Twenty-odd years as a playwright have lined George S. Kaufman's purse well enough for him to take a flyer in the producing game, and the vehicle he has picked to lay his name and dough behind is up for inspection at the Plymouth these days. When we looked in, it was doing a fair job of rolling them in the aisles, although more than a little primping was indicated before Mr. Kaufman ventures to move his baby to Manhattan for the season, or part of it.
"Mr. Big" reminded us of nothing so much as a slightly milder "Hellzapoppin" with a plot tagging along behind. Like the Olsen and Johnson show, it presumably will draw sophisticated snubs from the critics while packing the mobs in by droves. It has political satire, murder mystery, and slapstick in about equal portions, and there's a good chance that you'll be sitting near one of the cast if you're in the orchestra. The plot involves a couple of violent deaths which only add to the fun, and the leading character is Tom Dewey minus mustache. All of it is, therefore, rather confusing and not at all significant drama. From the opening corpse through three acts' worth of looking for the killer, the cliches trip over each other in their eagerness to get across. The wise-cracking reporters, the unconnected telephone, the slow-witted darkie, they're all there, most of them good for a laugh, the rest for a yawn. The second act in particular is pretty slow-moving, though Mr. Kaufman is doubtless concocting new tricks to bolster it up by the time he's ready to bring his proteges to the roaring Forties for an extended visit. There's still a lot of deadwood to be cleared away, but George is the one to do it.
Involved in a more or less histrionic way are, among others, Fay Wray and Betty Furness, a couple of fugitives from the Hollywood quickie lots who don't have too much to do, but look decorative. Hume Cronyn, who has gotten good notices in rather poor plays in the last few years, plays the politically ambitious D.A. and comes out pretty well trying to make a highly exaggerated role bearable through the whole evening. It might also be appropriate to mention in passing that one of the co-authors is the husband of Gloria Stuart.
Most of "Mr. Big" is about as subtle as a panzer division, but the Kaufman touch is enough in evidence to make of it a fairly amusing if unimproving evening before the college grind begins.