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Critical Moments

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Some years back when Heywood Broun was suffering from an acute desire to become an actor, a musical review with that oversized gentleman in the cast entitled “Shoot the Works” played a short run on Broadway. I mention that fact because the picture “Shoot the Works,” which is at the Paramount, has nothing whatever in common with the aforementioned production. The picture, strangely enough, is adapted from a play by Ben Hecht and Gene Fowler called “The Great Magoo,” which opened in the dead of winter of 1932 and closed a week later.

“The Great Magoo” was a rowdy, outspoken, risque compilation of all the wise cracks the Messrs. Hecht and Fowler could think of at the moment. It concerned the unhappy experiences of two side show performers who were happy only when they were making each other unhappy. It had moments of brightness, but as a play it was unconvincing, and aroused the wrath of the critics, who advised a purging for the authors. Paramount bought the picture rights and what they have done with the play is keeping Mr. Hecht within the confines of the Paramount studio at Astoria and Mr. Fowler within the sandy boundaries of Fire Island.

If “Magoo” had any virtues it was its ribald and pointed remarks about the sex life of its two leading characters. In the picture a dose of sugar was poured upon the proceedings and what has emerged is just another sweet, Hollywood love story—all the zip and kick of the original “Magoo” is gone. To be fair, it should be stated that what interest there is in the film is supplied by the circus and side-show background and the music and acting of Ben Bernie. Jack Oakie as the lover is Jack Oakie.


For the first time in ten years the picture companies are seriously disturbed by the action of churches and other social organizations holding a united front against obscenity on the screen. I sympathize with the boys from Hollywood, Trying to please welfare and women’s clubs is an impossible task. The measure of obscenity is entirely a state of mind that cannot be set forth with any precision.

It all goes back to the age-old question of taste, and that is a quality that differs in every section of the country. Eating with a knife is considered “par” among the hill billies, while wearing abbreviated bathing suits gets by with most of the residents of Park avenue. In some parts of these United States bare legs are still considered a major form of depravity, while in others exposed male chests cause audible gasps of horror.

In this diversity of opinion lies the hope of the film companies. No matter what they picture somebody will object, and this will lead to dissension among the objectors. As it is impossible to set forth exactly what can or cannot be shown on the screen, the whole thing will dissolve in its own confusion. The only plan the picture makers can follow is to tread lightly for the time being and hope for the best. During the past hundred years there have been waves of reforms which, like their counterparts in the sea, rise, swell and subside, according to the dictates of nature.

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