Thursday, April 3, 2014

Film Review: Look Who's Laughing

"Look Who's Laughing"
** 1/2 (out of ****)

I was really looking forward to seeing "Look Who's Laughing" (1941). It seemed like the type of movie which would appeal to my cinematic taste buds. In fact it is a movie which should appeal to a lot of us old-timers, those of us who grew up with the movies and radio programs of the 1930s and 40s. But, for some reason the movie didn't fully work for me.

"Look Who's Laughing" stars Edgar Bergen and his alter-ego Charlie McCarthy (I always found it funny that McCarthy gets a separate billing and would be listed as playing "himself"), Jim Jordan and Marian Jordan as Fibber McGee and Molly, Harold Peary as Gildersleeve and Lucille Ball as Julie, Edgar's assistant.

For those unaware Fibber McGee and Molly was a popular radio show airing between 1935 through 1959. A popular side character on the show was Gildersleeve which eventually had a spin off program in 1941 and in 1955 made it to television for one season. Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy were also on radio which they own extremely successful program and appeared in two-reelers and feature films. If you know all of this information and are familiar with these actors and their programs, "Look Who's Laughing" has a special appeal. All of our "friends" have gathered together for a movie.

Basically "Look Who's Laughing" is half Edgar Bergen comedy meets Fibber McGee and Molly. It primarily feels like an extended Fibber McGee program with Bergen as the special guest.

Bergen plays himself, a popular radio ventriloquist, who is about to go on vacation while his assistant, Julie, is about to get married. Bergen is also something of a pilot and as he and McCarthy are in the air, they get lost and land in a small town where Fibber McGee and Molly live.

In this small town there is a lot happening. Currently the town is trying to get Hilary Horton (Neil Hamilton) to buy a piece of land in order to build an airport. If this happens there will be a great many new jobs which will be created. Also, the piece of land proposed is own by Fibber. But Gildersleeve has a deal with a competitor to build the land in a neighboring town and will receive a cut if the deal falls through. It just so happens Edgar Bergen knows Horton and would be more than happy to show him the land since we has taken a liking to Fibber McGee and Molly.

This plot takes up a majority of the movie. If you don't know much about Fibber McGee and Molly the movie does a somewhat decent job introducing them. You will come to know they are a happy but poor mid-west couple. Fibber is a bit of a dreamer and has grand ambition of perhaps one day becoming president. He likes to think of himself as a businessman. Molly stands by his stand but is critical of his schemes but doesn't prevent him from going forward. She just sort of "puts up" with him. Surprising one thing the movie doesn't do is bring their 'closet" gag to the screen. This was a running joke on the radio show. McGee had a closet full of items he has completely forgotten about and every time he would open the closet door, against Molly's protest, everything would fall on top of Fibber.

Near the end of the movie is starts to suggest Julie, who is about to marry Jerry (Lee Bonnell) is really in love with Edgar and he is really in love with her. But Edgar Bergen was not really a leading man type and so this isn't played as a straight romance. We don't even see the two of them kiss (!).

The movie, which was directed by Allan Dwan, who's career goes back to the silent era, has what used to be called a "mid western homespun" sense of humor. It is very genteel. It should be pointed out Bergen, Jim Jordan and Marian Jordan were all from Illinois. That may be why I don't like it. I can handle Fibber McGee and Molly for about 30 minutes, small doses, but a feature film is too much for me. Bergen can be very funny but needs someone to play off of. Bergen and McCarthy had a good "rival" in W.C. Fields, who would often appear on Bergen's radio show and had a "feud" with McCarthy, threatening to turn him into fire wood. They also appeared in the feature film "You Can't Cheat An Honest Man" (1939) which I strongly recommend seeing, especially if you want to see Bergen in a better movie.

The sensibility of the characters here is a little too "goody goody" for me. I like it sometimes when watching Will Rogers who had a "aw-shucks" personality, another mid-western trait. I would recommend watching his movies over this as well. See "They Had To See Paris" (1929), its sequel "Down To Earth" (1932) and "A Connecticut Yankee" (1931).

Dwan does an adequate job directing this. Peter Bogdanovich wrote about him in one of his book but I never thought much of Dwan. He also directed the Ritz Brothers in "The Gorilla" (1939), which is better than its reputation would have you believe and "The Three Musketeers" (1939). He directed a rather bland WW2 comedy "Around the World" starring band leader Kay Kyser and directed a somewhat sequel to "Look Who's Laughing" called "Here We Go Again" (1942).

Though the genteel, mid-western humor, doesn't completely appeal to me, the movie is fun to watch if only to see all these characters together. I find it difficult believing this movie would have much cross over appeal to younger audience members of today's generation but you never know.