A corrupt city council and arrogant governor in early America are reformed by a newspaper editor with radical ideas of liberty. [ Knickerbocker Holiday credits: Dir: Harry Joe Brown/ Nelson Eddy, Charles Coburn, Constance Dowling/ 85 min/ Musical-Dance, Comedy/ Corrupt Government, American Revolution, Anti-Taxation]
This film begins with the tongue-in-cheek proviso that any similarity between the city depicted and New York City is “purely coincidental.” In fact, the story is a parody of New York City politics, exaggerating corruption for comic purposes.
Among other misdeeds of the city council portrayed here: it wants to hang someone, anyone, simply to impress the new governor; it secretly engages in various forms of profitable trade that it has otherwise made illegal for ordinary people; and it wants to arrest the local newspaper editor for “thinking.” When the new governor arrives, there is hope for something better, but he turns out to be even more corrupt and grasping. Says he: “With regard to taxes, we shall have only those that are just … just as much as they can bear.”
The hero is the newspaper editor, who overcomes all this to incite a successful rebellion. Unfortunately, the rebellion turns into mob rule, convincing the hero that the governor is needed after all but just has to be held in check. It’s a little unsatisfying from a libertarian perspective to see such a quick reconciliation with the heretofore thieving governor, but in a way it’s consistent with the popular cynical attitude toward government: it’s predatory, but people (think they) need it.
Despite the serious political themes, Knickerbocker Holiday is first and foremost a light musical comedy, with many songs and jokes. Even the rebellion, when it comes, is musical. Nelson Eddy, in the leading role, does most of the singing. But the best tune is a comic duet between the governor and the head of the city council, about the “indispensable man,” that man being (from their perspective) someone who goes around buying political support at public expense. In the end, the film seems to back the status quo; however, most of the story has a strong anticorruption, antitax flavor. This light, upbeat comedy is likely to have a special appeal for fans of the movie musical genre.
“Producers Corp of America did not spare the budget in readying this adaptation of Knickerbocker Holiday from the original play by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill. Harry Joe Brown, who produced and directed for the screen, has done much to emphasize the film’s humor, gaiety and songs in a fast-moving pic.”