Review

  • GENIUS AT WORK (RKO Radio, 1946) directed by Leslie Goodwins, marked the final screen teaming of Wally Brown and Alan Carney. Having worked together in a series of minor comedies since 1943, usually assuming the same character names of Mike Strager and Jerry Miles, Brown and Carney became the studio's replacement to its 1930s team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, but more to the level of RKO's answer to Universal's ever popular twosome of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Virtually forgotten both by name and film titles, GENIUS AT WORK is solid 62 minute mystery/comedy set in a radio station. Though this edition contains many similarities to Abbott and Costello's similar theme of WHO DONE IT (1942), it is actually an updated remake to RKO's very own edition of SUPER SLEUTH (1937) featuring Jack Oakie. As much as the routines for GENIUS AT WORK are a grand mix from good to forced comedy, it benefits greatly by the fine support of horror movie greats of Lionel Atwill and Bela Lugosi in the cast.

    The story begins with business tycoon, John J. Saunders (Forbes Murray) being abducted by a shadowy figure. Next comes the introduction of Mike Strager (Wally Brown) and Jerry Miles (Alan Carney) as a couple of half-wits working for a radio station where they play master mind detectives in the popular "Crime of the Week" series. Their latest caper involves a killer known as The Cobra, whose series of murders have been baffling the police. Lammer Marsh (Lionel Atwill), a criminologist to the series, supplies information to Ellen Brent (Anne Jeffreys), the script girl. The radio program results to climax of its victims before it actually happens. With Saunders found murdered, police inspectors, Lieutenant Rick Campbell (Marc Cramer) and his assistant, Warren Gilly (Ralph Dunn) arrive to investigate as to where Ellen has been getting her information. Upon visiting the Marsh estate that includes his butler, Stone (Bela Lugosi), Jerry, Mike and Ellen encounter Marsh's hobby room consisting of wax-like figures and torture devises. With Marsh suspecting Ellen may be closing in on his identity being The Cobra, he intends on making her the prime suspect as well as putting her two assistants out of the way permanently.

    Though GENIUS AT WORK is categorized by some to be the weakest of the Brown and Carney comedies, somehow I recall this being overplayed on New York CIty's own WOR, Channel 9, through much of the 1970s, especially in 1974 with four to five broadcasts alone. Anne Jeffreys and Marc Cramer make favorable secondary couple between comedy highlights including Bela Lugosi scaring Miles through sinister voicing through the intercom; Lionel Atwill disguised as a wheelchair bound old woman; and chase through the radio station leading to window ledge and rooftop reminiscent to Abbott and Costello's funnier WHO DONE IT. With Wally Brown's description of his partner (Carney) being so dumb, "He couldn't find a loaf of bread in a bakery," there are many moments where he proves his theory correct with another quip, "If he had another brain, he'd have one," Interestingly, Brown and Carney, assuming the same character names of Strager and Miles in the horror spoof, ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY (1945), had Bela Lugosi and Anne Jeffries in support, each bearing different character names.

    For those who prefer non-stop comedy, GENIUS AT WORK is it. For anyone feeling GENIUS AT WORK should have been the tower of comic strength, maybe a genius at work might remedied that. Overall, this is as good as it gets. Formerly shown on American Movie Classics prior to 2001, GENIUS AT WORK, available on DVD, can be seen on Turner Classic Movies cable channel more for seeing Atwill and Lugosi in comedy than as a rediscovery to the forgotten comedy team of Brown and Carney. (**1/2)