Thursday, April 29, 2004

Wednesday Night at the Movies

I had last night off, and I’ve been itchin’ to watch some of these DVDs that I purchased recently—so I treated myself to a midnight double feature of old-time radio-related films. First off the bat, 1942’s Here We Go Again—the follow-up to the successful feature Look Who’s Laughing (1941) which memorably teamed Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy and Fibber McGee & Molly on screen.

Look Who’s Laughing starts out with Edgar & Charlie (performing a reprisal of their famous vaudeville act, “The Operation,” in front of a radio audience) so it seems only fitting that Here We Go Again begin with the McGees. Fibber & Molly have planned a big shindig to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary, but their pals in Wistful Vista have given them the big brush-off, electing to vacation at a swanky lakeside resort instead. So the McGees decide to head that way themselves (although they can’t afford the tariff to stay there) and upon their arrival, encounter Otis Cadwalader (Gale Gordon, in his film debut)—Molly’s old beau and Fibber’s bete noire. Otis cons Fibber into getting Edgar (who’s also vacationing nearby, in search of a silk-producing moth) to invest in a formula for “synthetic gasoline”; it turns out to be a bust, but lepidopterist Bergen has discovered a use for it for his moths, and everything comes out in the wash by film’s end.

Here We Go Again doesn’t quite have the same punch as its predecessor, but it’s still grand entertainment for any OTR fan. The movie does boast of a boost in star-wattage: Ray Noble, Bergen’s orchestra leader and comic foil, and dummy Mortimer Snerd make appearances, and joining Hal Peary’s Throckmorton Gildersleeve and Isabel Randolph’s Abigail Uppington are Gordon and Bill Thompson as super-milquetoast Wallace Wimple (“Wimp” is the brains behind the formula). Also in the cast of OTR stars is Ginny Simms, a singer-actress who achieved fame as vocalist for Kay Kyser’s orchestra, and was also featured on The Bob Burns Show and her own self-titled variety show on radio from 1942-47. Ginny plays Gildy’s sister Jean and is Bergen’s romantic interest in this movie (I guess that whole Lucille Ball thing didn’t work out). Two other actors from Look Who’s Laughing, Sterling Holloway and George Cleveland, also have small roles in this film as well.

Here We Go Again contains some memorable set-pieces: Gildy and Fibber trade insults over a game of pool, Edgar and Charlie play Indian, and Molly cuts a rug with Cadwalader (both Marian Jordan and Gale Gordon do some pretty impressive hoofing in this one). Even Charlie McCarthy has a song-and-dance number—yes, you read that right, dance. Director Allan Dawn got the idea to allow both Charlie and Mortimer to be a little more mobile thanks to some doubling by midget actors. (This idea to use little people would later resurface in a memorable television episode of The Jack Benny Program; Jack pays Edgar and Francis Bergen a visit and is stunned to see both dummies moving about like real people.) The movie also contains a novel chase sequence at the end that eschews the traditionally tired use of cars and substitutes horse-and-buggies instead (you know how it is with those "A" cards).

Once again, as in Look Who’s Laughing, the comedic strengths in this film emanate from the witty dialogue provided for the stars: Bergen scribe Royal Foster joins Zeno Klinker and Dorothy Kingsley in supplying Edgar and his dummies’ material, and Don Quinn performs the same favor for the McGees. Allan Dwan returns to helm this second film as well; Dwan was a veteran director whose output includes Suez (1938), Frontier Marshal (1939), and Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). All in all, Here We Go Again is a breezy, pleasant romp and a must-see for any old-time radio fan.

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