Once in a Lifetime | Chicago Reader

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This 1932 film, rarely screened nowadays, was adapted from the 1930 Broadway hit of the same name, the first play cowritten by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman; after purchasing the rights, Universal Studios chief Carl Laemmle was so proud of his largesse that he drafted a “personal” letter to the public introducing the film. A farce about the lunacy of Hollywood, it epitomizes the revenge of east-coast wits on west-coast illiteracy, and while some of the details have been softened or shaved away (notably, most of the third scene in act one has been deleted), the results are still much closer to the original than Frank Capra's version of Kaufman and Hart's You Can't Take It With You. A trio of vaudevillians—lunkhead Jack Oakie and lovers Aline MacMahon and Sidney Fox—head to Hollywood circa 1927, hoping to cash in on the talkies; the couple gets hired as vocal coaches, and Oakie winds up as a high-ranking director at the same studio. Russell Mack's direction is fairly stagy and clunky, but it hardly matters: the satire is corrosively funny (even when it's unfair). Zasu Pitts plays a dopey receptionist, and Gregory Ratoff is especially amusing as the central European studio head.

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