Thursday, March 30, 2006

What's the name of his other leg?

Don't never say I didn't never do nothing for you. Thanks to the futuristic miracle of the digital interwebnet, I'm proud to bring you Penny Wise, one of Joe Cook's shorts for Educational Pictures and one of the precious few films this very talented comedian ever made. This is, IMO, one of the best of Cook's Educationals. Penny Wise (1935) features Joe once again as Mr. Widget, this time employed as a department store salesmen. The carefree Widget is perceived by his frustrated coworkers as inept at his work, but why they should think so is unclear as it's plainly obvious that Widget is, in actuality, barking mad. Like all good comics, Widget is on an entirely different plain of consciousness from the dunderheads who surround him and, as far as he's concerned, being a salesman means promoting the store's competitors, insulting old ladies, and whacking golf balls off customers' heads. Meanwhile, the store's president is mighty fed up with his general manager, whom he blames for loss of revenue and who is, incidentally, engaged to his daughter. In order to prove that the store "runs itself", and thereby prove that the general manager is deserving of neither a job nor his daughter's hand in marriage, the president in his Solomon-like wisdom decides to place the most "incompetent" salesman in charge while he takes a little vacation. If his business is in utter ruins by the time he gets back, he'll double the general manager's salary and consent to the marriage. Naturally, as madness=incompetency in the weird world of this film, Widget is placed in charge of the store with madcap consequences. Besides blowing up like a balloon after drinking yeast and burping all over people, Cook gets to demonstrate his impressive juggling and balancing skills. During the climactic chase, he even orders the projectionist to rewind the film so that he can have a second chance not to be caught (and beaten to death) by the marauding store president! DON'T YOU EVER MISS IT!!

Download the movie here courtesy of RapidShare. It's a lightweight 35.4 MB file with a fairly small picture (240 x 180) so those with slower computers and/or connections won't be left out of the fun. Oh, and it's free.

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Anonymous drprocter said...

Wow! That juggling thing was outstanding. Really enjoyed this -- please post any more Educationals or shorts of this type. Thanks!!!

7:53 PM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

You're welcome.. I'm thinking of starting a "Movie of the Month" feature. There are quite a few good public domain shorts floating around..

11:54 AM  
Anonymous John Owen said...

I really enjoyed the film. If you posted something like this once a month, you would really be a public benefactor.

Joe Cook is a graceful physical comic and an amazing talent. I could see why he might not have been suited to motion pictures, though. The energy of his physical presence doesn't carry over to rest of his performance. His characterization is a little thin, his delivery mostly on a single wacky note.

And yet I wish he'd done more, and I wish I could see it.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

As far as characterization is concerned, Cook was capable of more.. a *little* more, anyway.. as is demonstrated in Rain Or Shine in which he even handles the story's requisite pathos with flair. Cook apparently felt no need to bother with depth of character (to say nothing of subtlety) in his Educationals and I don't really blame him as he couldn't have made these shorts for any reasons other than having a bit of fun and earning some easy money. You're right, though.. he's amazingly graceful. Some of his body language is almost Keatonesque.

RE: the featuring of complete shorts here, I'm very surprised it isn't being done elsewhere now that free file hosting is so common. I'll see what I can dig up for you folks.

7:25 PM  
Blogger East Side said...

I finally got around to watching the short -- thanks for the treat! Having seen only one other of his movies -- and that being 20 years ago -- I'd forgotten his grace and physical skill. His delivery is similar to Robert Woolsey, which is probably more coincidental than deliberate. I'd definitely be interested in seeing more of his work. I wonder if this movie was where my mother picked up the habit of saying "goom-bye."

2:54 PM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

Cook also used the "goom-bye" line on his radio show. As for Woolsey's and Cook's delivery similarities, I hadn't really thought about it, but it's true to an extent. Cook, however, puts that stock vaudeville overemphasis of gag lines to innovative use, especially when he tells stories that have no actual punchline. In that regard, he's like Andy Kaufman's spiritual godfather, perversely mucking around with audience expectations (Cook also foreshadowed Kaufman's bit where he would read classic novels on stage. Cook would sit and read stories from McGuffey's First Reader to the audience, adding color commentary as he went).

Anyway, the similarities between Cook and Woolsey are nothing as compared to the similarities between Woolsey, his mentor Walter Catlett, and Tom Howard (Cook's stooge in Rain or Shine). I like to imagine all three of them as a team, loudly stomping all over each other's lines and trying to upstage one another while all playing essentially the same character.

10:17 PM  

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