Time Out for Rhythm (1941) is really two films in one. Primarily it's an entertaining B-musical from Columbia Pictures, packed with terrific performers inoffensively and unpretentiously working their way through the oldest and most overworked of show business chestnuts. However, its main draw for audiences today is that it features the Three Stooges, then consisting of Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard. The Stooges were in the middle of their long and highly profitable run of two-reel comedies, but rarely had large parts in features.
Today, of course, the Three Stooges are among the very few Classical Hollywood personalities still enjoying a mainstream following. All of their Columbia two reel comedies and later starring features (1958-65) are out on DVD, and even the bulk of their earliest and less-known movie appearances are now available. Time Out for Rhythm was one of the few holdouts and, Stooge-wise, it's something of a surprise. Unlike, say, their appearance in My Sister Eileen (1942), lasting all of five seconds, the Stooges have substantial supporting roles in Time Out for Rhythm.
A manufactured-on-demand, Sony "Choice Collection" release, Time Out for Rhythm is a typically stellar release, sporting an excellent black and white, full-frame transfer.
At the Zodiac Club, Harvard graduate and aspiring show producer Danny Collins (Rudy Vallée) offers some suggestions to singer Frances Lewis (Rosemary Lane). However, her struggling agent, Mike Lewis (Richard Lane), who's in love with her and overly protective, takes offense. But when Frances tries Danny's good ideas, Mike immediately forgives him and soon they form a partnership. Aided by colleague "Offbeat" Davis (Allen Jenkins) they create a successful talent agency.
A new program in that emerging medium called television provides Armstrong & Collins, Inc. an opportunity to showcase one of their star performers, singer Joan Merrill (herself), but Frances, taking advantage of Mike's unreciprocated feelings, tries to muscle in on the deal. This causes a rift with Danny but, very reluctantly, Danny finally agrees to retool the show around Frances. Visiting her apartment Danny meets Frances's housemaid, Kitty Brown (Ann Miller), dancing and singing out on the patio. He immediately hires her away for the show. But will Frances's shameless manipulations of Mike come between him and Danny? And will Joan and Kitty ever get the big break they deserve?
Thanks to movies like That's Entertainment! and its sequels, there's a popular misconception that MGM completely dominated the movie musical genre, when in fact not only did bigger studios like Fox and RKO produce equally great films, but even lesser studios like Universal and Columbia produced their fair share. Rita Hayworth headlined Columbia's biggest '40s musicals, while Ann Miller starred in nearly a dozen smaller, B-movie musicals for the company, Time Out for Rhythm being her first.
Amazingly, Miller began her professional career at age thirteen as a tap dancer at a San Francisco nightclub where Lucille Ball and comedian/talent scout Benny Rubin discovered her. This led to a contract at RKO (where Ball worked at the time). Miller lied and said she was eighteen. By the time she made Time Out for Rhythm and legitimately eighteen, she had already done 14 movies. I'd always assumed Miller fibbed about her age, but a 1930 census report confirms she really was that young.
I was never particularly fond of her screen personality, though until now I'd known her primarily from her earlier RKO films (Stage Door, Room Service, etc.), later MGM films (Easter Parade, On the Town), and for her later years in which she often parodied her speed-tapping image, most famously in a 1970 TV commercial (created by Stan Freberg) in which she danced on a colossal soup can.
In Time Out for Rhythm, however, Miller's youthful charm and incredible talent finally won me over, particularly during "A-Twiddlin' My Thumbs." Maybe she peaked at that age or perhaps these cheaper Columbia musicals in some ways showcased her talents better. (In her later MGM films, she was often treated like a novelty act.)
The rest of the picture, as Variety might put it, is "pure hokum," but the always reliable Richard Lane is very good, and the various acts Armstrong & Collins come to represent - Six Hits and a Miss, Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Band, etc. - are all good, with Pee Wee Hunt's performance of "The Boogie Woogie Man" standing out. Only stiff, inexpressive Rudy Vallée seems out of place. His years as a flappers-mobbed crooner were behind him and though still popular (mostly via radio), Hollywood's casting agents didn't quite know what to do with him. Writer-director Preston Sturges found the answer when he cast Vallée as a rich twit in The Palm Beach Story (1942) and again in Unfaithfully Yours, and of course later he enjoyed a comeback in the '60s musical How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. (According to Wikipedia, in later years he occasionally opened for The Village People!). Oddly, in Time Out for Rhythm he performs just twice, and only briefly.
As in some of their other feature film appearances, the Three Stooges fall back on something closer to their anarchic Vaudeville personae rather than the more standard situation comedy clowning of their early 1940s two-reelers. Playing out-of-work actors trying to get hired by Armstrong & Collins, they perform several routines. The best is their first appearance, about nine minutes into the film, in which they perform their very funny "Maharaja" sketch. Stooge fans will find this fascinating, as it is performed here while Curly was still healthy. Within just a few years a series of small strokes radically altered his screen personality and his ability to perform at all. The team did the same sketch in the 1946 two-reeler Three Little Pirates but Curly's performance and energy level is infinitely higher here.
Video & Audio
Typical of Sony's Choice Collection '40s films, Time Out for Rhythm looks great, with impressive detail, rich blacks, and good contrast throughout. The audio, English only with no other choices and no subtitle options, is likewise strong. There are no menu screens; the movie simply begins then restarts automatically after it's done. The mono audio (English only, not subtitle options) is fine and the disc is region-free. No Extra Features.
Despite their seventh billing The Three Stooges have substantial roles in Time Out for Rhythm, providing much comedy relief. But the movie overall is also good, a very enjoyable, unpretentious little musical with much to recommend it.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.