Playing Around was released way back in the Golden Era of 1930. Back then movies offered either silent scenes or big band musical numbers. Hollywood was limited in what they could do in their films due to the minimal technology they had. It is always a treat to watch a film that was released long before I was born. I find it fascinating to study how movies were shot and structured from long ago. It was a privilege to receive the movie Playing Around from the Warner Archive Collection for reviewing purposes. The number of movies from the 1930s I have seen are very small, I believe it is just a measly 20 movies, and I would like to view more films from Hollywood’s early beginnings.
Playing Around tells the story of young Sheba, a free-spirited blonde played by Alice White, and her soda-jerk boyfriend, Jack, who is living on a tight budget, as they spend an evening at The Pirate’s Den. The fancy high-end establishment is too much for Jack as even the cheapest buttermilk throws him off. Jack insists that they leave which in return upsets Sheba. Before leaving, Sheba goes on stage as part of a contest The Pirate’s Den runs nightly where she sings and dances on stage along with other contestants. Sheba catches the eye of Nicky, a man who looks rather well off. Sheba gets to know Nicky a little more throughout the movie and learns he might not be what she had originally thought.
The three main leads played by Alice White, William Bakewell, and Chester Morris are all painted in a rather unlikeable light. Each one of them has characteristics that make the film a struggle to watch. Chester Morris, who plays Sheba’s boyfriend, often changes his views on his relationship with Sheba. In the beginning of the film he is very demanding when it comes to the choices for Sheba. He is constantly putting her down, which leads to her accepting a date with Nicky. Half way through the film, he becomes very sweet but also needy when she visits him at work. I had to rewind the film to make sure it was the same character. I found Alice White’s character to be adorable in a few musical moments but her indecisiveness and playing around as the title might have it, make her a rather weak female lead.
For the film being so short, the direction has a quick pace to it. The film’s storyline starts right away and doesn’t spend too much time focusing on any one scene. There are a lot of transitions in the movie that keep the viewer occupied. This is a fairly typical plot but the production put into the film is what keeps the movie engaging. There a few songs that are positioned in the right moments that help the quick pace of the movie.
The Warner Archive Collection DVD release of Playing Around is a fun one to watch as it perfectly captures the energy of the Roaring Twenties. The main purpose of this release is to preserve the film and the release maintains the authentic vintage feel of the original release. I appreciated the films release onto DVD because I had a clear view of costume designs, set locations, and makeup for all main leads. Sometimes older films lose their look and can be hard to view but Warner Archive Collection clearly put a lot of care into this preservation and presented it as clearly as possible.
Another part of the film that is clear is the audio. Around the time of this movie’s release, movie studios offered a lot of big band musical numbers and during Playing Around’s short run time, there are a few musical moments that capture the look and sound of the silent/talkie era.
It was interesting to watch a film from so long ago but there weren’t enough traits in the characters to make them fun characters to watch. The pacing was quick and made for an easy film to watch. I am happy that Warner Archive Collection is preserving these older films, even if there were flaws in the film. It’s important to remember and honor the era that jump started Hollywood films.
The Warner Archive generously provided Hotchka with a DVD of the film for reviewing purposes.
Alice White Chester Morris ~ Pre-Code Playing Around (1930) scene.