Comedy Oddities: Hotel Haywire

hotel haywire indexPreston Sturges was the master of the fast paced screwball comedy where characters delivered vicious lines and performed the kind of physical comedy that you’d imagine would leave them badly bruised and battered afterwards. But Hotel Haywire is one of his lesser efforts, a film which contains all of the usual ingredients but is slightly lacking, the kind of film which will have you smiling a fair amount but which fades from the memory soon after watching.

It’s a slightly convoluted farce where dentist Mr Henry Parkhouse (Lynne Overman) thinks it’d be hilarious to plant a sexy negligee in the coat of a supposed friend so that his wife would think he’s cheating on her, but said friend spots it and puts it in Henry’s coat, and soon his wife Minerva (Spring Byington) thinks Henry is having an affair. There’s also a subplot with their daughter Phyllis (Mary Carlisle) wishing to get married, but the potential father in law thinks his son Frank (John Patterson) is a waste of space so it might not be as easy as she’d hope.

Minerva is an extremely superstitious sort who believes in star signs and numerology and all of that kind of nonsense, and soon she is exploited by the obviously Dr Zodiac Z. Zippe (Leo Carrillo), a psycho-astrologist, numerlogist and moonologist who we first meet conning a couple of idiots, Herbert and Genevieve Sterns, and persuading them their goal in life should be to become detectives, and as soon as they’re convinced he hires them even though they’re painfully inadequate in the role. That leads to them spying on Henry, and trying to find the evidence that is a cheating bastard, largely involving Genevieve posing as a new assistant.

An unfortunate scene involving Herbert in blackface follows, a poorly chosen disguise which has aged very badly indeed. Meanwhile Dr Zippe has advised Minerva to antagonise Henry by serving him food he hates, when she serves up “Pickled pig’s head with cheese sauce” he pretends to like it so as to live an easy life, but when she gives him “Beef snoot” that’s odd enough to send him over the edge and he promises to divorce her as soon as he possibly can.

Sturges is normally so reliable on the pratfalling front but bar some daftness where Henry proves himself to be a shit dentist and a bit of drunk acting from Overman (which is at least quite convincing) there’s not much here, indeed the only notable sequence is a chase scene that’s not exactly thrilling. The script is only minorly amusing too, there’s the occasional decent line, and obvious charlatan Zippe has some okay moments, but it’s a mild and fairly average film when compared to the rest of Sturges output.

The cast aren’t particularly memorable either and it didn’t come as a surprise that only a couple become part of Sturges’ collection of regular actors, and though the ending is at least vaguely satisfying I’m struggling to say anything that positive about the film as a whole. Perhaps that’s due to this reportedly being rewritten by Lillie Hayward, along with the fact that director George Archainbaud was a safe but boring choice, but even then Sturges must take some of the blame for creating a film that will never be something someone would love, or even really like.

★★3/4

Alex Finch.
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