Humphrey Bogart plays a wrestling promoter who takes his flagging show to the Ozarks, where he arranges a match between his star and a she-hulk blacksmith. Complications arise when the would-be grapplers fall in love.
On the plus side, Bogart’s not playing a heavy. This concludes the plus side.
Though top-billed, Bogart amounts to a supporting player. The film plays as a romantic comedy led by Bogart’s wrestler, played by Nate Pendleton, and the blacksmith, played by Louise Fazenda, interspersed with assorted “Hollywood Hillbilly” musical numbers led by Penny Singleton. Think lots of banjos, fiddles, bonnets, and suspenders.
Speaking of Singleton, she plays Bogart’s would-be love interest. She and Bogart have no chemistry. Indeed, Bogart seems to sense he’s in a turkey. Perhaps the scene where Fazenda wrestles him into crying “Hootie Owl” gave it away. That scene aside, much of the proffered comedy comes from Pendleton’s simpleton wrestler.
To-wit, Bogart and his entourage talk code by spelling out words they don’t want Pendleton to hear, as one would talk around a toddler. To which Pendleton replies, “Aw, talk United States, will ya?”
Pendleton’s performance exudes the charisma of a boulder and proves as much fun to watch. Another example of the film’s humor comes when Pendleton introduces himself to Fazenda.
“Joe Skipapoulos,” he says.
“What are ya, Italian?” she asks.
“No, I’m a freak, actually,” he says with a proud smile.
The requisite romantic rival arrives late in the second act in the form of Fazenda’s hick boyfriend. The two men agree to wrestle with the winner marrying Fazenda. Before the big bout, Pendleton’s handed the whiskers he’ll pull off the boyfriend’s face.
Of course, the match comes with the requisite drama. First Pendleton has to throw the match, then a surprise twist necessitates he reverse course and win. Regardless, we lose. And yes, that’s Ronald Reagan as an AP reporter toward the film’s end. If you made it that far, congratulations.