Idiot's Delight

  • 1939
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Comedy

Both Robert E. Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning play and his screen adaptation feature the sophisticated, extravagant brand of comedy which all but perished after the 1930s. Gable is a burlesque hoofer who, following WW I, takes a job as an assistant to an alcoholic mind reader, Crews. Gable relays coded information about the audience member asking questions,...read more

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Both Robert E. Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning play and his screen adaptation feature the sophisticated, extravagant brand of comedy which all but perished after the 1930s. Gable is a burlesque hoofer who, following WW I, takes a job as an assistant to an alcoholic mind reader, Crews.

Gable relays coded information about the audience member asking questions, furnishing the blindfolded medium with correct answers. However, Crews is so drunk that she is unable to follow the code. Ingenue Shearer, who is waiting in the wings, tries to help out, but the audience hears her, and the

act is booed off the stage. Shearer apologizes to Gable for ruining the act, and he takes her to dinner. She begs Gable to teach her the code so that she can become a great medium. Over dinner, she fantasizes how her name will be in lights all over the world; Gable will assist her, of course. She

puts on extravagant airs, claiming to be a Russian countess. The next day they part. Gable is shown in montage, performing various routines until, years later, he and his all-girl revue, known as Les Blondes, become a hit in Europe. Traveling to Geneva, his troupe is stopped at the border and sent

to an Alpine hotel, the Monte Lodi, until their passports and visas are approved. At the posh resort, Gable meets several interesting characters. Meredith is a radical who loudly condemns the militarists who have taken over Europe and the world war that is certain to result from their insane

ambitions, and Coburn is a medical researcher. A young married couple, Patterson and Willes, are just starting their life together. Arnold is a munitions king there with his mistress, a blonde, slinky Russian countess. It seems that Shearer has discovered a way to live out her fantasy. Watching

the guests and hotel employees closely is army captain Schildkraut. Among the employees are pompous maitre d' Feld, Gallagher, the entertainment director, and Suss, a gentle porter. Gable believes he recognizes Shearer, but he's unsure until he has a drink with her and the young couple. After

listening to the blonde vamp recount her life, he recognizes the dreams of the girl he met in Omaha. She has grown tired of millionaire Arnold and tells him how disgusted she is with his murderous machinations, so he promptly dumps her, leaving her in the lurch when his passport is cleared. In the

valley below, a huge military airbase unleashes waves of bombers which fly off to an unknown target. Some of the guests, including Gable and his troupe, flee, and those left behind await the counterstrike which will certainly destroy the mountaintop retreat. Shearer has champagne with Suss, who is

going off to battle, then sits down at the piano in the grand lounge with its bay windows overlooking the valley and begins to play. Gable returns for her and she is overjoyed, although she keeps up her impersonation until he compels her to revert to the limelight-hungry American girl he once

knew. She continues to play the piano as retaliating bombers destroy the valley below and much of the hotel. Somehow Gable and Shearer survive to face the war--and life--together after singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" through the bombardment.

One of the most charming scenes in the film has Gable and his girls performing for the hotel guests, singing and dancing to the tune "Puttin' on the Ritz." Brown's direction is speedy, but he uses predictable devices to show the passing of time and lets Shearer get way out of hand, well beyond the

bounds set by the extravagant character she plays. Sherwood altered his play considerably, writing an extensive prolog, toning down the anti-war dialog, eliminating any mention of Germany, stressing the romance and providing a happy ending. Gable is fun to watch as he registers a consistently

painful expression in response to Shearer's outlandish displays. He also does a commendable singing and dancing job, one which he was reluctant to perform. He rehearsed this sequence (later incorporated into THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT) for six weeks with choreographer George King and researched his

moves by watching early movies of George M. Cohan doing his dance routines. To further polish the dance steps, his wife Carole Lombard practiced with him at home, but he was worried about appearing clumsy and tripping over his own size 11 shoes. At his insistence, studio cops guarded the sound

stage to prevent intruders coming onto the set where he was performing his dance numbers. This would be the only time in his career when he would dance before the cameras. Gable's reported tightwad nature is spoofed when he buys Shearer a seventy-five cent trinket and says, "That's the most

expensive present I ever bought a dame."

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Both Robert E. Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning play and his screen adaptation feature the sophisticated, extravagant brand of comedy which all but perished after the 1930s. Gable is a burlesque hoofer who, following WW I, takes a job as an assistant to a… (more)

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