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Crashing Las Vegas (1956)
Last film featuring Sach and the Chief
This was the first and last Bowery Boys comedy Leo Gorcey made after the death of his father, Bernard. While it can be seen that he is intoxicated during most of the filming, this film is hysterical. Leo and Huntz recite the old wheezy jokes as if they were brand new. The supporting players are poor, but their ineptitude adds to the comedy. This is the first film with Jimmy "Myron" Murphy replacing Bennie "Butch" Bartlett. Murphy and David Gorcey actually get to do more than usual and they even get some good punch lines. True, the story revolves around Huntz Hall, but Gorcey has a lot of funny comments to make during the 63 minutes. It is surprising that the film is so funny since neither Ed Bernds nor Elwood Ullman have anything to do with it. Jean Yarbrough directs this time and he makes it look like his work with Abbott and Costello. The Bowery Boys series was never the same after Leo Gorcey left. He was replaced by that "other guy", Stanley Clements. Clements is OK, but it's like Joe Besser replacing Shemp (not to mention Shemp replacing Curly) in the Three Stooges. Besser and Clements are good performers, but they just don't have the spark of their predecessors. I always wondered why David Gorcey just didn't get promoted; "Chuck" could have been the new chief of the Bowery Boys. Why not?
Of Thee I Sing (1972)
I remember seeing this TV version of "Of Thee I Sing" when I was very young. It helped turn me into a life long Gershwin fan. I even have the LP made by Columbia. Since that time, I have seen and been involved with productions of this brilliant musical comedy. A few of the songs ("Of Thee I Sing", Who Cares", "Love Is Sweeping the Country") have become world class standards. Then there are the hidden gems like "A Kiss for Cinderella" and "Because, Because".
Paramount was supposed to make a movie version. It was discussed as a vehicle for the Marx Brothers. Would Groucho have played Wintergreen or Fulton? Harpo would have been hysterical as a silent Throttlebottom. Chico would have added to the hilarity as an immigrant committee member. Maybe Zeppo would have been Wintergreen! In the 1940s,Bob Hope was to star in a movie version. Hope would have been perfect as Wintergreen, but looking at Paramount 40s musicals, it wouldn't have been great. Musically, we probably would have ended up with only "Wintergreen for President", "Love Is Sweeping the Country" and the title song. Paramount used Hope instead of William Gaxton for its production of "Louisiana Purchase"; Victor Moore repeated his Broadway role. However, most of Irving Berlin's score was unused and Hope did not get one single musical number. What a shame! Paramount also made messes of Broadway hits "Let's Face It" and "Lady in the Dark".
As for the CBS production, the libretto was truncated to fit into a 90 minute slot and the southern senator became the villain, replacing the French Ambassador, which would not make much sense in the 1970s. Peter Matz's musical arrangements are crisp and swinging. They are far superior to the Don Walker arrangements from the 1952 Broadway version. Jack Gilford was so perfect as Throttlebottom that he was used again for the Brooklyn Accademy of Music production in the 1980s. With the Gershwin music still vital at the time, CBS was able to update the story and place it in the 1970s. However, if this show was revived on Broadway today, unfortunately it would have to be treated as a period piece.
Call Her Sausage (1933)
End of the Taxi Boys
Although this was released under the "Taxi Boys" banner, this Ben Blue and Billy Gilbert short has nothing to do with taxis. Gus Meins' production deals with the opening of a deli owned by Billy, who is "helped" by Ben. Billy plays his "Schmaltz" character, a middle European stereotype, which he played in Roach comedies through 1934. I guess Roach knew that the Taxi series wasn't working and tried a couple of films to keep the Blue and Gilbert teaming going. (The other film is "The Rummy", which is not as good.) Besides the typical Roach slapstick, Ben and Billy engage in some verbal acrobatics similar to Abbott and Costello. However, the timing is slower, and it doesn't really work. After "The Rummy", Ben Blue returned to New York where he appeared in some Vitaphone shorts. Roach still tried to promote Billy as a leading comic doing his Schmaltz character or a variation of it. "Apples to You" and "Music in Your Hair" are particularly good short comedies from this period. Gilbert freelanced at most of the studios, even though he was a Roach regular. He even has a showy role in the later Roach comedy "Blockheads".
Taxi Barons (1933)
A Real Misfire
Ben Blue and Billy Gilbert had appeared in a handful of "Taxi Boys" shorts before this one. Why did Billy have to use his "Dutch" dialect in this one? True, he impersonates a European baron in the middle of the film. But couldn't he have used the accent only during his impression? Couldn't he have played "himself" during the opening sequence in the taxi garage? Blue refers to him as "Bill" during the entire film and treats him as a regular American guy. The accent does nothing to improve the comedy in the first reel. Maybe Del Lord, the director, was trying to prevent Ben and Billy from being compared to Laurel and Hardy. But that was already being done! Hal Roach had advertised them as ANOTHER Laurel and Hardy, just as he had advertised Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts as the FEMALE Laurel and Hardy. It is well documented that even from the beginning, Hal Roach had difficulties with Stan Laurel. Was he using Ben and Billy as an insurance policy against Laurel? We can only speculate.
Wreckety Wrecks (1933)
Let's Compare Ben and Billy to Stan and Oliver
Although Laurel and Hardy do not appear in this short, it shows what a unique and brilliant comedy team they were. The whole short seems tailor made for them. Even the macabre plot, which has Ben Blue and Billy Gilbert believing that they killed a man with their taxi is right up Laurel's alley. Much has been written about Laurel's genius as a gagman and the delicacy and depth of his screen character. Hardy seems to often get pushed to the background, and I must admit that I have often done this. But Oliver Hardy created a character who is human and lovable. We feel for him whenever Stan gets him into "a nice mess". (Stan and Oliver are so real and lovable that their characters sometimes counteract some of the more violent and surreal comedy.) I am not trying to imply that Blue and Gilbert are not fine comedians. Blue just reeks of Vaudeville experience and his specialty as an eccentric dancer makes him a graceful slapstick player. He is described in the short as goofy, and he plays this beautifully. Just the way he moves is hysterical. But his vocalizations are cartoonish when compared to Laurel's cry. Gilbert was an extremely versatile character comic who could play a bully, a villain, an idiot, or the unfortunate everyman. He was also adept at dialects. It's nice to see him playing a regular Joe in this short. He is likable, but does not milk the same kind of sympathy we would feel for Oliver Hardy in the same situation. Del Lord keeps the short moving fast. The only thing missing is the LeRoy Shield background music.
Thundering Taxis (1933)
More Sennett than Roach
This one must have been made before Ben Blue and Billy Gilbert became the stars of the Taxi Boys. Director Del Lord was well known in the silent era for his stunts with car chases. As usual, he does not disappoint here. However, this film does not take advantage of the possibilities of sound. It is essentially a silent film. Silent comics Billy Bevan and Clyde Cook are the main focus. It is nice to see Lord favorite Bud Jamison as the manager of a taxi company. This plot less wonder had two reels of car gags with some time out for Cook to do the famous oyster stew routine. It was first done by Bevan at Sennett in the 20s and was done to perfection by Curly Howard at Columbia. Cook has no dialogue at all and Bevan very little. Bevan does not even look like the Bevan character. Where is the walrus mustache? Blue and Gilbert brought some humanity to this series. Without them, it is all about action. A big plus is the familiar LeRoy Shield background music mixed with some lesser known pieces. For once the music editor added some interesting music staying away from the all too familiar "Sliding" which seems to show up in every Roach comedy of this period.
Romance Road (1938)
Warners take on Rose-Marie
This beautiful 3-strip Technicolor two reeler is a variation on the Friml-Stothart-Harbach-Hammerstein musical dealing with Canadian Mounties. This time around there is conflict between the men building a new railroad and the native French-Canadian trappers. Also in the mix, like Rose-Marie, is an abusive relationship between a white man and a Native American girl. The Mountie is summoned to save the day.
It's not a bad film, but the plot may be a bit much for a two reel short and characters are undeveloped. It's all rather melodramatic. The film is also devoid of humor. The songs, with lyrics by Jack Scholl and music by M. K. Jerome, are serviceable, but are not in the class with Friml melodies. Don't get me wrong. Scholl and Jerome wrote tons of music and lyrics mostly for Warners shorts and "B" pictures. Occasionally, one of their songs found its way into an "A" production, like "Knock on Wood" in "Casablanca" or "Some Sunday Morning" from "San Antonio". They are definitely unsung musical heroes of Hollywood and their work should be re-evaluated.
The Lady and the Lug (1941)
Good Slapstick Comedy
This is a rare screen appearance by party giver Elsa Maxwell. Here, she plays herself and is teamed with Slapsy Maxie Rosenbloom and George "Superman" Reeves. Warners comedy shorts were hit or miss, but this one is definitely a hit. Who would ever believe Maxwell as a slapstick comedienne? But she's really good here. Reeves plays it straight while Rosenbloom shows good comedy style. It is doubly funny that Maxwell is the butt of a number of the slapstick gags. She's a natural before the camera. If I had been unaware of her, I would have thought she was a vaudeville comedienne. Rosenbloom does his usual punch drunk routine and Reeves is as smooth as silk. The Romeo and Juliet parody in the middle of the film is hysterical. Even the comedy boxing scene, an idea which had been done to death, is fresh and funny. Add to this the always welcome, bass heavy Warners background music, and you have a winning, funny short.
How to Sub-Let (1939)
Mediocre Benchley Short
While Bob's wife is at church, Bob is left to show his apartment to potential new tenants. There really is much here. What should have been a sight gag fest turns out to be boring. Bumbling Bob should have destroyed the apartment while showing it. Unfortunately, the few sight gags there are do not illicit much laughter. Now Benchley really wasn't much of a physical comedian, but his facial expressions could be priceless. He tries, but there just isn't enough good material for him to react to. The comedy clocks in at about 8 minutes, but seems much longer; the pacing is very slow. I guess Benchley just ran out of ideas for this short. He's done better with other films.
Asleep in the Feet (1933)
Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd work with a fairly new director on the Roach lot, Gus Meins. Where directors like James Horne, James Parrott, Lloyd French, and George Marshall were most interested in gags, Meins wanted to present a well defined, motivated story. He does use sight gags, but they are built into the story. Meins' style is certainly a contrast to the other directors on the Roach lot. It can really be seen in his Our Gang and Thelma Todd-Patsy Kelly entries. I only wish he had used the stock LeRoy Shield background music more often. He only chooses to use it in a handful of shorts.
In this depression era piece, Thelma and Zasu are late in paying their rent and haven't much to eat. However, their neighbor is about to be evicted from her room if she cannot pay $20. Softhearted Thelma and Zasu become dance hall girls to help her. Anita Garvin is hysterical as a veteran taxi dancer. Also funny are the attempts to make Zasu more appealing. Of course, Thelma is naturally appealing. Billy Gilbert is funny as always as the dance hall manager. But why did he need the accent? The closing gag could have gone in many directions. All I will say is that Meins chose a very good one. It tops off a charming short.
Dollar Dizzy (1930)
Charley and Thelma at it again!
Charley Chase inherits a large sum of money and goes to a resort where he encounters gold diggers. At the same time, rich Thelma Todd comes to the resort to escape from money hungry men. Of course, the hotel double books Charley and Thelma into the same suite. Jimmie Finlayson is cast as the hotel detective, and as usual, gives an energetic slapstick performance. Edgar Kennedy is seen early in the film as Chase's attorney. He doesn't do much, but seeing Kennedy is always a plus. For once, he is not Kennedy the Cop. Laurel and Hardy regular Charie Hall has a bit as a bellhop. We also see young Dorothy Granger in a small role, years before her tenure as Mrs. Leon Errol.
The film is funny and charming, but is missing a background musical score. In fact, there is no music at the start of the film during the Crane sisters spoken titles or at the ending credit. The lack of music makes the film a little dry and calls attention to the film hiss. This short could be as funny as "The Pip from Pittsburg", but that film has LeRoy Shield's background music helping it move along. Maybe Hallmark should add recordings of the Shield music by the Beau Hunks to cover up the hiss. Hal Roach did this himself, adding a musical score to some of the early Laurel and Hardy efforts. Roach's adding of Shield stock music to "Blotto" makes it one of Laurel and Hardy's best films.
The Real McCoy (1930)
Charming Chase Comedy
City boy Charley Chase is smitten with Thelma Todd, who he thinks is a country girl. Edgar Kennedy, in his typical role of the period, Kennedy the Cop, tries to help him out. But what kind of help can anyone get from the bumbling Edgar? This was a Charley Chase vehicle meant to show Charley as a full service entertainer. He had been known as a silent, slapstick comedian, but it was really the way that Chase controlled his body that made him funny. Here, he gets to sing, dance, play musical instruments, deliver snappy dialogue and act as the leading man. He is terrific. Thelma Todd is lovely and charming as his sassy leading lady and Edgar Kennedy is always helpful in these early Hal Roach talkies.
"Clap Hands, Here Comes Charley", a pop song from the 1920s is used as the opening theme music. The rest of the background music is canned Vitaphone scoring. This is the same music Roach used for his late silent with synchronized music and sound effects films. It is bland and unobtrusive. The music which LeRoy Shield wrote in the coming months for subsequent comedies is much richer and memorable.
Girls Town (1959)
A Laugh Riot
Yes, I know that Albert Zugsmith's films are low budget trash. But they are all so entertaining! My favorite part of this one is the casting of Mel Torme as a tough gang leader. Could there possibly be worse casting? And then there's Paul Anka. During the film, bad Mel has a fight with angelic Paul. I always wondered what that was about! Was this supposed to be some Zionist statement or did Mel object to Paul's out of tune singing of "Ave Maria"? Maybe Mel wanted to sing it in Yiddish or use it as a vehicle for a scat solo! But, I digress. Like all the Zugsmith films, this one is both intentionally and unintentionally funny. Director Haas' fast paced direction never lets the film get boring, even though the acting is as horrible as usual. It's in the same class with "High School Confidential", "The Big Operator", "College Confidential" and the greatest of them all, "Sex Kttens Go to College". Thank you Mr. Zugsmith! Don't miss this camp classic.
Excuse My Dust (1951)
First Rate Skelton Comedy
MGM was never a good studio for slapstick comedians, but this time they got it right. Red Skelton had the misfortune to appear in a group of inept comedies for MGM which missed the mark for the most part. This comedy is terrific and Skelton is terrific in it. The comedy is set at the turn of the 20th Century with Skelton as an ambitious, but accident prone, inventor working on an early automobile. Although he is not given much in the way of witty dialogue, he is given ample opportunity to show his physical comedy skills. Although he plays a misunderstood dreamer, Skelton does not play a total nincompoop. While still a mugging comedian, he is likable and sympathetic. The supporting cast is just right with Macdonald Carey as Skelton's rival, Herbert Anderson as Skelton's straight man, Sally Forrest as his love interest and supporting character actors William Demarest and Raymond Walburn adding to the comedy. Monica Lewis is cast as the soubrette and is given two clever specialty numbers by Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields. Forrest is given a good dance specialty. Skelton gets to sing the best song in the score, "Spring Has Sprung". The screenplay contains some clever satire concerning the industrial age, and, of course, there is the obligatory auto race at the end of the picture. The Technicolor photography is beautiful, but it does not take away from the comedy. This is a really fine, feel good, slapstick opus.
Cold Turkey (1940)
Very Funny Langdon Short
"Cold Turkey" is a typical Columbia short comedy enhanced by the comic genius of Harry Langdon. Coming as late as it does in Langdon's career, it should not be this good. Harry looks great in this short. No mustache to make him look older and no glasses to give him a Harold Lloyd look! He is the baby face Langdon of old and he has more energy than in the previous Columbia entries. The plot is simple; Harry wins a live turkey for Christmas dinner at his office. Now he has to get it home. Sure, Harold Lloyd did this routine before, but Harry and director Del Lord put their own spin on it. This routine takes up most of the first reel. Harry participates in a few good gags with his old buddy Vernon Dent as his boss and with Columbia regular Bud Jamison as a policeman. The second reel deals with the misconception that Harry is going to kill his landlord, played by Columbia favorite Monte Collins, instead of the turkey.
Even though the film is loaded with standard Stooges-style Columbia slapstick, Harry does subtle little bits throughout the film to make it funnier. He was never an athletic comic like Keaton or Lloyd; he relied on quirky little body movements and facial reactions. He still portrays innocence, even though he was approaching his 60s. I only wish he didn't talk so much. Sometimes he comes off like a babbling idiot. Keaton only spoke when absolutely necessary. However, watching Langdon silents, you can see he is always talking, even though we cannot hear him.
This is a first rate comedy, only marred by Harry's babbling and a weak finish.
Tars and Stripes (1935)
Filmed at a navel base in San Diego, this is basically two reels of Buster Keaton running around and getting into trouble as an apprentice sailor. It is virtually a silent film. Dialogue is only used when absolutely necessary. Buster is not interested in verbal jokes and wisecracks. He was a quiet comedian who only spoke when necessary. The film is totally natural and one does not get the feeling that Buster refuses to speak. The special treat of the film has Buster doing battle with superior officer Vernon Dent. Dent was usually paired with Harry Langdon and later became a staple at Columbia, often appearing with the Three Stooges. Because of Dent's presence, the film feels more like a Harry Langdon comedy than a Buster Keaton comedy. These are the kind of situations Langdon and Dent found themselves in during the silent Sennett comedies and later in their talkie Educational comedies. However, Keaton uses sound smartly, where sometimes Langdon became a babbling idiot, trying to show that he is a talking comedian.
The film itself is only mediocre, with typical military gags which have been used many times before. The rivalry between Buster and Vernon for the girl is weak. Buster was inebriated during the filming, but it doesn't have much effect on his performance. This film is worth seeing for all Keaton fans and fans of slapstick comedy.
The Timid Young Man (1935)
This film marks the only time Buster Keaton and Mack Sennett worked together. The results are less than sparkling. We start with a very low budget, a director who is way past his prime, and a comic premise that could have been used in the earliest, pre-Chaplin Keystone films. Basically, Buster escapes his dominant fiancée, meets another girl, and gets into a battle with a larger man who also fancies Buster's new girl friend. Buster plays his spoiled wealthy boy character here; he is called "Milton" instead of the usual "Elmer". Why not "Buster"? I guess Keaton may have been embarrassed by these cheap Educational comedies. Thank goodness the dialogue is minimal and the focus is on slapstick action. However, both Sennett and Keaton seem to be quite tired and burnt out. I believe that this is the last film Sennett ever directed, and what a sad way for him to go out. Most of the Keaton Educationals are better than this one. The usual director is Charles Lamont, who had a strong background in comedy and got along well with Buster. These Educational shorts, along with the later Columbia shorts, are definitely worth seeing. Keaton did not have a high opinion of these films, but it is fascinating to see him working with sound and showing his comic-athletic prowess.
Loose in London (1953)
Turning Point in the Bowery Boys Series
It is with this film that the focus of the Bowery Boys movies becomes pure comedy. The change from gangster melodramas to comedy is gradual, and many of the Jan Grippo and Jerry Thomas films which precede this one point in the direction of comedy. Ben Schwab, the new producer of the series, wanted a purer sense of comedy. After doing "Jalopy", which used the regular writers and the regular director, William "One Take" Beaudine, Schwab replaced them with Ed Bernds and Elwood Ullman. These men had been working on Three Stooges shorts for years. Ullman was always a writer and Bernds had started as a sound effects man and had graduated to writer-director. The Bernds directed Columbia short comedies are usually superior to the ones produced at the same time by Jules White. Bernds and Ullman brought their short subject slapstick comedy style to the Bowery Boys and this produced the funniest movies in the series. Sure, the stories might have been better before, but the formula of someone walking in Louie's Sweet Shop and taking the boys out of their element was a great set-up for slapstick comedy. The focus of the films became Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall; Bernard Gorcey is given better material, but David Gorcey and Bennie Bartlett slip more into the background or even out of the films. Schwab also replaced longtime musical director Edward Kay, whose music consists of transformations of "Sidewalks of New York" and "B" western clichés, with the more modern and comic sound of Marlin Skiles.
Hard Boiled Mahoney (1947)
Sach and the Chief -- At it again!
Even though the story of this film is serious, we are witnessing the evolution of the Bowery Boys. Gorcey and Hall are becoming comic actors. After their debut in "Dead End", the kids appeared at Warners in serious crime melodramas. By the end of their Warners' tenure, they became respectable. The early Monogram East Side Kids films and the Universal Dead End Kids films had them in teary melodramas, where they were supposed to provide comic relief.
By the time they became the Bowery Boys, the comedy was beginning to overshadow the melodrama. "Hard Boiled Mahoney" is still an over-plotted crime melodrama, but the comedy of Gorcey and Hall was beginning to take center stage. Hall now refers to Gorcey as "Chief" more often than not, and Gorcey hits Hall with his hat constantly. The story still centers as Gorcey, as most of the previous efforts had, but Hall is almost his equal. Unfortunately, the other boys suffer because of this. Jordan was terrific as the leading man in the early East Side films, but he has been relegated to background boy. What a shame! Billy Benedict had some good moments in the past and will have some good moments in future films, but he is definitely subordinate to Leo and Huntz. David Gorcey was always a background boy. Surprisingly, Gabe Dell is just one of the gang in this picture. He had had that role in the Warners and Universal series, but even in the early Monogram films he had varied roles. After this point, Dell would play the mature member of the gang, sometimes on the right side of the law and sometimes on the wrong side of the law. The character he plays here is reminiscent of the one he played in the East Side film "Come Out Fighting". He is a bi-speckled stooge.
This is not a bad Bowery Boys film, but Ed Bernds was really needed to later turn Gorcey and Hall into comedy stars.
Daddy Long Legs (1955)
How to Ruin a Mercer Score
Yes, Fred Astaire is in a scene with two Harry Mortons from the Burns and Allen Show: Fred Clark and Larry Keating. All we needed was Hal March and Johnny Brown! Now that the trivia is out of the way, how could Johnny Mercer's score have been so butchered in this film? The only song properly presented is "Something's Got to Give". It became an instant standard. In his tribute album to Fred Astaire, it is the only contemporary song recorded by Mel Torme. The rest of the songs came from the 1930s. With this said, all of the other songs in the film are given the short shift. Astaire's opening song "The History of the Beat" is truncated to one stanza. Mercer's lyrics are extremely witty, but are nowhere to be found in the film. "C-A-T Spells Cat" is buried under dialogue and what can be heard is butchered by Leslie Caron's out of tune singing. Where was Carole Richards or Betty Wand when you needed one of them? The beautiful theme song, "Daddy Long Legs" is ruined by having it performed by an off-screen choir. The lyrics can hardly be understood. Maybe they tried having Leslie Caron sing it, but it didn't work. "Welcome, Egghead" is destroyed by poor staging and truncation. "Sluefoot" almost works. Had Astaire sung it in the film as he did on the recording, it may have become a standard. The Skyliners handle the vocal and it is almost lost to the superb dance that follows. "Texas Romp and Square Dance" is part of a ballet dream sequence and it probably wasn't meant to stand out in the first place. Two more songs written for Astaire by Johnny Mercer, "Dancing Through Life" and "I Never Knew" were cut from the film. Even the Mercer standard "Dream" is given sub-standard treatment. Astaire and Caron perform a pleasant dance to it, but where is Astaire's vocal. It is sung by that off-screen choir, who hid the title song. The two Roland Petit ballet pieces show Caron off well, but Astaire is somewhat out of his element. Alex North's ballet music is unmemorable. The film is a bit long and a bit over-plotted and there are some who probably find the idea of the film disagreeable. To me, it's a sweetly innocent story that needed less dialogue and better presentations of the Mercer songs.
The Jerry Lewis Show (1967)
"The Jerry Lewis Show" was a variety show which ran on NBC for two seasons between 1967 and 1969. It is not the well known ABC disaster of the early 1960s. This was a color show featuring Jerry and top notch guest stars in musical specialties and comedy sketches. The writers of the sketches were some of the most successful TV comedy writers. In December of 2009, Infinity Video released a package of 12 shows. However, "disappointing" is understating the situation. We were promised 13 hour long variety shows. What was released was a syndicated comedy sketch package, probably prepared in the 1980s, similar to "Carol Burnett and Friends" from the "Carol Burnett Show" and "Carson's Comedy Classics" from the "Tonight Show".
Jerry's theme music, "Smile", has been replaced by some synth 80s theme music and the hour long variety shows have been cut down to 24 minutes. All that remains are edited comedy sketches. Most of these sketches are flat and unfunny. Some are re-workings of sketches Jerry performed with Dean Martin on the "Colgate Comedy Hour". The sketches usually feature Jerry either as "Sidney Portnoy" or the "Nutty Professor". The best sketches are those which feature Nanette Fabray as Jerry's co-star.
Almost all of the musical numbers have been removed. (For some reason, a short dance number for Joey Heatherton and the song "Step to the Rear" from the "classic" musical "How Now Dow Jones" and sung by Laurence Harvey !!! are left alone.) I guess Infinity either did not want to pay musical royalties or felt that the musical numbers were "gay" (corny, non-rock musical presentations that could only be of interest to the fruitiest, theater-loving homosexuals).
On their own, the comedy sketches are extremely weak. Maybe within the context of the variety show, they were acceptable. Jerry tries hard, and the guest stars are first rate, but nothing seems to work. One of the sketches, "Sidney Rents an Apartment" is available on Youtube in its entirety. Of course, Infinity, or the original syndicators, removed the musical number which makes this sketch charming.
Even for the staunchest Jerry fans, this show and this collection are a big let down.
Sergeant Dead Head (1965)
Beach Party without the beach
American-International decided to put Frankie Avalon in the Air Force for this latter day installment in the "Beach Party" series. There are quite a number of differences between this and the typical "Beach" movie. First of all, there is no beach what so ever. Secondly, Frankie Avalon plays opposite Deborah Walley instead of Annette Funicello. This had happened before in "Ski Party", but Annette makes a cameo appearance in that one. Here, she is nowhere to be found. Thirdly, the number of veteran character stars has increased. We get Cesar Romero, Eve Arden, Fred Clark, Reginald Gardiner, Pat Buttram, and, best of all, Gale Gordon in one of his few big screen roles. Buster Keaton is here, but he is given less to do than in previous AIP flicks. Harvey Lembeck is cast in his usual bumbling tough guy role, but he does not play Eric von Zipper. I wish he had! John Ashley is cast against type as a nerdy airman and he plays the role well. We get six new songs by Jerry Styner and Guy Hemric thrown into the slapstick mix. But there is a big difference in the songs. Except for Donna Loren's guest spot, these songs are written in traditional musical comedy style as opposed to California Beach Pop. Frankie Avalon had developed into a good comedian and he holds his own with the more seasoned comedy players in the film. His role(s) could have been played at the time by Jerry Lewis or Soupy Sales, but Avalon shows that he can be as funny as those master comics. Avalon shows that he can be effective as both a mousy guy and a confident braggart. Having veteran director Norman Taurog guiding the film adds to the sheen and he is able to keep everything looking good, despite the low budget. This may not be the best film in the series, but it is an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes.
Senior Prom (1958)
Entertaining B Columbia Musical co-produced by Moe
"Senior Prom" is a real movie musical comedy. It is nothing like the early Rock 'n Roll movies made by Columbia, as well as other studios, during this period. There is a Broadway quality score with music by Don Gohman and lyrics by Hal Hackady. Hackady was a good theatrical writer who never seemed to be able to hit it big on Broadway. His work compares well with other Broadway writers of this period. The film is filled with integrated musical numbers performed by Jill Corey, Jimmie Komack, and Barbara Bostock. The plot isn't much. Singer Paul Hampton, in his first real acting role, has recorded a song, but it hasn't received much of a push. For a subplot, Tom "Billy Jack" Laughlin is trying to get Louis Prima and Keely Smith to appear at his prom. Hampton is a bit stiff as an actor and weak as a singer. Jill Corey, as his romantic interest, sings well (as always), and is quite natural as an actress. It is a shame that she did not appear in any other film. Jimmie Komack, who was a hit as the Alfred E. Newman look-a-like in "Damn Yankees", has the major comedy role. He is quite good, even though he doesn't have the best material to work with. Komack later became a successful producer-director-writer, especially for television. Somewhere in the film there are incomplete cameo musical appearances by Bob Crosby, Toni Arden, Mitch Miller (playing the oboe), an older Connee Boswell, and Freddie Martin and his orchestra. Here we are cheated. I only wish these performers had been given full numbers. During the show sequence, Jill Corey sings a new pop song by Lee Pockriss and Peter Udell that should have been a hit, but they did better with "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikinis Sealed with a Kiss"!
The strangest aspect of the film is its time and music. It should be using early Rock 'n Roll, but luckily for us, we get a Broadway style score with big band style pop interpolations. The setting of the film seems more like 1948 than 1958. However, it is a pleasant way to spend 85 minutes.
Hurdy Gurdy (1929)
First Roach Sound Short
The first Hal Roach sound short, "Hurdy-Gurdy", has been restored by the Vitaphone Restoration Project. The soundtrack was originally on disc, but soon the short will be available on digital media. The film features a number of Roach stars, including Edgar Kennedy, Thelma Todd, and Max Davidson. Thelma is as lovely as ever, Kennedy is his expected blustery self, and it is a treat to see Max playing his Jewish character with sound. Thelma keeps getting ice delivered to her apartment multiple times during the day, and her neighbors, including Officer Kennedy and Max, think this is suspicious. That's the plot. Besides it's historical value, the film, written and directed by Leo McCarey, is quite humorous. It is filled with ethnic stereotypes; if you find this kind of humor offensive, it is best to stay away from this film. The Irish, Jewish, and Italian stereotypes are played to the hilt. The camera moves more than expected for a very early sound film. Thelma and Eddie Dunn sing a couple of songs to take advantage of the sound. For background music, Roach uses an organ playing some popular songs of the period. LeRoy Shield's infectious background music had not yet been written.
An Hour for Lunch (1939)
Very Funny Benchley Short
This is Robert Benchley at his best. In the film, he has an hour for lunch and a lot of errands to get done. At the beginning of the film, he lectures us as an expert on time management. Of course, the opposite is true. He is distracted by a huckster selling toys on the street and must stop to take his weight. His complete plan is thrown out of whack. When MGM got the Benchley shorts right, they are hilarious. This is one of those times. It's not just talking heads humor. There's a nice stretch of physical comedy in this film, too. Benchley is mostly forgotten these days, but these little shorts, frequently aired on Turner Classics, shows what a fine comedian he was.