3 December 2020 | SimonJack
On the road in this wacky, far-out minor studio comedy
Watching this very wacky movie, two other films came to mind. "Love on a Bet" of 1936 was an RKO film that starred Gene Raymond, Wendy Barrie and Helen Broderick. And, "Hollywood or Bust" was a 1956 Hal Wallis and Paramount film that starred Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Pat Crowley. What these three films have most in common is that they are "road" comedies. Not road shows, but very wacky, far-out and hilarious movies that take place with the characters on the road. And all three take place on the more than 3,000-mile drive from New York to California.
"Hitch Hike Lady" is a Republic studio movvie and is an example of a top notch film coming out of a minor studio during Hollywood's golden years. Of these three "on-the-road" films, it gets the nod as the wackiest. Another reviewer has likened the story somewhat to Columbia's 1933 movie, "Lady for a Day." It does have the similar element of pretending a mother's child is working at being a success. But that film is spent developing the ruse, where this film isn't occupied with that. It has a fast, furious and funny surprise ending of sorts, but the great comedy here is in the characters who meet, the hijinks that take place, and the far-out escpades of the main characters.
Five actors are the main characters in this film, and all give very good performances. Alison Skipworth is the British mother, Mrs. Amelia Blake, who inherits just enough money to be able to travel to the U.S. to pay a surprise visit on her son. She hasn't seen Alfred in eight years, but he has been writing her and telling of his struggles to make his orange ranch in California a success. Through a highway scam operator and some coincidences, Mrs. Blake meets up with four other people. When she tells them about her son's place, Rancho San Quentin, none of them has the heart to tell her why her son probably hasn't had the money or sent for her before this.
The ending will be a fast and furious, and very far-out but funny conclusion. But before that, lots of incidents, skirmishes, and adventures take place. Most challenge one's imagination but surely tickle the funny bone. Some very crazy antics occur after Mrs. Blake and the rest of the traveling quintet come together.
Mae Clarke plays Judith Martin, a young woman also on the way to California. James Ellison is Jimmy Peyton, a house trailer salesman who lives out of his demo model as he travels the country. Two shysters make themselves at home in Jimmy's trailer and clean out his refrigerator before they are discovered. While Jimmy tells them to hit the road, the good-hearted Mrs. Blake keeps bringing them along. Arthur Treacher is very funny as the sophisticated scam artist, Mortimer Wingate. Warren Hymer plays his sidekick, the street-wise but otherwise cluck of a small-time crook, Cluck Regan.
Republic had a winner with this story and did a good job with the film. The comedy is mostly antics and far-out situations. With a reworked screenplay to add clever and humorous dialog, "Hitch Hike Lady" could be a top comedy. It's very good as is, and most people should enjoy this film well into the future.
I remember Republic pictures mostly for the Saturday afternoon Westerns I saw as a boy growing up in mid-America in the 1940s. A brother and I got a dime each which would gain us admission and a small back of popcorn. Not all were Republic pictures, but we saw many Western matinees - Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash La Rue, The Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and others.
Here's one of the few witty dialog exchanges in this film.
Mrs. Amelia Blake, "My son has an orange ranch in California. I wonder if you've heard of it." Mortimer Wingate, "Really? What does your son call his estate?" Mrs. Blake, "Rancho San Quentin. I see you have heard of it." Cluck Regan, "Heard of it? Why lady..." Wingate, "Of course we've heard of it. It's one of the most arresting places in America. Not only is the fruit of California golden, Cluck my knave, but so is silence." Mrs. Blake, "Uh, let him tell me about it." Wingate, "No, no. He's not very poetic. I don't think he'd do it justice." Regan, "Aw, you see, when it comes to talkin', I'm almost a dummy." Wingate, "Yeah."