2 June 2005 | max von meyerling
You're watching this on the TV, right?
If you've ever wondered where the sit com comes from look no further. This little programmer, which clocks in at almost exactly an hour, is nothing more than a series of set gags (or situations) which the lead players have to play out. The main characters exist as the narrative thread to hold together the otherwise unrelated gags. This is virtually a pilot for early fifties sit coms lacking only a laugh track and commercial breaks. It reminds me of Sam Goldwyn's premonition about television: Why should people go out and pay to see bad movies when they can stay home and watch them for free.
Jack Haley is the lead here and Anne Jeffreys, before her fondly remembered sit com fame in TOPPER, is the wife who phones in her straight role. (Actually if you watch those Toppers today you discover that she has zero acting ability and is barely able to pull a face as the director clears the deck to line up one of her high school level reaction shots. Really public access grade comedy acting.) The script so convolutely turns in on itself that long time partners Alan Carney and Wally Brown never appear in a scene together. There is a doubling and even tripling of that old Checkov quote about the pistol seen on the mantelpiece in act one having to be fired in act three. Since the whole plot is: set up - gag, set up - gag, it should come as no surprise that the ending has somehow, in an almost astronomically surrealist sort of way, set up in the first scene. It's not done consciously or artistically, as when Laurel and Hardy carrying a piano meet an ape while crossing a tight rope across some mountains or just about anything done by Fields, but because of a certain smooth professional incompetency. It leads to pretty much the same place, however.
Once upon a time, one or another of the short subject manufacturers would turn out short comedies driven by one personality like Leon Errol (or Edgar Kennedy) and this film is just an afterthought wedged in between that era and television. (I have subsequently learned that the film's chief writer, one Charles E. Roberts, was the writer of the Leon Errol and Edgar Kennedy shorts and many others too. Apparently, this was "his thing".) I mean, Carney and Brown could have been paired up, but it is possible they were in an earlier version of the script, as a more comical threat, but a different direction called for a different script and their pairing would have produced less menace in their roles and so their roles were switched around for a straighter menace for the leads to play off of. As long as they were already under contract. Just switch. Maybe. But its all that arbitrary.
The rating of this film when I saw it was a five which is about right. It aims low and hits its mark and there is some nostalgia value and its no more a waste of time than most TV today anyway. And its free.