The Nitwits (1935)

Bert Wheeler, Robert Woolsey, Betty Grable, Hale Hamilton,
A would-be songwriter and a would-be inventor run a cigar stand and get mixed up in the murder of a song publisher.
  • 6.0 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Fred Guiol, Al Boasberg, Stuart Palmer, Grant Garett, Leslie Goodwins, Writer:
  • George Stevens, Director:
  • Producer:
7 / 10

A Murder Mystery With Wheeler & Woolsey

When the Black Widow murderer strikes at the boss of a music production business, THE NITWITS who run the cigar stand down in the lobby find themselves under investigation for homicide. Can the Boys find the real villain before he kills again?

A rather routine Wheeler & Woolsey comedy (Bert Wheeler is the one with the curly hair; Robert Woolsey has the cigar & spectacles) but the Boys are always fun to watch. Betty Grable is on hand this time as Wheeler?s love interest. Blustery Hale Hamilton is one of the Black Widow?s victims. Erik Rhodes has a small role as a suspect. Willie Best is on hand to add to the madcap finale. Film mavens will recognize Arthur Treacher as the man with the tennis equipment.

Wheeler & Grable sing ?You Opened My Eyes? - Woolsey warbles ?The Black Widow?s Gonna Get You If You Don?t Watch Out?. There is some racial stereotyping, not unusual in Hollywood films of this period.

6 / 10

Could They Use Woolsey's Machine At Guantanamo?

The Nitwits are of course Wheeler&Woolsey and in this film they own a cigar stand in the building where music publisher Hale Hamilton has an office. Hamilton's got a secretary played by Betty Grable that Bert is stuck on. Hamilton's married to Evelyn Brent, but never lets that stand in the way of a little nookie.

Anyway, a notorious criminal called the Black Widow is known for sending out letters of extortion demanding money or the victim would be killed. Hamilton decides not to give in and does wind up dead as a result.

Unlike Abbott&Costello's Who Done It which has a lot of the same plot premise, The Nitwits is better edited and the perpetrator doesn't come out of nowhere as in Bud&Lou's film. Unfortunately due to one of the gags which involves Woolsey inventing a chair in which a charge of electricity passes through you so you blurt the truth out, we learn a little prematurely in my opinion who the culprit is.

Anyway because Betty is a prime suspect, Wheeler&Woolsey get themselves involved in the investigation. They prove as much help to the cops as Abbott&Costello did, but like them they do stumble on to the perpetrator.

One reason this film is not revived too often is the climax also involves a bunch of black people being allowed by one of their peers who works as a janitor to use the basement for a quiet crap game. Their fright reactions in the climatic chase of the culprit plays into a lot of racial stereotyping.

Anyway I did like Woolsey's Rube Goldberg contraption as a gag. Maybe they could use a real one of those at Guantanamo.

7 / 10

what George Stevens did before his big pictures

The Nitwits puts Wheeler and Woolsey into a murder mystery and as you can imagine, they manage to cause havoc as usual. Betty Grable is on hand as Bert's love interest but she doesn't do much beyond one number they sing together early on. Most of the film is took up with daft murder and chase stuff, one or two set pieces working really well but the film isn't as snappy and fun as some of their earlier work.

The director, George Stevens, went on to direct the likes of A Place in the Sun and Woman of the Year, but this early effort shows what he was up to in the first 15 years of his long career.

5 / 10

Murder and mirth is an uneven mix...

For awhile it looks as though THE NITWITS will be fun along the lines of an Abbot and Costello comedy that mixes mirth with murder in the form of a who-dun-it, but by the time the murderer is revealed as the man behind The Black Widow killings, the story has limped to a madcap slapstick conclusion with an assortment of gags, some good, some tiresome.

Along the way there are a couple of innocuous songs, one of them sung by a very young BETTY GRABLE before stardom at Fox, which she duets with BERT WHEELER. She's the secretary of a murdered executive and for awhile she joins the list of suspects, although we know she's innocent. ERIC RHODES has little to do as a man with a good reason to be one of the suspects, but the plot mainly has to do with Wheeler and ROBERT WOOLSEY (who looks like Phil Silvers on diet pills), and their scatterbrained encounters with the policemen trying to solve the case.

George Stevens directs the whole thing at a fast clip, especially the climactic ten minute scene of frantic over-the-top slapstick that concludes the story.

Summing up: Just okay if you're a fan of Wheeler and Woolsey. It's the kind of slapstick farce the kiddies usually enjoy at a Saturday matinée.

5 / 10

Other than they forgot to make it funny and its racist stereotypes, a reasonably agreeable time-passer!

Murders start occurring at a music publisher's and for no apparent reason, Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey are in the middle of it. Can these two idiots manage to solve the murder and save the day--or will they be The Black Widow's next victims?!

This Wheeler and Woolsey film is a bit different for them, as normally Wheeler's girlfriend in his films is played by Dorothy Lee. Aside from appearing in their films, Ms. Lee had a very limited career--but the same cannot be said of Wheeler's love interest in "The Nitwits". Here, his lady friend, Mary, is played by a very young Betty Grable--well before she became a national sensation.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film is NOT different from most of the films made by this comedy team. Like most, it lacked comedy--yet, inexplicably, the pair were very popular during the 1930s. Why, I haven't the foggiest, as the film has barely a laugh in it. However, despite not being funny, the rest of the film is a typical sort of comedy-murder mystery...with one exception. Throughout the movie, the filmmakers tried to elicit cheap laughs playing on racist stereotypes. Most of the black men in the film spent their time shooting dice and being VERY afraid of a guy dressed up like a skeleton--two annoying and dumb clichés of the era. Today, this sort of thing makes folks cringe-- back then it was a laugh riot.

Overall, if you compare this to a comedy like Abbott and Costello's "Hold That Ghost" or Bob Hope's "Ghostbreakers", it comes up very, very short indeed. You could certainly do better with your time.