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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I DOOD IT (1943)

This hodgepodge vehicle for a rising Red Skelton and a fading Eleanor Powell was Vincente Minnelli’s unlikely, little remembered follow up to CABIN IN THE SKY/’43, his astonishing all-black musical debut. The plot, a loose refit from Buster Keaton’s SPITE MARRIAGE/’29, has Skelton mooning over actress Powell, who marries him just to get back at her wandering fiancé. It’s a surprisingly distasteful set-up, as it was for Keaton, but since no one pays much attention to it, the film halfheartedly chugs along, with stops along the way for a tacked on bit of WWII espionage (John Hodiak plants a bomb under the theater, don’t ask) and a somewhat happier batch of specialty numbers for Powell (cowboys & lariats), along with the film’s true bright spot, a plot-free, removable reel featuring Hazel Scott’s jive-piano variations on ‘Taking A Chance On Love’ and ‘Jericho,’ a big ‘numbo’ for gorgeous Lena Horne & chorus.* The jolt in energy helps Minnelli thru the big comic-romp finale before the film splices in a socko dance finale for Powell lifted from one of her earlier pics. (Boo!) Presumably the studio was happy with the results since Minnelli’s next assignment was the big-budget, big prestige mega-hit MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS/’44.

DOUBLE-BILL: Skelton’s maximalist mugging in a role designed for Keaton’s minimalism is a bit hard to take, but he does get his laughs. More than can be said for his try, with Powell, at recreating Keaton’s classic get-the-drunk-wife-in-bed routine. Here, more of a laugh-free acrobatic routine. Keaton revived it in Paris with his wife in the ‘50s to considerable acclaim. Skelton had better luck with a handful of bespoke Keaton gags in his Civil War comedy A SOUTHERN YANKEE/’48.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *That all-black reel was designed for easy removal in certain Southern theater-circuit exchanges of the era. (Boo!)

CONTEST: The title is something of a mystery. A catch-phrase of the day? Any good explanation (true or false) wins a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of a film of your choosing. (Yea!)

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