50 Movie Comedy Classics, Disc 3

Speak Easily, 1932, b&w. Edward Sedgwick (dir.), Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante, Ruth Selwyn, Thelma Todd, Hedda Hopper, Sidney Toler. 1:22.

Buster Keaton—but this time in a full-length sound movie (another Buster Keaton Production). He’s a professor, Professor Potts, living a sheltered life and without enough savings to broaden his horizons. He gets a letter saying he’s inherited a fortune and takes off (although the letter’s actually a phony from Potts’ assistant/colleague, designed to get him to take a vacation).

He encounters a truly awful theatrical group, led by Jimmy Durante, and falls for one of its players. With his fortune backing it, the group goes to Broadway. There’s a fair amount of Keaton’s physical comedy and fish-out-of-water character throughout, including Potts’ first encounter with alcohol—and it all winds up in a remarkable 15-minute theatrical sequence, physical comedy of the highest order as the Professor unintentionally converts the sad-sack show into a hit comedy.

All in all, an enjoyable movie, and the last scenes are both funny and well-played. The print and sound track are both fairly good (with a few flaws). $1.75.

Li’l Abner, 1940, b&w. Albert S. Rogell (dir.), Jeff York, Martha O’Driscoll, Mona Ray, Buster Keaton, Edgar Kennedy, Doodles Weaver. 1:18 [1:10].

Some IMDB reviewers felt that Speak Easily was an atrocity as a Buster Keaton movie. I disagree. I’m guessing they haven’t seen this—which, if viewed as a “Buster Keaton movie” (the sleeve lists him as the star), really is an atrocity. He plays Lonesome Polecat, a local Indian (I guess)…and about the best you can say is that he’s only in the movie for a few minutes, and at least he doesn’t have to deal with phony bugeyes, like Pansy ‘Mammy’ Yokum does, or false noses and other absurd prostheses like many other characters.

OK, it’s a comic strip movie. I get that. They do use makeup and whatever to make it look as much like the comic strip as possible—to the point of silliness. And, like some other comic strip movies, it’s…well, just not very funny, unless you’re enormously fond of Appalachian stereotypes. I’ll admit I was never a diehard Li”l Abner fan (actually, I don’t think any local paper ran the strip); maybe if I was, I’d love this flick. Maybe the missing eight minutes are wonderful. As it is…well, the print’s not too bad, so I’ll give it a reluctant $0.75.

It’s a Joke Son, 1947, b&w. Benjamin Stoloff (dir.), Kenny Delmar, Una Merkel, June Lockhart, Kenneth Farrell, Douglass Dumbrille. 1:03.

This movie features a self-caricature, Senator Beauregard Claghorn, a Southern gentleman who hates even the word North and who orates a fine bold streak—but who’s also totally under his wife’s thumb. It also involves a teetotaling Southern ladies’ club and the effects when Claghorn mixes up the grape punch—aided by a little boy who doesn’t really read and pours in several different bottles of “grape juice”—all of it highly alcoholic. The main plots are the relationship between his daughter (a lovely June Lockhart) and her beau, who Mrs. Claghorn doesn’t think is good enough for the daughter (but who he rather takes a liking to), money from his mint farm, and a race for the State Senate in which the incumbent is an old fool totally in the pocket of a gang and Mrs. Claghorn is put up for election by the ladies’ club.

Thing is, it’s funny. Claghorn thinks North Carolina should be Upper South Carolina; he still buys Confederate Victory Bonds. (He’s slender, well-spoken and fairly good looking; this isn’t playing on physical stereotypes. There are also no racial issues involved in the movie.) The title comes from Claghorn’s line whenever he says something, I say, says something he deems funny and gets the usual silent response. The acting suits the movie, the action is internally consistent, it moves right along. The 22-year-old June Lockhart is simply stunning and also good in her role (but then, isn’t she always?). (The Claghorn character as played by Kenny Delmar was a regular on the Fred Allen radio show. The Warner Bros. cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn was a takeoff on Claghorn.) The print and soundtrack are both fine. Since it’s just over an hour, I won’t give it more than $1.25.

Zis Boom Bah, 1941, b&w. William Nigh (dir.), Grace Hayes, Peter Lind Hayes, Mary Healy, Benny Rubin, Richard Gallagher, Roland Dupree, Huntz Hall. 1:01.

This one’s tough. On one hand, it’s a charming one-hour movie about college, family, song & dance, and kids redeeming themselves—and it has some characters playing themselves. The basic plot: A successful singer whose son (under another name and being raised by his grandfather) is attending college on her dime looks into how it’s going, finds the son is a spoiled young man and the college is in trouble, and cuts off his allowance. She buys the local student hangout (there’s some funny stuff here) and, through various means, winds up somehow saving the college and its football team and turning all the spoiled kids into polished entertainers.

So far so good. Decent print. Decent sound—with one big and, in this case, nearly fatal exception: Whenever there’s music, it’s distorted enough that it’s painful. In a movie that relies heavily on musical numbers, including most of the last quarter of the film, that’s a pretty serious flaw. With it, I can’t give this more than $0.75.

East Side Kids, 1940, b&w. Robert F. Hill (dir.), Leon Ames, Dennis Moore, Joyce Bryant, Hal Chester, Harris Berger, FrankieBurke, Dave O’Brien. 1:02 {1:00].

Now I remember one reason I put off buying this set: It has at least five movies with the East Side Kids, and I thought three such flicks in the Family Classics set was at least two too many. We shall see; it looks as though the name East Side Kids covered a lot of different casts.

In this case, there’s the bad-kid-turned-good-cop bit, with him opening up a club to keep the gang off the street—but his friend’s facing execution for something he didn’t do, and if that happens, some of the kids will be completely lost. Meanwhile, there’s another nogoodnik acquaintance involved with a counterfeiting ring. At one point, the copy himself is the suspect.

I guess it’s all vintage East Side Kids—but it’s before Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall and is better than the others I’ve seen. On the other hand, it wasn’t particularly funny. Judged as a comedy, I’m not sure it would get any score at all. Judged as a one-hour flick on its own merits—well, the print’s OK. Being very generous and assuming some folks just love the East Side Kids, $0.75.

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