Appropriately for this 100th-anniversary year of his birth, crooner Eddie Cantor now gets star treatment from HBO. Formerly available from Nelson Entertainment (now defunct), these films have been repackaged and the soundtracks digitally remastered, but otherwise the mint-condition prints are the same as before.
Filmed in an early Technicolor process, Whoopee! includes Cantor’s classic + ”Makin’ Whoopee” and preserves, in a mostly stagebound way, one of Florenz Ziegfeld’s biggest Broadway smashes, racial stereotypes and all. Look carefully in the dance numbers (directed by Busby Berkeley in his movie debut) for an unbilled, teenage Betty Grable.
HBO deceptively overbills Lucille Ball, who is a chorine in a few scenes in Roman Scandals. But the movie remains Cantor’s all-time best, with a clever story by Robert E. Sherwood and George S. Kaufman that parallels ’30s wheeling and dealing with that of ancient Rome. There’s also Berkeley’s memorable slave-market number, with nude, chained Goldwyn Girls (including Lucy) wearing strategically placed ultralong blond wigs. Whoopee!: C+ Roman Scandals: A-