Abbott & Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection. The decision I had to make at the time was: could the absence of It Ain’t Hay from the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives justify a re-purchase of movies I already owned? I eventually vetoed the purchase; I know there were complaints that the previous releases sometimes wouldn’t play properly in newer machines…but since I hadn’t experienced any problems in that arena I didn’t sweat it. Besides, through my formidable connections with Mom-and-Pop video outlets, I already owned a VHS copy of Hay. (Okay, I’m making this sound more important than it is: Martin Grams, Jr. sold me the flick.)
presented itself in 2011…but the prohibitive cost of MOD discs kept it away from Rancho Yesteryear until January of this year; Oldies.com had a sale on “Vault” titles and I grabbed the movie for eleven dollars. It’s been a good while since I’ve watched the film (I don’t think I even have the VHS copy anymore—it probably vanished during one of our many moves) so it’s the perfect item for the blog’s participation in Overlooked Films on Tuesdays.
Though Runyon’s “O’Hara” is refashioned as a vehicle for Bud (as Grover Mockridge) and Lou (cab driver Wilbur Hoolihan), it keeps the basic concept of a thoroughbred race horse that’s kidnapped and is unwittingly used to pull a hansom cab around New York City. (In many versions of the story—notably an adaption presented on radio’s The Damon Runyon Theatre on February 20, 1949—the “King O’Hara” of the story has snuffed it, leaving his daughter “Princess” to eke out a living.) In the A&C version, Wilbur gives the O’Hara’s livelihood (a horse named Finnegan) a bite of his peppermint stick candy…and the nag dies soon after.
The Lemon Drop Kid (1951). (Lemon was a remake of a version released in 1934 as was Jones [Little Miss Marker] …but Marker also saw another version released in 1980 as well as inspiring a 1965 Tony Curtis romp, Forty Pounds of Trouble.) Sadly, with only a few exceptions (Lady for a Day  and A Slight Case of Murder  are the ones that immediately come to mind), the author’s unique world of gamblers, boxers, actors, grifters and hustlers aren’t as well-served in movie adaptations as we might like. (The best is the 1955 musical Guys and Dolls…which Runyon didn’t technically write, but his short stories provided the inspiration for the 1950 Tony Award-winning stage hit.)
As such, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that It Ain’t Hay is more Abbott & Costello vehicle than a faithful representation of Damon Runyon. Not that Hay is a bad film; it’s aggressively average A&C but a lot of fun if you’re willing to park your brain in neutral. It allows the duo to squeeze in their famous “Mudder and Fodder” routine, which gets stretched across several scenes in the film. (I still think—and I’m gambling Hal will back me up on this—that that classic exchange gets a better workout in 1948’s The Noose Hangs High, with Leon Errol taking over from Bud as straight man.) Bud and Lou also do a version of “Betting Parlor,” which is one of Hay’s highlights, featuring support from Richard Lane, Andrew Tombes, Ralph Peters, and TDOY fave Herb Vigran.
GROVER: Go answer the door…It might be Warner…
WILBUR: It won’t do no good…we’re all signed up with Universal!