Friday, March 19, 2004

“That’s mighty thoughty of you…”

Since my efforts to obtain the Lum & Abner Two Weeks to Live poster I mentioned in a previous post were thwarted, I decided to settle for second place and watch my copy of the film earlier this morning. Two Weeks to Live was the third movie in a series of six L&A features independently produced by Post Pictures and released by RKO between 1940-46.

The plot revolves around Abner’s inheritance of the C&O Railroad from his uncle, Ernest Peabody—and since he and Lum believe it to be the famed Chesapeake & Ohio line, they convince the populace of Pine Ridge to invest in the company, using the money to purchase right-a-ways on their neighbors’ properties so that a branch of the railroad can be established in the town. Upon their arrival in Chicago to see the lawyer handling the estate, they discover to their dismay that C&O stands for “Chinnacook & Orville,” a broken-down line that ends up costing them $47, leaving them flat broke. Abner takes a nasty spill down a flight of stairs while leaving the office, and a trip to the doctor’s results in a diagnosis mix-up, whereupon both men are convinced that Abner has only “two weeks to live.” The duo then embark on a series of daredevil exploits in an attempt to raise the money needed to reimburse their friends back in Arkansas.

L&A fans will get a kick out of this movie, but to non-fans—it’s an example of “one’s reach exceeding one’s grasp.” The “daredevil” vignettes are amusing, but they’re hampered by the fact that Two Weeks to Live doesn’t possess the necessary budget to pull a lot them off. The film often resorts to shoddy process screen work and all-too-obvious stuntmen (Lum & Abner hazardously attempt to paint a flagpole placed precariously on top of a tall building in one sequence; another has Abner doing some daredevil “wing walking” on an airplane in flight). The movie also could have pruned away a few of its subplots, perhaps shaving off some of its total running time (74 minutes) to boot. I would have preferred to seen the "inherited railroad" plot fleshed out in an entire film instead; it would have been funny and much more entertaining to center solely on L&A’s attempts to start up a rail line in Pine Ridge.

The best moments in Two Weeks to Live are indeed small ones: trapped in their hotel because they can’t pay the rent, there are some rib-tickling sequences in which the boys capitalize on the hotel’s amenities because the head desk clerk (Jack Rice, best-known as Edgar Kennedy’s ne’er-do-well brother-in-law in Kennedy’s classic RKO comedy shorts) is convinced they’re a couple of railroad big-shots. Additionally, there’s a funny scene where two delivery men are attempting to deliver a harp to a radio station inside the hotel and Abner mistakenly believes that it’s for him—since he’ll be needing it when his two weeks are up. (A subsequent scene has Abner attempting to repair a young boy’s bike and when the boy asks him—Abner’s carrying a violin case—if he’s learning to play the violin, Abner responds that he’s having the dickens of a time just learning to play the harp.) My laugh-out loud moment has Lum & Abner climbing twenty-four flights of stairs to the lawyer’s office, which prompts Abner to remark: “Doggies, no wonder Uncle Ernest passed away so soon—one trip up here’d a-kill him…”

Two Weeks to Live does benefit from steady direction from veteran comedy director Malcolm St. Clair (who helmed L&A’s previous The Bashful Bachelor) and an amusing script from Michael I. Simmons and Roswell Rogers. (Rogers had by this time become one of L&A’s main writers on the radio show; he would also contribute both story and screenplay to their next feature, So This is Washington.) In addition, there’s a fine roster of classic movie character actors on display: Irving Bacon (who plays Omar Tennyson Gimpel, a poetry-spouting window washer), Kay Linnaker, Rosemary La Planche, Herbert Rawlinson, Ivan F. Simpson, Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless!), Luis Alberni, and Tim Ryan. The big draw here, however, is filmdom’s penultimate pansy and fussbudget, Franklin Pangborn—unfortunately, Pangborn has very little material to work with, but does have a funny line in a telephone conversation when he asks: “Am I the superintendent of this building, or just a flunky without portfolio?” If you enjoy a good B-picture, you simply can’t go wrong this little Lum & Abner gem.

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