July 8, 2008
Will Rogers and his family lose their home in Flat River, Missouri, to bank foreclosure. They head out for California.
The 1933 film is a “travelogue” of their adventures as they travel from one backdrop to another rear-projection screen. It’s all an excuse for Will Rogers droll one-liners, “California, I hear they got sunshine all the time” “Yes,” replies Will, “except at night and they’re working on that.” “Well, as Horace Greeley said, ‘Go West.'” “Yes,” replies Will, “he said and he stayed East.”
They meet one character after another; the British gal (Florence Desmond) who calls gasoline “petrol” and her car’s hood “a bonnet”; a fella named Cohen (Harry Green) from New York who speaks in malapropisms “he’s a real injun, straight off the preservation”; the loud gambler (Eugene Pallette) who drinks every time someone says the word “Missouri.”
And Charley. He’s Harvey Denby, a rich army cadet touring the national parks with his Major father. We first meet him ogling Will’s daughter through an assayer’s tool. A more wholesome looking Peeping Tom you have never seen.
If this were “National Lampoon’s Family Vacation”, Charley would be playing the Christie Brinkley role. He’s the hottie that keeps popping up everywhere they go, first in Yellowstone, then the Grand Canyon, and finally at Calneva, California.
Even though he’s mainly the hunk who the daughter falls for, Charley gets to show off many of his talents. He’s charming and he rides a motorbike. He dances and jumps in a lake to save the gal from drowning. He quotes romantic Indian lore and jokingly calls himself “the ol’ General.” He wears a ranger’s hat, then later a full uniform, and even a tuxedo for the climactic wedding scene.
He also gets to play some quick-fire dialogue scenes. It’s the closest thing to Vaudeville I’ve seen him do, and it fits well with Charley’s voice and his broad acting.