Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Follow the Flit

While Okay for Sound may not be the funniest Crazy Gang feature, their 1937 screen debut (as a unit) does afford us this nearly eight minute introductory stretch that manages to sum up almost all of the Gang's strengths and weaknesses. Not surprisingly, Flanagan and Allen completely dominate this clip, performing Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr's "Free", with Nervo and Knox coming in a close second and Naughton and Gold pulling up the (baggy) rear. Of Nervo and Knox, it's the lisping, sniffling, personable Teddy Knox who draws my attention; in this footage he redefines low comedy with his habit of wiping his nose and then rubbing his hand off on the clothes of the person standing next to him. The acrobatic Jimmy Nervo, however, was the senior partner of the act and was considered by most to be the true heart of the Gang, although I have to admit he doesn't exactly wow me in the Gang pictures (to be fair, he may be much funnier in his own starring vehicles, and it has been said that the entire Gang was far funnier live). Naughton and Gold are the likable yet interchangeable Glaswegan clowns who handle the bulk of the Gang's rough(er) slapstick. Far from brilliant and largely seen as the Gang's shortest and weakest links, Naughton and Gold are, however, said to have had a knockabout "paperhangers" routine that was one of the great Music Hall acts of the oughts and teens. The Crazy Gang has often been clumsily compared to the Marx Brothers by lazy commentators who feel the need to liken the Gang to something Americans might be familiar with, but as you can see in this clip there's no similarity beyond their being a gaggle of comics. I'd even be hard-pressed to call the Gang at team at all. Every now and then there will be a little bit of comedy partner-swapping, but usually the Gang splits at intervals into its respective double-acts for individual turns, primarily because an agreement between the acts specified that each receive equal screen time. Whatever they were, though, the Crazy Gang was funny in a wonderfully self-indulgent way; the punny movie titles sequence in this clip is a testament to that ("Follow the Flit", indeed!). I feel compelled to point out that Albert, the page boy on the bicycle, is played by Graham Moffatt, the younger, rounder half of Moffatt and Marriott, Will Hay's erstwhile stooges. More on them later, Bananaphiles.

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Blogger East Side said...

I find it striking how the Brits loved this kind of low-life slapstick comedy combined with sentimental songs like "Free."

There was a song by the UK band the Style Council titled "Come to Milton Keynes" that features a spoken-word passage awfully similar to Chesney Allen's in this clip. I wonder if they, like the Beatles before them, had been exposed to this kind of music hall entertainment in their youth, if only via old movies on TV.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

No one delivered low comedy and schmaltz in equal doses like Flanagan and Allen which is why they ruled the British entertainment world through WWII. It's Chesney Allen's sincere personality that allows them to pull it off. Chesney's "confidential" spoken passages are a deliberate and specific take on another singer's style, but for the life of me, I can't remember who.

8:12 PM  

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