Saturday, February 25, 2017

Leon Errol Series: THE JITTERS (1938)

The Leon Errol Salute Series: Number Three

THE JITTERS (1938 RKO Short) Starring Leon Errol, Vivian Tobin, Richard Lane, Alphonse Martel, Jack Rice.  Written by Leslie Goodwins and Charles E. Roberts.  Directed by Leslie Goodwins.

The introduction to our Leon Errol series is at this link.

The tables have turned!  For once, Leon Errol is wondering where his wife (Tobin) was last night.  Her answer: she was practicing for the finals of a dance contest with temperamental instructor Maurice (Martel) at The Ambassador.  Leon, who doesn't jitterbug, is jealous, and becomes even moreso when he's sent out to have dinner alone.  Understandably lacking much of an appetite for steak, Mr. Errol opts for liquid nourishment instead, and his waiter (Rice) joins him. 

It's Rice's alcohol-fueled suggestion to join 'em and then beat 'em that inspires tipsy Leon.  Fortified by a couple of hours' worth of doubles (he started with three), Errol wobbles into The Ambassador, intending to give his perceived rival a punch in the nose.  After staggering down the wide staircase to the amusement of several patrons, Leon Errol finds himself mistaken for instructor Maurice just prior to the scheduled introductory class on the titular dance.

Well, hey, Cab Calloway did sing that whiskey, wine and gin in your jug would have you ready to jitterbug.....

THE JITTERS is cited by many as the best of Errol's 98 shorts for RKO Radio Pictures.    The disagreement with his wife gives us a few spoonerisms ("You can't drag our good game in the nutter!") from a sober Leon.  Veteran Errol watchers will find another layer of humor in watching the boozing carouser act like such a fuddy duddy, and even newcomers can see the overindulgence coming once he's left to his own devices for dinner.

What follows is an entire second reel showcasing Errol's still-considerable skill at physical comedy.  Certainly one of the best on film for one of the century's most famous drunk acts.  Dean Martin and Foster Brooks could compete with Errol's slurred vocalization, but an intoxicated and ambulatory Leon was simply untouchable.

Leon wobbles on his cane while he's standing still, so you can imagine the sight of him walking down the studio staircase.  With his broken, dangling cigarette remaining unsmoked throughout, Errol also does his take on the classic "mirror" routine before "instructing" a class full of dedicated women who vainly try to follow his increasingly shaky swayings in the climactic scene for two hilarious minutes.  The ladies are way too sober to have much of a chance, but they all try gamely.  It's one of the funniest sequences that I have ever seen in any short subject.

THE JITTERS is cited by many as the very best of Leon Errol's 98 shorts for RKO Radio Pictures.  If it isn't, it certainly can't be far from the top spot: preserving a lengthy version of one of his finest Ziegfeld routines for posterity and giving it an inspired setting.   IMO the best possible introduction to Mr. Errol's work--if you can find it.  (**** out of four)

I apologize for the poor qualify of the screencaps; as you can see we really, really need this one remastered and easier to find.


Max Allan Collins said...

Errol at his best. A wonderful short, fall-of-your-chair funny. Thanks for this write-up!

Hal Horn said...

Thanks for reading, Max! Happy birthday!