Pete Smith, no relation to Thorne Smith, produced and narrated short subject MGM films. He and Thorne Smith wound up collaborating on a few of these short MGM films during Thorne’s brief time working in Hollywood.
Pete Smith originally started out as a publicist for MGM films but got his big break providing the voice-overs for the Dogville comedies. These were short films featuring trained dogs performing an array of tricks and stunts, while dressed up to mimic or parody the stars of popular films of that era. Many people loved these films, which I admit can seem quite odd, bizarre, and funny depending on your frame of mind while watching them.
The Dogville comedies drew controversy due to concerns of animal cruelty regarding the techniques the filmmakers were accused of using to make the dogs do their tricks, such as moving their mouths as if they were talking, playing musical instruments, dancing, and an assortment of unusual poses dogs wouldn’t normally assume.
According to Warner Brothers, “A nationwide theatre owners poll in 1930 rated the Dogvilles as the best short subjects over more legendary comedy and musical series.” Audiences today remain divided over whether these are cute and funny films or exhibitions of animal cruelty for moviegoers’ amusement.
Based on the success of the Dogville comedies, Pete Smith was given his own series of films to create. Thus Pete Smith Specialties was born. In the years from 1931 to 1955, Pete Smith made 150 short subject MGM films.
Thorne Smith began working for MGM in late 1932. While I have yet to track down exactly how many MGM films Thorne Smith may have worked on, I have seen correspondence indicating there may have been four short films completed.
The one Thorne Smith film short we do have access to is 1933’s “Menu.” Produced by Pete Smith, “Menu” was directed by Nick Grinde. Franklin Pangborn, Luis Alberni and Una Merkel starred in the film, which was nominated for an Oscar Award in 1934 in the category of Best Short Subject, Novelty.
“Menu” is available on DVD as part of the Katherine Hepburn 100th Anniversary Collection DVD set. You can watch a less than pristine version of “Menu” at http://www.thornesmith.net/Pete-Smith-Films-Menu.html