Series: ZaSu Pitts & Thelma Todd

Director: James W. Horne
Producer: Hal Roach
Dialogue: H.M. Walker
Photography: Art Lloyd
Editor: Richard C. Currier
Sound: James Greene

Stars: ZaSu Pitts, Thelma Todd, Blanche Payson, Wilfred Lucas, Billy Gilbert
Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Released: 19 March 1932
Length: 2 reels
Production No.: A-6
Filming dates: January 4-12, 1932
Rating: -/10

Red Noses

Available on DVD:

Business executive WILFRED LUCAS is raving mad that both of his valuable clients, THELMA TODD and ZASU PITTS, are home with terrible colds. According to him, "they have no right" to be sick and he wants them at work even "if they have appendicitis and 4 broken legs." Thelma & Zasu are down to their last tissue when their boss calls with the news that he will send them all expenses paid to a Turkish bath where they promise to cure colds in an hour.
Thelma & Zasu are greeted with problems as soon as they set foot inside the Nature Health Institute, home of "Pyramid Mud Baths and Face Packs." The manager calls Zasu "Miss Spitz" instead and an ailing patient is soon seen having collapsed from treatment #37. T&Z make their first of many attempts to flee the building before being persuaded to continue treatment. They change into workout clothes: a sexy, perhaps braless skin-tight top for Thelma; and an oversized frumpy sweater for modest Zasu who announces "I ain't gonna run around raw, cold in da cold."
T&Z meet the intimidating instructor, the Amazonian Dr. Blanche Payson, who orders treatment #27 after looking at scrawny Zasu. This turns out to be a bucking bronco type of machine, while Thelma is led to a vibrating chair. So-called treatment at the Institute is quickly revealed to be a non-stop assortment of mild torture designed to make you dizzy, unable to walk, and vulnerable to the doctor's mysterious motives.
At first, Zasu and Thelma laugh at each other's predicament ("You're shaking just like a bunch of jelly," Zasu tells Thelma while she bounces up and down), but they eventually realize they need to escape after they are forced to run on a dangerously fast treadmill.
As T&Z try to leave they find their clothes have been stolen. The doctor threatens that their "treatment must be continued," and they relent once the manager tells them that the last part of treatment only involves relaxation. Once again, T&Z have been led astray as relaxation actually involves Zasu being uncomfortably tickled with a vibrator and Thelma having to wrestle the doctor. A mini mud fight ensues after the doctor not-so-delicately applies mud by throwing it on Thelma's neck. When Zasu hits an innocent customer with mud, the manager orders T&Z to leave, precisely what they've been trying to do the whole time.
Before they leave however, Zasu, who is still only draped in a towel, inadvertently follows the manager across the hall to a neighboring tailor store, where Billy Gilbert is trying on a new suit. Needing clothes, Zasu dons Billy's old clothes. She returns back to the Institute, scaring everyone in sight as all the ladies now think she is a man. Billy gives chase in an effort to get his clothes back only to have Thelma throw him into a mud bath. T&Z escape the premises through a laundry chute and walk the city streets as a man and woman.

Chris Jaunsen
What a wild ride of innuendo for 1932! The amount of sexy slapstick in this film is off the charts. One only wishes Blanche had better aim with her mud throwing, getting Thelma only in the neck. Even though this scene didn't escalate to the kind of mud throwing that later occurred in the Three Stooges' Slippery Silks, this film has more than enough to compensate.
The sexual nature of this film is undeniable and has to be seen to be believed. Once in the Turkish bath, our heroines can't go a few scenes without being asked to shed off their clothes. The first explicit naughty bit of business in the film occurs during the first undressing scene when Zasu pats Thelma on the rear, asking coyly if that's her ("I saw it sticking out there [through the curtain]," says Zasu). This brief moment makes the seemingly innocent entrance of T&Z at the start of the film (not just sharing a bed, but laying down with their bottoms pressed against each other) a lot less innocent!
The film's Health Institute employs a bevy of attractive maidens adorned with skimpy outfits. These young ladies work alongside the very contrasting Lyle Tayo and Blanche Payson, all of whom appear to have very voyeuristic tendencies towards Thelma and Zasu, creating situations where they get to oogle and touch their bodies. They seem to have as much fun watching Thelma's breasts jiggle as the viewers do; it's amazing how brazen the filmmakers were! Thelma wasn't the only one prone to sexual innuendo: the bucking bronco Zasu rides is a distinct phallic object and foreshadows her mistaken sexual identity at the end of the film. A funny dialogue exchange occurs during the opening scenes, after Thelma accidentally soaks Zasu with a hot water bottle. It's funny in of itself, but the film's innuendo gives it an entirely new meaning:
ZASU: I'm all wet.
THELMA: You've been wet ever since I've known you.
There is an interesting moment when Blanche sarcastically tells Thelma that she's suddenly cured. Exhausted and emotionally spent, Thelma's face registers a mix of relief, pain and enjoyment as she is held up by two young ladies. It's an astounding moment.
And then, of course, Billy Gilbert is hilarious as he runs amok through the scenery. If he's in a Todd/Pitts film, you know it's going to be a good one -- the horrid rear projection used during the film's finish notwithstanding.

Copyrighted March 14, 1932.
The 7th film in the series.
This film was once reissued under the title "Ladies in a Turkish Bath."
This film was released one week after the Charley Chase comedy The Nickel Nurser, in which Thelma Todd made her final appearance in a Charley Chase comedy. This was also the final Hal Roach short subject she appeared in which was not her own starring series.
The title card backgrounds are the same ones used for Chickens Come Home.
The following gags also seen in L&H films: Zasu tripping over the floor pan; Thelma sitting on a hot water bottle soaking Zasu in the process.
Wilfred Lucas is absurdly angry at the start of the film. Maybe he was having second thoughts of letting L&H go at the end of Pardon Us?
During one of Thelma's frequent attempts to quiet Zasu, she says "oh hush" in a Southern dialect.
When Zasu sneezes causing an air jet of powder to blow on her face, Thelma appears to be caught genuinely surprised by the sound and force of the jet.
Thelma's changing room is room #14; Zasu's is room #15.
As Zasu climbs the bucking bronco machine, music from the boot removal scene in Be Big! is heard.
Thelma Todd's infamous scene on the vibrating chair lasts an all-too-preciously-short 21 seconds of screen time by my watch.
The obvious stunt double for Zasu when she is thrown from the conveyor belt and crashes into the gurney.
Zasu's sweater says "NATURE 13 HEALTH INSTITUTE". The logo on the workers' uniforms is of an eagle.
While Thelma & Zasu look for their clothes in front of the steam room, there are silhouettes of two women (presumably). A shadow of a naked woman's breast turns out to be a person's arm, and right before the scene cuts away, the two silhouettes start to embrace.

ZaSu Pitts
Thelma Todd
Blanche Payson
Dr. Payson
Wilfred Lucas
Mr. Lucas
Frank Terry
Billy Gilbert
Tailor's customer
Lyle Tayo
Physical therapist
Bobby Burns
Mr. Lucas's secretary
Germaine De Neel
Health nurse
Lorena Carr
Physical therapist
Estelle Etterre
Physical therapist
Betty Danko
Physical therapist
Lois January
Physical therapist
Charles Lloyd
Eleanor Fredericks
Woman on gurney
Ham Kinsey

CREDITS (click image to enlarge)

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Chris Jaunsen (review, published March 19, 2013)
Paul Mular (1950 Library Films print, "Ladies In A Turkish Bath")
Jesse Brisson (identification of Betty Danko, Eleanor Fredericks, Lois January, Charles Lloyd, Ham Kinsey)

This page was last updated on: 21 March 2024