A captivating start and a wow of a finish book-end a mixed bag of reasonably amusing, rather middling and even tedious vaudeville turns from The Crazy Gang. Those who follow this particularly comedy team will be aware that the Gang has six members, made up of three partners: Flanagan and Allen, Nervo and Knox, Naughton and Gold.
I love Flanagan and Allen. They can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned and I'm glad they take the lead in singing the delightful first number in this revue, "Free", with its fascinating echoes of Bud's own "Underneath the Arches." Contrast: "Free! No-one could be luckier than we. Nature never had a lock or key. Isn't that the way it ought to be?" with "Pavement is my pillow, no matter where I stray: Underneath the arches, I dream my dreams away."
The most effective comedy teams, in my opinion, are those in which the partners are not only definitively distinct, clearly contrasted characters but those in which both the comic and the straight man are extremely likable. With these attributes in mind, Flanagan and Allen emerge as by far the most successful team ever. What I particularly like about them is that Allen, the genteel straight man, never tries to bully his East End partner or get the better of him or play snide tricks. The two are firm friends, true companions not warring adversaries. Usually, they exude comradeship in adversity, mingled with a yearning hope of better times ahead: "We're always on the outside; on the outside, always looking in. We never know how fortunes are made, but we'll keep on trying till we win."
Nervo and Knox are lesser comedians, though I always enjoy Nervo's girl-chasing Cecil. But as for Naughton and Gold, they come across to me as lesser still. I find most of their humor rather wearisome.
Unfortunately, there are few scenes like the brilliant outfitting store episode in which all six of the Gang interact with each other at the same time. Thus we are presented with a whole series of twosome sketches, most of which lengthily out-stay their brief welcome. It's notable that the rousing, three-cheers finale is provided not by any of the comedians but by their real-life friend, Peter Dawson. (Despite his celebrity status as a recording artist and concert singer, Dawson spent most of his career in vaudeville).
The mildly amusing string which loosely ties everything together is provided by Fred Duprez's impersonation of an impecunious movie producer. True, he does have a few lively introductory scenes, but his thunder is quickly usurped by Enid Stamp-Taylor, of all people, who spends most of the film losing her skirt, of all things! Production values leave nothing to be desired, but I do wish the film editor had taken his scissors to Knox, Naughton and Gold.
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