Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It Happened in Hollywood (1937) - Hollywood Behind the Scenes

The Stunt Doubles Steal the Show

"It Happened in Hollywood" (1937).

"It Happened in Hollywood" (1937), directed by Harry Lachman for Columbia Pictures, pretty much sums up old-time Hollywood. In this drama, you get a behind the scenes look at the film business, some great shots of 1930s Los Angeles, a look at the doubles for all the major stars of the day, and some insight into the ruthless nature of Hollywood in those days, when you were only valued as highly as your latest box office receipts. If one were doing a research paper about the film business, you could do worse than watch this film.

Richard Dix It Happened in Hollywood 1937 Richard Dix
The Richard Dix character, true to the Hollywood stereotype, starts acting out his roles in real life.

Richard Dix plays Tim Bart, a John Wayne type who is a major star of the silent era. He and Gloria Gay, played by Fay Wray, another silent-era star, have to make the transition to talkies. But Bart is a principled and caring real-life cowboy who speaks with a drawl and refuses to change himself or his image as a hero to fit in, so he loses his career and his fortune. Gloria holds a torch for Bart and has a little more success for a while, but her popularity wanes, too. Ultimately, Bart is forced to make a desperate decision to get enough money to save the life of a little boy who is his biggest fan.

Stunt horse rider It Happened in Hollywood 1937 Richard Dix
There is some great stunt work.

The major subplot is about a sick young boy who idolizes Bart while he is a star, and comes out to visit after Bart's star has fallen. Bart wants to maintain the illusion for the boy that he is still a big star, so he convinces many of his old friends who are not stars themselves, but rather doubles for stars, to pretend to be the stars themselves at a party out at his foreclosed ranch. It's a nice gimmick that gives this film its single unique flavor. And a few of the doubles are quite good, such as Eugene DeVerdi doubling Charlie Chaplin, and Earl Haddon doubling Bing Crosby.

Dix greeting visitors It Happened in Hollywood 1937 Richard Dix
Dix is really just interested in his ranch.

But while watching this film, it is easy to begin wondering if this was intended as a parody of the film-making business, rather than a straight dramatic story. Hollywood tends to get self-conscious when showing what goes on behind the cameras, and this film is no exception. Every cliché in the book is thrown up on the screen, from the actor who acts out scenes from his movies in real life, to the star who upholds principle and honor by turning down roles that go against his image because he "owes it to his fans," up to and including the greedy and heartless foreclosure guy. Bart is too good to even try to make money for himself, and only does so when he's forced to save the boy. And let's not forget the trite Hollywood ending....

Stand-in for W.C. Fields It Happened in Hollywood 1937 Richard Dix
This stand-in for W.C. Fields is uncannily like him.

The story is terrible. But you may find the film interesting if you want to see Fay Wray (who passed away in 2004) in a role outside of "King Kong," and a side of Hollywood you won't see elsewhere.


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