“This is a factual and authentic document based on actual conditions existing in the world today. It is admittedly propaganda. It is a picture with a purpose. Try to find it.”
That’s one hell of a warning to accompany the opening of 1943’s Hi Diddle Diddle, directed by Andrew L. Stone.
The film tells the tale of Janie Prescott (Martha Scott) and her husband-to-be, Sonny (Dennis O’Keefe), who is late arriving to their wedding. When his ship finally docks and he’s able to make his way to the ceremony, he runs into his father, small-time con man Hector (Adolphe Menjou). Hector gives Sonny a diamond-laced corsage to pass along to Janie, but of course, it’s a stolen corsage… actually nabbed from Sonny’s stepmother, the opera-singing Genya Smetana (Pola Negri).
Stolen corsage in hand, Sonny finally makes it to meet his bride, but another hitch is thrown into their wedding plans when Janie learns that her mother (Billie Burke) has lost all of the family’s money. One family is broke, the other is headed by a swindler… but this may work to their advantage, as Hector offers to help win the Prescotts’ money back.
This film appears in Mill Creek’s 50 Classic Musicals set. The quality is decent for the public domain, with a fuzzy picture but pretty clear audio.
Though a part of the “Classic Musicals” set, and despite the several songs included, the story is more of the focus in Hi Diddle Diddle than anything else. It’s a comedy with music rather than what I’d truly classify as a musical-comedy.
The men of the film are smarmy, but entertainingly so. Gold-digging Hector has raised a player of a son, who tells every girl things are “different” with her. (To be fair, Sonny does seem to be a reformed player, as he is settling down — honestly, and seriously — with Martha Scott’s “Janie.”)
The cast is to thank for all of these wacky characters coming across as flawed-but-likeable, and watchable rather than offputting. Menjou, Billie Burke, Pola Negri, Martha Scott, and Dennis O’Keefe all fill their roles well.
I can’t mention the film’s great cast without giving extra props to the lovely, underrated June Havoc, who schemes, sings, and smooches her way through the story. (In one nicely-executed scene, two Junes sing together via Panoram Soundie!)
Also on the positive the film is fun, fast-paced, and full out outlandish scams. The script delivers plenty of funny quips. The female characters are decked out in over-the-top costumes, with crazy details like hats that would make Hedda Hopper’s look demure. There’s a lot to love here.
The plot does become a little over-complicated between the gambling, the stock scams, the schemes on top of schemes. I never was able to figure out the purpose that the opening warning alluded to. Don’t gamble? Don’t trust Billie Burke with the family riches? Play the stocks and you’ll strike it rich? Regardless of what it all means, Hi Diddle Diddle is a fun ride. The score: 4/5