During the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s, Hollywood relied on escapism to get audiences to forget their worries for an afternoon and step inside its dream factory. Spectacle laced with song and dance soon became the nation's panacea, the studios cranking out as many examples of this surefire social salve as possible. Among the greats within this business model were efforts by Busby Berkeley, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, the always marching musical machine of MGM, and regular revues that pulled from Tin Pan Alley to match standards and showtunes for their slight storylines. Fox was also fond of the genre, turning out terrific titles over the course the country's difficulties. A perfect example of their work arrives in the form of the silly and sunny You Can't Have Everything. Featuring contract players Alice Faye and Don Ameche, as well as the Marx-lite antics of the underappreciated Ritz Brothers, this is a very fun and frivolous film. If you look closely, you will also see Louis Prima and his band, as well as Arthur Treacher, and the terrific dancers Tip, Tap, and Toe and while the music is not very memorable, it's performed with the kind of panache missing from modern movies.
Our story centers around a distant relative of Edgar Allen Poe, Judith Poe Wells (Alice Faye). Desperate to keep up the family name, she has only managed to be a mediocre, struggling playwright. One day, in an Italian restaurant, she orders a meal she cannot pay for and inadvertently meets Broadway huckster and slightly drunk lothario George Macrae (Don Ameche). He is famous for his frilly musicals and pants charming abilities and while he is instantly smitten, she is a bit suspect. Reluctantly, she agrees to give him power over her dour drama "North Winds" in exchange for said spaghetti dinner. Macrae, as usual, has plans on turning it into a song and dance extravaganza. Just when it looks like Judith will overcome her earnestness and give into this man's whims, the star of the show (Phyllis Brooks) drops out, leaving our heroine as the primary replacement. Then, a former gal pal named Lulu (Gypsy Rose Lee) shows up and spoils everything, offering a secret about Macrae that changes the way everyone looks and acts around him. Add in the Ritz Brothers doing their standard shtick and you've got a real Great White Way winner.
You Can't Have Everything is a terrific cinematic trifle, a delightful dessert overloaded with the standard saccharine schmaltz that made so many of the '30s musicals so light and fluffy. As a vehicle for Ms. Faye, it's fascinating, requiring the actress's character to give up on her high standards and slum with the rest of the hoofers and crooners. Playing it perfectly, we can almost see the desire to stay serious struggling to overcome her otherwise perky persona. Ameche, on the other hand, is like a hambone slathered in cheese. He's all grins, grimaces, and innuendos. You could easily imagine him sitting around the various restaurants up and down 42nd Street, waiting for some wayward soul to show up sans money so he can take advantage of him or her. It's as personality trait that allows for the appearance of Louise Hovick - aka, the fabulous Gypsy Rose Lee - to create the necessary chaos such personal revelations might cause. The music is dandy and the overall atmosphere just screams "forget your troubles, come on, get happy."
Of course, modern audiences will moan at this kind of cornball pandering, but that doesn't mean there's not meat here for the starved cinephile. First up is the chance to see the Ritz Brothers in one of their best vehicles. Typically, their hellsapoppin' juvenilia sticks out like a sore thumb, reserved for those "blackout" moments in the old fashioned musical where nothing of interest is happening. Here, however, their antics are expertly incorporated into the story. Similarly, the various guest appearances (a bit more meaningful than cameos, for clarification) are excellent, separating out the songs and giving everything a real night out at vaudeville appeal. Remember when this movie was made. 77 years ago the country was going under. People couldn't eat and jobs were beyond scarce. War was ramping up in Europe and many were wondering if we would soon be involved in yet another worldwide fracas. A film like You Can't Have Everything was like a shot of tequila before the big debate. It was meant to calm the nerves, take off the edge, and along with newsreels and cartoons and b-movies and other Bijou novelties, provide the kind of release real life couldn't give. Is this a great film. No. Is it a marvel of its meaning.