Lost Preston Sturges Film: Hotel Haywire

Posted on November 10, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Copyright 1937 Paramount Pictures
Copyright 1937 Paramount Pictures

A column by Michael Hiltzik in the LA Times about 700 “lost” Paramount films caught my attention. The first paragraph mentioned one of my favorite movies, “Alias Nick Beal,” with Ray Milland as Satan bargaining for the soul of a politician played by “Gone With the Wind’s” Thomas Mitchell. And then it mentioned a film I’d never heard of, written by one of my all-time favorite screenwriters (and later a director as well), Preston Sturges, a master of wisecracking screwball comedy (“The Lady Eve,” “Sullivan’s Travels,” “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek”).

The film is “Hotel Haywire,” originally written for Burns and Allen, and then rewritten when they were not available. It was directed by Arthur Archainbaud, apparently his only credited film.

Copyright 1937 Paramount Pictures
Copyright 1937 Paramount Pictures

Fortunately, I live just outside of Washington, DC, which means that the Library of Congress is practically my neighborhood library. I love their Motion Picture and Television Reading Room, which has the nicest and most knowledgeable staff any movie lover could ever hope for. They have been inestimably helpful to me many times. It took them about ten minutes to track down the film at their Culpepper, Virginia storage facility and arrange for it to be brought in for me to watch.

It’s not a classic, but it was a lot of fun, partly because it was a rare lead role for Spring Byington, who usually played the mother of the main character (“Little Women”).  In this, she plays the wife of a dentist (Lynne Overman) who is very caught up in spiritualism and horoscopes, as practiced by a charleton known as Dr. Zodiac Z. Zippe (Leo Carrillo). The dentist plays a prank on a friend by slipping a frilly camisole into his pocket, but the friend outsmarts him and puts it in the dentist’s pocket instead. When the wife finds it, instead of asking him about it she consults Dr. Zippe, who ends up advising both husband and wife in a manner that creates as much chaos as possible, especially after he hires some out-of-work vaudevillians as his “detectives.” Oh, and there’s also the dentist’s daughter, who wants to marry her boss’ son. And it all ends up in some door-slamming, who’s in what room shenanigans in a haywire hotel.

I hope this film, and the other 699 Hiltzik wrote about, will all be available soon, via streaming or DVD. Until then, we have the Library of Congress, and I will try them on another lost gem soon.

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Comedy Film History Neglected gem
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