Hey! Hey! USA (1938)
Director: Marcel Varnel
Cast: Will Hay, Edgar Kennedy, David Burns
Synopsis: Dr Twist has to pose on a liner as a famous professor and is asked to tutor Bernie, the son of a millionaire. To avoid awkward US immigration questions, Twist enlists the help of a gangster…
Not sure if Hey! Hey! USA is an intentional pun on its star’s name but, if it is, its level of humour is pretty much on a par with that contained within the flick. For the second of three times, Hay plays Benjamin Twist, a man whose ambitions outstrip his abilities. Twist is a porter on an ocean liner bound for America who, through convoluted plot twists, finds himself masquerading as a professor. Teaming up with a gangster stowaway (Edgar Kennedy), Twist finds himself embroiled in a kidnap plot on the far side of the pond that is complicated by the fact that two sets of gangsters are attempting to get their hands on the ransom money.
This is far from being one of Hay’s better movies, and sadly doesn’t feature Hay’s sidekicks Graham Moffat and Moore Marriott, but it does still contain a number of laugh-out-loud moments. The trouble is that Hay is the quintessential British blunderer and looks out of place in a (patently fake) American setting; much of the charm of Hays comedy is contained in the quaintness of it all, the feeling of a Great Britain that no longer exists, and that is also missing from this film. This is Hay tilting his hat at the US market and, although he makes few concessions, you just don’t feel like you’re watching a real Will Hay film.
By the look of it, the nearest Hay got to America when he was making this film was the Gainsborough Studios’ sound stages, and a number of British bit-part players try on a variety of wobbly American accents with varying degrees of success. Edgar Kennedy, closing in on his three hundredth film, is the familiar face designed to lure US audiences into the cinema and, while he’s good enough as Hays’ comic foil, you can’t quite seeing him being enough to draw in a sizable audience. The movie is also too long by a good fifteen minutes — but it’s still worth watching because Will Hay was good in everything he did. He always looks like he’s bumbling along, peering over the top of those pince-nez, completely unaware that he’s starring in a feature film, and yet he can make a perfectly ordinary conversation come across as hilarious. Some might find the conclusion racially offensive, but that shouldn’t prevent anyone from sampling the delights of vintage Will Hay.
(Reviewed 16th September 2005)