We’re feeling very lucky after a successful 2023 Picture Show, so we are turning the focus onto films that involve luck and fortune both good and bad for the month of June.
SAMANTHA GLASSER: A fortune teller predicts that Connie (Martha O'Driscoll) will meet the man of her dreams that evening in a place where the lights are dim and they are seated next to each other. She decides to buy two tickets to a movie and to toss one to the wind, hoping to snag a man. She does, but he is old and cantankerous (George Barbier) even if he is rich. He offers her a job minding his rube nephew (Noah Beery Jr.) who is coming to New York City from Razorback Falls. His sincerity wins her over, in spite of his many failures. Beery has a Will Rogers quality that is simultaneously appealing and homespun, so he is perfect in this role. His personality is in stark contrast to Barbier's grumpy blustering.
RODNEY BOWCOCK: Martha O’ Driscoll is really good in this. She did a lot of B’s for Paramount before moving over to Universal where she was used like most everyone else at Universal, in a steady diet of musicals, horror films and small roles in Maria Montez epics. This is actually one of five films that she co-starred with Beery. She eventually worked her way up to top billing in a 1946 low budget noir, Blonde Alibi.
SG: The music in this movie is fantastic. Often in these low budget musicals, there might be one recognizable song; they're pleasant but forgettable. The Andrews Sisters perform "Straighten Up and Fly Right," "Sing an Island Song" (put the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABle), "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby," "Dance With a Dolly (With a Hole in her Stocking)" and "Pennsylvania Polka." In order to put them into the story, the sisters are cast as close friends of Connie, who fools Mr. Wentworth into hiring them as maids. (I kept thinking of J.G. Wentworth [877-Cash-Now] when the character's name was mentioned.)
RB: These aren’t all hits, nor are they all even associated with The Andrews Sisters today, but they’re all wonderful songs performed with aplomb. I really enjoy The Andrews Sisters and I completely agree that their performances in these films are fantastic. In this kind of movie, you watch as much (if not more) for the music than you do the actual plot.
SG: Something I've never understood about the Andrews Sisters: was it by design that Patty was the star and the other two, Maxene and Laverne, faded into the background? Patty is the most expressive, painted to be the prettiest, and she is always positioned front and center.
RB: I admit that I’m not 100% sure how that happened, but the trio eventually split for a time in 1952, when Patty decided to go solo in 1953. Maxene and Laverne tried to soldier on as a duo with some success, notably an appearance on a 1954 episode of the Red Skelton Show, where the pair performed a song called “Why Do They Give All the Solos to Patty?”, which resulted in a cease and desist order being sent from Patty to Skelton. Patty blamed all of the issues on Maxene stating “Ever since I was born, Maxene has been a problem, and that problem hasn’t stopped”.
SG: Yikes, there is a lot of drama in that mix. I guess I need to add an Andrews Sisters book to my list.
Harold Lloyd sued Universal for a total of $1,700,000 plus attorney's fees for copyright infringement in three films including Her Lucky Night, which he alleged copied bits from The Freshman, specifically the tailor sequences at the nightclub. The other titles named were She Gets Her Man, which stole from Welcome Danger, and So's Your Uncle which stole from Movie Crazy. The lawsuit demanded destruction of all offending prints, which obviously did not happen. Universal argued that The Freshman was in the public domain and therefore fair game for use. They settled for a total of $160,000 in damages for all three films.
RB: The bits cribbed from Lloyd films were done so courtesy of Clyde Bruckman, a veteran comedy writer and director known for having an encyclopedic knowledge of comedy routines. After an early career writing genuine masterpieces for Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and WC Fields, Bruckman proved himself an unreliable presence on set (reportedly due to an increasing alcohol dependence) but was still generally regarded as a writer worth turning to, particularly for Columbia short subjects. In the early 40’s, Universal used him to bolster the comedy content of many of their B-musicals, but after the Lloyd lawsuit, he was essentially unemployed by anyone except the Columbia shorts department. He eventually found work on the second season of the Abbott and Costello Show, where he “wrote” fifteen episodes, but came under Harold Lloyd’s radar for plagiarizing material again. This time, however, Jules White was not able to get him any assignments at Columbia and Bruckman committed suicide using a gun borrowed from longtime friend Buster Keaton. As a fascinating footnote, Bruckman received writing credit for a 1999 Chris O’Donnell/Renee Zellweger/Artie Lange comedy The Bachelor, which was a remake of the 1925 Keaton comedy Seven Chances. I haven’t seen The Bachelor, so I can’t confirm how similar the two films are, and frankly, I’m not likely to.
SG: I mentioned it in our review of Seven Chances; I saw The Bachelor in the theater. It pales in comparison, but how funny there was a uniting thread between them. To me it seemed to be an intentional remake, not plagiarism.
Because of the lawsuit, there was little chance of this film being a financial success. Reviews were unenthusiastic and mixed. Hollywood Nite-Life's reporter wrote, "Involved in a plot that smacks strongly of bygone days, The Andrews Sisters are hardpressed to rescue this one from the doldrums and succeed largely through a single novelty song, 'Sing a Tropical Song' written by Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh." A.C. Edwards of the Winema Theatre in Scotia, CA reported, "Business below average weekend, but no complaints from light attendance." E.M. Freiburger of the Paramount Theatre in Dewey, OK called it a, "small musical show that pleased all who came." A.E. Hancock of the Columbia Theatre in Columbia City, IN said, "Stay lucky and ditch it."
RB: Universal churned out this kind of film by the dozen during the early/mid-40’s and looking at some of the enticing titles of these films is enough to make the classic film fan salivate. Who wouldn’t thrill to the prospects of seeing films like Moonlight in Hawaii, Six Lessons from Madame La Zonga and Juke Box Jenny? I’ll readily admit that there are more than a few “true” classics that I haven’t taken the time to watch, and yet, I find myself constantly gravitating to four star gems like this one. The comedy bits are routine and familiar, yet the songs are delightful and everything rolls together in an hour-long slice of cinematic comfort food.
SG: This movie is delightful from start to finish. Perhaps it is its old-fashioned quality that appealed so strongly with me. A silly story with a winning cast, great music and a pleasant residue, this programmer is much more than the typical one-hour second feature of the era. Four stars.