Silly Billies (1936) Poster


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Not as bad as I'd been led to believe
gilbert192616 February 2007
I've been watching Wheeler and Woolsey movies for about fifteen years, but was only able to see this one just last month. First, many thanks to TCM for allowing this film to be shown--finally!

That being said, I must say that I was prepared to be entirely disappointed with this film. I had seen nothing but negative reviews or comments about it. In contradistinction to this, I was surprised that I did actually enjoy the film. I might even go so far to say that it is one of the best of W & W's "last five" films.

The film's first half had a certain quirkiness that did not exactly produce bellyfuls, but that had an agreeable sardonic aspect. The second half was less satisfying, but I could not help thinking that it seemed odd for the duo to be involved in a rather realistic plot, as opposed to the feathery things that usually provide the excuse for their antics.

Thus, it seemed that the boys were participating in the real world for once, in this film anyway. I might only add the musical number was most agreeable, and leave any future viewer with the impression that this film is the post-code equivalent of "Caught Plastered" (1931), some silly lines, and a tired plot, but with good effort. I'm sure that some W & W fans might object to this analogy, but it's the best that I can make with their earlier work.
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Near the end for W&W
lzf04 January 2007
Leonard Maltin writes that this film is horrible. I only agree because the plot is SO politically incorrect. Now I know that we should not apply our political mores to the climate of 1936, but the treatment of Native Americans in this opus is shabby under any circumstance.

Silly Billies is a precursor to Bob Hope's "Paleface" with Woolsey as a "painless" dentist going west and Bert Wheeler as his assistant. This is also Dorothy Lee's last appearance with the boys. Now some say that Wheeler and Whoolsey are dated and that their personas no longer hold up. Wheeler is the ultimate man-child; he plays it well, but people just don't act like that! Woolsey is a bus-and-truck version of Groucho Marx. He's pleasantly funny, but he's not Groucho. Their characters also have a staginess about them which never disappeared. This is surprising because they had a great deal of experience in films. Their pairing was by chance in the stage musical "Rio Rita" and Radio Pictures (RKO) thought it would be a good idea to keep them together as a team. Their individual personas are unique, but they don't really blend as a team. RKO had a habit of creating comedy teams. In the 1940s, they tried the combination of Wally Brown and Alan Carney. Like Bert and Bob, the chemistry is fleeting at best. Dorothy Lee is their best leading lady. She's not much of a singer, her dancing is modest, and she's not convincing as an actress. However, she is just so cute and she does cute things on the screen. She has an intangible charisma that just cannot be described in words. However with all this said, I enjoy Bert and Bob and cherish them as examples of 1920s musical comedy stars.

The comedy moves fast and there is an ersatz Western style musical number which is performed by almost everyone in the cast. There's some good action towards the end of the film. "Silly Billies" is not "Diplomaniacs" or "Hips Hips Hooray", but it is pleasant.
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Who is your pick for the most obnoxious child actor?
JohnHowardReid16 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Copyright 20 March 1936 by RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. New York opening at the Rialto: 5 April 1936. Australian release: 6 May 1936. 7 reels. 65 minutes.

SYNOPSIS: A dentist seeks pickings out West.

COMMENT: Let's have a contest. Who is the most obnoxious child actor Hollywood ever produced? Is it Delmar Watson or his younger brother, Bobs? On the strength of On Borrowed Time, Bobs would certainly get my vote, but Delmar certainly runs him a close second. His presence in this film is enough to cast a suspicious cloud over its entertainment prospects. Otherwise, aside from a needlessly elongated and unmercifully attenuated scene in which Richard Alexander sells our heroes an office building (filmed for the most part in understandably disinterested long takes), Silly Billies isn't too bad. Certainly it doesn't deserve its poor reputation.

True, there's not a great deal of comedic suspense, but that's not entirely the fault of this movie, as its plot was partly re-used in The Paleface. And while the conclusion is foregone, it does still have a few neat twists and surprises. What's more, it was lensed on a pretty expensive budget, not the meagre resources some present-day reviewers would have us believe. There's lots of location photography (doubtless the work of J. Roy Hunt), with plenty of action, stunts and extras. The scene in which our heroes try to wake the deserted town is genuinely amusing, as well as inventively staged and directed. In fact Mr Guiol often has a fine old time with his extensive exterior sets and milling crowds of extras. I love the song too. And the perky heroine.

In all, although Wheeler and Woolsey are not quite as lively as in their next effort, Mummy's Boys (also directed by Guiol), they still manage enough of their characteristic turns and humor to make this an enjoyably action-filled comedy. Wheeler is an appropriately sad-faced, chucklesomely glum, romantic suitor, while Woolsey's Philip Painless Pennington of a dentist rivals the boisterous incompetence of Bob Hope's Painless Potter in The Paleface. And Woolsey has the advantage of his trademark cigar and war-cry whoop.
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There's Gold in Them-There-Rocks!
mark.waltz31 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Of movie dentists, audiences cringed with Laurence Olivier in "Marathon Man", laughed in agony at Steve Martin's in "Little Shop of Horrors", and winced in hysterics with W.C. Fields in the short "The Dentist". With Robert Woolsey, they pray for an extra shot of chloroform. Any early American dentist who travels around with a set of giant teeth the size of Fred Flinstone's Brontosaurus Steak is cause for alarm. When Woolsey and his assistant (Bert Wheeler) realize the town that they have set up their practice in has been abandoned (with the residents off to California in search for gold), they set off to warn them that they are all in danger of being massacred by Indians. Of course, there are villains in the covered wagon party who make it appear that the boys are in cahoots with the Indians, and it is up to Wheeler and Woolsey to expose them with the help of a sling shot and a very interesting replacement for ammunition.

This silly western is highlighted by a drunken sequence in which Woolsey tries to perform oral surgery on a goat, the obligatory musical number ("Tumble On, Tumbleweed") and the slapstick finale. Dorothy Lee makes her last appearance in a Wheeler and Woolsey comedy as the sweet love interest who has her eyes, as usual, on Wheeler. Woolsey's silly string of wisecracks range from corny to hysterical, but as usual, it is his delivery that makes them Dijorno. Willie Best has a bit role as a lazy, sleeping black resident of the town who runs off in a stereotypically cowardly fashion after learning that he's the last resident left other than Wheeler and Woolsey.
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An agreeable time-passer
MartinHafer18 January 2007
Okay, I've gotta admit up front that I have seen quite a few Wheeler and Woolsey movies and have never thought any of them were that funny. While not as unfunny as the awful Ritz Brothers or Allen and Rossi, this comedy team was not even close to being as funny as their contemporaries, the Marx Brothers or Laurel and Hardy. However, if you aren't expecting much magic, this is still an agreeable time-passer.

The boys are a dentist and his assistant traveling to the Old West to open a new practice. Once in town, they buy a business--only to wake up the next day and see that the entire population of this bustling town had left for the California gold fields early that morning! Then, they discover an evil plot to sell out these settlers to some hostile Indians, so they spring to the rescue.

The film has very few big laughs and as usual the chemistry between the duo isn't all that great. In fact, I recall having laughed out loud once. However, unlike many of their films, the plot isn't bad and they stick a lot closer to it than the other Wheeler and Woolsey films I've seen--this is a plus, as the duo just don't have the energy or charisma to act like the Marx Brothers. Also, while some have pointed out that this movie is not "politically correct", I was impressed that the Indians were in fact American Indians and not a bunch of white guys in paint (other than the boys, who were disguised as Indians)! All in all, not a great film but not bad either. While I enjoyed most of the film, the Chloroform gag at the end was pretty limp (you'd have to see it to understand--trust me, it's lame).
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