"The Battle of Broadway" is one wacky movie. It's not a screwball comedy, although it has a rather concocted triangle - or, more like two or three triangles that crisscross or overlap. One would have to search hard to find a single line of clever or funny dialog. The humor is provided mostly by the three male leads who probably had more fun than any other cast making a movie in Hollywood in 1938.
Brian Donlevy and Victor McLaglen make a good team for this kind of farce. They're not like Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello. Their mayhem and mishaps would fit more closely with the Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers. When Raymond Walburn gets in the act, it gets even more silly.
These three are old pals from World War I, with Walburn playing the private doughboy who made a fortune and became the steel king in private life. He usually plays similar roles to his Homer C. Bundy in comedies. Donlevy is Chesty Webb and McLaglen is Big Ben Wheeler. In the Army they were over Homer but now they work for him. But they're all buddies, along with many of Homer's steel workers, and they all belong to the Bundy Post of the Legionnaires.
The film doesn't actually identify their group as being the American Legion, but that's the logical conclusion. And, this is a rare film that shows large numbers of legionnaires marching in parade toward the end. It's even more interesting when one considers that this was a good distance form WW I in 1938. But the outbreak of WW II was imminent with Hitler's rise and actions in Europe, and Japan having already invaded China in 1937.
This also is a look at Gypsy Rose Lee in just her fourth of a couple dozen movies she made. She wasn't much of an actress, but was well-known in burlesque for her strip-tease performances. Here she is fairly good as Linda Lee without the burlesque. Twentieth Century Fox put a good cast together for this raucous display, including a couple of highly regarded supporting actresses of the period who would go on to win Oscars.
Hattie McDaniel plays Linda Lee's maid, Agatha. She would win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance the next year as Mammy in the epoch film of Margaret Mitchell's Civil War novel, "Gone with the Wind." Jane Darwell plays Homer Bundy's private secretary, Mrs. Rogers. Three years later, she would give her Oscar-winning performance as Ma Joad in the film version of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."
Some of the rest of the cast will be familiar to old-time film buffs. This isn't in the league of great comedies for witty dialog and antics, but most modern folks should enjoy it for the bedlam with the male leads.
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