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Free and Easy

(1930 b 92')

En: 5 Ed: 4

In his first talking picture Buster Keaton satirized the movie studio of this era.

As Miss Gopher City of Kansas, Elvira Plunkett (Anita Page), her mother (Trixie Fraganza), and her manager Elmer Butts (Buster Keaton) are going to Hollywood. On the train they meet movie star Larry Mitchell (Robert Montgomery). He invites them to his movie premiere; but after Elmer goes on stage in place of the leading star of that era, William Haines, Ma Plunkett fires him. Elmer is stopped at the studio gate but manages to sneak in and hide on various sets, causing an explosion at the wrong moment, coming out of the closet in a love-triangle melodrama, and appearing as an extra dancer in Larry's musical. The studio cop is about to throw him off the lot when Larry intervenes and gets him a part as a messenger in a costume drama. He fouls that up so badly that the director fires him; but Larry sends him to transportation, and Elmer is hired as a driver, driving Larry and Elvira to Larry's house. While Elmer is going to get Ma, Larry woos Elvira, though she is expecting marriage. Ma comes in and takes Elvira away. Elmer rebukes Larry, and they agree "men are beasts." They discover that they knew each other in Abilene and shuck corn.

Elmer is playing a scene in which a big woman dominates and beats him. Several actresses are rejected for stuttering, speaking in a foreign language, etc. They overhear the thunderous voice of Ma Plunkett, and she gets the part. Elvira tells Elmer that she has no gift for pretending; he tells her that a movie actor is in love with her and wants to marry her but is too shy to say so until he sees her encouraging smile. The next day Elmer demonstrates his comic talent. When Elvira greets Larry with a smile, he asks her to marry him. They thank the disappointed Elmer for his help, and the film concludes with a reprise of the musical numbers "Free and Easy" and "It Must Be You."

This story spoofs the superficiality of Hollywood and how easily people are hired and fired once they make it onto the lot. The dominating show-business mother is also satirized. Hollywood has appropriated the usual fare of pretty chorus girls singing and dancing along with slapstick comedy. Elmer finds success in a new profession but is disappointed in love after deluding himself that Elvira had romantic feelings toward him. The clown who makes us laugh ends up sad.

Copyright © 1999 by Sanderson Beck

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