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"He [Schnarzan] doesn't even fight real lions. I know
because a relative of mine played the hind legs."
1934. M-G-M. Directed (uncredited) by Alan Dwan, Richard Boleslawski, and others, written by Howard Dietz and Arthur Kober. With Laurel & Hardy, Jimmy Durante, Lupe Velez, Charles Butterworth, Jack Pearl, Mickey Mouse, The Three Stooges)
In the early 30s studios often exploited the novelty of sound with short films of vaudeville acts, classical recitations, radio comedy routines, etc. Hollywood Party is a compendium of many (many, many) of these set-pieces. The pretext is that all Hollywood has gathered at a gala that Jimmy Durante is throwing in order to lure a visiting big-game hunter (played by the dialect comedian Jack Pearl) to lend him some lions for his next Schnarzan movie.
Both Durante and Lupe Velez, who is his co-star in the Schnarzan movies and his girlfriend offscreen, are referred to by their own names. But nobody would think for a moment that the movie revealed anything about the private lives of Durante and Velez. This is a revue; they are our "hosts;" they perform a running skit to hold the festivities together. Durante made a career pretending to be what he clearly wasn't (handsome, romantic, a good singer, a major star), holding a sort of crazy mirror up to Hollywood vanity.
While ostensibly about Hollywood, the movie has little flavor of the town or the industry. The Hollywood party is peopled by typical high-society types, more like Fifth Avenue than Sunset Boulevard (though one brief shot of the festivities looks positively orgiastic, and a bunch of black men in African tribal dress come dancing pointlessly throughmaybe Metro had some old costumes they wanted to get more use out of). The humor comes from some movie parodies, a vague plot involving some nouveau-riche potential investors (the man keeps tearing up thousand dollar bills to demonstrate how rich he is), and self-contained routines by the 3 Stooges and Laurel & Hardy.
The movie opens with a producer (looking more-than-coincidentally like Louis B. Mayer) and an exhibitor standing in front of a theater talking about business. Then we move inside to see an audience watching a movie, then into the movie itself (a jokey trailer showing Dunante swinging through the jungle as Schnarzan), then "behind the screen" to see Durante-the-actor worrying about the fading popularity of his Schnarzan character. The ending of the movie reverses this progression and takes us back out into "real life" again, as Durante's wife (possibly the real Mrs. Durante; clearly no starlet) wakes him out of his dreamwhich I guess was all of Hollywood Party up til thenand tells him to get ready for the party at Lupe Velez's house.
We've got at least three Jimmy Durantes, then: the minor star who dreams about being a big star (glimpsed only at the end), the great star of the Schnarzan movies who throws the Hollywood Party (seen through most of the picture), and the occasional in-performance Durante doing his shtick in a number of sketches, parodies, etc. There is no perceptible difference among them. Durante is used, as "guest stars" often are, as both a character and as a commodity; he is here not just to entertain us but to build up his franchise. These studio extravaganzas seem an early form of "info-mercial," or of those cartoon shows whose real agenda is to sell toys of their characters.
copyright ©2005 Barbara Bernstein