Writers Leonard Spigelgass and Charles Grayson have transformed the legiter – which George Abbott authored in collaboration with Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (with a plot copped from Bill Shakespeare’s Comed y of Errors) – from a satire to plain burlesque.
Martha Raye and Joe Penner are particularly outstanding in the comedy leads. Penner, away from the stereotyped ‘wanna buy a duck?’ characterization, makes a droll slave. Raye, provided with the swell Rodgers and Hart tunes, gets good opportunity to use her pipes as well as exhibit her broad comedy style. Charles Butterworth and Eric Blore, in lesser roles, turn in plenty of additional laughs, while Allan Jones capably acts and warbles his way through the top characterization.
Four of the tunes have been retained and two new ones have been provided by R&H to sub for three that were dropped. ‘Who Are You?’, romantic ballad sung by Jones, is one of the new ones, and ‘The Greeks Had No Word for It’, a specialty for Martha Raye, is the other. Both are equal to the originals.
Writers have done everything possible to further the basically ludicrous idea of the stage show, in which all sorts of modernisms surround the toga-clad populace of ancient Greece. It gives plenty of opportunity for gags, and none is missed, even to the checkered chariot, with a meter. Stone ‘newspapers’ announce that ‘Ephesus Blitzkriegs Syracuse,’ while the gladiators’ union pickets and a voice strangely like that of Winchell’s gives gossip on station EBC.
Tale concerns twin brothers and their twin slaves. One brother and one slave are parted from the other brother and his slave as babies. One brother becomes ruler of Ephesus and conqueror of Syracuse, town in which he doesn’t know he was born. The other son comes to Ephesus, also, in search of his father. Neither twin knows the other exists and the resultant mixup of identity makes plenty of base for laughs.
1940: Nominations: Best B&W Art Direction, Special Effects