Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
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Selection from Cites & Insights 11, Number 9: October 2011

Offtopic Perspective

50 Movie Comedy Kings, Part 1

After enduring the Legends of Horror megapack, this is a nice change of pace—fifty comedies, mostly very old, many fairly short. The first comedy 50-pack was revealing and frequently entertaining; I’m hoping this one does as well.

Disc 1

Colonel Effingham’s Raid, 1946, b&w. Irving Pichel (dir.), Charles Coburn, Joan Bennett, William Eythe, Allyn Joslyn, Elizabeth Patterson. 1:12 [1:10].

The setting is a Georgia town of 30,000 in 1940, where a good-ole-boys group of genially corrupt politicians has run things for generations, thanks to an apathetic population (less than 20% bother to vote). There’s only one party, and the town still smarts because it didn’t get burned down on the way to Atlanta in the Recent Unpleasantness. Into this, a long-time Army Colonel (born in this town) retires and Takes an Interest.

The narrator is the Colonel’s young cousin (who never knew him), a bright young reporter on one of two daily newspapers who doesn’t feel the need to cause trouble—he goes along without much thought. There’s also the pretty young society editor, daughter of the former editor/owner of the paper (now part of a chain run out of Atlanta).

The basis for the plot: The power group wants to rename the Confederate Square to honor a former mayor, well known for taking the town for as much as he could. The Colonel, who’s wangled a war column, takes umbrage and makes a counter-proposal, to plant a circle of 13 trees to honor…well, you know, this is the unrepentant South. The good ole boys figure to play this to their advantage: They’ll plant the trees, but also build a new courthouse with, of course, the mayor’s brother-in-law getting the contract. The Colonel doesn’t see a need to replace the 150-year-old courthouse, brings in his friend who’s the retired head of the Army Corps of Engineers to offer a second opinion, and things take off from there.

It’s amusing and well played, nothing terribly serious but good fun. The motivations of the narrator are a little odd: After he sees all of the society editor’s calves and two inches of thigh, he discovers she has legs—and this brings him to join the Georgia National Guard (which then gets called off to WWII) and become an advocate for reform. Truly. There are also a couple of mildly amusing running gags. Sometimes distorted music on the soundtrack, but a very good print with rich tonal range. I’ll give it $1.25.

Country Gentlemen, 1936, b&w. Ralph Staub (dir.), Ole Olsen, Chic Johnson, Joyce Compton, Lila Lee, Pierre Watkin, Donald Kirke. 1:06 [0:56].

How you feel about this one depends mostly on how you like shtick and the duo of Olsen & Johnson (whom I don’t believe I’ve previously encountered). The two play con artists on the lam with a bunch of worthless gold-mine bonds who wind up with an oil-well scheme and…well, it’s mostly an excuse for a remarkable series of lame jokes. Certainly fast moving and lots of punch lines; if the high-pitched laugh of Olsen doesn’t drive you nuts, you might enjoy this. I’m not sure what the missing ten minutes might have added. I give it $0.75.

Freckles Comes Home, 1942, b&w. Jean Yarbrough (dir.), Johnny Downs, Gale Storm, Mantan Moreland, Irving Bacon, Bradley Page. 1:05 [0:59]

A bank robber needs to get out of town, so gets driven out and takes a bus…where he sits next to a college kid going home to his 500-person burg, Fairfield. The bank robber figures this is a great place to hide out. Ah, but the reason the college kid’s come home is largely that his pal has done something incredibly stupid that endangers the family-run hotel he’s temporarily managing.

That’s the setup. The reality? On one hand, there’s the ever-charming Gale Storm. On the other, there’s not much to redeem this flick. I won’t go through the rest of the plot (such as it is) or the ethnic-humor byplay (featuring Mantan Moreland and Laurence Criner). Let’s just say that, what with sound problems and occasional dropouts, I wasn’t impressed. Would the missing six minutes help? Well, I dropped off during the last quarter for a few minutes—it’s really exciting throughout—and when I rewatched it, it made no difference. At best, and being very generous, $0.75.

Goodbye Love, 1933, b&w. H. Bruce Humberstone (dir.), Charles Ruggles, Verree Teasdale, Sidney Blackmer, Phyllis Barry, Ray Walter, Mayo Methot. 1:07 [1:05]

This one reminds me that comedies, perhaps more than most genres, are very much creatures of their time and setting. I’m not sure whether this is a farce or an odd American version of a bedroom comedy, but it’s all a little strange—and I suspect Charlie Ruggles was the chief draw in 1933, given his eccentric mannerisms and the credits.

The plot has to do with alimony, “alimony jail” (which seems to involve lavish lunches with most of the inmates dressed to the nines, while other inmates scrub floors), assumed identities, stock manipulation, a businessman finally Discovering his secretary and…well, I think there’s more. Portions of the plot seemed mysterious to me, but that may be my fault. Not really knowing what to make of it, I’ll give it $1.00.

Disc 2

Hay Foot, 1942, b&w. Fred Guiol (dir.), William Tracy, Joe Sawyer, James Gleason, Noah Beery Jr., Elyse Knox. 0:48 [0:46]

This wartime B feature is a charmer—fast moving, funny and with a nice balance of logic and slapstick. Sgt. Doubleday (a very young Tracy), a young soldier who made Sergeant on the basis of his book learning (and apparent eidetic memory—for text, that is) is Colonel Barkley’s assistant, disliked by the blowhard marksmen (Sawyer and Beery) who don’t care much for book larnin’. Thanks to some plausible accidents, Barkley (Gleason) gets the idea that Doubleday, who’s gunshy, is an even better sharpshooter than the two marksmen—while Doubleday’s enchanted by Barkley’s beautiful daughter. (This turns out to be the second in a series of six Hal Roach Studios short comedies starring Sgt. Doubleday.)

Lots of laughs as the two blowhards get themselves in trouble as they’re trying to bring down Doubleday. The print’s tonal range is excellent. The performances are all appropriate; Gleason is particularly good as the slightly pompous Colonel. There’s one big problem: Just enough print damage (in the form of missing frames) to make some of the dialogue hard to follow. Even with that defect and its short length, this one is an easy $1.00

Her Favorite Patient (orig. Bedside Manner), 1945, b&w. Andrew L. Stone (dir.), John Carroll, Ruth Hussey, Charles Ruggles, Ann Rutherford. 1:19

We begin with a beautiful young woman stopping to pick up a sailor who’s on his way to Chicago for 30-day leave…and then another sailor down the road and another. She needs to stop off at the little town she grew up in to say “Hi” to her uncle, one of two doctors in town—but the town’s grown a lot and her uncle’s hoping she’ll stay—she’s also an MD—instead of taking a research position in Chicago.

Before that happens, she mistakes a test pilot for an old friend, much to his date’s dismay; this confusion plays out again over a couple of days. What follows is a series of happenstances and subterfuges with the overall effect of keeping her around…and I realized partway in that this is really an early romantic comedy with wartime overtones.

Quite good, all in all, with Charles Ruggles fine as a slightly bemused and very busy doctor and John Carroll (the pilot) and Ruth Hussey (the woman doctor) both good, as is a solid supporting cast. One review calls this “frothy” and I think that’s both right and a compliment. I would note that the IMDB listing shows this film as 1:12, presumably based on data contributed by someone who viewed a truncated release. In fact, as the original Variety review makes clear, the movie originated at the 1:19 of this print. Not great, but fun, a good print, and worth $1.50.

Affairs of Cappy Ricks, 1937, b&w. Ralph Staub (dir.), Walter Brennan, Mary Brian, Lyle Talbot, Frank Shields, Frank Melton, Georgia Cane, Phyllis Barry, William B. Davidson. 1:01 [0:56]

Here’s another short B movie with one great virtue for a comedy: it’s funny. Walter Brennan—playing a crusty 60-year-old although he was a mere 43 at the time—is head of a San Francisco shipbuilding company and has been out of the country for a year or more. During that time, things have gone to hell in a handbasket in his home and his company—with his nemesis, head of an automation company, ready to take control of his company and become father-in-law to one of his daughters, while the other gets divorced.

To try to set things straight, he gets his kids and the soon-to-be ex-husband, plus his former general manager and ex-fiancée of the daughter and bossy mother of the soon-to-be-ex (who’s taken over the household and bought enough of the company’s stock to assure a merger with the automation company) out on his yacht for a weekend sail…which turns into an 8-week adventure down to the Marquesas (incorrectly labeled “uninhabited”—I’ve been there, and at least some of the Marquesas have year-round residents). At that point, feeling that he’s failed to get people to straighten up, he stages a shipwreck.

That’s just part of the plot, and there’s plenty of plot to keep things moving. A fast-paced little film with a fun cast. Lyle Talbot as the ex-fiancée is excellent, as is most of the cast. Apparently five minutes are missing, but I didn’t see any continuity gaps. I found it thoroughly enjoyable, but since it’s under an hour I can’t come up with more than $1.

All Over Town, 1937, b&w. James W. Horne (dir.), Ole Olsen, Chic Johnson, Mary Oward, Harry Stockwell, Franklin Pangborn, James Finlayson. 1:03 [1:01]

Another Olsen & Johnson flick, this time with the two playing Olsen & Johnson, a vaudeville team—one that’s trying to get a musical-seal act going while staying in a cheap vaudeville hotel. They get a tiny check and are overheard in a way that makes them sound like millionaires; this leads to Putting On a Show in a jinxed theater; which leads to problems. Eventually, there’s a murder and, well, lots of frantic farce.

Basically, this is an extended vaudeville act. I find the Olsen & Johnson shtick tiresome after a while, which makes the movie itself a little tiresome. Also, there’s one key scene where there’s enough missing footage to scramble the dialogue. All things considered, I give it $0.75.

Niagara Falls, 1941, b&w. Gordon Douglas (dir.), Marjorie Woodworth, Tom Brown, Zasu Pitts, Slim Summerville, Chester Clute. 0:43.

A shaggy dog story or curiously innocent bedroom farce, depending on how you look at it—the whole told as a flashback by a guy about to jump off Suicide Point at Niagara Falls to a peanut vendor (who apparently sells peanuts for those who get hungry on the way down…).

You see, this guy had been dating a farmer’s daughter for 20 years and finally struck oil, so now he could afford to marry her. They’re on their way to their honeymoon and encounter this apparent couple trying to fix a car alongside the road… Well, things go on from there. Let’s just say the guy’s a born meddler, the couple (who weren’t a couple, but become one) are charming and it’s all fluffy but fun, although with few real laughs. It’s also really a long short subject, too short for even a B movie. The best I can do is $0.75.

Disc 3

Here Comes Trouble, 1948, b&w. Fred Guiol (dir.), William Tracy, Joe Sawyer, Emory Parnell, Betty Compson, Joan Woodbury, Beverly Lloyd. 0:55 [0:50]

“Filmed in Cinecolor”—but this print’s in black and white, unfortunately. It’s pretty good slapstick in the service of a reasonable plot. We have a crusading newspaper publisher/editor whose police reporters keep getting beaten up and quitting and whose daughter’s in love with a returning serviceman who was a copyboy at the paper. The father isn’t wild about the copyboy marrying his daughter…and figures that promoting him to police reporter might kill two birds with one stone.

That’s the setup. Add a service buddy of the son who’s just joined the police force (and in his case “police farce” might be better), the fact that the criminal mastermind is also the comptroller of the newspaper, a burlesque queen…and you have a very good, almost 20-minute climactic sequence. Color would have been better, and this is a short one, so I’ll say $1.00.

Hollywood and Vine, 1945, b&w. Alexis Thurn-Taxis (dir.), James Ellison, Wanda McKay, June Clyde, Ralph Morgan, Franklin Pangborn, Leon Belasco, Emmett Lynn. 0:58.

A romantic comedy, emphasis on the comedy, with a surround story that makes no sense. It’s told in flashbacks from the office of a tycoon, and is supposed to be the story of how he got started—but there’s not a thing in the picture that suggests the guy (who started as proprietor of Pop’s Burgers) would go anywhere.

The flashback, though, is charming, and that’s 95% of the picture. It’s the old Hollywood story but with several cute twists and relies heavily on a remarkable stunt dog. Cute and well played, albeit short and with an outer plot that doesn’t lead anywhere. All things considered, including its length, I’ll give it $1.00.

Lost Honeymoon, 1947, b&w. Leigh Jason (dir.), Franchot Tone, Ann Richards, Tom Conway, Frances Rafferty, Clarence Kolb. 1:11 [1:09]

Somewhere between a B programmer and a feature, this one’s interesting—part romantic comedy, part identity confusion, with just a little slapstick thrown in. The gist: A young woman returns to the British boarding house she’d formerly stayed in, knowing that a friend of hers died, leaving two very young (twin) children who the landlady’s taking care of. The woman also knows the friend was a GI bride in WWII—and apparently the husband has disappeared to America, with a known city but not address. She decides to assume the dead mother’s identity (modifying her passport) and take the children to America to confront the husband.

That’s the setup. Now there’s the apparent husband—a young architect, engaged to the somewhat-shrewish social-climbing daughter of his boss. He’s astonished when he gets a cable from the Red Cross informing him that his wife and children are on their way, because he’s not aware that he had a wife and children. But he did have a six-week amnesia episode during the war, a period of which he remembers nothing, so maybe…

Everything follows from that, and it’s actually pretty well done. The ending’s silly, and maybe it had to be. Not great, not bad. Some missing frames and a problematic picture at first, so I won’t give it more than $1.25.

The Animal Kingdom, 1932, b&w. Edward H. Griffith (dir.), Ann Harding, Leslie Howard, Myrna Loy, William Gargan, Ilka Chase. 1:25.

I guess this is a comedy of manners, and that’s the only basis on which I can call it a comedy at all. The primary character is a small-press publisher, a terrible disappointment to his wealthy father who wants him to be a Proper Person. The publisher’s about to marry a socialite who his father much admires—after having spent a couple of years with an artistic woman who left (but is now returning).

I’m not sure what to say about the rest of the plot, such as it is. I found it dreary, and in fact found the movie tiresome. Myrna Loy as the socialite with a heart of dollar signs certainly makes the most of backless gowns, but I didn’t find any of the acting worth more than a yawn. I’m being generous in giving this one $1.00.

Behave Yourself, 1951, b&w. George Beck (dir.), Farley Granger, Shelley Winters, William Demarest, Francis L. Sullivan, Margalo Gillmore, Lon Chaney Jr., Hans Conried, Elisha Cook Jr., Glenn Anders, Allen Jenkins, Sheldon Leonard, Marvin Kaplan. 1:21.

Reviewed previously: $2.00.

Disc 4

The Admiral was a Lady, 1950, b&w. Albert S. Rogell (dir.), Edmond O’Brien, Wanda Hendrix, Rudy Vallee, Johnny Sands, Steve Brodie, Richard Erdman, Hillary Brooke. 1:27.

A post-WWII romantic comedy with a little screwball comedy added in, and an absolute charmer. “The Admiral” is four vets’ nickname for a returned WAVE (Hendrix) after they all meet in an unemployment-insurance line. The four guys are dedicated to not finding jobs and living well without spending money—they work really hard at not working in style. The woman has been waiting for her fiancée to return, but now finds he’s not coming—so she’s heading home for Walla Walla.

It gets more complicated. The leader of the four (O’Brien) gets a phone call threatening promising a job for him and the others—unless he makes sure the girl stays in town. It has something to do with her fiancée and a juke box tycoon’s twice ex-wife who he wants back. Things go on from there. We eventually find out why the leader’s so intent on keeping the four together. All ends reasonably well. Hendrix is an absolute charmer, O’Brien is handsome and funny, Rudy Vallee (the jukebox king) is quite wonderful, and it’s all funny and well played. One of the best old movies I’ve seen in quite some time. $2.00.

His Double Life, 1933, b&w. Arthur Hopkins (dir.), Roland Young, Lillian Gish, Montagu Love, Lumsden Hare, Lucy Beaumont. 1:08.

A charming comedy, somewhat undone by heavy-handed direction. The setup: England’s foremost painter (Young) is an introvert, so much so that he’s spent years traveling around Europe with his valet to avoid the public—even his agent’s never seen him and his first cousin hasn’t seen him since he was 12. But the valet is corresponding with a women (Gish) he “met” via a marriage/introduction service and would like to actually meet her—and convinces the painter that they could move back to their house in London and nobody would recognize him.

But when they arrive, the valet comes down with double pneumonia. The doctor arrives, assumes that the valet (who the painter’s put in the master bedroom) is the painter and vice-versa, announces him dead…and things go on from there, especially after the officious cousin arrives, regards the “valet” as an incompetent and shoos him away.

He winds up running into the young woman—who also assumes he’s the valet. As things progress (including the “painter” being buried in Westminster Abbey), she doesn’t much care who he is and assures him that between his modest bequest and her brewery shares, they’d be fine. They marry and they are fine—until he starts painting again, this time without signing the paintings. She sells the paintings to a framer for modest sums; he sells them, framed, to someone else for a substantial markup…and they wind up with the artist’s agent. That agent guarantees them to be genuine and sells them for many times as much to a collector…who gets a bit upset when he notes a date on the back of one paintng that’s two years after the artist was buried. Oh, along the way, the valet appears to have walked out on his wife 25 years earlier—and she shows up, twin sons (both clergy) along, claiming that the artist (using the valet’s name) is clearly her long-lost husband.

All of which leads to a trial—the collector suing the agent for fraud, the agent (who found the earlier wife) claiming that the valet’s really the painter, a charge of bigamy…all eventually resolved thanks to two birthmarks.

It’s an interesting plot. Gish does a remarkable job as a wholly unflappable young woman who’s quite happy with her husband whether he’s a former valet or an artist. Young’s good also (I was thinking he reminded me of Cosmo Topper—and, indeed, he was Cosmo Topper). The problem? The trial is wildly overdone (with jurors acting as a chorus of sorts), other “messages” that should have been delivered once are delivered six times, and it’s all a bit heavy-handed. Even with that, it’s worth $1.50.

Boys of the City, 1940, b&w. Joseph H. Lewis (dir.), the usual Dead End Kids/East Side Kids (Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, etc., etc.) 1:08 [1:00].

I gave it ten minutes. That was more than enough. Life really is too short to sit through yet another Dead End Kids/East Side Kids movie. The rave reviews on IMDB do not convince me otherwise.

Escape to Paradise, 1939, b&w. Erle C. Kenton (dir.), Bobby Breen, Kent Taylor, Marla Shelton, Rudolph Anders. 1:00.

The handsome son of a millionaire, on a cruise in South America, is hounded by one annoying young woman who regards him as her boyfriend…and manages to escape by zipping off with a young guide while ashore in “Rosarita” (much darker and less interesting than the actual Rosarito, Mexico). After cutely meeting a beautiful young woman, he decides to stick around for the 21 days before the ship stops again on its way back…and gets involved in maté exporting as a way of meeting the girl again (don’t ask).

A local businessman who wants the girl for his own also wants to monopolize the mate trade and pay prices so low they’ll ruin the growers. One thing leads to another (including an amusing scene of workers unloading 200 bags of mate in the hero’s hotel room), and…well, happy ending and all that.

Except that it just doesn’t work. For one thing, the print’s lousy, sometimes so bad as to almost be unwatchable. For another, the mix of languages (in the obligatory musical numbers and conversation) is little short of bizarre. For a third, well, it just doesn’t work very well even as a light concoction. Charitably, $0.75.

Disc 5

False Pretenses, 1935, b&w. Charles Lamont (dir.), Irene Ware, Sidney Blackmer, Betty Compson, Russell Hopton, Edward Gargan, Ernest Wood, Lucy Beaumont. 1:08 [1:04]

A beautiful young waitress who’s unfortunately dating a brutish truck driver gets fired because of his abusive behavior and somehow manages to lose her final check, blown away in the wind—at a bridge where she sees a drunk gentleman who seems to be contemplating suicide. One thing leads to another; she finds that he’s a wealthy, well-known man who’s lost his money (but wasn’t really suicidal). She talks him into a scheme wherein he’ll find investors for an unknown venture, using the proceeds to put her up at a resort hotel where she’ll meet wealthy friends of his, get one of them to marry her, and repay the investors—and the gentleman, who incidentally is trying to avoid marrying a wealthy woman—with a premarital settlement.

Oddly enough, it’s all rather innocent. We also get a former bootlegger trying to become a socialite (and his butler, who just can’t stop being a burglar) and an oddly satisfying Happy Ending. The only one who winds up disappointed, presumably, is the truck driver—and that’s as it should be. Not falling-down funny but mildly amusing with a fine cast. Unfortunately, there are some missing frames leading to a little choppy dialog. Still, probably worth $1.25.

The Gang’s All Here, 1941, b&w. Jean Yarbrough (dir.), Frankie Darro, Marcia Mae Jones, Jackie Moran, Keye Luke, Mantan Moreland, Laurence Criner. 1:01.

The first problem is that this isn’t funny—unless you’re just wild about a particular brand of racist humor that was unfortunate in its day and just doesn’t work these days. That’s right—Mantan Moreland in full flower as a deliberately lazy bug-eyed stereotype—this time coupled with another black actor (Laurence Criner) with the name “Ham Shanks.” Other than that, it’s a plausible mystery plot of sorts: A trucking company’s trucks keep getting hijacked with the drivers killed, but insurance covers the losses; an out-of-work type (Darro) and his good-for-nothing sidekick (Moreland) sign up as drivers and wind up uncovering the complex situation, with the assistance of Keye Luke as a Chinese-American investigator for the insurance company.

I found the whole thing faintly embarrassing. Decent print. If you’re fond of this sort of thing, it might be worth $0.50.

The Inspector General, 1949, color. Henry Koster (dir.), Danny Kaye, Walter Slezak, Barbar Bates, Elsa Lanchester, Gene Lockhart, Alan Hale, Walter Catlett, Rhys Williams. 1:42 [1:39].

Here’s what I said when I reviewed this as part of the Family Classics set: Wonderful, wonderful. Based on the play by Nikolai Gogol, this film is a delight—not only Danny Kaye’s character but also the rest of the cast. Very good to excellent print with a few tiny flaws; fine color and sound. Even if the print was damaged, this would be a wonderfully enjoyable movie.

I usually don’t rewatch movies I’ve already seen in another set, but for this one I made an exception. This time around, the only thing I would change is that the color is typical of aged Technicolor—that is, mostly washed out. Was I just being kind in 2005? I spotchecked that version. Turns out the movie in the Family Classics megapack and the one in this set are from different sources (which I’ve never seen before): The older one really is full color, but the print is sub-VHS quality, while the new one is extremely faded color but the print’s good enough that, even expanding it to fill my big HDTV (for this movie, the “just” function produces a wider picture without fat-faced actors), I was never aware of video issues. (The old one, viewed on a large screen, has persistent problems.)

So: two different versions, each with its own flaws, but both wonderful—if you like Danny Kaye. It’s a great story (illiterate gypsy is mistaken for the Inspector General when he wanders into a corrupt town; just wants something to eat but winds up doing wonders) with some musical numbers and plenty of Kaye at his best. Given the washed-out color, I’ll only give this $2.25.

The Kid, 1921, b&w (silent). Charles Chaplin (dir., writer, star), Edna Purviance, Jackie Coogan, Carl Miller. 1:08.

Reviewed previously. $1.75.

Disc 6

The Groom Wore Spurs, 1951, b&w. Richard Whorf (dir.), Ginger Rogers, Jack Carson, Joan Davis, Stanley Ridges, John Litel, James Brown, Victor Sen Yung. 1:20.

Romantic comedy with a plot line that may seem preposterous, but maybe not. A beautiful and all-business young female attorney shows up at a doorway, summoned to meet with an actor who stars in singing-cowboy films (but neither does his own riding nor his own singing)—and the first thing she sees is his awful fast-draw performance. But she likes him, and agrees to take on the unusual case: He lost $60,000 to a gambler in Vegas and doesn’t either want to pay the full amount or have the gambler’s friends-with-guns show up.

Next thing we know, she’s on his private plane to Vegas. They meet the gambler, but he has other problems and postpones a meet until 2 a.m. Now the two are in a convertible stepping out to view Hoover Dam, there’s some awkward/cute conversation, and next thing we know the two are married. And, as it turns out, the gambler was helped out by the attorney’s father, and writes off the 60 big ones as a wedding present.

She concludes she’s been had—in addition to mostly being a phony on screen, the actor i’s clearly a ladies’ man. But she still has Feelings. Lots more comedy, much of it pretty good, although there’s also a murder as part of the plot. If you accept the premise that two rational adults could meet and become engaged or married on the first date, the rest is semi-plausible. As for that premise…well, it’s absurd, of course, except that I’ve now been married for more than 33.5 years to a woman who I proposed to on our first date.

Ginger Rogers is Ginger Rogers: Lovely, amusing, and does a great job in any role. The rest of the cast is also excellent, part of the reason this lightweight film gets a solid $1.50.

Heading for Heaven, 1947, b&w. Lewis D. Collins (dir.), Stuart Erwin, Glenda Farrell, Russ Vincent, Irene Ryan, Milburn Stone. 1:05 [1:11]

The comedy setup here is common enough: Guy gets a physical exam, overhears the doctor discussing someone else’s case, assumes he’s dying when he’s actually healthy. In this case, the background is that a small-town realtor has held on to 100 acres east of town, where his father and grandfather both assumed the town would grow, turning down offers to make it an amusement park or a cemetery or whatever…while the town continues to grow west.

After the local banker says the town would like to buy the land for a town dump and gets turned down, two guys from an airline show up wanting to buy it for an airport—and, when he won’t take a pretty good price, suggest they might instead buy an adjacent 60-acre plot (which, as they note later, wouldn’t work because the adjacent land is overrun by power lines). The realtor buys the adjacent land—and then finds out he’s dying. Meanwhile, the banker and a swami who’s been doing séances for his wife and the local ladies wants to swindle him out of most of the airline’s money, so concocts a phony telegram saying the airline’s no longer interested.

That’s just the first part of a fast-moving plot that involves assumed suicide, hobos, applejack and an unusual séance. All turns out well. And it’s actually fairly amusing, although certainly lightweight. If you’re in the mood, it’s worth $1.25.

His Private Secretary, 1933, b&w. Phil Whitman (dir.), Evalyn Knapp, John Wayne, Reginald Barlow, Alec B. Francis. 1:00.

Previously reviewed. $1.25.

I’m From Arkansas, 1944, b&w. Lew Landers (dir.), Slim Summerville, El Brendel, Iris Adrian, Bruce Bennett, Maude Eburne, Cliff Nazarro. 1:10 [1:07]

The sleeve plot description is almost entirely wrong, except for the key “plot” point in this set of songs thinly disguised as a comedy: It all starts with Esmerelda, a sow in Pitchfork, Arkansas who gives birth to 18 piglets. And ends with Pitchfork (now Pitchfork Springs) becoming a state spa resort for its healing springs—foiling the designs of a Pork Magnate to turn it into the world’s biggest pig farm.

In the middle, we have a Western radio big band, all of whom go back to Pitchfork for their summer break—and a female troupe of entertainers (singers & dancers) whose manager thinks the Sow Sensation should make Pitchfork a great place to play and takes them there, without bothering to find out whether Pitchfork even has a theater or nightclub (which it doesn’t). Naturally, the two groups wind up in the same room & board place, owned by the sow’s widowed owner, and the Western band plays a little joke on the female entertainers (who respond to a whole bunch of stereotypical hillbilly behavior by assuming they’re dealing with hillbillies) by turning into extreme hillbillies. Who also happen to be professional-quality musicians.

All of which is probably more discussion than the “plot” deserves. There are ten songs, all well done, in a 67-minute flick; the rest of the movie comes off as a semi-amusing wrapper for the songs. I would have been offended by the stereotyping (pretty extreme in some cases), except that the band playing with it defuses it somewhat. Oh: The daughter of the sow-owner/hotelier is the damnedest yodeler I have ever heard, and the female troupe’s manager does some great doubletalk routines. Amusing, and probably worth $1.25.

Summing Up

So what do we have in the first half of this set, which currently sells for around $19? Looking at movies that almost qualify as classics—ones I rate at $1.75 or $2.00—I see Behave Yourself (also in an earlier megapack), The Admiral was a Lady, The Inspector General (a true classic which was also in an earlier megapack—except that the two versions are clearly from different sources) and The Kid (again, also in an earlier megapack). So, for me, there was only one really good movie I hadn’t already seen. Of course, your previous viewing history may vary.

There are also three movies that were pretty good at $1.50, six more acceptable at $1.25 and another six borderline at $1.00. That totals 19 movies that were at least so-so, for a total of $26 for the first half—not great as these sets go, but not terrible. Then there were five mediocrities at $0.75, one pretty bad flick at $0.50, and one I was simply unwilling to watch (but based on way too many other flicks from Leo Gorcey and the rest of the Dead End/East Side Kids, it wouldn’t have gotten more than $0.50). You could make this out to be $30.25, but I’ll stick with $26.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 11, Number 9, Whole # 144, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford.

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