50 Movie Comedy Classics, Disc 11

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.

The plot: A CPA (Granger), somewhat browbeaten by his mother-in-law, realizes almost too late that it’s his 2nd Anniversary. He goes to a store to buy his wife (a svelte and wonderfully funny Shelley Winters) a nightgown. Meanwhile, a dog (trained to go to a certain spot) has come into town as part of some odd scheme—and, somehow, breaks free and starts following the CPA, in the process demolishing enough of the store so that the CPA flees. And, when the dog keeps following him, pretends that the dog is his present for his wife.

Then an ad shows up about the lost dog, with precise physical description. The CPA wants to do the right thing… and that’s just the beginning of a wonderfully funny, fast-moving blend of caper and farce, with lots of mistaken identities, bad guys getting shot (sometimes with the CPA’s business card in hand), mother-in-law stuff, counterfeit money (that wasn’t supposed to be counterfeit), overeager cops…and one charming dog. It’s a 50′s movie: The married couple have twin beds. But never mind…

The cast is remarkable—William Demarest as a cop, Lon Chaney, Hans Conried, Elisha Cook Jr., Glenn Anders, Sheldon Leonard and Marvin Kaplan as gangsters and other criminals, Margalo Gillmore as the mother-in-law. They all do good jobs (Farley Granger, the CPA, is probably my least favorite character of the lot—he’s OK, but so many others are better). Good print, good sound. Thoroughly enjoyable. $2.00.

The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, 1947, b&w. Preston Sturges (dir. & screenplay), Harold Lloyd, Jimmy Conlin, Raymond Walburn, Rudy Vallee, Edgar Kennedy, Arline Judge, Franklin Pangborn, Lionel Stander, Margaret Hamilton. 1:29.

How’s this for a movie that doesn’t worry about suspension of disbelief: This one begins with almost nine minutes from a Harold Lloyd silent movie, The Freshman, where a waterboy on a college football team somehow becomes the team hero—and that begins with an overlay acknowledging that it’s from an old Lloyd silent. At the end of the game, with sound inserted, a businessman says “Look me up when you’re through here, I’ll have a job for you.”

Cut to the much older Lloyd showing up for that interview. The businessman—owner of an ad agency—doesn’t remember the sport or the incident (apparently he does this a lot) but has a starting position: as an accounting clerk, where Lloyd (that is, Harold Diddlebock) can work his way up. 20 years later, he’s done nothing but work on those books. At which point, the owner notes that he’s a failure and it’s time to cut him loose, with around $2,000. (Diddlebock takes the money in cash—he doesn’t trust anybody at this point—and, as he’s leaving, tells a young woman his sad tale (which she already knows). He’d fallen in love with every sister in that family as they came to work, but never did anything about it—except that he finally purchased a ring with which to propose, and he gives it to the youngest sister so she can keep it for when she meets the right person. Exit this hapless and unmotivated character…

Who we next see chatting with a shifty guy who wants to buy him a drink—and Diddlebock’s never had one. The shifty guy’s also spotted the wad but is impeccably honest. So, into the bar they go (at 11 a.m.), and the bartender makes up a special creation, the Diddlebock, with no apparent alcoholic taste and enough of a kick that Diddlebock’s yelling out, then wondering who made all that noise. Bookie shows up to collect from the shifty guy, Diddlebock decides to bet half his savings on a longshot, wins, bets again…and next we see there’s a brief montage of nightclubs and carousing.

When Diddlebock awakes two days later, he finds that he has no money—but does own a rundown circus with 37 hungry lions and no way to get rid of it. That sets up a lengthy set of scenes involving a well-trained lion, bankers and their reputation, and the kind of physical humor (and physical danger) we’d expect from Lloyd. And, to be sure, there’s an odd happy ending.

I had mixed feelings about this one. There’s some background noise on the soundtrack but that’s not the major issue. I’m not sure what it is—the movie’s amusing, as you’d expect from Sturges and the great cast, but maybe I expected more. Still, it’s not bad, and for fans of Lloyd it’s his last movie (and only movie after 1938). $1.25.

Beat the Devil, 1953, b&w. John Huston (dir.), Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Edward Underdown, Ivor Barnard. 1:29.

I saw this picture in another public domain collection five years ago (the “DoubleDouble” set of 44 movies sent to subscribers of a long-since-defunct DVD magazine). In that collection, this movie was with a group of “Famous Directors, Cult Classics” flicks. Here, it’s classed as a comedy. Maybe it’s just hard to classify. Back then, I thought the acting was better than the “dubious plot.” I still do.

The plot, such as it is: In Ravello, waiting for a slow boat to Africa, are an odd group of four men (all from different countries), plus a jaded adventurer and his gorgeous Italian wife—and a stiff-upper-lip Englishman and his sharp but perhaps over-imaginative American wife. The adventurer (Bogart) is involved with the odd quartet, apparently out to acquire uranium-bearing lands in British East Africa on the sly: The quartet is providing the funds and Bogart has the contacts. The other couple is off to claim a coffee plantation the Brit has inherited—but if you believe his wife, he’s actually out for uranium as well. Let’s see. Both wives get involved with each other’s husbands. One of the quartet is a murderous type (not Peter Lorre). There’s some romance and lots of double-crossing. There’s a moderately funny sequence involving a broken-down, runaway car and two briefly-presumed deaths. The ship isn’t all it might be—the captain even less so. And, well…while there’s a resolution, I didn’t find it all that coherent. (The sleeve says the movie’s 100 minutes and it actually ran 89 minutes, so I thought there might be ten minutes of coherent plot missing—but IMDB and Wikipedia both show 89 minutes.)

Still…John Huston directing (Truman Capote and Huston writing). Humphrey Bogart. Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley. Peter Lorre. Jennifer Jones, all playing it straight and making for an amusing film. How far wrong can you go? Decent print, I’ll give it $1.50.

Passport to Pimlico, 1949, b&w. Henry Cornelius (dir.), Stanley Holloway, Betty Warren, Barbara Murray, Paul Dupuis, John Slater, Jane Hylton, Hermione Baddeley, Margaret Rutherford. 1:24.

While in some ways distinctly a film of its time—post-war rationing in England, unexploded bombs and lots of shortages—this is also a great plot idea, fairly well carried out. In short: In Pimlico (a small area in London, not nearly so grand in this movie as it’s made to sound these days), there’s an unexploded bomb in an excavation (in an open area where a visionary would like to see a Lido, with swimming pool, but the mercenary neighborhood leaders just want to sell it off). Kids playing nearby manage to set off the bomb—and in the process of one person sliding into the excavation and being pulled out, he spots an antechamber opened by the bomb. He goes out with a ladder, climbs down and discovers a treasure trove.

As things develop, the treasure trove includes a document that says the neighborhood was ceded to the Duke of Burgundy, a deed that was never reversed. The residents (19 families) decide this means they’re Burgundians, so they can ignore British pub closing laws, rationing etc. The British government can’t actually fault the finding (aided by authentication by Prof. Hatton-Jones, a winning performance by Margaret Rutherford)—and things escalate from there. Let’s just say that Whitehall comes off neither wise (or in any way reasonable) nor liked by Londoners and the good guys win.

Quite charming, and occasionally a good laugh. I wondered about the “In Memoriam” at the start of the film, followed not by a name but by a wreath surrounding some odd documents—but by the end, I’d figured out that the documents were ration-related.

Very nice. Decent print. $1.75.

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