Roman Scandals is a lavish musical comic outing from 1933. Typical Depression-era escapist fare, the film stars Eddie Cantor as Eddie, a local boy from West Rome, USA. Liked by all except the corrupt "powers-that-be," Eddie is finally thrown out of town for "telling the truth" and after a rap on the head, finds himself in ancient Rome. Courting trouble immediately, Eddie is sold as a slave to kindly Josephus (DM) and a wild ride ensues wherein Eddie antagonizes the wicked Emperor Valerius (Edward Arnold) and his frustrated majordomo, (Alan Mowbray) aids Josephus in his wooing of captured princess Sylvia, (Gloria Stuart) laughs his way out of a torture chamber, and eventually escapes the emperor's wrath in an exhilarating chariot chase. As the foes converge on him, he awakens back in West Rome and, realizing he "has the goods" on the crooked politicians, saves the day for all concerned.
Eddie Cantor did a number of spectacular musical comedies for Sam Goldwyn and Roman Scandals ranks as the most enjoyable to watch. Made with mass-appeal in mind, the comedy is mainly slapstick and works well, largely due to Cantor's charm. Several intricately choreographed (by Busby Berkeley) dance numbers are interwoven into the plot, offering a break to Cantor's fast-paced antics. Being made prior to the re-vamping of the Hays Code in 1934 Roman Scandals is, at times, surprisingly risqué, and features a young Lucille Ball in one of its elaborate dance numbers.
According to Variety, "David Manners stands out in the cast, one of the few Hollywood actors who can look genuine in Roman toga. His satisfying playing of the leading straight role does a lot to sharpen the comedy angle." He also pairs well with the beautiful Gloria Stuart and lends his usual dignity to the entire proceeding.
Roman Scandals offers an interesting look into Hollywood's attempts to brighten one of the darkest times in American history, the Great Depression.