Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Holidays from The Third Banana!

Santa Clark and all of us here at The Third Banana wish you and yours the happiest of holidays and a wonderful new year. In honor of the season, please enjoy this trove of Jack Benny holiday goodness culled from around the net.. all free, as Mr. Benny would no doubt appreciate.

First, courtesy Ernie (Not Bert), is this Dennis Day Christmas album from 196?, Christmas is for the Family. A very nice album, but the cover, featuring Dennis and his family with Jack as Santa, is a little worrying. Jack, as it states in the liner notes, was sick when this photo was taken, and check out the shiner on the boy in the middle! You'd think someone would have put some makeup on that eye or at least have done a bit of retouching on the photo itself before having the covers printed. But, hey, this was released on budget label Pickwick, so that's what you get; Jack Benny on the brink of puking and a kid with a swollen black eye.

And here, thanks to the wonder that is, are fifty holiday episodes of The Jack Benny Program. That includes Halloween, Thanksgiving, and New Years shows as well as Christmas. Enjoy!
1938-10-30 Halloween Party
1938-12-11 Christmas Shopping
1938-12-25 Jack's Christmas Open House
1939-01-01 Goodbye 1938, Hello 1939
1939-10-29 The Halloween Masquerade Party
1939-11-19 Mary's Thanksgiving Poem
1939-12-17 Christmas Shopping- East Coast Version
1939-12-24 Christmas Shopping for Perfume Necktie
1939-12-31 No New Years Eve Date For Jack
1940-12-22 Christmas Shopping
1941-01-05 Christmas Gift Exchange
1941-11-02 Halloween
1941-12-21 The Christmas Tree
1941-12-28 Jack Talks About A Christmas Party He Gave
1942-01-04 New Years Eve Party
1942-12-20 From Fort Devon Boston
1943-11-21 The Awful Turkey Dream
1943-12-26 Christmas at Jack' s House
1944-01-02 Annual New Years Eve Show
1944-11-26 How Jack and the Gang Spent Thanksgiving Day
1944-12-24 Trimming A Tree
1944-12-31 Jack Resolves To Be Friends with Fred Allen
1945-12-30 Christmas Presents on New Year
1946-12-22 Christmas Party At Birmingham General Hospital
1946-12-29 Jack, Mary, Gladys, and Dennis
1947-11-23 Movie Of Jack's Life- Thanksgiving Show
1947-11-30 Turkey Dream
1947-12-21 Last Moment Christmas Shopping
1947-12-28 New Tenant
1948-10-31 Jack Goes Trick or Treating
1948-11-28 How Jack and the Gang Spent Thanksgiving
1948-12-19 Jack Buys a Wallet for Don as a Christmas Gift
1949-12-18 Mary Buys Jack a Pencil Sharpener for Christmas
1950-01-01 Jack Can't Make Mary's Party and is Stood Up by his Date
1950-12-17 Jack Buys Don Golf Tees for Christmas
1950-12-24 Beavers Come Over To Jack's for Christmas
1950-12-31 A New Year's Fantasy
1951-12-02 Jack Buys Don Cuff Links For Christmas
1951-12-23 Christmas Tree Decoration
1951-12-30 New Year's Eve Date with a French Girl
1952-11-09 Jack Goes to the Doctor for a Vitamin Shot
1952-12-14 Jack Buys a Gopher Trap for Don
1952-12-21 Setting Up a Christmas Tree
1953-11-29 Thanksgiving Dinner
1953-12-13 Christmas Show from Palm Springs
1953-12-20 Cactus Christmas Tree
1954-12-05 Christmas Shopping
1954-12-12 In Palm Springs
1954-12-19 Christmas at Palm Springs
1954-12-26 Day After Christmas- Dennis Cold
And to download all fifty shows as a zip file, click here.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

War + Holiday Depression + Funny Swedes = Merry Christmas!

Here are a couple of audio-based, Christmas-oriented, comedy-infused goodies for you courtesy of other people. First, courtesy of Senses Working Overtime. the Blue Network 1944 Christmas special, a (second-string) star-studded two hour extravaganza hosted by Gracie Fields and featuring Alan Young, Paul Whiteman, William Bendix, Ed and Keenan Wynn, Charlotte Greenwood, the Andrews Sisters, Herbert Marshall, Joe E. Brown and others. To be honest, this is a somewhat dour affair. Fascinating, but dour. Live radio hookups between US servicemen around the world and their families lack the emotion you would expect (and that the show would need) because the participants sound as though they're reading from prepared scripts, probably a precautionary move on the part of the network to keep everything on schedule and prevent anything censorable from going out over the air. More depressing by far are the "comedy" stylings of Wendell Niles and Don Prindle, an announcer and a gagwriter respectively, who don't quite constitute a comedy team but give an almost lifelike impression of one.

Probably the most awkward moment of the special belongs to Ed and Keenan Wynn in part three. Poor Ed flubs his lines and even has to start over at one point, the kind of situation he could usually spin into an extra laugh, but Ed is too depressed to bother. For his part, Keenan sounds remarkably impatient with his dad ("You've got another line, Pop. You say "I miss you, son." I've gotta have the right cue."). The script doesn't help much, either, elaborating at length about how Ed's film career has fizzled, how his radio series Happy Island (which would be axed two months after this broadcast) isn't doing terribly well, and how his son is doing much, much better in showbusiness. The audience response is cool, to say the least. The 40s were not a happy time for Ed Wynn. His marriage had collapsed, his attempts to return to Broadway had come to nothing, and the ironically entitled Happy Island would prove his last starring vehicle on radio. Ed would rebound with his 1949 TV series for Camel (the first Emmy-winner) and then again in 1956 with his breakout dramatic role in Requiem For a Heavyweight, but severe depression was the order of the day in 1944.

For me, the real bright spot of the special, aside from the music, is Alan Young. His own series, which had begun on NBC in June before switching to the Blue Network in October, was marked by a somewhat ahead-of-its time style of rapid-fire nonsense humor. In the special, Alan is making time on a porch with his sweetheart Betty (probably Jean Gillespie). Her grandfather repeatedly interrupts them:

Grandfather: Hey! What time is this to be making love to my granddaughter??

Alan: Um, 8:30.

Grandfather: Oh, all right. Good night!

and later..

Alan: Betty, I'm gonna take you in my arms and kiss ya, and then...

Grandfather: Hey! I'll teach you to kiss my granddaughter!

Alan: Too late. I already know!

Grandfather: Oh, all right. Good night!

Alan: Good night!

But the best gag of all barely registers a laugh:

Betty: Alan, you've got a head on your shoulders..


Thanks to Ernie (Not Bert), I've gotten my dialect comedy fix for the month with this 1951 Christmas EP from Yogi Yorgesson (aka Harry Stewart). Lo and behold, dialect comic Harry Stewart has a website devoted to him, so I won't go into detail about the guy here. Suffice to say, anyone who wrote lines for Smilin' Ed McConnell's Froggy the Gremlin ("Hi'ya, kids! Hi'ya hi'ya!!), performed the 1957 voice of Crusader Rabbit, and whose widow married Jim "Fibber McGee" Jordan is tops in my book and is fully worthy of Third Banana status. When not performing lovable Swede Yogi, Harry donned thick glasses and huge novelty buckteeth and played a wacky Japanese character named.. wait for it! HARRY KARI! What a card!

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ted Healy: In Memoriam

In his own time, Ted Healy's biggest problem was Ted Healy. Ted was an out of control actor before it became fashionable. Highly talented and blessed with the ability to woo a tough crowd in record time, Ted also drank to excess, gambled, womanized, fought, and was even a bit of a pyromaniac, reportedly carrying a hip flask full of kerosene. He was a true eccentric, given to whims and not at all afraid to make a scene in public if the mood struck him. He could be generous and fiercely loyal to his friends, but his hair-trigger temper repeatedly landed him in hot water and, in several instances, undoubtedly set back his career. 69 years ago today, the risks of living dangerously caught up with him and he died of liver failure following a drunken brawl at the Brown Derby. He was only 41.

Today the problem with Ted Healy is his stooges. If they had never split for the cozy, atavistic comforts of Columbia, if they had never become baby boomer pop culture icons, if they had remained the rough-and-tumble goons of their vaudeville days with Ted, then Ted himself would probably be much better regarded today, probably as exactly what he was; a top-notch, talented and extremely innovative comedian who died the very peak of his abilities. But that isn't the way it worked out. If Ted Healy is remembered at all, it's never just Ted that most people remember, it's Ted Healy and his stooges.. or Stooges, rather. His best work in film, his two pictures for Warner Brothers, remain sadly obscure, especially in contrast with the 190 bite-size and comfortably similar Stooge shorts that have been TV mainstays since 1958. Ted's only starring feature, Soup To Nuts, remained largely unseen until 2005 when it was released on DVD with a sleeve featuring a huge picture of the Stooges. Them's the breaks.

Don't get me wrong.. I love the Stooges. I grew up with the Stooges. But the unbridled hate so many die-hard Stoogephiles feel towards Healy, witnessed in full during my time as webmaster of, saddens me. There's certainly no poetic justice in Ted's fate unless you accept the fairy tale notion that the Howard, Fine, and Howard spent their formative years toiling anonymously, propping up an ungrateful, talentless ham. This handy and highly marketable myth aside, the real problem is that the dynamic between Ted Healy and his stooges is innately divisive. The comedy emerges from that division. There is no real common ground to be found between Healy's eccentric and off-handed cynicism and the Stooges' classic clowning, nor should there be. That's why Moe, even as "leader" of the Stooges, is still a stooge (whether he knows it or not), whereas Ted, when his role as leader is literalised in films such as Meet the Baron, is simply a world apart, a tinpot tyrant, and there's no doubt whatsoever that he is in charge. When an audience accepts the complete package, as they did in the 20s and 30s, that innate divide between the cynical proxy and the clown (or clowns) is gold. But when an audience favors one side over the other, it's poison. To someone weened on the Columbia shorts and incapable of seeing beyond them or contextualizing them, Ted must come across as the worst kind of interloper and, as such, is apparently worthy of the kind of scorn usually reserved for serial killers and politicians. A pity.

The cynic and the clown; if Ted Healy didn't invent the formula, he certainly popularized it. Milton Berle brought it lock, stock, and barrel into the television age, with Arnold Stang regularly playing stooge and Berle playing the wiseass go-between. Martin and Lewis became the hottest nightclub comedy act in history with it before Paramount pissed it all away by repeatedly casting Dean as some kind of humorless villain. Even today, you can see a down-to-earth equivalent of the dynamic between David Letterman and many of his guests. At least Letterman can move on to the next guest. Ted is currently locked in limbo with his Stooges, his post-stooge film work remaining largely unseen or ignored. Unfortunately, it's in that work where Ted Healy really is, the gruff, scene-stealing character actor who could handle both comedy and drama with flair. By 1937, he and his writers at Warners had even discovered ways to make you care for the guy (think W. C. Fields). Everything pointed towards a brilliant future for Ted. Given the trajectory that American showbusiness actually followed, Ted Healy would have been ahead of the curve every step of the way, from the sharp cynicism of wartime comedy to the dawn of "vaudeo" where Ted's quick wit and ability to work an audience would have certainly given Uncle Miltie a run for his money. As far as I'm concerned, Ted Healy will remain the greatest "what if" of classic comedy, and I'll be drinking a 60-proof toast to his memory this Christmas.

Reader EastSide has been kind enough to draw my attention to these vintage Healy clips from YouTube. First, 6 minutes and 8 seconds from Plane Nuts (1933), the second most complete record of Ted's vaudeville act (the first, and superior, being the recreation of the act in Soup To Nuts (1930)).

Here's a nice clip of Ted hitting on a couple of unbilled Chinese women in a clip from Myrt and Marge (1933). They're singers, but I have yet to discover their names. Myrt and Marge is easily the finest hour for Ted Healy and his stooges as supporting castmembers in a feature. MGM never handled the team nearly as well as Al Boasberg and Universal. Ted's rueful glare at the camera at the film's close is one of my all-time favorite Healy moments. Brilliant.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Happy Holidays with Phil Harris!

Here's a rarity; the first half (presumably) of the May 29th, 1933 episode of Hollywood On the Air, what seems to be a transcribed promotional series for RKO. This episode features a very young Phil Harris, a few years before he began his stint with Jack Benny, more than a decade before his own series with wife Alice Faye, and eons before he performed the voice of Baloo in Disney's Jungle Book. Unfortunately, it's also years before he developed his brilliant radio personality. This is Bandleader/Singer Harris, not lovable egotistic lug Harris, delivering his lines in the overly-mannered style fashionable in early 30s radio. This is a dual promotion for Phil's film debut in the Oscar-winning short So This is Harris! and its progeny, the pre-Code wonder Melody Cruise. Special mention is made of newcomer Chick Chandler, a light comedy song and dance man who, while never quite achieving fame, remained steadily employed in Hollywood for another 37 years (and who is best known to MST3K fans as Wilbur the Angel in Bell Telephone's Once Upon a Honeymoon (1956)). For contrast, here's Phil, Alice and Jack(son) Benny in, appropriately enough, the Christmas 1949 episode of the Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, courtesy OTRCAT. As far as I'm concerned, aside from The Jack Benny Program, I don't think you'll find another 40s/50s radio sitcom that tops PH-AF for timing, writing, and characterization. Not convinced? Well, here are another nine episodes to persuade you, you hard-hearted cad.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Funny Faces on the Films - part 4 (b); The Final Thrashings

by Geoff Collins

This time we've finally reached the end of our look at the weird or wonderful comedy people from Film Fun Annual 1939. Only two comedians remain unaccounted for, as different from each other as it's possible to be. Have I saved the best until last?

STANLEY LUPINO: as I mentioned in an earlier article, it puzzled me that there could be two Lupinos, one of whom used Lupino as his Christian name. This was the immortal Henry George Lupino, known professionally as Lupino Lane and privately as Nipper, a celebrated star of silent Hollywood two-reelers and 1930s London stage musicals. Versions of Me and My Girl are still touring today; Ivy and I saw this classic show at the Milton Keynes Theatre on Nov. 28th, and if Nipper was as funny as Michael Frame in the lead role, he must have been a truly great comedian. Which he was, of course...

Stanley Lupino was Nipper's cousin, or uncle, or grandad, or sister. Who knows? To avoid and also cause confusion at the same time, we offer you another look at the Lupino Family Tree, from John Parker's Who's Who in the Theatre, 1946:

Stanley's birthdate is usually given as 1893, not '94 as stated here, but I'll let you know definitely when I get a good look at his impressive monument in Lambeth Cemetery. He was Ida's dad, co-starred with Thelma Todd in You Made Me Love You (a hilarious updating of The Taming of the Shrew) and was notoriously the host of the Hollywood party from which Thelma drove home to her mysterious death. Stanley, however, didn't make any pictures in Hollywood. His thirteen movies were all made in London and were mostly cinematic versions of his stage musicals; for Stanley, like Nipper, was a superb stage comedian, often seen in partnership with the underrated and sadly underfilmed Laddie Cliff (1891-1937). Stanley and Laddie worked beautifully together; they were both small, quirky, dapper and acrobatic. Over She Goes is, in my opinion, the best example we have of what a 1930s London musical comedy looked like, and it contains one heck of a number, "Side By Side", sung and danced all around the room at lightning speed by Stanley, Laddie and the "romantic lead" John Wood. This dazzling routine can be seen on the Pathe website and includes an incredible 360-degree pan; for a few seconds the stagey country-house set seems real. (Maybe it was; the exterior shots are very impressive). In this movie, and others which Stanley usually wrote himself, he and Laddie are ex-music hall performers incongruously in love with classy society girls. After the inevitable farcical complications (dressing up, pretending to be your own long-lost uncle; you know the sort of thing) with some interesting musical interludes along the way, all ends well. In Cheer Up, aspiring songwriter Stanley has to prove to his pal Roddy Hughes (Laddie being presumably unavailable for this one) that he can write a song about anything - and he comes up with the tender ballad "Steak and Kidney Pudding, I Adore You". Now that's a collector's item.

Stanley's movies are woefully neglected and unavailable, so please search out the bits and pieces on the Pathe website and enjoy his talent. It's now known that he was a highly-strung, temperamental hypochondriac, dabbling in spiritualism (through loneliness, when his wife Connie went to Hollywood with Ida), claiming to be in communication with the ghost of Dan Leno, and frequently threatening not to go onstage due to some mystery ailment. Actually he wasn't kidding. It was cancer that eventually got him, in his late forties, so he's forgotten today; and that's a disgrace. He's buried, appropriately enough, near his idol Dan Leno. Someday soon, when I make the pilgrimage, I'll let you know all the details.

Our final character - and I use the term advisedly - is far from forgotten.

JIMMY DURANTE: "It won't be long now, folks! Ha-cha-cha!" says Jimmy "Schnozzle" Durante, straight to camera at the end of What-No Beer? in the most terrifying close-up since Nosferatu. It's not easy to be indifferent about this cheerful, ebullient entertainer. To most Americans he's Vaudeville Personified; strangely, admirers of Buster Keaton take a quite different viewpoint. Buster's career was starting to slide a bit once he'd become entangled in MGM's vice-like grip, so they brought in the Schnoz, initially as a supporting player in The Passionate Plumber (which stinks, believe me) then as a below-the-title co-star: Buster Keaton in Speak Easily with Jimmy Durante; and finally as, in effect, half of a double-act: Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante in What-No Beer? By the time of this final effort Buster was an alcoholic mess, a fact sadly visible onscreen, and Jimmy had to carry much of the movie himself, not to everyone's satisfaction. It's one of the most vilified films ever made, as if Jimmy is being blamed personally for circumstances beyond his control. But what was he supposed to do? Nearly forty, hardly a Clark Gable lookalike, he was unlikely to say no to a top Hollywood studio anxious to promote him to star billing; and Buster's decline was by this point inevitable anyway. What-No Beer? is no classic (Speak Easily is a better movie) but Buster and Jimmy are convincing as old army pals anxious to break into the beer racket at the end of prohibition:

Mr. Jordan (financier): Well, er...this is a new enterprise for you, Jimmy. (glances at blank-faced Buster, whose naive responses have nearly undermined their scheme) Have you known your partner long?

Jimmy: Oh, yes. (all smiles) We were shell-shocked together in France.

Mr. Jordan: Oh, you were?

Jimmy: (dirty look at Buster) But I got over mine.

The movie also has a pleasantly quiet running gag, prompted by this choice bit of dialogue. It's raining outside, and taxidermist Buster removes his umbrella from a stuffed-kangaroo umbrella-stand:

Jimmy: What's that?!

Buster: That's a kangaroo.

Jimmy: A what?

Buster: A kangaroo - a native of Australia.

Jimmy: (aghast) Oh!!! (slaps his own face in horror)

Buster: What's the matter?

Jimmy: My sister married one o' dem!

The only problem with this much-maligned movie - if it is a problem - is that Jimmy, by his very nature as a performer, hardly lets Buster get a word in; and yet he did this to everybody - or so posterity would have us believe, for let's not forget, this was all scripted. Keaton fans should be more lenient towards Jimmy and his bombastic malapropisms. It's hard not to like a man who, when asked if he ever wanted to play Hamlet, replied "To hell with dose small towns - New York's da place for me!"

That's it, readers; we've Finally Finished the Funny Faces. Have a Happy [insert here whatever you intend to celebrate] and I'll be back soon with some more obscure people you've never heard of. But trust me, they're all worth the effort. Adios.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Zero Does Seuss

Many thanks to Way Out Junk for making available this fantastic 1975 recording of Zero Mostel reading The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. Utterly, absolutely fascinating, fun, and terrifying. Zero delivers his lines as the Grinch with such horrific primal gusto that it would be a wonder if kids across the nation didn't get nightmares from listening to this seemingly innocuous album. "That's one thing he hated; the noise, noise, HAHAHAHAHA!! NOISE, N-O-I-S-E!!!!" Adding to the uneasy atmosphere is an electronic background score that sounds as though it was culled from a Dario Argento giallo film. In striking contrast, the B-side features traditional Christmas songs from around the world soothingly sung by Canadian folk musician Alan Mills.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Funny Faces on the Films - part 4 (a)

by Geoff Collins

At last! We've reached the final part of Funny Faces on the Films, or Manic Mugs on the Movies, that intriguing 4-page photo feature from my beloved but crumbling Film Fun Annual 1939 in which the great and the adequate share equal billing, before time and posterity sorted 'em out. At least I can claim that this is the first part of the last part. [Later on, I may attend the party of the first part of the last part; it's that time of year, folks] Two of our subjects deserve a bit more than a cursory glance, and you, dear reader, don't want to be here all night and neither do I! So we'll get to 'em later! In the meantime...

It's Good-Natured Wimp week! Jack Haley certainly falls into that category. Not in real life, I'm sure, but it's fair to say that this most charitable and amiable of men often came across as bland and diffident on screen, apart from his well-documented and justly-praised turn as the Tin Man. By the mid-forties when he was appearing in things like Higher and Higher (a "let's put Sinatra in something - anything!"-motivated adaptation of his Broadway flop) Jack was more or less on autopilot. In People Are Funny he's so insipid that when his brilliant idea for a radio show is stolen from him by a couple of sharpies, he [apparently - please don't ask me to sit through all of it] just lets it happen. Mind you, even Stan and Ollie could pull a fast one on this Haley. Much more acerbic - and more fun, but probably for all the wrong reasons - is the wise-guy New Yorker persona he adopts in the Vitaphone short Saltwater Daffy. This excellent two-reeler is featured in the misleadingly-titled Three Stooges Early Years DVD set, and teams Haley with Shemp Howard. At least Shemp looks the part; Haley's would-be pickpocketing toughie character is totally at odds with his appearance of baby-faced innocence. Haley could do Cantorish sarcasm very well, as he proves in Follow Thru; it's a pity he wasn't allowed to do it more often. Why didn't somebody think to team him with Joan Davis?

The photo of Jack Haley "and friend" dates from 1933 and the un-named friend is Jack's Sitting Pretty co-star Jack Oakie in his costume for Paramount's woefully misjudged Alice in Wonderland (employ all the stars at your studio and render them unrecognizable!) Oakie was never a wimp of any kind: this was the man who stole an entire movie from Charlie Chaplin, with his immortal Napaloni in The Great Dictator ("You gotama carpet? Putama down!") Subsequently this cheerful double-taker became almost as chubby as he appears here, and disappeared into the morass of routine Fox musicals - although The Great American Broadcast is anything but routine, probably Jack's best starring vehicle. Like our other Jack, he enlivened many ordinary movies, glowed in a few good ones (Million Dollar Legs) and occasionally, as in The Rat Race, showed us what a sensitive actor he really was.

Another good-natured wimp: Robertson Hare. Even in his earliest appearances this bald little man looked middle-aged. He also looked worried, harassed and embarrassed. "Bunny" Hare was most comfortably placed at the top of the supporting cast, although his character was frequently made as uncomfortable as possible due to some devious plot concocted by the very best of London's stage comedians (Walls, Lynn, Henson) who used him as an unwilling stooge. "Farce" is a maligned and misunderstood word. At its best, it's a perfect art form and its history is lovingly catalogued in Brian Rix's excellent Life In the Farce Lane.

Many of the "Aldwych farces", written by Ben Travers in the 1920s for the Aldwych Theatre, were filmed in the early 30s due to the efforts of director/star Tom Walls who was just as wily a networker offscreen as he was on. Much of the fun to be had from these charming period pieces revolves around the efforts of Walls and his initially reluctant accomplice, silly-ass Ralph Lynn, to extricate themselves from some self-inflicted predicament via treachery and subterfuge. Poor Bunny Hare always got caught up in this; as a visiting vicar or some other entirely innocent petty-authority figure, he often ended up trouserless. "Oh calamity!" he would declaim in that choirmaster's voice, and we all felt for him. His humiliation was total.

Laughter and Life, an uncompleted, unreleased documentary, can be viewed on the Pathe website; it includes a warm, friendly conversation between Bunny and Sid James, leading into a lengthy clip from Aren't Men Beasts? which demonstrates perfectly the on-screen relationship between long-suffering Bunny and his frequent stage-and-screen partner, bald, bullying, overbearing Alfred Drayton. British farce at its best. Bunny was still active into his late seventies, in the TV series All Gas and Gaiters. His character was a bit more crafty but, bless him, he still looked exactly the same. Another Pathe clip shows him distributing Christmas gifts to poor children, which just about sums up this warm-hearted man.

Yet another good-natured wimp - whether in real life or not, I don't know - was Claude Dampier. Who remembers him now? He was seriously limited by his startling appearance, a tall, terminally toothy village idiot in a bowler hat, with a voice like the cultured English cousin of Peter Lorre. With this armory of horrors you can well imagine there weren't many starring roles for poor Claude. Nonetheless he was a success on radio in a double-act with his (much younger) wife Billie Carlyle, in which he gently misunderstood everything she said, and rambled on about his mysterious friend Mrs. Gibson. Claude can be seen, if memory serves, with Billie in She Shall Have Music, as a mightily irritating piano tuner in Radio Parade of 1935 ("yesss...that's right" he says, over and over again) and as an effete and frankly strange rabbit-clutching member of the teaching staff in Will Hay's early solo effort Boys Will Be Boys, although God knows what he could teach. Rabbit-clutching? The film contains one appalling moment: headmaster Hay knows that pupil Jimmy Hanley's stolen a necklace and proceeds to search him briskly. Enter Claude, to find them furiously wrestling on the floor. Hay, embarrassed, explains ""I... I was just teaching him a few tackles." "I see" says Claude, with total innocence. Gruesome; I never want to watch it again.

Claude's unique facial equipment made him a cartoonists' favourite; he's the only one of our Funny Faces to have his own cartoon strip in the Annual itself, breezing through each situation with that fixed rictus grin - and he also appears on the cover, which is enough to frighten anybody off. No wonder it's a rare book.

By a process of elimination you will have worked out that our remaining two Funny Faces are Stanley Lupino and Jimmy Durante [Nigel Bruce voice: "Amazing, Holmes; how do you do it?"] but I'll deal with them, fairly, I hope, during our next dip into this Holiest and Grailiest of movie books. [Big, terrifying close-up of Durante: "It won't be long now, folks! Ha-cha-cha!"]

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