Thursday, April 29, 2004

“Bless his heart…buh-less his little heart!”

After Here We Go Again, I cranked up the DVD player for a viewing of the 1944 Lum & Abner feature Goin’ to Town. I have to say at this point in the game, this vehicle has entertained me the most of any of the L&A films that I’ve seen. (Keep in mind that I’ve still not had the opportunity to catch what fans call their best film, 1946’s Partners in Time—but that shall be rectified very soon, thanks to a recent eBay purchase.)

A pair of oil company executives (Andrew Toombes, George Chandler) are passing through Pine Ridge and relieve themselves of boredom by playing some practical jokes on the town’s inhabitants—including convincing Lum & Abner (Chester Lauck, Norris Goff) that there’s oil underneath the Jot ‘Em Down Store. The boys decide to start their own oil exploration company, and persuade the townsfolk to invest by mortgaging their properties—but the boom turns out to be a bust, so Messrs. Edwards and Peabody are forced to journey to Chicago to try and sell the company to the original jokers. Their associate (Jack Rice) buys them out for a princely sum, allowing them to redeem themselves in the eyes of their Pine Ridge neighbors once again.

I know this plot sounds similar to that of Two Weeks to Live (1943), and it is—but Goin’ to Town (1944) is a much superior film. It benefits from swift, no-nonsense direction from veteran comedy director Leslie Goodwins; Goodwins’ resume includes many of the Mexican Spitfire features (with Lupe Velez) and the comedy shorts of Edgar Kennedy and Leon Errol to boot. He was a pretty experienced B-movie comedy director, and Goin’ to Town is all the better for it. It eliminates the obviously phony and painfully unfunny stunt work of Two Weeks to Live, and concentrates more on Pine Ridge and its delightfully eccentric characters. There are more characters from the radio program in this movie than in any other: Cedric Weehunt, Squire Skimp, Grandpappy Spears and Sister Simpson are all showcased here—with character Grady Sutton making his second appearance as Cedric (he was previously seen in The Bashful Bachelor) and Danny Duncan in his second of three appearances as Grandpap.

Dick Elliott, by the way, makes a sensational Squire Skimp (the role was previously played by Oscar O’Shea in Bachelor and Two Weeks); Elliott was a veteran character actor who just might possibly have appeared in every single film produced in the 30s and 40s (yes, I am exaggerating here) but he’s best remembered as the cantankerous old fart who tries to give James Stewart advice on how to romance Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). (Elliott would reprise his Skimp role in Partners in Time as well.) L&A fans are, of course, well aware that these denizens of Pine Ridge were played by Lauck (Cedric, Grandpap) and Goff (Squire) on the radio show, so it’s great that they were able to find actors to flesh out these characters—I suppose Chet and “Tuffy” could have played them via a split screen, but the low-budget nature of these movies no doubt put the kibosh on that plan.

Other performers in this film include a young Barbara Hale (best remembered as Della Street on TV’s Perry Mason), Florence Lake (“wife” to Edgar Kennedy in many of his RKO comedy shorts, which is probably why Goodwins cast her in this movie), and Herbert Rawlinson. Nils T. Granlund (N.T.G. to his friends) and his bevy of beautiful babes are also on hand to entertain in a memorable nightclub sequence (when the maitre’d asks Lum & Abner if they have a reservation or a table, Abner asks his partner, “Was we supposed to bring our own table?”) With a funny script written by Charles R. Marion (who would go on to pen many of the Leo Gorcey/Huntz Hall Bowery Boys efforts) and Charles E. Roberts (responsible for many of RKO’s comedy two-reelers), Goin’ to Town is definitely my favorite of the Lum & Abner feature films—until my copy of Partners in Time arrives in the post, that is.

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