WesternBilly CurtisYvonne MorayNita Krebs
The Terror of Tiny Town
Medium: film
Year: 1938
Director: Sam Newfield
Writer: Fred Myton, Clarence Marks
Keywords: Western, musical
Country: USA
Actor: Billy Curtis, Yvonne Moray, 'Little Billy' Rhodes, Billy Platt, John T. Bambury, Joseph Herbst, Charles Becker, Nita Krebs, George Ministeri, Karl 'Karchy' Kosiczky, Fern Formica, William H. O'Docharty
Format: 62 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0030845/
Url: http://www.archive.org/details/TheTerrorOfTinyTown1938_802
Website category: Other
Review date: 17 July 2011
It's a 1938 all-midget Western, with songs. The story goes that a Hollywood producer, Jed Buell, overheard one of his employees saying, "If this economy doesn't turn around, we'll have to start making pictures with midgets".
Buell loved the idea and made this film.
I can only find one other all-midget movie, a 1970 German film by Werner Herzog called Even Dwarfs Started Small. The central gag is brilliant, of course... but only in theory. The problem with an all-midget movie is that everyone's the same size, so you forget that they're short and it mostly becomes a regular Western. There are a few visual jokes, but basically I found myself watching a normal film.
Fortunately as such, it's not bad. It was included in Medved and Lowell's "The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (and how they got that way)", but I presume they were in a bad mood that day.
The performances are better than you're imagining. It has its glitches (e.g. the sheriff's dying words), but Billy Curtis is a likeable hero, with an boyishness that's good for the film. I also liked his chemistry with Yvonne Moray. He'd go on to have a fifty-year film career, you know, including a role opposite Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter. The actor who really lifts this film though is Charlie Becker, who's a cook and the comic relief. "Ducky, ducky... you go away, I don't want you." He even manages to get away with the film's stupidest gag and make it work, when he puts his hat in the pot he's been stirring.
Don't take seriously Nita Krebs's credit as The Vampire, incidentally. She's just playing a dance hall girl and the credits are using "vampire" as synonymous with "vamp".
The problem is the songs. Like Alan Parker in Bugsy Malone, there's dubbing and it's always obvious, but more often than not we're hearing the midgets' own voices. Yowch. Admittedly after a while my brain failed and I started thinking they sounded okay, but the first two in particular must be among the worst singing performances ever put on celluloid. Furthermore the second one could be called disturbing, given that a woman with a child's voice and figure is singing about her plans for making love. Now what's interesting here is that this is wrong of me. She's an adult woman. My discomfort was practically bigotry... but that was still my reaction and in any case she's clearly murdering the song.
However on the other hand, Yvonne Moray later sings well in her natural voice. I'd have liked more of that.
What about the midget gags? That's why we're watching this film in the first place, of course. (I am evil.) There are a few, but somehow the funniest moments for me were those which hadn't been intended as jokes at all. Moray pulling a big gun for some reason to me looked hilarious, while a midget fist fight is a joy to behold. However the filmmakers' deliberate gags are also fun, such as cowboys walking underneath the saloon doors, two midgets playing a cello together or Becker's long tongs for reaching the top shelf. Incidentally they ride Shetland ponies and lasso calves.
Leaving aside all that, though, it's an ordinary Western. The villain's rustling cattle from two families and convincing both that the other's responsible. (He also hits women.) There's a Dynamite Fuse of Dramatic Convenience. However the hero is a nice guy and instead nearly reconciles the feuding families just by talking and being reasonable. If anything, that niceness is capable of becoming a liability when the plot gets going. "They can't convict me of something I never did." As a Western, it works. You could do worse. Besides, it's only an hour long and so isn't an endurance test or anything. You'll want to plug your ears during the songs, though.
"Some day I'll be the biggest man in this county!"