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)

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