8 February 2010 | wmorrow59
Her boyfriend's back, and there's gonna be trouble. (For him, that is.)
This breezy musical short serves as a showcase for the adorable young Lillian Roth, a gifted performer better remembered for her battle with alcohol than for her talent. Today we're accustomed to hearing celebrities discuss their struggles with substance abuse, but when Roth published her memoir "I'll Cry Tomorrow" in 1954 it was highly unusual and decidedly risky for an entertainer to go public as a problem drinker. (Admittedly, by that point Roth's show business career was all but over and she had little to lose.) The book became a best-seller, and the subsequent film version starring Susan Hayward as Lillian was a hit as well, forever establishing Roth as a troubled but brave woman haunted by personal demons.
All of that was many years later and, seemingly, a million miles away when Lillian made this sweet, simple novelty short. When Meet the Boyfriend went before the cameras she was around 20 years old, cute as a bug and full of life. The setting is a park by a lake (though obviously shot in a studio) where a group of young undergrads relax, sing, and josh each other. To kick things off a male quartet harmonizes on "I've Got 'It' But It Don't Do Me No Good." They accompany themselves on ocarinas and a penny-whistle, and while we listen we're treated to a running gag: a sporty young guy repeatedly tries and fails to start his jalopy. Soon Lillian's friends decide to head for the lake, but she lingers behind, preferring to wait for her big, handsome boyfriend Jimmy (as she lovingly describes him). While she waits Lillian sings a bluesy ballad, "Sort of Lonesome," a soulful tune that sets a mellow mood.
--until Jimmy arrives, that is. He turns out to be a comically nerdy boy with thick glasses, bow-tie, and a receding hairline. Lillian is delighted with him anyway, and proves it by launching into an exuberant rendition of "Me and the Boyfriend (Jimmy and Me)." This one is a real show-stopper, punctuated by Roth's excited mauling of the poor guy: she grabs his face, slaps him, whacks him, and eventually leaves him flattened on the ground at her feet. The number is hilarious, but I have to wonder if the unidentified actor playing Jimmy actually got a little damaged! Roth performed a routine similar to this in The Love Parade, a great musical feature of 1929, where in the course of a duet she gives comedian Lupino Lane a good pasting. It seems to have been a Roth trademark to get rough with the guys, but she brings a good-natured cheeriness to these sequences that still comes across. This is a fun short that puts the spotlight on a talented lady who deserves to be remembered for more than her troubled personal life.