This is the film where Buster Keaton is officially teamed with Jimmy Durante, as both names share top billing. So essentially this is a comedy team film, at least in billing. This would also be not only Buster's final MGM starring film, but the last time Buster Keaton will ever star in a feature film for a major U.S. studio. From here on out, it was foreign films, comedy shorts, character parts in major and minor films, MGM gag man, television, and commercials, both the TV and lengthy industrial type. So Keaton kept busy his final 33 years, but his star days were over.
So what happened? Keaton's films at MGM continued to be very profitable, including this final film we are discussing, but Keaton himself became unreliable, so Louis B. Mayer terminated his contract. Keaton himself hated working for MGM and could not make the style of film he did when he had creative control in the silent era, WHAT! NO BEER? being one of them. Add this to a failing marriage and alcoholism, and you have a picture of Keaton's low point. On the set of WHAT! NO BEER?, there are stories that Keaton would not show up on the set for an entire week. Perhaps one can understand Louis B. Mayer's actions.
The alcoholism issue needs to be brought up because, well, Keaton appears on screen drunk. Keaton's face looks drawn out, he slurs a few lines....yeah, it's bad. However, I can deal with it for three reasons. One is I know Keaton will overcome this, live several more decades, and live out his remaining years in what's reported to be a good marriage and contentment. Secondly, I have become desensitized by watching Curly's final twelve Stooge shorts. Keaton may be at his low point here, but man, not anywhere near as bad as Curly was. Thirdly, Keaton is teamed with a loud comic like Jimmy Durante, who quite frankly chews all his ham and steals a few slices from Keaton in the process. Durante being himself greatly distracts from Keaton's state.
There is one scene where Keaton and Durante, along with Roscoe Ates and Henry Armetta, get an old brewing factory and learn to work the equipment and make beer. This scene goes on for several minutes with lots of beer suds flowing and tons of noise being made by all the comedians....except Keaton. All the other comedians are hooting and hollering, create all this comic energy, and you barely know Keaton is there. This scene to me, more than any other, sums up Keaton's position at MGM. Too many cooks in the kitchen, and Keaton was the cook with the least say.
So yes, as a Keaton film, this is a dud. Keaton fans who can't stand Jimmy Durante and are not into loud pre code comedy should completely hate this film. I enjoy this film, though, because of Jimmy Durante, the loud pre code comedy nature, the gangster motif, and the presence of THREE LITTLE SEW AND SEW'S own Phyllis Barry (I've also seen her in Wheeler and Woolsey's HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY!). She's fascinating with a unique accent and beauty to her, and yeah, we get the obligatory pretty girl in lingerie scene with her we'd no longer see the likes of once July 1934 hit. I also like the fact this film is a cultural artifact for the time prohibition was coming to an end in America. Love the fact the film points out how the gangsters do not want prohibition to end because it destroys their business. Oh, and we get a really cool array of beer barrels rolling down the street with Keaton running away and havoc taking place. This also happened a couple of years later in a film called THREE LITTLE BEERS.
So my rating reflects my thoughts of the overall film, not as a Keaton film...though admittedly a great Keaton role would have upped the score more.
The MGM era is now completely reviewed and similar to my Marx Brothers reviewing experience, I find I like the MGM's more than I thought. FREE AND EASY is utter shit and PASSIONATE PLUMBER is barely passable, but the others have their charms. I think with me, I've seen these films a few times now and know what to expect going in, liking them for what they are and mourning less what they're not. Add to the fact I've seen the silent Keaton classics a million times and the MGM films take on a new freshness. I welcome them as a whole in my collection, but to beginners, I still say, start with the silent classics.