I saw this movie in 1974, at the National Film Theatre in London, and I've absolutely no desire to see it ever again. ONCE in a blue moon is plenty!
In the 1930s, Jimmy Savo was a starring comedian on Broadway. One of Rodgers and Hart's greatest musical comedies, 'The Boys from Syracuse', was created as a star vehicle for Savo. He tended to play a chirpy little innocent fellow, fairly similar in appearance and behaviour to Eddie Cantor, Lou Costello or the English comedians Norman Wisdom, George Formby or George Robey. Savo is now utterly forgotten because he made only a few films and no major film appearances.
'Once in a Blue Moon' is one of the movies made at Paramount's studio in Astoria, N.Y. during the brief period when Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur had absolute autonomy to write, direct and produce their own films. None of the Hecht/MacArthur Astoria films are very good (possibly excepting 'Crime Without Passion'), but most of them are unusual enough to command interest. 'Once in a Blue Moon' is painful to watch. Its humour is leaden, its pacing is paralytic, and there are too many sub-Chaplin moments that try to be significant and meaningful.
Savo plays a travelling clown named Gabbo (a name 'borrowed' from a previous Ben Hecht story). Gabbo wanders through Europe with his caravan, searching for audiences whom he can entertain. (He won't find any here.) He crosses paths with some Russian nobles who are fleeing the revolution. To escape the Bolsheviks who are pursuing them, the Russians pass themselves off as circus performers and they travel with Gabbo, pretending to be a circus troupe. This isn't funny, or inspiring, or anything else except boring.
Some of the dialogue in this film is so incoherent, I thought the sound recording was defective. No; the soundtrack is fine, but several of the actors are speaking in (real or faked) Russian accents which are nearly incomprehensible. Edwina Armstrong, the untalented actress who plays the Russian princess, is Ben Hecht's daughter camouflaged by a stage name. Reportedly, Hecht and MacArthur wasted pots of money on this film, shooting endless retakes of Savo entering a room. Very little of that production budget is visible in this movie.
Savo (an Italian-American) eventually retired to Italy, where he wrote and illustrated a very dull memoir titled 'Little World, Hello'. The illustrations in this book (all self-portraits of Savo) are very strange: Savo invariably draws his self-portrait in three-quarter view with one empty eye socket, looking as if he had one eye missing.
'Once in a Blue Moon' rates one point out of 10, at absolute most.
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