4 October 2008 | robert-temple-1
Red Skelton was one of the most famous and best-loved comedians in America from the 1940s to 1971. Everybody was always talking about him and looking forward to his TV show every week. He was a national icon. He played a lovable simple fool, in the tradition of Harry Langdon and Stan Laurel. His remarkable comic abilities were never properly captured in his films because there were never enough closeups for us to see the details of his comedic effects. For instance, in this film there is one wonderful scene where he thrusts his lower jaw out more than one could think possible and impersonates someone who wanted to help his friend by 'being a spare ashtray'. The trouble is, we get to see this only in badly lit long shots! This film was the fourth time Skelton was directed by S. Sylan Simon, who made one more film and died tragically at the age of only 41. But Simon never did justice to Skelton's special qualities, and Skelton's producers also saw him as just a useful clown. In fact, with proper handling and loving attention by an inspired director, Skelton could have achieved high art, of which he was well capable, since he was a a truly great clown. In this film, his girl friend who is a perfect foil was the lively Janet Blair, just as American as apple pie and absolutely right for 1948. The script has some great gags in it. At one point, where Skelton is being used as 'allure practice' by a siren, she says to him: 'I usually have men eating out of my hand.' Skelton replies with childlike innocence: 'I've already had my lunch.' Maybe nobody remembers any more about Fuller brush salesmen, but they used to be everywhere. There were more of them than neighbourhood cats and dogs. Yes, they really existed, and 'get in the door' was their motto, just as in this film. The Fuller Brush Company really existed too, and maybe the producer got a big product placement bonus in his pocket, or his studio did. This film was so successful, it was followed by 'The Fuller Brush Woman', starring the wacky Lucille Ball. Certainly Fuller brushes were familiar to every American, in the way that Tupperware was. This film has a spectacular closing chase sequence with some truly amazing sight gags, a few of which rival Buster Keaton's, but they are filmed so badly that much of their impact is lost. Whoever designed them was brilliant. It is a very long and very astonishing sequence which anyone interested in such things really needs to see. I found myself wishing it could all be recreated and shot properly. What was lacking from Skelton's films was the care and imagination to match his innate genius. But if you like Skelton and want to see him in top form, watch this one. The fact that it could have been so much better is something you just have to put up with. It may be corny, but it is never dull.