Sunday, April 22, 2018

Peach-O-Reno a great intro to Wheeler and Woolsey

By Doug Gibson

Until a few years ago, I hadn't had much experience watching the old-time vaudeville/film comedian team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, but I'm glad I was introduced in full to the pair in "Peach-O-Reno," released by RKO Radio Pictures on Christmas Day 1931. This pre-code musical comedy with the team is simply marvelous. I tag it as a lower-brow (and that's not an insult) Marx Brothers-type film. It's very fast-paced, extremely witty, and has many fun musical numbers as well.

The plot involves Wheeler and Woolsey as Reno divorce lawyers Wattles and Swift. They have snagged all the divorce business in Reno, the divorce capital of the world because they keep it cheap and, let's face it, they're the wittiest divorce lawyers in town. They're also the coolest. The pair turns their divorce factory into a swinging casino at night. Wattles is the young attorney who more ladies swoon over. Swift, with his wit and fast moves, probably gets more action with the women.

One day, Joe and Aggie Bruno head to Reno -- in separate train seats -- to divorce. They squabbled on their 25th anniversary. Not far behind them are daughters Prudence and Pansy, trying to stop the divorce. The four naturally end up at Wattles and Swift, who have a full house, which includes a rich cowboy type who intends to murder Wattles and Swift for trying to give his wife a divorce.

I'm not going to give away the entire plot. Just sit back and enjoy the hour and three minutes. Things move from the divorce office to the casino, where young Wattles (Wheeler) dresses in drag to avoid the jealous husband. This pre-code sequence is absolutely hilarious, especially while Swift swiftly tries to gain lip time with one of the Bruno daughters. Eventually, everything gets settled in divorce court the next morning, which changes to a marriage court.

There's beautiful women, who change from their usher duties in the divorce office to more scantily clad duties in the casino at night. There's lots of gunfire but no one really gets injured. There's excellent Groucho Marx-type banter from Swift (Woolsey) with more than a few customers, including the matronly Aggie Bruno (Cora Witherspoon), and of course, there's several excellent musical numbers.

I'm glad we have Turner Classic Movies to show these films, and remind us of the many comedy talents that were out there besides the most famous, such as Chaplin, The Marx Brothers, etc. Viewers will enjoy "Preach-O-Reno," and like myself, start looking for more Wheeler and Woolsey to enjoy. It was directed by William A. Seiter. The imdb page is here. To learn more about the comedy team, go to this interview with W&W historian Ed Watz.

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