Comedy Kings 50 Movie Pack, 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.

To be honest, 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, 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.

This one was also part of the Family Classics set, and I’m not enough of a Charlie Chaplin fan to watch it again. Here’s what I had to say then, adjusted only for my different price limits in 2010—and I know it’s short, but I’m not sure there’s a lot more to say about Chaplin’s silent Little Tramp movies:

One of the classic “Little Tramp” movies, in a good-quality print. If you like Chaplin in his silent roles, this is a must-see. $1.75.

An interjection just for this post: I read the IMDB reviews for The Inspector General–including some very negative ones. I would say something about the difficulty of watching comedies with a stick stuck that far up your posterior, but others might say the same thing about my attitude toward the East Side Kids, so let’s just say that tastes differ. And if you think Danny Kaye is a talentless buffoon or that it’s a bad thing that he’s strong on physical comedy and facial expressions–well, then you probably won’t enjoy the movie.

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