Sep 242012

Roman Scandals is a 1933, pre-Hays code musical starring Eddie Cantor and featuring elaborate set piece dance number choreographed by Busby Berkeley. Presumably a parody of Biblical and/or classical Hollywood pictures like The Sign of the Cross (1932), Scandals gives up any pretense of drama and goes straight to the sexual decadence. The means dance numbers on elaborate sets performed by dozens or even scores of women dressed identically (the “Goldwyn Girls”, including a young Lucille Ball). If you want to have large numbers of scantily clad women moving around in a situation of high drama, you can’t go wrong with a slave market or auction scene.

There doesn’t appear to be a DVD release in English (Amazon says there’s from Spain), probably because there’s a long scene of Cantor in blackface frolicking (no other word for it) amongst a bevy of female slaves. It’s a classic example of how blackface is a social license for white people to act out their ids. It’s also the ever-popular “male interloper in the harem” fantasy, going back to Lord Byron’s Don Juan if not earlier.

The racial hierarchies of 1930s America are replicated here. In one scene, the white slaves all have long, straight, golden hair (so long and thick that it covers up everything) and each of them has a black female slave dedicated to grooming her. The choreography, however, creates the illusion of the white women and black women changing places fluidly, suggesting a kind of “best of both worlds” hybridity: white women’s beauty combined with black women’s alleged sexual availability.

When Cantor’s character accidentally exposes his un-blackfaced white thighs to the women, they turn on him and chase him as a mob. When he hides in the steambath, one of the black women turns up the steam and his character emerges, shrunk. They then chase him into a pool, where he emerges with his blackface washed off and returned to normal size. The whole thing is one big Freudian joke.


  One Response to “Roman Scandals (1933)”

  1. […] Roman Scandals: “A pre-Hays code musical starring Eddie Cantor …. Scandals gives up any pretense of drama and goes straight to the sexual decadence.” […]

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