Paramount, 1936. Directed by
Leo McCarey. Camera: Alfred Gilks. With
Verree Teasdale, Helen
Mack, William Gargan, George Barbier, Dorothy Wilson, Lionel Stander,
Charles Lane, Bull Anderson, Jim Marples, Milburn Stone, Paddy O'Flynn,
Henry Roquemore, Arthur S. "Pop" Byron, Eddie Dunn, Larry McGrath, Jack
Clifford, Jack Perry, Phil Tead, Jack Murphy, Bob Callahan, Anthony Quinn.
Wilbur Austin, the owner of the Sunshine Dairy, is giving his
milkmen a pep talk, and congratulating those employees whose work
has been outstanding. Burleigh Sullivan is not among the
honorees; instead, he manages to reduce the meeting to sheer mayhem
with the distraction of his hiccups. Burleigh's sister, Mae,
works in a coat-check room in a local hotel, and often has to fight
off drunken patrons. This evening, two such
customers wait for Mae outside, and delay her with their pranks.
Her brother arrives to her rescue, fighting off the men; when the
dust clears, Burleigh has knocked out Speed, the middleweight boxing
champion of the world!
The next morning, in a drunken haze, the champ cannot remember where
he got his shiner when asked: "Er, I was shadow boxing..." The
headlines tell the actual tale: Truck Driver Knocks Out
Champion. Gabby Sloan, the boxing coach and promoter, arrives
in town when he hears of this, and is told that a giant heavyweight
overpowered them; he prepares that story for the arriving press.
When scrawny Burleigh arrives, claiming responsibility, there is
disbelief. He tells of how, as a child, he learned to "duck"
when other children swung at him, and how, now, the art is
perfected. Demonstrating, he again decks Speed, much to the
delight of the press, which is busy snapping pictures.
Later, a shocked Gabby decides to send Speed's bodyguard Spider to
proposition Burleigh, who is unwilling to give up his milk route,
and manages to get Spider jailed. When Speed tries to convince
Burleigh, he is jailed, as well. Gabby, expecting a coronary,
gulps down some insomnia medicine.
In the meantime, Burleigh is frantic when his horse, Agnes, takes
ill on the street; a girl named Polly lets Burleigh use her phone,
and is impressed by his concern, but does not know that his fear is
for a horse. The next day, when Burleigh meets Polly in a
barber shop, she gives him a manicure, and he falls in love.
Gabby, later, convinces Burleigh to train and fight Speed, the
champ; what he does not disclose is that the whole plan is a set up,
with fixed matches setting up the real championship bout. The only
reason Burleigh agrees is because he needs hospitalization money for
a pregnant Agnes. After a period of ridiculously awkward
training, the night of his first fight arrives, but Burleigh refuses
to fight without his good luck charm—a lock of Agnes' hair.
When that is cleared up, he wins the first round.
Burleigh goes on a whirlwind cross-country tour, as "Tiger"
Sullivan, and he wins each (fixed) fight. When he arrives
home, his success has gone to his head: he has gone from meek and
innocent to fast-talking and overly confident, much to Polly's
dismay. The championship bout is approaching, but with a
wrinkle: Mae, Burleigh's sister, has fallen in love with
Speed, and she learns about all the fixed fights, and the plans for
the championship. Despite her concern for her untalented
brother, she decides that a good knocking out might be a blessing
for Burleigh. "Tiger" is accompanied by baby Agnes, who kicks
Speed in the jaw. While tending to him, Spider accidentally
gives Speed a dose of Gabby's medication. He mistakes the
"insomnia" medicine for "some ammonia." Burleigh wins the
The owner of the Sunshine Dairy encourages Burleigh to retire
undefeated, and makes him a partner.
Good reviews for The Milky Way: The Film Daily, in its
January 28,1936, critique, wisely noted that "The show is not all
Adolphe Menjou, Verree Teasdale, and Lionel Stander come in for
some good lines which they put over in a big way." The April
1, 1936, issue of Variety stated, "The role of the timid milk
wagon route-man who is catapulted into pugilistic fame and fortune
is almost made to order for Lloyd and he plays it to the hilt."
Funny thing was, when The Milky Way was on Broadway, in the
middle of 1934, and the idea of a film adaptation was mentioned,
only one star was considered for the role of Burleigh Sullivan:
Jack Oakie. According to the June 2, 1934 issue of The
Citizen News, "Today, everything was as it should be in regard
to the film version of the play.
The Hollywood studio of
Paramount confirmed a report that its New York representatives had
succeeded, after spirited bidding, in purchasing the screen rights,
with Oakie in mind as the featured player...Hugh O'Connell has
scored a smash hit in the leading role of the stage version, and
those who have followed Oakie's career will doubtless agree...that
he is the one and only actor for the picture adaptation. The
plot of The Milky Way reminds one strongly of The Social
Lion, an early talkie in which Oakie played the role of a prize
fighter, and in which he made an outstanding success."
Indeed, many intended for parts in the film adaptation did not
appear in the film, with glowing substitutions: the film was
originally considered for Oakie and Gertrude
Edward Everett Horton,
Sally Blane, and Gail Patrick were replaced by
Adolphe Menjou, Dorothy Wilson, Helen Mack, and Verree Teasdale.
Brian Donlevy and Max Baer were considered for leads as
prizefighters; the Dionne Quintuplets were expected to appear in the
picture, but did not.
The Milky Way was based on the play of
the same name, with ran in 1934 for 47 performances, starring Hugh
O'Connell as Burleigh,
Gladys George as Ann, and Leo Donnelly as
Gabby. Two radio adaptations:
Texaco Star Theatre performed an audio adaptation in 1940, with
Joe E. Brown as Burleigh. And, a little show called The
Harold Lloyd Cornedy Theatre gave it a go
over the NBC airwaves on
with Robert Walker
as Burleigh, and co-starring Jimmy Gleason
and Eve Arden. The Milky Way inspired a remake, The Kid from Brooklyn (1946), starring
Danny Kaye as Burleigh, Walter Abel as Gabby, Eve Arden as Ann,
Steve Cochran as Speed, and Lionel Stander reprising his role as
Spider. The film inspired an original song, aptly titled "The
Milky Way," with lyrics by Tot Seymour, and music by Vee Lawnhurst,
by Popular Melodies, Inc.
featured in the film included "She's Got a Brother" (to the tune of
"London Bridge"), "The Blue Danube Waltz," "For He's a Jolly Good
Fellow," 'Yankee Doodle Dandy," "A Hot Time in the Old Town
Tonight," "The Bear Went Over the Mountain," and "The Skater's
Waltz" (such a fun moment in the picture, as Verree Teasdale teaches
Harold Lloyd to spar in time with this lovely tune).
The Milky Way was plagued by the health problems of
Adolphe Menjou (stomach ailment), Verree Teasdale (colitis), and
director Leo McCarey. Despite these, there was no real serious
delay. However, there are conflicting reports on the
directorial pinch hitters.
stated that brother Ray McCarey shot some
sequences, while Liberty
wrote that Norman McLeod (who directed
The Kid from Brooklyn)
result, The Milky Way
cost $1,032,798.21 to
produce, and grossed $1,179,192. Harold was no longer his own
producer, but a salaried player, for the first time since
1923. Despite all the concessions,
the deal with Paramount a good one, for he would star in a
high-budget film without risking his own capital. Another plus
was the choice of director: Leo McCarey, arguably one of the
best, and veteran of films starring, among others,
Laurel and Hardy,
The Marx Brothers, and
W.C. Fields. McCarey was a quirky, talented director, who
found inspiration from a piano (omnipresent on his sets). He also
demonstrated histrionics, providing the whinny for the costarring
A humorous point in the
film came even before the opening credit card: a cow appeared
within the famed Paramount logo, mirroring the MGM lion opening.
More animal trivia: Agnes, the horse, was a "brunette" in real
life, requiring the makeup skills of Wally Westmore and Max Asher to
make her the light horse in the film.
Some points to look for
in this film: Harold duplicates the famed scissor-legged jig
from The Freshman in his boxing technique. Also, in his
boxing trunks, we get a view of the bare arm of
Harold Lloyd for the first time since before his 1919 bomb
accident. He had a special prosthesis designed that did not
utilize the garter on the upper arm, but simply masked the rubber
fingers. In these scenes, Lloyd made certain that the right
hand was not used actively.
The dairy industry had a
field day with this, a major film centered around milk. The
slogan, "Here's your Borden milk, the Milky Way to health..."
was accompanied by a cutout of Harold on the
top of the bottle.
Harold Lloyd never
forgot his roots, and never forgot the people who helped him along
the way. On January 10, 1907, Harold appeared in his first
stage play, Tess of the D'Urbervilles,
in which Lloyd Ingraham was the stage
manager. Harold returned the favor, as Ingraham was given a
bit part, as a barber shop customer, in The
In May 1936, Harold filmed a series of
scenes for the Paramount melodrama
Hollywood Boulevard (1936), but his cameo
was left on the cutting room floor.
The Harold Lloyd Encyclopedia,
by Annette D'Agostino Lloyd
McFarland & Company, Inc.,
NC and London, 2004