The Milky Way (1936 film)

The Milky Way is a 1936 American comedy film starring Harold Lloyd. Directed by comedy veteran Leo McCarey, the film was written by Grover Jones, Frank Butler and Richard Connell based on a play of the same name by Lynn Root and Harry Clork which was presented on Broadway in 1934.

The Milky Way
DVD cover
Directed byLeo McCarey
Produced byE. Lloyd Sheldon
Screenplay byGrover Jones
Frank Butler
Richard Connell
Based onThe Milky Way
1934 play
by Lynn Root
Harry Clork
StarringHarold Lloyd
Music byTom Satterfield
Victor Young
CinematographyAlfred Gilks
Edited byLeRoy Stone
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • February 7, 1936 (1936-02-07)
Running time
88 min
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,170,000 (US)

An example of the popular screwball comedy genre of the time, and critically Harold Lloyd's most successful talkie, it tells the story of a Brooklyn milkman who becomes middleweight boxing champion. The Milky Way features supporting performances by Adolphe Menjou and Verree Teasdale.


Timid milkman Burleigh Sullivan (Lloyd) works for the American company, Sunflower Dairies. Two drunk men try to chat up Mae, Burleigh's sister, and he chances by. In an ensuing brawl, Speed McFarland, the world middleweight champion, gets knocked out (but Burleigh never in fact threw a punch; he merely ducked to get out of the way of a punch which brought the champ down).

McFarland's boss, the crooked Gabby Sloan (Adolphe Menjou), decides to promote Sullivan in a series of fixed fights that will culminate in him being knocked out in a real fight with McFarland. Against all the odds, Sullivan triumphs and becomes world champion.


Cast notes:


The Milky Way had originally been optioned as a vehicle for Jack Oakie with Edward Everett Horton and Gertrude Michael in the main supporting roles, but when Oakie was replaced with Harold Lloyd, the role of the manager was to go to William Frawley, because studio executives felt that Lloyd and Horton were too similar in comic style. The part eventually went to Adolphe Menjou.[2] Both Brian Donlevy, who played the role of "Speed McFarland" on Broadway,[3] and boxer-turned-actor Max Baer were considered for roles in the film, but were not cast.[2] Actress Ida Lupino was to have played "Polly Pringle", but dropped out because of illness, to be replaced by Dorothy Wilson. Helen Mack and Verree Teasdale were also replacements, the parts having originally gone to Sally Blane and Gail Patrick.[2] Although they are not in the film, before filming began, the Dionne Quintuplets had been expected to make an appearance.[2]

Filming on The Milky Way began on 22 July 1935,[4] but it was interrupted by the illnesses of Menjou, Teasdale and director Leo McCarey, who was hospitalized. McCarey's place was taken by his brother, Ray McCarey and by veteran director Norman Z. McLeod.[2] During filming, when a suitable white horse for Burleigh could not be found, make-up artists bleached a dark-colored horse blonde.[2]

Critical reception

Writing for The Spectator in 1936, Graham Greene gave the film a good review, giving particular praise to Harold Lloyd and Adolphe Menjou for their roles. Summarizing, Greene notes that "with the gag-makers at the top of their form and Mr Menjou at the top of his, we have the best 'Harold Lloyd' to date".[5]


When producer Samuel Goldwyn bought the rights to the property in the mid-1940s for his remake, The Kid from Brooklyn (with Danny Kaye in the lead role), he also bought the original negative and almost all existing prints, and destroyed them. Harold Lloyd, however, had preserved his own original nitrate release print, which became the source for the new digital video transfer used by TCM.[6] Lionel Stander played the role of "Spider" Schultz in both versions of the film.

In 2004, the premise of a mild-mannered milkman turned boxer would again be used in the mockumentary The Calcium Kid, starring Orlando Bloom.


  1. Vance, Jeffrey and Suzanne Lloyd. "Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian" New York: Harry N Abrams. p 186
  2. TCM Notes
  3. IBDB The Milky Way
  4. TCM Overview
  5. Greene, Graham (20 March 1936). "The Milky Way/Strike Me Pink/Night Mail/Crime and Punishment". The Spectator. (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. pp. 58–59. ISBN 0192812866.)
  6. Fristoe, Roger "The Milky Way" (TCM article)
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