Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Variety Time

Wow! This was just terrible! I can't imagine what they were thinking in putting this together. It's billed (in the opening credits) as "A revue of specialties and highlights from RKO film hits," but that turns out to mean that they stitched together a bunch of preexisting footage and added a jerk to host.

The host, it turns out, is Jack Paar in his first movie role.. He tells jokes that it's hard to imagine anyone finding amusing.

As far as I can tell, they just looked through their archives and took "I'll Build It Myself" (Edgar Kennedy tries to build a house and whitewash-related hijinks ensue) and "Hired Husband" (almost nothing at all happens), both of which had come out recently, and stitched in a couple of old silent movies and a couple of vaudeville acts. The shorts are "spiced up" by editing in Paar, who sneers at the proceedings. The silents have Paar voiceovers where he does everything he can to convey the idea that what we're watching is stupid and pointless. He sneers about the costuming and makes cracks about "Grandma's bustle". Then it's back to another short, which nnow feels even more dated than the silent movies.

The vaudeville acts were actually kind of interesting. There was a tapdancing duo called "Jesse and James" that did some moves that reminded me of the Nicholas Brothers. All I can find about them is this PDF article about Carnell Lyons, who worked with them a few years after this movie:

When they came back the act broke up and Carnell joined the duo of two successful acrobats, Jesse Franklin and James Hawthorne. The trademark of Jesse and James was the spinning of huge trays. Carnell learned the tray spinning and with “Jesse, James and Carnell” his most successful years in show business followed.

Carnell: “I learned to spin the tray … Jesse and James showed me that a long time ago. I was practicing for years. Now, to turn that tray up and catch it and to dance with it is something else. Me and L.D., we did eight months at the Palladium. When we came back to New York, that’s when we split up
and that’s when I joined Jesse and James, and I didn’t look back. The tray piece. We weren’t just tap dancing, we had a novelty.”


Anyway, there's also a xenophobic bit with Hans Conreid where he and Jack make fun of the French. Then, for no reason, a pretty good version of "Babalu", which I've never heard done by anyone who's not Desi Arnaz.

This was not an easy hour-long movie to watch.

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