Thursday, January 22, 2009

Two guys (and a gal) from Gherkes Corners

Tuesday morning, as part of a day-long tribute to Patricia Neal, TCM ran in the early daylight hours the 1949 musical comedy It’s a Great Feeling, featuring the talents of Doris Day, Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan. Warner Home Video, for the curious, is including this irresistible Technicolor concoction in TCM Spotlight: Doris Day, a box set due out April 7th that will also include Tea for Two (1950), April in Paris (1952), The Tunnel of Love (1958) and Starlift (1951).

I’m not quite as gaga over Dodo as some of my fellow classic film fanatics, though I certainly won’t argue that she did some fine work in films like Storm Warning (1951), Love Me or Leave Me (1955) and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)—as well as sublime truffles like The Thrill of It All (1963), Send Me No Flowers (1964) and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966). But Feeling is the kind of movie for which I remember Day best: frothy musicals that weren’t made to address any pressing social issues but are there simply to enjoy. Musicals like Romance on the High Seas (1948) and My Dream is Yours (1949)…both of which, coincidentally enough, feature Jack Carson as Doris’ leading man.

Carson and Dennis Morgan made a total of ten feature films together (I’m including their cameos in 1947’s Always Together and the all-star extravaganzas Thank Your Lucky Stars [1943] and Hollywood Canteen [1944]) between 1942 and 1949, and their pairings were so popular that Warner Bros. used the two song-and-dance men to attempt to duplicate the success of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s “Road” films, beginning with Two Guys from Milwaukee in 1946. They followed Milwaukee two years later with Two Guys from Texas (1948), and by the time Feeling was released the studio had pretty much given up (Feeling would be the team's swan song).

Milwaukee and Texas are entertaining pictures and certainly have their moments, but I’ve always thought it was ironic that their last film, Feeling, was their funniest. Why Carson and Morgan never became a second Hope-and-Crosby is anybody’s guess (I don’t think Bing and Bob really hit their stride until their third film, Road to Morocco [1942]) but I suspect it might have something to do with the two teams’ exposure outside the silver screen; both Hope and Crosby had successful radio shows at the time and frequently guested on each other’s programs, ad-libbing insults in the manor of radio rivals Jack Benny and Fred Allen. Morgan had no such show, but Carson did—a half-hour comedy-variety series that ran from 1943 to 1949; reminiscent of The Jack Benny Program and only intermittingly funny (with the ratings to show for it).

It’s a Great Feeling is a wonderful vehicle for Carson and Morgan; they play themselves and are faced with a dilemma when harried Warners producer Arthur Trent (radio second banana Bill Goodwin) is unable to find anyone willing to take on the assignment of directing Carson in a proposed picture called Mademoiselle Fifi (Raoul Walsh, King Vidor, Michael Curtiz and David Butler are among the studio directors who turn down the proposition)…so it’s decided that Carson himself will assume the directorial reins. This guarantees that Morgan will thumbs-down the picture as well (“I like Carson…he’s a wonderful guy…but he’s such a ham!”) and when he announces his intention of taking a part in a New York stage play, Jack convinces commissary worker Judy Adams (Day) to play the part of Mrs. Jack Carson, who begs Dennis (in a veil and wearing black) to reconsider because Carson faces financial ruin. Morgan agrees to do the picture, but when he learns that his pal told Judy he’d give her a part in the picture to assure her cooperation, he has nothing but contempt for his friend…so Jack reluctantly agrees to team up with Dennis and concentrate on taking control of Judy’s fledgling career and make her the studio’s newest star.

Because it takes place inside the Warner Bros. studios, Feeling takes advantage of some of the studio’s employees and casts many of them in some offbeat—and sometimes hysterical—cameos; this is where Patricia Neal comes in, as she is seen along with Eleanor Parker at a party welcoming Judy’s arrival (who’s disguised as a French movie star, Yvonne Lamour, here to make movies in the U.S.). Other cameos include Gary Cooper, Sydney Greenstreet, Danny Kaye, and Ronald Reagan—as well as then-wife Jane Wyman and daughter Maureen. The funniest bits come from Joan Crawford, who works herself up into a Mildred Pierce-like frenzy when she confronts Jack and Dennis in a dress shop, and Edward G. Robinson, who has difficulty with a studio gate guard who doesn’t realize that his job depends on Eddie G’s tough-guy reputation. But the best one appears at the film’s conclusion (Judy goes back to her hometown to marry sweetheart Jeffrey Bushdinkle), and I’ll keep mum about that one in case you haven’t seen the film. Other individuals character actor fans might pick out include TDOY fave Claire Carleton (as Doris’ roomie), Irving Bacon, Frank Cady, Dudley Dickerson, Buddy Gorman (of Bowery Boys fame), Sandra Gould, Olan Soulé and Nita Talbot.

The game plan was originally to have this post up on Wednesday, but it’s my busy time of the month and I didn’t get it completed until late last night…so I thought I’d supplement it by listening to a broadcast of The Jack Carson Show from December 11, 1946…a Yuletide-themed episode that welcomes Carson’s partner Dennis Morgan as guest star. After being introduced by show announcer Del Sharbutt as “the other guy from Milwaukee” (plugging the 1946 film that was the first of their “Crosby-Hope” teamings), Jack finds himself in conference with his butler, Arthur Treacher, and nephew Tugwell (played by his partner in vaudeville, Dave Willock):

TREACHER: Mr. Carson, I can’t understand why you’re so upset about Mr. Morgan coming over…
JACK: Well, Dennis is a little peeved because I named my rooster, Dennis, after him…
TREACHER: Oh? Well, what if he is peeved?
JACK: Well, this is the whole idea…you see—each year, Dennis and I exchange our Christmas presents two weeks early…because he’s never here for the holidays…and if he’s sore at me…
TREACHER: Yes…that might have an effect on the quality of the gift he gives you
JACK: Yes…yes, it might—and remember last year, we had an argument before Christmas and all he gave me was one bookend
TREACHER: What did you give him, sir?
JACK: Oh, I gave him a very useful gift…a genuine, pearl-handled buttonhook
TREACHER: But, sir…Mr. Morgan doesn’t wear that kind of shoes
JACK: Oh, it wasn’t for his shoes…Dennis told me that when he dresses in the morning he has a hard time fastening those buttons on the back of his underwear…see, the handle was curved and it worked out very well…
TUGWELL: Well, just what are you hoping Mr. Morgan will give you for Christmas, Uncle Jack?
JACK: Well, I’ll tell you, Tugwell…he’s made quite a lot of money this year and being a very generous guy, he might even give me that radio-phonograph I want…
TUGWELL: Gee, some chance of that…when he sees Dennis the rooster; he’ll probably give back the buttonhook you gave him…
JACK: Gee—do you think he might? Oh, no…no…he knows I don’t wear that kind of underwear…
TUGWELL: No…yours doesn’t button in the back…they buckle around the ankle

Jack tells Tugwell to be sure and drop a few subtle hints when Dennis arrives, and upon Dennis’s entrance we learn that Morgan is none too pleased about his partner’s decision to bestow Morgan’s name on his pet rooster (Dennis: “People are beginning to get me mixed up with the rooster!” Jack: “Well, you can’t blame me for that, Dennis—you always did walk that way.”). Upon learning that Jack taught the rooster his signature hit, One Alone, Dennis brightens a bit and while they’re eating lunch, Jack sends Tugwell in for the soft sell:

TUGWELL: By the way, Mr. Morgan—have you finished all your Christmas shopping?
DENNIS: No, I haven’t, Tugwell…it’s so hard to think of what to buy people…
JACK: Oh yes, yes…it is a problem unless you know what they want…
DENNIS: Yes, that’s right…
TUGWELL: Well, if I was giving anybody anything, I’d give him a radio-phonograph…
JACK: Ah, Tugwell…
DENNIS: You would? They’re pretty expensive, you know…
TUGWELL: Well, sure—but you can’t think of money at Christmas time…especially when you’ve made a lot of it during the year…
JACK: Uh, Tugwell…no, that’s…
TUGWELL: Boy…if I went to a fella’s house and saw his radio-phonograph was all broken-down…that’s what I’d get him…
JACK: Uh, Tugwell…
TUGWELL (raising his voice): …especially if he was my best friend…I’d buy him a radio-phonograph!
JACK: Tugwell, you don’t have to shout! (Aside, to Tugwell) He may be dumb, but he’s not deaf…
DENNIS: Yes, Tugwell—a radio-phonograph is a lovely present…and whoever you’re buying it for will be lucky to get it…
JACK: Oh, Tugwell…Tugwell isn’t buying it for anybody…
DENNIS: No?
JACK: He just thought he’d help you in case you couldn’t think of something for somebody you thought a lot of…heh heh…like someone back in Milwaukee (laughing)…you see?
DENNIS (joining in): Oh ho, ho…now I understand…
JACK: It’s about time…
TREACHER: For a minute I thought I’d have to get out the brass knuckles


As you can probably guess, Jack does not wangle a new radio-phonograph out of his pal (which leaves Carson stuck, as he’s given Dennis a wristwatch)…but he does sing a duet with Dennis, The Gal in Calico from their picture The Time, The Place and the Girl (1946)…and a phonograph record of Dennis warbling One Alone. Add appearances by Norma Jean Nilsson, Irene Ryan and Freddy Martin and His Orchestra, and you have a half-hour that’s worthy of its Campbell’s sponsorship—mmm mmm good!

2 comments:

Andrew Leal said...

I've been trying to find copies of The Jack Carson Show (and its predecessor, Carson's stint on Camel Comedy Caravan) and failed. But most of the Caravan scripts are online, as compiled from tobaccodocuments.org, no less, but gathered in more readable form by the OTRR folks here: http://www.otrr.org/FILES/Scripts_pdf/Camel%20Comedy%20Caravan/

It's interesting reading as a transition. It features holdovers from Abbott and Costello, namely Elvia Allman and Ken Niles (with the exact same joke style, only with Carson slinging the insults instead of the Costello) and Billy Gray (no, not that one) as Little Matilda but basically set the template for "The Jack Carson Show."

As you probably know, it featured Eddie Marr as a recurring character referred to only as "the salesman," whose catchphrase was "Tell you what I'm gonna do" and as you *definitely know, he was repurposed as Jack's press agent. Mel Blanc played Jack's butler Jerkins, who was then replaced by Arthur Treacher. Tugwell seems to stand in for Little Matilda in a lot of ways with the "Uncle Jack" stuff, and according to Dunning some shows even featured Agnes Moorehead as "the fierce Mrs. Freddy Martin," which sounds like a Mrs. Niles reworking to me.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Andrew, I'll point you toward the source of the largest number of available Carson programs that I know: Jerry Haendiges, who has a good chunk of the broadcasts from Jack's 1946-47 season (sponsored by Campbell's Soups).

Here's the addy:

http://www.otrsite.com/catalog/mp3catalog/mpj1018.htm

Carson's show kind of runs hot-and-cold...some of the broadcasts (the one with Howard Duff is a doozy) are pretty funny, the others merely so-so.