Adapted from Owen Davis's stage comedy The Nervous Wreck (itself filmed in 1927), Flo Ziegfeld's musical spectacular Whoopee! was one of the solid hits of the 1928-29 Broadway season, thanks largely to the irrepressible Eddie Cantor. The property was transferred to film virtually intact in 1930, again produced by Ziegfeld (in collaboration with Sam Goldwyn) and again starring Cantor. The star plays Henry Williams, a wide-eyed hypochondriac who heads to a western resort town in the company of his long-suffering nurse Mary Custer (Ethel Shutta). Meanwhile, Wanenie (Paul Gregory), the son of an Indian chief, pines away out of love for white heiress Sally Morgan (Eleanor Hunt), who has been forbidden to marry Wanenie because of their racial differences. One of the most unsympathetic heroines in screen history, Sally coerces Henry into helping her elope then allows the poor boob to be accused of kidnapping. All sorts of zany complications ensue, not least of which is the side-splitting scene in which Henry, disguised as an Indian, adopts a thick Jewish accent while trying to sell a rug to a tourist. The Sally/Wanenie dilemma ends happily when the young man turns out not to be Indian after all, while Henry, cured of his ills by all the excitement, marries nurse Marie. The "Ziegfeld Touch" is most obvious in the final reels, when the story stops dead in its tracks to offer a long, drawn-out parade of "Glorified" Follies girls wearing enormous headdresses and precious little else. But the film's highlight is Eddie Cantor's sly, insinuating rendition of the title song, in which he details in humorous fashion the pitfalls of "makin' whoopee" with the wrong girl. Featured among the Goldwyn Girls are such future stars as Claire Dodd, Virginia Bruce, and 14-year-old Betty Grable, who energetically performs the very first chorus of the very first song in the film. Lensed in eye-pleasing early Technicolor, Whoopee was a success, launching a long and fruitful cinematic collaboration between Eddie Cantor and Sam Goldwyn. It was remade by Goldwyn in 1944 as Up in Arms, a showcase for the producer's "new Cantor" Danny Kaye.
by Hal Erickson synopsis