April Fools: Kelly the Second (1936)
Updated: Apr 15, 2021
April is for celebrating the fools of filmland. Each Friday this month, we will examine a vintage comedy. This week Rodney and Adam look at Kelly the Second.
ADAM: In the frantic hubbub of New York, truck driver Cecil Callahan (Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams) accidentally hitches his truck to lunch counter worker Molly Kelly’s (Patsy Kelly) car. This bit of carelessness leads the big brawling trucker into the squat sarcastic waitress’s pharmacy owned by the narrow nervous pharmacist Dr. J. Willoughby Klum (Charley Chase). How much more of this plot do you need? It should suffice to say that the crux of this baloney is Callahan must go into the boxing ring to save the pharmacy with Kelly serving as his trainer.
Watch this one for the Hal Roach mainstays, Kelly and Chase, but Williams as the Irish bruiser, Edward Brophy as the Capone-esque gangster, and Pert Kelton as his moll play these types to the hilt and are quite fun.
RODNEY: I completely agree that you aren’t watching this for the plot. You’re watching because the cast is literally bursting with old favorites from the Lot of Fun. I love watching Roach stuff because the cast of characters are always the same regardless of what the series is. Watching this film is the epitome of comfort food. You know exactly what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen, but the anticipation of who is going to turn up in the next scene is easily the best thing this film has going for it.
A: The movie was produced in the waning days of the two-reeler when Roach was testing the waters of feature films. Without stalwarts Laurel and Hardy, this was a risky proposition and it’s surprising that Patsy Kelly was chosen to headline. I like Kelly but an 18-minute dose satisfies any craving; a feature length dose nearly gave me hives. The New York Times’ review summed up her performance with precision, “The spectacle of a Patsy Kelly staggering under the burdens of romance, for instance, […] is almost as supererogatory as it would be if Cornelia Otis Skinner took up the bassoon in an effort to become the life of the party.” [Editor’s note—any explanation of what the hell that sentence means is most welcome in the comments below.]
R: I’m glad that I’m not the only one who had a tough time buying Kelly as a romantic lead. Like you, I like Patsy just fine, but come on. I’m not sure what the reviewer is saying here, but I’m pretty sure that I agree with them.
A: Chase’s role, in fact his whole persona, could easily have been molded into the long form but his 17-year association with the producer was nearing its conclusion. Chase was fired after this film and his remaining output would be for Columbia. There is an odd moment in Kelly the Second, one that almost feels like a post-production mishap: as Chase, Kelly, and Williams leave the courthouse near the beginning, Kelly announces the plan to save the pharmacy. She slaps Chase on the chest and enthusiastically shouts, “How ‘bout it?” Chase responds, “That’s a great i—.” The scene fades to black in mid-sentence. Taken in combination with his greying temples, unusually subdued characterization, and second billing, it seems like there was an overt scheme to cut the Chase.
R: Chase actually did film another feature for Roach, before this one, but apparently it tested so poorly that it was cut into a two reeler (Neighborhood House). This always perplexed me because I can absolutely see Charley Chase doing just fine in features. I like most everything he does to one degree or another. Even most of his Columbia stuff is just fine, and some of it is REALLY good. I’d love to see the Neighborhood House feature. In fact, I thought about how much I’d like to see it a lot when watching Kelly the Second.
A: This film evokes smirks, chuckles, and possibly a couple giggles but unfortunately never hits those hysterical, hyper-ventilating highs that made Hal Roach famous. (If only Roach could find a way to streamline this type of feature…) The final of several “Irish Washerwoman” scenes in this film comes the closest. It’s an appropriately energetic denouement and delivers a whole slew of gags shotgun-style. Most importantly, it gives the legend Max Davidson a cameo. Gus Meins did direct a similar musical set piece—even inanimate objects get in the groove!—in the ZaSu Pitts/Thelma Todd short Asleep in the Feet. As long as they were recycling good material, I don’t think anyone minds this in Roach films.
R: There’s an awful lot of material here that was done elsewhere better. One of the major plot points is basically lifted verbatim from a Three Stooges short (Punch Drunks). My favorite scene in this film is a particularly memorable exchange with Chase and Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer early on in the film. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.
A: Even for Hal Roach fanatics, this movie is like a deep cut on a final album. It’s got all the ingredients you look for but somehow the magic is fading. Simply put it’s not that great: two stars.
R: There is no reason why this film isn’t more fun than it is.If you’re a Roach devotee, I’m not likely to dissuade you from seeking it out, but it completely misses the mark.Two stars.