Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"Fiddle Faddle Foo"

Bill Sherman has posted an insightful review of Bert Wheeler’s first post-Woolsey feature, Cowboy Quarterback (1939), on his blog. The film sounds quite uniquely horrible, plot-heavy and cheap, with Wheeler playing against type as an idiot bumpkin. Poor Bert apparently didn’t know what to do with himself after Woolsey’s death in 1938 and neither, it seems, did the studios. He had done extremely well as a solo act for years before finally teaming with Woolsey in Rio Rita in 1929, but a decade later he was on the way out, still young and energetic but not particularly in demand. He could have coasted for perhaps another six years at RKO had Woolsey lived, but his decline was underway before his partner’s death. RKO’s attempts to keep pace with changing trends in comedy, as well as the overall rising fortunes of the studio, meant a subsequent decline in the quality of Bert and Bob’s features, and by 1938’s unfortunate High Flyers, they were clearly relegated to B status. Woolsey’s death was a convenient opportunity for the studio to cut Bert loose, but Bert almost literally had nowhere to go.. in movies, at least. He followed Cowboy Quarterback with Las Vegas Nights (1941), remembered primarily as Frank Sinatra's unbilled screen debut. Las Vegas Nights has a good reputation but it was Bert’s final feature just the same. He resurfaced in 1950 at Columbia in one of Jules White’s horrible assembly-line comedies, Innocently Guilty, a remake (like every Columbia short in 1950) of a previous Columbia short, Charley Chase’s The Big Squirt (1937). At the age of 55, Bert Wheeler looks uncomfortable going through the standard Columbia knockabaout. It’s unpleasant, to say the least.

And be sure to visit kiddierecords.com this week to download The Noisy Eater (week 46), a bizarre children’s record Jerry Lewis recorded for Capitol’s Bozo series. Lewis plays a kid whose parents throw him out of the house for being a sloppy at the dinner table (talk about your tough love). Cast out into the cruel world, Jerry only ends up offending other potential surrogate families with his poor table manners. Happily for Jerry, dinner with “a fat man and his skinny wife” (the Fat Man sounds a hell of a lot like Billy Bletcher), both cursed with table manners as poor as Jerry’s, convinces him to turn his life around and return home. His parents, either out of guilt or as a bribe, give Jerry five bucks, which of course in those days was like a million dollars. The Noisy Eater is one of four Bozo records featured this week, the others being Bugs Bunny and Aladdin’s Lamp (with Mel Blanc), Walt Disney’s Rob Roy, and a hilariously condensed version of George Pal’s Destination Moon (with June Foray, beyond a doubt). Kiddierecords.com is one of the internet’s true pop treasures, and some of the records they’ll be featuring in December look especially good; A Christmas Carol with Ronald Colman, Howdy Doody’s Christmas Party, and best of all, Pinky Lee Tells the Story of Inkas the Ramferinkas!

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