As the economy enters a violently dismal state resembling a depression, what better time to bring back films from the Depression itself? Mixed Nuts: Vaudeville on Film at the UCLA Film and Television Archive recalls a time when comedy, song and dance sometimes were enough to pull an audience out of misery both economic and emotional. Beginning in the 1880s, vaudeville ultimately would bring to prominence stars including Jimmy Durante, W.C. Fields, Jack Benny and George Burns & Gracie Allen. With its inherent swift wit and razzle-dazzle, vaudeville and its stars adapted quickly to the new medium of film, and this transition resulted in movies in which everything was thrown against the screen just to see what would happen. Political satire about the folly of running a country was one popular sign of the times — think the Marx Brothers' adventures in Freedonia in Duck Soup, which plays Jan. 8 with forgotten double-entendre duo Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey's 1931 power-struggle farce, Cracked Nuts. There's also the 1932 W.C. Fields film Million Dollar Legs (Jan. 9), starring Fields as the ruler of Klopstokia, who enters his country in the Olympics for money after becoming president by winning at arm wrestling. Other series highlights include a rare nitrate print of 1929 Burns & Allen vehicle Many Happy Returns (Jan. 9); the 1934 musical comedy Gift of Gab (Jan. 15), starring desperately young future Titanic star Gloria Stuart; Bing Crosby's breakout 1932 role in The Big Broadcast (Jan. 15); and the Abbott & Costello crime comedy Who Done It? (Jan. 30), directed by Erle C. Kenton (Island of Lost Souls). It all kicks off with an opening-night performance by nostalgia merchants Janet Klein and Her Parlor Boys.
MIXED NUTS: VAUDEVILLE ON FILM | Jan. 7-30 | UCLA Film and Television Archive | cinema.ucla.edu