For Reel

Hold ‘Em Jail (1932)
May 9, 2016, 6:56 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Norman Taurog
3.5 Stars
Hold 'Em JailThat Wheeler and Woolsey’s Hold ‘Em Jail was the next film screenwriter S.J. Perelman wrote after the Marx Brothers’ Horse Feathers has encouraged comparisons to that college football picture. In fact, they both end with a climactic football scene that sees zany comedic antics on the field! And yet, if the Marx Brothers are historically the more accomplished duo and were frequently biting satirists, Hold ‘Em Jail goes further with its premise in lampooning and perverting institutions. It bridges the genres of college and prison films, suggesting that there’s not much of a difference ideologically in university students and prisoners from the point-of-view of the higher ups. Like the Marx Brothers, Wheeler and Woolsey utilize the surreal as the basis for many of their gags, and they both play as variants on Harpo in the way that they recklessly endanger those around them (in one scene, they put a fellow inmate’s leg in a vice grip and prepare to smash it with a sledgehammer). If the duo is more of an acquired taste than many of the comedy teams of their day, Hold ‘Em Jail is a good entry-level Wheeler and Woolsey picture—it riffs on familiar comedic tropes but, with small alterations in the way the comedy is presented, doesn’t seem so much derivative as a furthering of existing ideas.

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