50 Movie Comedy Kings, 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 this Colonel’s young cousin (who really 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 the 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 reasonably 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 really 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.

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