Friday, July 14, 2017

Leon Errol Series: ONE WILD NIGHT (1951)




ONE WILD NIGHT (1951 RKO Pictures Short) Starring Leon Errol as Leon, Dorothy Granger as Mrs. Dorothy Errol, Jack Kirkwood as Jack, Perry Sheehan as Peggy, Karen Randle as Gloria, Judith Allen as Harriet.  Written and Directed by Hal Yates.

The introduction to our Leon Errol Salute series is at this link.

Mrs. Errol wakes up after midnight on Friday morning to find that Leon hasn't come home yet.  Her husband finally staggers home after 3 AM, wearing two stockings, spilling poker chips and slurring his words.  Confronting her husband about this weekly ritual hasn't done any good in the past oh, ninety two reelers, so Dorothy tries another tack: she decides to dress up and go out on her own the following week.  Come next Thursday, Leon can go his way, and she'll go hers.


A week passes, and Leon suddenly isn't so thrilled with this 'agreement' once he hears that the Mrs. isn't committed to limiting herself to female company for the evening.  He even offers to pass up his night at the club and take Mrs. Errol out!  To no avail---Mrs. Errol leaves, upsetting Leon so much that he decides to stay home, passing up the Insulation Officers' Stag Party!  Best friend Jack 'isn't fooled' by Leon's insistence that he "isn't up to" going out, and brings the party to Leon--with Judith and Karen coming along to the Errol home to cheer the boys up.  It works, as Leon gets into the spirit of things.  And of course, the foursome is still partying strong when Mrs. Errol returns.


One has to marvel at Hal Yates' ability to mine so many variations on the theme of Leon's carousing.  One Wild Night allows the forever foiling Dorothy Granger the opportunity to be enticing for once, as the dresses to the nines for her evening out.  She milks the opportunity to make the Mr. jealous, seductively showing him her ankle bracelet (and the shapely calf above it) before brushing him off for their "no questions asked" evening.  Of course, it's all a bluff--Dorothy Errol spends the evening playing cards with her friend Harriet--but its a welcome change to see the tables turned on Leon for once.  Too upset to go to the men's club?  Now that's what I call a twist.


While that new wrinkle adds a bit of intrigue, the best laugh comes from the most familiar source: inebriated Leon Errol.  Opening the proceedings, he stumbles home in the wee wee hours, first staggering out of Jack's car, then wobbling up the steps to the building.  From there Leon loses direction in the hallway twice, occasionally holds on to the wall for dear life and finally rips his pants before slurring spoonerisms under Mrs. Errol's questioning.   For my money, Leon Errol had the finest drunk act in the history of show business, and it's quite a marvel to behold after being honed for nearly a half century by 1951.  Never gets old, trust me.


At Harriet's urging, Dorothy tries her hand at acting tipsy upon her return to the apartment, but finally drops the ball near the goal line once she smells liquor on Leon's breath.  After seventeen minutes of taking the high road, and even feeling guilty about leaving her poor worried husband behind, the Mrs. loses her temper with the Mister anyway.  When Leon overplays his hand, Jack's ill-timed return to the apartment reveals what the evening was really like.  See, Leon?  Stay home on Thursday night like a good boy, and you still end up with an angry wife smashing a bottle smashed over your head.  Might as well gamble, drink, dance and ogle to your heart's content at the stag parties--or at least, quit while your ahead when the wife is offering to let you go out every Thursday with no questions asked.

Jack Kirkwood, Leon's wingman 
A longtime fixture on radio, Jack Kirkwood made a belated start in feature films at age 53 in 1947.  The Irish comedian was most familiar to filmland as Wally Brown's wingman in a series of RKO shorts that started up in 1949 (the year after Edgar Kennedy's death ended that long running series) but two-reelers were on the way out at the troubled studio and the series lasted only two years.  Errol's death was pretty much the end of the department.


The opportunity to see a second unsung comedy great is an added attraction, and Kirkwood does a fine job as the devil on Leon's shoulder here: driving Errol to and fro' every week, bringing two very attractive young ladies over, going to the liquor store to add bourbon to beautiful Peggy's concoction.  And just when it looks like Leon is in the clear, Jack blows his cover and sets off Dorothy Errol's long-awaited explosion.  Talk about a pied piper....  Kirkwood and Errol also worked together in Humphrey Takes a Chance (1950), Errol's final entry in the JOE PALOOKA series.

Perry Sheehan

Beautiful blonde Perry Sheehan was most notable for her striking resemblence to Betty Grable.  After three years as a Powers model, One Wild Night was Sheehan's Hollywood debut, and she had the showcase role here, leading Leon off the straight and narrow.  It's a lively debut: she dances a spirited jitterbug with our star and comes up with spirit concoctions that have to be overproof.


Sheehan worked only sporadically after her 1956 marriage to Dunes casino owner J. Carlton Adair, and passed away in March 2017 at age 95.  As Jack's "date", Karen Randle had to play second fiddle to the much publicized newcomer, though she does get to harmonize (badly) with Kirkwood while providing the backing music for the rug cutting stars.   The stunning native of Lone Wolf, Oklahoma had her most notable role in HURRICANE ISLAND the same year, but her career was nevertheless winding down.  Randle's final film was only a year away. 

Karen Randle, Granger and Errol
Pretty Judith Allen was also near the end of her career.  A De Mille discovery who had her greatest success in the 1930's, Allen had her last credited film appearance in One Wild Night as Granger's confidant.   Some very familiar but solidly executed laughs in the first half, with Errol's conscience once again fading away in the presence of a pretty blonde and Dorothy Granger getting to break out of wet blanket territory.  While Jack Kirkwood isn't utilized quite as well as he could be, One Wild Night is still an agreeable entry in a reliably amusing series.  (*** out of four)

Monday, July 03, 2017

Television Review: CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Turn of the Century Fox" (1985)




CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Turn of the Century Fox" (CBS-TV/Sony 1985) Original Air Date: January 6, 1985.  Starring Jack Warden as Harry Fox, John Rubenstein as Harrison Fox, Penny Peyser as Gail Fox, Robby Kiger as Josh Fox.  Guest Stars: Rue McClanahan as Angie Chambers, Charles Aidman as Randolph Lehrman, DeAnna Robbins as Miss Watley, Kenneth Tigar as Dr. Benoli.  Written by Thomas A. Chehak.  Directed by Paul Krasny. 

Introduction to the 1984-86 CBS series CRAZY LIKE A FOX is at this link.


Co-created by two sitcom vets (John Basham, Roger Shulman) and two action specialists (Frank Cardea and George Schenck), CRAZY LIKE A FOX was conceived as a blend of the two when it appeared that the traditional sitcom was slowly fading away (that is, until Bill Cosby proved that theory false just months before FOX finally hit the air in midseason).  


The show's second installment Turn of the Century Fox showed this concept hitting its stride quickly.  Detective Harry Fox is invited to the reading of old friend Tony Chambers' will, of which son Harrison is the executor.  After seeing real estate, automobiles and Giants season tickets bequeathed elsewhere, Harry is disappointed to find that he's inherited a sealed cigar box.  However, Harry's dismay turns to intrigue when wealthy Randolph Lehrman offers him $1600 for the box--with the stipulation that the contents (which Chambers said revealed "the secret to my success") must remain sealed



Two years before SLEDGE HAMMER! and four before Frank Drebin acquired the trait for the NAKED GUN films, Harry Fox shows right away he's a contender for Worst Driving Detective ever. Fox's ever battered 1975 Coupe de Ville sputters to the Chambers home, almost losing a mirror on the driver's side before the opening credits are over.  Later, a ramming contest with a pursuer ends up with a few more dings in both vehicles and one destroyed Speedy Mat...too bad, the film processor offered one hour nitrate-to-VHS service.


And poor put-upon Harrison ends up with crashing a restaurant's patio dining, getting food spilled on him (likely ruining two nice suits) and, of course, having Harry bum a ride to the Chambers estate.  Rubenstein immediately makes a wonderful straight man for Warden, and surmises why Harry Fox retains such lovability no matter how many times he destroys a vehicle or puts a cigar out on a stucco wall: when Harry ponders why Mr. Chambers gifted him with a secret that he even kept from the Mrs., Harrison knows.  "Because he trusted you to do the right thing."  Even if it meant passing up ever-increasing offers before solving the mystery.


Like lead-in MURDER, SHE WROTE, CRAZY LIKE A FOX always provided guest casts stocked with familiar faces.  The biggest name in Turn of the Century Fox is Rue McClanahan, months away from starting her signature role as Blanche on THE GOLDEN GIRLS.  As the widow of a similarly disheveled detective who was one of Harry's closest friends, she's no stranger to the senior Fox's free spirited ways or the exasperation that is often part of the bargain.  She thankfully takes the wheel from Harry during the third and final chase sequence, proving that Chambers was apparently quite an effective trailer--with her help.


The rest of Mr. Fox's inheritance?  A lone cigar in the box, and some obviously creased baseball cards of the 1942 Washington Senators (62-89, 7th place in the A.L.), likely not too valuable unless one of them was Early Wynn's.  (Grandson Josh informs us that Harry's own collection from the 1930's includes a DiMaggio.)  The comedy always outshined the mystery on this series, which isn't an indictment of the not-bad plotting.  While Turn of the Century Fox offers fewer of the oddballs who always seemed to owe Harry a much-needed favor, there's plenty of laughs to be had in Fox's Clouseau-like ability to create chaos effortlessly and Jack Warden's flawlessly timed one-liners. (*** out of four)



CRAZY LIKE A FOX airs Monday through Thursday at 9 AM Central time on getTV.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Bob and the Ravishing Realtor" (1958)



LOVE THAT BOB (a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW): "Bob and the Ravishing Realtor" (Original Air Date: October 14, 1958) Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret Collins MacDonald, Elena Verdugo as Janice Tuttle, King Donovan as Harvey Helm, Kevin Burke as Mr. Drucker and Mimi Walters as Maime Drucker.  Written by Paul Henning and Dick Wesson.  Directed by Bob Cummings.


This installment of the LOVE THAT BOB episode guide is presented in tribute to the late Elena Verdugo.  The pioneering actress passed away on May 30 at age 92.

Series overview of LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW at this link. 


With nephew Chuck away at college and Bob out of the house every night, Margaret MacDonald is ready to consider an offer on the house and downsize.  While Margaret's playboy brother spends a lot of his evenings inside apartments, he has no desire to make one his permanent residence--"thin walls, neighbors complaining when you dance at night".  The Collins house will bring four times what it cost?  "So will the home they sell us!"  Bob has an answer for everything, but changes his tune once he sees this realtor's figure:



You guessed it: the shutterbug lothario isn't interested in actually selling the house, just agent Janice Tuttle--on himself.   Planning to use champagne to seal his deal, Bob runs afoul of his own scheme--and wakes up the next morning to a hangover and an "open house", learning he's signed exclusive rights to market the Collins residence over to the enterprising Ms. Tuttle!


Bob Collins had himself quite a unique situation for a playboy: he had all of the comforts of marriage (a two story house, cooked meal waiting for him every night) without being tied down.  The prospect of losing the ability to have his cake and eat it too had to be a factor in his opposition to Margaret's proposed downsizing.  Probably the factor, since he brought that (and not financial concerns) up first--for Bob, maintaining his current address is crucial to keeping his footloose and fancy-free status quo.


As usual, some time with henpecked Harvey Helm gives a guy plenty of sympathy for Bob's position.  At the outset, Bob's former Air Force co-pilot is planning to use his bowling ball--Bob's gift at his wedding twelve years prior--for the first time.  Harv admits "a married man like me doesn't get out too often" but thinks his athletic skills might have improved in the interim--after all, "housework can toughen a man up".  A beta male?  No doubt--Harv even ruins his brand new suede jacket to pose as an exterminator in Bobby's house-saving scheme.


Bob and the Ravishing Realtor has the usual surfeit of witty double entendres, but this fifth season entry shows signs of tiring minds at the typewriters, noticeably succumbing to silliness in its plotting.  As dulled as his edge might be after a dozen years out of "circulation", even Helm surmises that Bob's scheme to spike the root beer with champagne will be easily detected.  In addition to being lame, the plan seems unbecoming of a suave, sophisticated man about town (similar to the lack of finesse our hero displayed in The Wolf Sitter).   Bob is much funnier and more effective when he's misleading while technically being honest.  An additional reason this particular idea is half-baked is the unforeseen side effect of costing Bob his air of refinement with multiple hiccups in front of the lady (hey, belches weren't allowed on prime time yet!).


Even harder to swallow is the idea that Collins can convince the buyers that the home is riddled with termites with some sawdust and an electric razor.  All in all, not a shining moment for the team of Henning and Wesson, and with its sketchily written leading lady, a prime instance of LOVE THAT BOB really missing the contribution of Shirl Gordon during the 1958-59 season.  The show's lone female writer, Gordon left after the fourth season finale (Bob's Forgotten Fiancee).  Henning and Wesson ended up writing the subsequent year of shows (38 in all!) with virtually no outside help. 


The saving grace of Bob and the Ravishing Realtor is special guest star Elena Verdugo, well known to TV audiences after starring in MEET MILLIE for four seasons.  While she is most familiar to modern audiences for her supporting role in MARCUS WELBY, M.D. (due to the sad unavailability of her earlier hit series), Verdugo was a leading lady in numerous "B" movies before gaining her greatest visibility on the small screen--her other series included REDIGO and MANY HAPPY RETURNS.


"You can look the world over and you won't find a man like this!"

Taken at face value, Bob's description of Verdugo's titular character is apt, but praise that is way too faint.  The PANAMA SAL star was still at the height of her appeal, with some rather priceless reactions to our photo-snapping protagonist as he attempts to make their dealings a "howling" success.  She references his pointed ears, rebuffs him consistently, is wise to him from the get-go, and consistently about three steps ahead of the indomitable wolf.  And yet, she chooses to go out with him anyway.  That might be the biggest stretch in an episode chock full of them.  At least Cummings and Verdugo are very funny together: she returned later in the season for Bob Helps Von Zell, which (you guessed it) also had a special guest star, with producer George Burns' long-time announcer playing himself.



WHO WAS BLOCKING?

Schultzy was missing from this office-free outing, but sister Margaret attempts to pick up the slack.  Twice she warns the realtor of her brother's wolf status, and also blows the cover on his last-dtich attempt to regain the homestead.  But it's all to no avail.....


DID BOB SCORE?

....as Janice Tuttle decides to go up to Mulholland Drive with him after all, under the guise of "scouting" for a house for her new customer, Bob.   If she likes you after all the preceding chicanery that she was wise to, well---I'd say you have a shot here, Bobby!




The series starts looking at bit long in the tooth at times during the fifth season, and this is one of those times.  The champagne and termites are hard enough to swallow, but Janice Tuttle going up to Mulholland with a man who tried to get her under the influence the first time she was alone with him?  Gotta think Shirl Gordon could have helped this one--Bob was usually a lot more charming in his deviousness than he is here.  Funny in spots, but generally below par despite Verdugo's efforts.    (** out of four)

Friday, June 02, 2017

F TROOP Fridays: "The Return of Bald Eagle" (1965)











F TROOP Fridays: Episode 15







F TROOP: "The Return of Bald Eagle" (1965 ABC-TV/Warner Brothers) Season One, Episode 5: Original Air Date October 12, 1965.  Starring Forrest Tucker as Sergeant Morgan O'Rourke, Larry Storch as Corporal Randolph Agarn, Ken Berry as Captain Wilton Parmenter, Melody Patterson as Wrangler Jane, Frank deKova as Chief Wild Eagle, Bob Steele as Duffy, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs.  Guest Star: Don Rickles as Bald Eagle.  Directed by Leslie Goodwins.  Written by Arthur Julian.

Yes, I'm a few weeks behind the times in saluting the late Don Rickles, who left us on April 6 at age 90.  Rest in peace, ya hockey puck!

Private Hannibal Shirley Dobbs is having a crisis of confidence at Fort Courage, with his "fat upper lip" giving him the idea that the bugle isn't right for him.  With encouragement from Agarn and the Captain, F Troop retains its Bugler, who soldiers on with renewed confidence that he'll learn a second song to go with "Yankee Doodle".  Calamity avoided--but it isn't the only one facing Parmenter this morning: Bald Eagle has been spotted in the area.


No, not the national bird of the United States.  This Bald Eagle is Chief Wild Eagle's long-estranged and bloodthirsty son, out to prove himself a brave warrior by conquering Fort Courage and collecting seventeen new scalps.   The Chief isn't the least bit interested, especially not when O'Rourke Enterprises' big end of the month sale is looming.  Undeterred, the obnoxious youngster vows to attack Fort Courage all by himself at the same time Captain Parmenter gets a new order from headquarters: seek peace at all costs, through Operation Bury the Hatchet.


The Return of Bald Eagle was included in both the Columbia House VHS and TV Favorites DVD releases, likely due to the lunacy of casting Don Rickles as the titular renegade, but for yours truly, this is one of the lesser lights from the stellar first season.  A talk show and celebrity roast fixture for decades, Rickles was consistently effective as a dramatic performer (THE RAT RACE, CASINO) but a little of him often went a long way in the sitcom format.


Rickles' relentlessness made him a perfect guest star, though, and Mr. Warmth is hilariously manic for a while as the would-be warrior who (understandably) just can't get anyone to follow him.    Unfortunately, his best moment, the gleefully goofy "Happy Birthday!" as he departs with his hostage, gets a quick edit the one time it would be funnier to linger--a rare muffed gag by old pro Goodwins (POP ALWAYS PAYS). 


After three home runs in succession out of the gate,  F TROOP experienced some growing pains with the next two installments.  The problem here?  After a riotous first act that sees the maniacal Rickles turning everyone else (even Storch) into a reactor, writer Julian grounds the momentum to a halt with a too-soft second half that reveals the bloodthirsty Baldy is really a poor, misunderstood kid at heart underneath all that murderous rage.


Yeah, the producers of Rickles' later sitcoms (i.e. C.P.O. SHARKEY) always softened his character, thinking that week after week of unrestrained Donnie would be too much of a good thing.  But this isn't a weekly dose of the Merchant of Venom--it's his lone F TROOP, and this series excelled during the first season keeping it real all the way to the closing credits.  Installments like The New I.G., The 86 Proof Spring and The Day the Indians Won ended just as hilariously as they began, completely devoid of lessons, hugs or retribution for the schemers at the fade-out.  (The tired "character change as resolution" gimmick rarely showed itself either.) Suffice to say that sentimentality isn't a strong point for this show or for Rickles.


For the second episode in a row, Captain Wilton Parmenter gets to display competence on his own without orchestration from his NCO's.  After bringing the Colton Brothers to justice in Corporal Agarn's Farewell to the Troops, the Captain makes Operation Bury the Hatchet a success by doggedly (if rather obliviously) appealing to the "good" side in Fort Courage's attacker. It's here that we learn that Baldy's supposed idolatry of Geronimo contains more than a little resentment, a rather abrupt revelation.  While ultimately disappointing, The Return of Bald Eagle is a very well remembered episode for Rickles' presence alone.  He's perhaps the only performer who can come across like a bull in a china shop on F TROOP--even Milton Berle (The Great Troop Robbery) couldn't pull that one off.


THINGS YOU LEARNED:

While the Captain has a thin upper lip, he's no better suited to the bugle than Dobbs is, owing his inability to a "fat tongue".  (On the bright side, that's good news for Wrangler Jane!   Oops, sorry...)

Chief Wild Eagle has two sons by a prior marriage: Bald Eagle and Boy Deer.  The latter is a "Dear Boy" per his father, but he must have fallen out of favor later on.  He's never in the running to be Wild Eagle's heir, with Crazy Cat surpassing him despite constantly, blatantly yearning for Wild Eagle's demise.

Wild Eagle is a very progressive employer, implementing the Berry Juice Break at least two decades before the coffee break became an accepted practice in the workplace.


NUMBER OF TIMES O'ROURKE COULD HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH TREASON:

Fort Courage is a treason-free zone, with the men of F Troop even successfully repelling an honest attack--albeit a single-handed one.


PC, OR NOT PC?

Well, Don Rickles is playing a native American, need I say more?


WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING?

No wisdom this time from the Chief, just a lot of wincing at his least favorite son.  No wonder: not only is he peaceful, but he has no motivation whatsoever to contribute to the family business!


THE BOTTOM LINE:

I was a little harsh on this one the first time around.   The first act of The Return of Bald Eagle is hilariously goofy, as is Rickles himself, but the abrupt change to mawkishness in Act Two just doesn't work for this show or its guest star.  But it's still half of a good episode.  No disaster--just too conventionally average in the end, which makes it one of the lesser lights of a stellar first season.    (**1/2 out of four)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "The Beautiful Psychologist" (1956)


LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW: "The Beautiful Psychologist" (Original Air Date: October 25, 1956)  Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary DeCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, King Donovan as Harvey Helm, Jeff Silver as Jimmy Lloyd, Marcia Henderson as Laura Hayden.  Written by Shirl Gordon, Paul Henning and Phil Shuken.  Directed by Norman Tokar.

Series overview of LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW at this link. 


Bob believes that his now seventeen year old nephew Chuck is ready for flying lessons, but sister Margaret is dead set against the idea.  Noting that any Air National Guard service is at least two years away, Margaret thinks her son is too young for the lessons, and she isn't swayed by her brother's status as an instructor in the Guard.  Nor is she persuaded when Bob notes that he made "aces" out of numerous recruits.


Chuck has more immediate concerns--namely, his dinner--but some timely eavesdropping the next morning gives Bob proof that he is idolized by his nephew.  Hearing Chuck repeat Bob's heroic feats to awestruck classmate Jimmy leads the playboy shutterbug to believe there's another reason his nephew doesn't want the instruction: the teenager is intimidated at the prospect of living up to his uncle's accomplishments.  Bob is thrilled when the high school's counselor Laura shows up to discuss the youngster's studies, but less so when he finds himself being analyzed by the titular therapist.


One of the last installments before Chuck's eighteenth birthday took place onscreen (The Double Date), The Beautiful Psychologist is the first of several third season entries to explore the younger MacDonald's transition from high school to college.  We're past building model airplanes (The Fallen Idol) now, as Bob feels Chuck is ready to fly the real thing.  Much as Chuck would like to follow in Bob's footsteps in other ways, the youngster is more in tune with his mother on this idea, still proud of Uncle Bob's aerial achievements without feeling ready to emulate them.


Bob's ego seems a little outsized this time out, not only mistaking Chuck's lack of current interest for fear, but attributing that fear to the feats he's been hearing about for years--air and ground, no doubt.  Truthfully, though, while Chuck continues to brag about his Uncle, it's Jimmy Lloyd who seems to have the hero worship affecting his self-esteem ("Tall, dark and handsome---I'd settle for tall!").  Indeed, when combined with all the gushing over Bob's legendary exploits, that stare that Lloyd gives Colonel Collins' Air Force portrait is almost homoerotic.


While Harvey Helm still envies Bob's life of freedom, he does have some slight corrections to the WWII stories, which might alone make flying seem more realistic for Chuck--if that was the problem.  Bob never figures out that it isn't, one of two ways that LOVE THAT BOB again subverts expectations this time.  The Beautiful Psychologist isn't all about puncturing that hot air balloon, and Bob's (fake) humility ends up giving him an avenue to a heretofore unavailable female.  Well, maybe--I'm not all that convinced he had any kind of shot (see section below).


This was the only episode for Marcia Henderson, and she pleases the eye and ear enough to make one wish she'd returned.  Well known to the era's TV viewers as the female sportswriter in DEAR PHOEBE, she's a good fit for another (at the time) traditionally male profession here.  Henderson skillfully delivers the episode's funniest line, in which she revises her diagnosis of our aging flyboy.  Her professional analysis: Collins has a "neurotic tendency to employ a decided confabulation opportune in the gratification of his dominant male psychosis".  Most creative way yet to call our boy a wolf!


Henderson already had a Theatre World award (for the Broadway version of PETER PAN) and big screen leads in THE GLASS WEB and CANYON RIVER to her credit.  Sadly, her promising career was soon cut short by a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, which eventually led to her retirement from the screen in 1962.  Married for 27 years to actor Robert Ivers (G.I. BLUES), Henderson was only 58 when she passed away in 1987. 


The Beautiful Psychologist doesn't provide a decisive comeuppance for Bob, a way out of the kitchen for Harv, or a resolution for Chuck's immediate future.  Much like Bob on his confidence-builder (!) of a flight at the end, it neither soars nor crashes, providing consistent chuckles but few laugh-out-loud moments.  If Bob took Laura to his usual heights either on air or land ("just give me time, Schultzy!") he did it off-screen. 


WHO WAS BLOCKING?

For once, Bob was his own blocker, inadvertently "proving" childhood regression by riding a bicycle through the household and insisting that Harvey Helm take credit for all of their war heroics.  Schultzy and Margaret certainly weren't helping, but the former was surprisingly neutral for once.


DID BOB SCORE?

In spite of himself, Colonel Collins did manage to get Miss Hayden into the cockpit with him.  But despite that look of high confidence at the fadeout, the counselor (who we learn is doing her post-graduate work) might well be up there in a professional capacity.  She earlier seemed fascinated by his avocation, with interest level looking high--until that precise moment that he made his move.  That's a big red flag, Bob! 


A typical LOVE THAT BOB setup, agreeably but not exceptionally executed.  Par for the course during the brief third season period that Tokar and others manned the director's chair (after Rod Amateau's departure and before Cummings took over fulltime).  With Henderson living up to her titular description and providing a worthy foil, The Beautiful Psychologist has enough laughs to make for a pleasant if not quite hilarious half-hour.  (**1/2 out of four)


Saturday, May 06, 2017

Leon Errol Series: TEXAS TOUGH GUY (1950) / HIGH AND DIZZY (1950)


TEXAS TOUGH GUY (1950 RKO Pictures Short) Starring Leon Errol as Leon/Tex Errol, Dorothy Granger as Mrs. Errol, Wendy Waldron as Betty Errol, Robert Neil as Joe, Gwen Caldwell as Millie, Lela Bliss as Marion Smyth, Charles Smith as Hubert Smyth, Charles Coleman as the Butler.  Screenplay by Julian Woodward.  Directed by Hal Yates.



HIGH AND DIZZY (1950 RKO Pictures Short) Starring Leon Errol as Leon, Dorothy Granger as Mrs. Errol, Betty Underwood as Irma, Willie Best as Wesley, Marlo Dwyer as the dog owner. And Introducing "Irmatrude" as itself.  Written by Earl Baldwin. Directed by Hal Yates.

The introduction to our Leon Errol Salute series is at this link.


In 1950, illness forced Leon Errol out of the final two entries in the JOE PALOOKA film series and reduced production of his RKO two-reelers to three that year instead of the usual six.  But even half the usual output was enough for the venerable funnyman to provide us with his specialties: dual roles and drunken carousing.


TEXAS TOUGH GUY gives us two Leon Errols for the price of one, with ol' Rubberlegs donning a ten gallon hat and positively epic mustache to play his brother "Tex" Errol.  Oil tycoon Tex has a $4 million fortune, but he's still persona non grata to Leon's wife after declining an invitation to daughter Betty Errol's engagement party.  The marriage to seemingly well-to-do Hubert Smythe is far more thrilling to Mrs. Errol than to Betty herself--in fact, it's entirely mother Errol's idea.  Betty prefers the poor but pure aspiring diner owner Joe and Leon is firmly in his daughter's corner as they attempt to thwart the arranged nuptials with stuffy Hubert.


As I said, the Smythes are seemingly well off: Hubert and his mother are far more attracted to Tex's millions than to Betty herself, with that knowledge giving Leon the idea to save the day with a couple of masquerades: Leon will impersonate Tex while waitress Millie will become Tex's newly adopted daughter to flush out the Smythes' ulterior motives.


TEXAS TOUGH GUY gives us a more sympathetic Leon Errol than usual, one assuming an alter ego for the sole purpose of helping his daughter and her nice-guy true love.  He also takes on considerable expense to give "Millicent" the necessary wardrobe to pull of her ruse for the cause.  But don't worry, we aren't getting a vice-free Leon: he makes that clear while ogling  model in the clothing store...


....unknowingly doing so in front of the disapproving Mrs.


Writer Julian Woodward wrote several shorts for Errol and his RKO stablemate Edgar Kennedy, including the latter's 1948 swan song, CONTEST CRAZY.   He provides funny lines and Yates keeps things consistently lively, and as always Leon shoulders the comedic load.  Nearing seventy at this point, the star isn't as nimble with physical humor as he once was, but he's still in peak form verbally. 


"Tex" Errol is rich, but any similarity to Lord Basil Epping (or Leon himself) stops there: the Texas oilman never touches hard liquor and has only kind words for his sister-in-law.  TEXAS TOUGH GUY really gets cooking after Leon steps into his brother's skin and takes full advantage of the opportunities presented to him.  The phony Tex praises "brother Leon" shamelessly, chides the Mrs. for "puttin' on a little beef" and throws insults at the younger Smythe that he knows can't be returned.  Leon almost lays it on too thick, though, when he eschews Tex's usual glass of milk for a "Texas Redeye" from the Butler (cactus juice, a slug of gin, and kummel "to kill the taste, son!").

Waldron and Neil
Making her series debut was Wendy Waldron, who made three appearances in Errol's two-reelers, playing Leon's daughter in all three.  After her acting career ended in 1953, she moved to New York and into modeling full-time.  Ubiquitous screen butler Charles Coleman made his final series appearance (he died in March 1951).  

(L to R) Smith, Caldwell and Errol)
Gwen Caldwell made her big-screen debut as Millie.  Linked romantically at one time with Mickey Rooney (and later guest starring twice on his sitcom HEY MULLIGAN!), Caldwell was only occasionally credited during her eight year Hollywood career: like Waldron, she found greater success as a model.  Lela Bliss is her usual haughty self as Mrs. Smythe.  Buoyed by energetic performances, TEXAS TOUGH GUY is a highly enjoyable entry in the Leon Errol series, one more very funny farce from a very funny man.


HIGH AND DIZZY gives us a singular Errol, and a much more familiar one: asleep on the living room sofa after being out all night.  At least, that's what the Mrs. thinks, and she voices her intent to divorce the "wolf" this time.  Fortunately, Leon sets her straight about the good deed he was actually performing for her: his car broke down, he had to taxi home after his lodge meeting (it broke up at 11:30 P.M., the Mrs. checked, and didn't have the heart to wake her after arriving so late.


Yes, if you're buying that explanation, this is your first Leon Errol short.  The story soon falls apart: "Irmatrude" the singing chicken is found in the kitchen, smelling like LaFleur # 7 perfume and squawking "Home on the Range".  Leon claims to have won the bird in a raffle, but Irma from the Hotsy Totsy Club soon calls him with the truth (Errol gave her, and every other girl at the Club, his number the night before).  Errol drunkenly made off with Irmatrude the night before, and Irma demands her stage partner's safe return--the chicken is worth $5,000 and took three years to train.


Leon quickly attempts to recover the bird, but Mrs. Errol has already offered jittery window washer Wesley fifty cents to kill it!  Irmatrude escapes after unnerving him with a funeral dirge, and a neighbor's dog takes interest in Leon's new feathered friend.  In his effort to avoid buying a $5,000 dinner and having his escapades exposed, Leon Errol gives chase--all the way to the window ledge on the fourteenth floor.  Meanwhile, Irma heads for the Errols' home and a face to face with the Mrs. seems imminent.


Lofty setting notwithstanding, HIGH AND DIZZY fails to match the comedic heights reached by TEXAS TOUGH GUY.  It appears to be more modestly budgeted, with all of the action taking place in Errol's apartment building and only five credited actors to TEXAS TOUGH GUY's multiple sets and nine speaking parts.   The constraints show with action that is alternately labored and frantic before inevitably getting Leon out on that flagpole.  


In his penultimate film role, the great Willie Best shares barely five seconds of screen time with Errol--one more missed comedic opportunity.  As expected for the era, he's in a stereotypical role, albeit a somewhat less demeaning one than usual: a medical professional's diagnosis explains his constant nervousness.  Insensitive to her husband, Mrs. Errol is even moreso to Willie: note her dismissal of his condition and subsequent cheerful request for him to kill the chicken after hearing it.  Hard to blame Leon much for galavanting, given what we see of his home life!


The attraction receiving special billing of is Irmatrude, another discovery of famed animal trainer David "Curly" Twiford.  Irmatrude was actually a male, and signed to a three picture contract with RKO in January 1950 for his harmonizing abilities.  HIGH AND DIZZY (originally titled MY FINE FEATHERED FRIEND) is the only film appearance I could find for Irmatrude.  After this initial splash, the singing rooster lacked the staying power of Twiford's most famous trainee, Jimmy the Raven.

Betty Underwood
Then-aspiring RKO starlet Betty Underwood (STORM OVER WYOMING) appeared in five shorts between 1948 and 1950; she retired from the screen after marrying aeronautics pioneer Lester Deutsch and is still with us today at age 91.   Marlo Dwyer has even less screen time than Best as the dog's owner, and Leon Errol spends a considerable amount of HIGH AND DIZZY interacting with the two performers from the animal kingdom.


Leon Errol's shtick brings a smile whether he's inebriated or not, but the gimmicky HIGH AND DIZZY scurries to its foregone conclusion without realizing its true potential.  It succeeds in showcasing its budding star bird, but is an average entry at best in the canon of its human star.  Perhaps seeing a little of Leon's lasciviousness at the Hotsy Totsy Club or giving him more screen time with Best (wouldn't it make sense for the window washer to be involved in the ledge antics?) would have helped with the laugh quotient.


TEXAS TOUGH GUY (*** out of four)
HIGH AND DIZZY (** out of four)