Jack Oakie … Voltaire McGinnis
Jeanette MacDonald … Joan Wood
Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher … Jerry, King of the Island
James Hall … Wally Wendell
William Austin … Basil Pistol
Kay Francis … Constance Cook
David Newell … Chief Officer Williams
Charles Sellon … Wallace Wendell Sr.
Eugene Pallette … Deputy Sheriff Cuthbert
Produced by Adolph Zukor.
Directed by Leo McCarey.
Screenplay by George Marion & Percy Health.
Songs by Richard A. Whiting & George F. Marion.
Dance Direction by David Bennett.
Sound by Harry D. Mills.
Camera by Victor Milner.
A Paramount Picture.
Released August 20, 1930.
Coming off of her work opposite Ronald Colman in Raffles (1930), Kay Francis was undoubtedly hard-pressed to find out that her next film assignment from her home studio of Paramount would be the sixth-billed part in the bizarre musical comedy Let’s Go Native, with the even weirder pairing of Jackie Oakie and Jeanette MacDonald in the leading roles.
By mid-1930 Francis had been a star on the rise for a year and a half, definitely in the “overnight sensation” category. But in her new-found fame there was already a major problem which seemed to plague Francis’ overall career: while her popularity with fans was growing with each role, interest in her from her employer seemed to wane.
At Paramount, Francis ranked more among the featured players crop of stars on the studio lot. She watched on as plum roles in good films were given to actresses like Claudette Colbert, Tallulah Bankhead, and Marlene Dietrich. Today, a lot of the work from Paramount remains fairly obscure due to a lack of distribution from its catalog, now owned by Universal. In its day, Paramount was one of the best studios to work for, with its stars and films widely popular with critics and audiences at the time. But a lack of knowledge on what exactly to do with Francis hampered her success with the organization.
This was a fact of Francis’ career which would follow her around like a black cloud throughout her time in Hollywood. Five years later, then at the height of her career, in a review published in the New York Sun for the 1935 film I Found Stella Parish, a writer commented, “The ceaseless search of Warner Brothers for a worthy Kay Francis vehicle has not ended.”
Fortunately for Francis, she was not the star of Let’s Go Native. Jeanette MacDonald was its big leading lady. MacDonald, already popular due to a series of lavishly produced musicals (some filmed in the two-strip Technicolor process), was riding high at Paramount and would continue to do so opposite several films with Maurice Chevalier, whom Kay dated four years later.
Jack Oakie, the leading man of Let’s Go Native, seems to the only one not out of place in this tawdry effort. His goofy appeal fit the bizarre situation perfectly about a group of people who end up shipwrecked on an island and have to resort to wearing stage costumes.
Kay Francis was given the opportunity to sing in this one, and she does fairly well. The song is, “I’ve Got a Yen For You.” In her follow-up film for Let’s Go Native, The Virtuous Sin (1930), Francis again sang briefly.
Two years later, Francis was a star in her own right at her new studio, Warner Bros. But, despite the privileges associated with stardom, Francis found herself again miscast in a series of mediocre films from the studio before she was reduced in popularity altogether.
By Mordaunt Hall. Published August 30, 1930 in the New York Times.
Jack Oakie and Jeanette MacDonald are the principals in “Let’s Go Native,” a ludicrous audible film hodge-podge now on exhibition at the Paramount. Whatever may be the final opinion of this mile or so of merry tomfoolery, it should be set forth that not a few of its hectic adventures were greeted with shrieks of laughter from an audience yesterday afternoon. Hence, whether it strikes one as an exciting dream bordering on a nightmare, or whether it seems more or less polished slapstick, it is an offering with a certain entertainment value.
The joking is often silly, but at times it is quite funny. George Marion Jr., the punning subtitle writer, and Percy Heath are responsible for the story, or what might be referred to as one. It is a production with occasional songs, which cause the affair as a whole to remind one of a musical comedy with some real land and water, a real sky, a real ship or two and a studio island that in the end is supposed to be submerged during an earthquake.
One of the laughable incidents is where the boomeranging of one hat ends in the hats of most of a steamship’s passengers and also that of the Captain being tossed overboard. Mr. Oakie as Voltaire McGinnis, an inexpert chauffeur who has been promoted from the stoke-hold to deck steward, realizes the grave error of throwing the Captain’s cap overboard. He therefore looks up in the crow’s nest, or where it might be, and shouts:
“Say driver, you had better put on the brakes. The Captain has lost his cap.”
There is a shipwreck, with a giddy time aboard two rafts that eventually find the shores of an island in the South Seas, a place ruled by Jerry, a Brooklyn-born individual, who wears a crown of native pearls. His subjects are all girls who astonish the survivors of the rafts by answering in fluent English, with a suggestion of the Kings County dialect, presumed to have been acquired through conversing with King Jerry.
In the early stages of this utterly irrational work, the furniture movers succeed in smashing several vases, other objects of art, tables and chairs. Eugene Pallette, the slow-witted sleuth of the Van Dine murder films, does most of the damage and one can’t say that there is much in the way of suspense, for Mr. Pallette invariably lets the audience know what is going to happen. This same criticism applies to other parts of the picture, but breaking chinaware and furniture is something spectators cannot witness without roaring with laughter, so long as it does not happen in their own homes.
Several of the players, including Miss MacDonald and Mr. Oakie, have an opportunity to ease their feelings in song. Miss MacDonald gives as pleasing a performance as is possible in such a mélange. Mr. Oakie, William Austin, James Hall, Kay Francis and others add to the wild gayety.