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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

SORROWFUL JONES (1949)

This version of Damon Runyon’s LITTLE MISS MARKER (the second of four) holds up better than its so-so rep would have you think. The story is just about foolproof: Single dad on a losing streak leaves his little girl as a ‘mark’ with Sorrowful Jones, Gotham’s cheapest bookmaker. When Dad fails to show, the bookie gets stuck with the kid. It was a big early hit for Shirley Temple back in ‘34, and little Mary Jane Saunders doesn’t give Shirley much competition. But the script keeps saving itself with some good wisecracks, and Bob Hope expands nicely from his usual cowardly braggart into Sorrowful’s miserly ways. The role brings a dour tone & a harsh edge out of Hope that scruffs up the sentiment in a good way. (Watch Bob plow his way to the gag lines in a sticky prayer scene; and even little Mary Jane gets off a zinger right at the end.) Lucille Ball is just about perfect as the nightclub singer who’d like to get in on the act; too bad they didn’t let her do her own vocals. And the usual Runyon suspects, the ‘Guys & Dolls’ types, add lots of color without overstaying their welcome. If only megger Sidney Lanfield showed a little moxie behind the camera. Dull, dull, dull. But the film survives his sleepwalking, 'cause the plot is . . . like we said, foolproof.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/DOUBLE-BILL: Hope & Ball both played with a natural stylization that lets them take on these Damon Runyon mugs without having to overdo things. See Ball in THE BIG STREET/’42 or Hope in THE LEMON DROP KID/’52. What a team they’d have made as Nathan Detroit & Miss Adelaide in the unhappy film version of GUYS AND DOLLS/’55.

CONTEST: This film’s opening gag is lifted from a famous silent comedy. Name the gag, the silent comic & the film it’s lifted from to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of any NetFlix pic.

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