A few words on that distinct non-classic The Eddie Cantor Story.
Over the past ten years I’ve watched about scores of these musical show biz bio-pics as part of my research for No Applause and this blog. Of these many films, The Eddie Cantor Story is undoubtedly the strangest – – and there is some mighty stiff competition. It’s a given that (with a couple of exceptions) these Hollywood contraptions are never accurate or even very perceptive even in a broad sense about the stars they are immortalizing.
But The Eddie Cantor Story goes them all a little better by simply being weird. Undoubtedly inspired by the success of The Jolson Story (1946) and Jolson Sings Again (1949), Warner Brothers hoped they could replicate the formula. There is no ambiguity as to what’s so downright strange about this picture, though. It’s the casting of its “star” Keefe Brasselle, previously a bit player, with one fairly decent role in A Place in the Sun (1951) to his credit. Brasselle’s tenor voice is roughly equivalent to Cantor’s. But since he doesn’t look much like Cantor, there is a concerted attempt by the actor (obviously egged on by the director Alfred E. Greene) to be as “Cantoresque” as possible. This translates into doing a very broad Eddie Cantor impression, with the constant popping of his eyes, and the adoption of his mincing mannerisms. These would be great for the scenes that are supposed to depict him in performance…but Brasselle does it ALL THE TIME. For example, he learns his wife is having a baby, and he pats his hands together. The girl agrees to marry him: he makes his eyes roll around.
They also seem to have done really unsettling stuff with make-up, making Brasselle resemble at times a Dick Tracy villain. There are moments in the film where Brasselle’s appearance is so grotesque I simply can’t believe what I’m watching. It’s kind of like watching the SCTV parody version of The Eddie Cantor Story with Eugene Levy playing Buddy Hackett playing Eddie Cantor. Brasselle’s marked Chicago accent adds to the hilarity. There is no one more “Lower East Side” than Eddie Cantor. But Brasselle talks like Dennis Franz.
Anyway, I’ve seen this one a few times, I can’t resist this kind of weirdness. But if you want some real information on the great Eddie Cantor, go here.
For more on show biz history including the great Eddie Cantor, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.