15 October 2014 | bbrebozo
Like Jerry Lewis, But Without the Subtlety
Apparently, America went through Joe Penner Mania for a year or two in the late 1930's, with people imitating his catch phrase and distinctive laugh all over the place. I'd read about this phenomenon, but had never actually seen or heard Penner until I saw a surprisingly intriguing movie called New Faces of 1937, in which Penner played a supporting role. He seemed pleasant and entertaining enough, so I decided to watch him as the featured player in this film.
It's easy to understand how his star quickly faded.
I would describe Penner's comedy style as Jerry Lewis without the subtlety. (Yes, I actually wrote those words.) Jerry Lewis, in his early films, specialized in the lovable loser who makes you cheer when he gets the girl. In this film, Penner plays an un-lovable loser who makes you wrinkle your forehead in puzzlement when he gets the girl. His character is selfish and egotistical when things are going his way, then petulant and withdrawn when they aren't. His loud, grating, anything-for-a-laugh comedy style grows old when he's carrying the movie by himself and is in almost literally every scene.
It doesn't help that this wasn't a very good film. I'm sure the producers thought, "We have the great Joe Penner! We don't need a good script or anything resembling a believable plot." I like to keep track of movie quotes for IMDb, but there was not a single memorable quote in this movie. Try it yourself, if you dare: Watch the entire movie and see if there is a single line, or set of lines, worth memorializing on this web site.
So now I get it. In 1937, Americans thought, "This guy seems pretty funny, in short bursts on the radio." But by 1938, they probably thought, "Whoa! Too much." And thus ended Pennermania. And unlike Elvis, Penner's premature death at a young age, a few years later, did nothing to boost his career.
If this movie is on television, and you are sick in bed, and your internet is down, and no one else is home, and you have nothing else to do -- try reading a book.