The Half-Naked Truth is this: It isn’t even passably funny

The Half-Naked Truth Velez Tracy rev rev

The “naked truth” about this 1932 Throwback Thursday comedy? It’s for fans of Lupe Velez and Frank Morgan (and, possibly, Lee Tracy) only.


Regardless of its billing as a comedy, The Half-Naked Truth is the farthest thing possible from a yuck-fest. But it does have its (ultra) rare moments … few and far between though they may be.

The story revolves around oily, fork-tongued pitchman Jimmy Bates (Lee Tracy) who decides to make tracks out of the carnival where he and his fiery hooch dancer Teresita (Lupe Velez) are employed. After an attempt at sensationalizing his girlfriend’s performance with a tricky “bonus” (the revelation that one of the local townsfolk is actually Teresita’s father), Bates’ jig is up when police casing the carnival stumble on his plan. He high-tails it to avoid arrest and takes Teresita and his friend Achilles (Eugene Pallette) along with him.

To New York City they go to find fame and fortune under the auspices of Broadway under theater big shot Merle Farrell (Frank Morgan, most famously known for his 5 roles in The Wizard Of Oz). Bates finagles his way into one of Farrell’s Broadway shows posing Teresita as escapee “Princess Exotica,” freshly freed from a Turkish harem (complete with attendant Achilles) and a lion. (Talk about your sensationalism.) Impressed, Farrell ends up signing “Princess Exotica” to a contract with his company. Bates’ lies and shenanigans have won everyone over … but the ruse doesn’t last long. Teresita ends up having an affair with the married Farrell and a spurned Bates vows to destroy her career and blackmail the theater owner, neither feat difficult to accomplish.

Bates retaliatory scheme involves a hotel housekeeper and he again “convinces” Farrell to sign her to his company, successfully outing Teresita from her marquee standing while putting yet another one over on Farrell. Teresita and Achilles — who has since purchased the carnival he originally worked at with his “Princess Exotica” ploy monies — return to their huckster show beginnings.

One (unintentional) funny side note to this film is its original tagline: “A million candle-power romance loaded with laughter.” No … it isn’t.

In the end, Bates grows tired of the New York lifestyle. He decides to take Achilles up on a communiqué his friend has sent to him and he returns to the carnival where the three are reunited once again, right where they began.

Released in 1932 at the end of the pre-Hayes Code rating era, you go into the film realizing the 30s had an entirely different concept of comedy than we’re used to today. The laughs were gruff in nature, sometimes physically abusive (and those in The Half-Naked Truth are certainly that) and are filled with references which are often archaic and capable of flying right past one’s understanding.

Bates is as overbearing a personality as you’ll ever meet, to the point you want to see him fail spectacularly in his efforts. (A little research shows that was one of Lee Tracy’s trademarks as a comedian.) But … he’s that good in the role, such that it is. He’s adept at talking his way out of any situation and does so time and again, regardless of his position. He finagles “royalty” into a suite in a ritzy New York hotel (being it’s The Big Apple, you’d think the management of the place would be a little wiser to such tomfoolery) and into the employ of a mighty (yet somewhat scatter-brained) Broadway producer, he tricks the media and the public at every turn … and does it all coming out smelling like a rose. While this might play well to the story, I found it more annoying than anything else. Still, you can’t help simultaneously marveling at his chutzpah while vilifying him.

Teresita? She’s far from the best eye candy out there so I didn’t relate to either her supposed attractiveness nor showmanship. And her spitfire persona? I chalked that up to simpler times. Maybe Lupe Velez fans get her, I do not.

On the plus side, there were a few spiffy verbal shots thrown at various players with deadly aim and precision: “He couldn’t sell a fat boy to a tribe of cannibals” got a chuckle out of me. But it was one snort too few in a film billed as a comedy.

At the time of release, this piece may have been enjoyable but, as a comedy, it certainly doesn’t translate well …

One (unintentional) funny side note to this film is its original tagline: “A million candle-power romance loaded with laughter.” No … it isn’t. Maybe Bates can sell you that bridge while he’s hawking his brand of sensationalism, but I’m not buying it. And, as mentioned, this thing is far from “loaded with laughter.” At the time of release, this piece may have been enjoyable but as a comedy it certainly doesn’t translate well today in any way, shape or form.

The DVD transfer is a bit sub par and somewhat shaky in scenes with blurry, often crowded sets that don’t bode well. Thankfully, the transfer doesn’t make them any more glaring then they already are. The sound, too, shows wear and tear and is muddled in spots … or is it simply the fast-talking players in the film who appear in a rush to be elsewhere? Possibly. Lastly, the disc boasts only the film itself, no bonuses or extras.

Again, if you’re a Velez fan — or you want to see one of many efforts Frank Morgan put on film — take a spin with The Half-Naked Truth. Otherwise you might find yourself yawning. A lot.

The Half-Naked Truth was generously provided to CliqueClack by the Warner Archive Collection for review.

Photo Credit: RKO Radio Pictures

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