After reading a couple of reviews (not many available for this early talkie), I’m thinking that the title is more of a hint, and less a signifier of the movie’s content. That is, I need to keep the remote handy in case I need to bail out.
The issue is not so much a wacky premise–a gang gives coded info on its doings through radio broadcasts–but an annoying main character, Bill Brennan (William Haines). And maybe there’s a genre trainwreck–crime it mystery, comedy, romance.
We find that our protagonist pursues Marion (Mary Doran), who prefers a psychic/criminal mastermind, Dr. Kruger (John Miljan). Brennan, an absolute bore, is nonetheless hired by a relative’s friend, Marion’s brother Sam (Charles King) to run the radio station that she works at. There’s also Polly (Polly Moran) and rinky-dink station owner Smedley (J.C. Nugent).
Marion comes calling at a radio station/music store. Brennan is obnoxious right away. Anyway, turns out her station, WPN, is on the skids. Brennan basically stalks her to there, chatting her up. He meets Sam, and gets the skinny on WPN; he launches into his spiel, which, slick as he is, works. Hired.
Just like that, Marion becomes his secretary. Anyway, we see the “occultist” office, obviously a front for crooks. They’re talking about their latest caper. The heat’s on, they have to split up and lay low for a while. Then, the big cheese, listening to a radio ad, gets a cunning idea: suppose they communicate by code, by planting radio ads?
Meanwhile, Brennan starts interviewing for talent (hosts). That’s how we meet Dangerous Dan the Jew (fortunately, that last word is a mash-up of something else, but the point remains that incidental offensiveness like this was au courant in 1930 and well beyond ). The guy’s funny in any case, as he goes into an extended skit/audition.
Then a “beauty expert.” Then a “hog caller.” Another skit. Then a stuttering guy–it was cool to make fun of speech impediments too–anything goes. But all of this leads up to Dr. Kruger, the spiritualist. At least he isn’t a ninny; he’s hired.
Actually, Kruger is a plant from the crime boys. Brennan tells Marion he’s in love with her; once again, she blows him off. Ten days later, his broadcast is only slightly elevated from his packing crate backroom deal at Smedley’s. It’s kind of cool that he can mimic just about anybody; still, I keep thinking his personality disorders are multipying.
Seems that Marion prefers Kruger, not a tough choice. Nonetheless, looks like Kruger has his forum; and the bad guys are listening in. I realize that giving psychic readings is a perfect way for giving cryptic directions (from “the spirit world”). It’s official: she’s going out with Kroger.
In fact, he’s reading her fortune. Weirdly, guess who’s the waiter at the restaurant? No, Brennan isn’t the help, but whatever gets him in Marion’s face is his deal. At any rate, the “Ghost Gang” is back in business, thanks to WPN and Kruger. When Brennan quizzes Kruger about the gang, the seer gives a sinister, enigmatic answer, as though he’s actually suspicious of Brennan.
Brennan overhears her telling Sam that she’s in with Kruger. Back to business: he’s got police chief Brown to give the info on the crime spree. A lot more jealousy blather from Brennan. This is not only dumb, it’s boring. Thankfully, at the ballroom that WPN broadcasts from, the Ghost guys nab Brennan; I suppose he’s trying to edge their mouthpiece, Kruger, off the air.
He’s more or less taken hostage; not surprisingly, he blends in pretty easily with the Gang. A cop is patrolling outside their hole-up. Someone’s been playing paper rolls with the newspaper(?). Whatever. Anyway, the cop gets suspicious of them, and comes calling. “What’s going on here?” Looking at the paperdolls, the cop figures they’re all nuts, and leaves.
The pace slows to a crawl…finally, they all leave. Pulled over by a motor cop, they get away with a warning. The paperdolls change hands, a talisman of sorts. The stuttering guy finds WPN, and tries to chat up Marion with the damn dolls. She’s so flipped out, she calls the cops; how they tie that running gag back tongue Gang doesn’t quite figure.
But it does work that way. The Gang is busy doing a bank job; cops are wise to it. There’s a shoot-out; the cops win. For some reason, Brennan is along for the ride “you must’ve received my message” he tells the detective. Then he fingers Kruger as the Gang’s accomplice. Now he’s got Marion to himself. Unbelievably, she’s game.
The end. I was right–I reached for the remote more than once to pause the ‘action.’ Brennan is insufferable, and, except for a few bits, he’s mostly unamusing. When the lead’s a loudmouth non-entity, it’s a kiss-of-death.
Plus, this overload of (mostly psuedo-) comedy skewers the tone so far in that direction, that Ghost Gang may as well be ghosts. They’re caricatures of criminals. In other words, this is camp: a Batman episode without a hero. Marion’s character brings some needed contrast to Brennan’s buffoonery; nonetheless, her ultimate acceptance of this dude just crashes up a carefully crafted role.
I wasn’t expecting much from this, and wasn’t disappointed. If you want to kill an hour, this will do that. Remote Control is occasionally entertaining, but never gets into high gear. 5.5/10