Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Film Review: Girl Rush

"Girl Rush"  *** (out of ****)

There's plenty of gold and girls in the RKO comedy "Girl Rush" (1944) starring Wally Brown and Alan Carney.

Back in the 1940s, in order to capitalize on the success Universal was having with Abbott & Costello comedies, RKO studio wanted to create a comedy team with a similar appeal, so, the studio paired two of its contract players together; Wally Brown and Alan Carney. Between the years 1943 through 1946 the two men were in 11 pictures together, though not necessarily as a team. Sometimes they were just supporting players in the same movie and did not share any scenes together.

When the two men were a team they often played the characters Jerry Miles (Wally Brown) and Mike Strager (Alan Carney). Jerry was supposed to be the "leader" of the team. Their relationship didn't resemble Abbott & Costello so much as it did Laurel & Hardy. Two men that wanted to be taken serious and achieve great success. Neither man however was very intelligent. Although Jerry may have been the "thinker" between the two, that is only because Mike was dumb enough to let him be. Jerry could only be the big man standing next to Mike. And only Mike would look at Jerry and think he had any brains.

Needless to say Brown & Carney never achieved the success of Abbott & Costello or Laurel & Hardy. They didn't even achieve the success of Wheeler & Woolsey, another comedy team at RKO, who were a popular back in the 1930s. Instead Brown & Carney are a forgotten team only known to filmbuffs and maybe fans of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) where once in a while their movies will play on television.

Of the movies the two men appeared in "The Adventures of a Rookie" (1943), a low rent version of Abbott & Costello's "Buck Privates" (1941), is often considered their best movie. However, their most popular movie and most easily accessible movie, may be the horror / comedy "Zombies on Broadway" (1945). Perhaps thanks to TCM, Warner Brothers has put four of their movies on DVD as part of a comedy collection. It is part of their "Archive Collection".

One of the movies that is part of the collection is "Girl Rush", made right before "Zombies on Broadway" but after "Step Lively" (1944), my favorite movie featuring the team. It stars a young Frank Sinatra.

The movie takes play in the 1800s with Jerry and Mike as a couple on saloon performers working in San Francisco with an all female troupe called "The Frisco Follies" consisting of Flo (Frances Langford) the group's singer and Suzie (Barbara Jo Allen though credited as Vera Vague) the comedian of the group. They have a hit show, a first for Jerry and Mike, thanks largely to men coming to see the ladies. The popularity of the show comes to an end when gold is discovered and all the men in the town head out to take part in the big gold rush. This leaves the show without an audience.

Never without a bad idea Jerry decides the best way to keep the show going would be for him and Mike to head out to see if they can find any gold and the ladies keep the show going. If Jerry and Mike find gold they will pack up and take their show to New York.

The two men find themselves in a small town called Red Creek, where there are no women. The town is run by Greg Barlan (Cy Kendall) who runs a tavern where all the men in town go to drink and gamble. What the town needs however is another form of entertaining, where men won't kill each other for cheating at cards. The town also needs women. This is where Jerry and Mike come in. A musical comedy show may be just what the town needs and since their show features women it may be just the ticket! But how can Jerry and Mike convince the women to give up on the idea of going to New York and instead go to Red Creek? They'll have to lie to the women.

Although Brown and Carney were paired together by a studio, they still have a good amount of chemistry together. The movie is short on big laughs but the best comedy sequence in the movie may be when the two men are driven crazy from hungry after a day of traveling and try to get some sleep. Each man is afraid the other may kill him in his sleep and cook him. So, one hides a razor blade in his hand while the other holds an ax.

Another good sequence has the two playing "the shell game", three card monty with walnut shells, where one of them has a pea underneath, as they try to con the residents of Red Creek in order to buy some food.

What some viewers may find interesting is a young Robert Mitchum appears in the movie, playing Jimmy Smith. One of the men in Red Creek who wants to run Greg Barlan out of town. Mitchum keeps his tough guy persona but believe it or not actually dresses in drag. Even when in drag though Mitchum still tries to be rugged by not speaking in a high pitch voice, in order to convince people he is a woman.

Mitchum at this point, had appeared in many movies including one with Laurel & Hardy called "The Dancing Masters" (1943). He usually played tough guys and gangsters.

"Girl Rush" is relatively short on plot and runs a mere 65 minutes. The movie could have actually been longer as I suspect too much was edited. Still it sees its story through and has a beginning, middle and end.

The movie was written by Robert E. Kent, who also wrote "Zombies on Broadway" and "Genius at Work" (1946) also with Brown & Carney adapted from a story by the Hungarian writers Laszlo Vadnay and Aladar Laszlo and was directed by Gordon Douglas who directed the Laurel & Hardy comedy "Saps at Sea" (1940) and "Zenobia" (1939) starring Oliver Hardy and Harry Langdon.

"Girl Rush" won't please everyone but those that like "clean" comedy and discovering "forgotten" films from Hollywood should find something to enjoy. Plus, on the scale of Brown & Carney's work together "Girl Rush" is a good example of their brand of comedy and what they had to offer.