Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"It's Tough to Be Famous," or Media, Myself and I


As the scion of one of Hollywood's first families, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was born in the spotlight, and in the 1932 film "It's Tough to Be Famous," he spends all his time trying to get out of it.

YOU'RE hot! I'm wearing a turtleneck and wool blazer! 
Fairbanks plays Scotty McClenahan, a submarine commander whose ship is dead in the water -- actually, UNDER the water, eighty feet of it. There's no ventilation, and oxygen is running out.

On the surface, help is on the way with search planes flying, phones buzzing, flotillas flotilla-ing -- every producer of stock footage in the country is swinging into action! But in the submarine on the ocean floor, the mood is lower than a submarine on the ocean floor. Then Scotty gets an idea -- he starts shooting the crew, one at a time, out the torpedo tubes to the surface. Finally, it comes down to Scotty and Stevens (David Landau). They can't both escape because someone has to stay behind and pull the trigger:



When Scotty comes to, he's a hero -- and waiting to see him at the big welcoming ceremony is mom (Emma Dunn) and girlfriend Janet (Mary Brian). There's someone else waiting as well -- magazine publisher Chapin (a perfectly cast Walter Catlett), who is to ballyhoo what Crosby is to crooning:

  


"From now on," Chapin tells Scotty, "you're America's sweetheart!" Since Scotty was on the verge of being discharged anyway, he lets Chapin take him under his wingtips -- I mean wing. Scotty starts fielding offers from vaudeville and radio, and he starts endorsing things he doesn't know anything about. The phoniness and constant attention starts to get to him, and he can't even go to the movies without seeing his puss in the newsreels:

 


Scotty finally has a job, but he wants to be an engineer, and all his boss wants him for is the publicity value. And when his verbal faux pas make nationwide headlines, he finds his marriage to Janet crumbling as fast as his celebrity status. Finally, he tells Chapin, "We're all trying to get rich because I had the good luck -- or the bad luck -- to do my duty down in that submarine."

From Charles Lindbergh to Ryan Lochte, media-created Celebrities have been part of our culture, and through a remarkably smart script, "It's Tough to Be Famous" outlines a scenario that's relevant. All that's changed is the delivery system -- it's the Internet and TV rather than vaudeville and printed material.

In the end, Scotty is knocked from his public perch in the most natural of ways -- by another sailor, named Ole, who jumped overboard to rescue a dog.

"Don't you realize that Ole is the ideal national hero?" Chapin tells Scotty. "He's big, handsome, dumb, got a nice smile and he doesn't speak enough English to antagonize anybody!"

Here is full cast and credits information for "It's Tough to Be Famous," and here's the trailer:          




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