Synopsis by Hal Erickson
The most intriguing aspect of the 1932 Bert Wheeler-Robert Woolsey romp Hold 'Em Jail was that it was co-scripted by legendary humorist and frequent Marx Bros. contributor S. J. Perelman. The film bears a slight resemblance to the like-vintage Marx/Perelman collaboration Horse Feathers, in that both pictures are climaxed by a zany football game sequence. But while Horse Feathers is set at a college, Hold 'Em Jail takes place behind the cold gray walls of Bidemore Prison. Edgar Kennedy, Bidemore's warden, is all geared up for an impending all-prisoner football game; alas, his team is woefully short of talent. Kennedy puts out a call to Bidemore's "alumni," one of whom is nightclub-owner John Sheehan. When novelty salesmen Wheeler and Woolsey show up at Sheehan's club, the owner frames the two goofs on a robbery charge so that they'll be carted off to Bidemore and recruited for the football team. W&W make themselves at home in jail, securing jobs as trustees so that Wheeler can romance Kennedy's pretty daughter Betty Grable (who was 16 at the time, and looks it), while Woolsey pitches woo at Kennedy's homely sister Edna May Oliver (explaining that she's spent four years studying music in Paris, Edna confesses "I'm not a virtuoso." "Not after four years in Paris" is Woolsey's response). During the climactic gridiron activity, Wheeler and Woolsey spot the duplicitous John Sheehan on the other team, and struggle manfully to get him to sign a confession that will exonerate them. When originally previewed, Hold 'Em Jail was a musical comedy running 74 minutes; audiences laughed at the comedy scenes but groaned at the songs, whereupon the film was pared down to a 66-minute non-musical.
football, frame-up, prison, daughter, salesperson, sports, duo, robbery