh must go away to Gabby’s training camp. One of the funniest scenes involves Ann teaching Burleigh how to box by dancing after Spider had given up.
Naturally Burleigh wins his first bout (no action shown) and is whisked away for several more by Gabby. On the train to the next bout(s) Burleigh asks Gabby about “color what is it?” to which his manager responds that it’s part of a boxer’s style e.g. for publicity. Burleigh then transforms himself into a showman of epic proportions becoming Tiger while still not knowing that all his fights are rigged (e.g. he believes himself to be a good boxer). When he returns home to great fanfare Polly doesn’t even recognize him and his ex-Sunflower Dairy boss Mr. Austin buys Tiger’s contract for $50000 from Gabby to promote his milk business. A philanthropist Mrs. Winthrop Lemoyne (Gateson) has an idea to use the fight to promote a milk fund to provide the product at no cost to underprivileged children. During a party at her home before the fight Tiger teaches her his ducking technique and Polly tells her how much he’s changed from the man with whom she’d fallen in love. Meanwhile Burleigh’s sister Mae has learned that Speed was courting her to keep her from learning about the fake fights. During the process however the two actually fell in love. For a brief moment the rematch is off while both boxers try to decide whether to fight the other. Upset with her brother Mae gives Speed permission to fight Tiger while the former milkman despite learning that he actually can’t box (e.g. he now knows about the set-ups) is talked into fighting for the milk fund children by Gabby.
The only real “boxing” action takes place in the final scenes but is complicated by perhaps too many subplots: Agnes gives birth to a filly dubbed little Agnes who follows and is then brought to the fight by Burleigh money is wagered on the bout including Mae’s betting all of Speed’s money on her brother and Spider not knowing the difference between ammonia (needed for Speed after “little Agnes” inadvertently knocks out the champ with a kick) and Gabby’s insomnia medicine which is given to Speed who’s then inhibited. During the fight Tiger nearly knocks himself out while putting the finishing touches on Speed. The milkman becomes the new champion! Then Mr. Austin er Wilbur offers Burleigh a partnership in his milk business if he quits boxing altogether.