Cast: Warner Baxter, Madge Evans, James Dunn, Sylvia Froos, John Boles, Arthur Byron, Shirley Temple, Aunt Jemima (Tess Gardella), Stepin Fetchit
Director: Hamilton McFadden
Plot: As the Great Depression grips tighter around the nation, the President appoints a Secretary of Amusement (Warner Baxter) to cheer up the nation. Meanwhile, Conservative politicians do their darndest to stop him.
Review: It’s really hard to resist the temptation to call this film out for being drab, dated and somewhat (unintentionally) absurd. Seeing as it’s rarely seen uncut these days (including on video) the film really makes little sense. While some of the musical numbers are amusing and diverting, the whole affair seems dingy and much of the humor is unmistakably racially stereotypical (Stepin Fetchit and the Jimmy Durante-esque penguin-yikes!) People often site the “mores of the time” to gloss over this, but it really is most distracting.
However, there is a bright spot, and a bright spot it is indeed! James Dunn and Shirley Temple (appearing together in three scenes) are a delight to behold! They have more chemistry than Hepburn and Tracy ever could imagine. Their show-stopper, “Baby Take a Bow” makes this film worthwhile, and made Temple a star. The number still holds up today. Jimmy weaves his way in and out of an endless line of chorus girls before Temple appears and the two of them tear up the screen with an amazing and complex tap dance. Sheer magic! Jimmy appears again later (sans Temple) to give a rousing speech declaring the end of the Depression. If only it were that easy! Worth your time for the Dunn/Temple moments, but hard going otherwise.
Notes: The VHS version suffers from minor print and sound damage, but is quite watchable. The film is occasionally seen on television in a colorized edition, however all home media releases (in the US, at least) are in the film’s original black and white.