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Second-hand Cohan

Author: F Gwynplaine MacIntyre from Minffordd, North Wales
19 April 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'George Washington, Jnr' was originally a 1906 Broadway musical written by George M Cohan as a starring vehicle for himself, his parents and his wife Ethel Levey. (George's sister Josie had dropped out of the family act by then.) The 1906 musical featured one rousing song (an early version of "You're a Grand Old Flag", which Cohan later reworked) and a bunch of songs that are deservedly forgotten.

This 1924 comedy is ostensibly the (silent) film version of Cohan's musical, but nearly all of the original stage show has been jettisoned except for a few embarrassing jokes ... such as the presence of a supporting character named Eaton Ham (ouch!). The film version of 'George Washington, Jnr' features a teenaged protagonist (well-played by Wesley Barry), and the entire focus of the story seems to have been reworked for a younger audience. The romance from the stage version is kept intact here but relegated to supporting characters, so as to keep the 'mushy stuff' to a minimum.

Barry portrays the son of a 1920s politician (William Courtright, in a blustery performance). In order to justify the movie's title, there's a sequence in which Courtright swanks about in a tricorn and 18th-century clothes, as if he were George Washington. The portly Courtright doesn't remotely resemble Washington, but at least this explains why his son is George Washington Junior.

Anyhow, Courtright gets cheated by some crooks. His son, who has a touch of Tintin in his personality, trails the villains to their hideout in a coal mine. There's an exciting climactic sequence in which Barry, clutching the incriminating papers, hotfoots it up a mineshaft with the villains right behind him.

When he isn't fleeing crooks, Barry finds time to orchestrate the courtship and wedding of romantic leads Edward Phillips and Gertrude Olmstead. I've never particularly fancied Olmstead. Here, she looks about as pretty as she ever did, and in one sequence she sports a charming cloche hat ... but in the same sequence she wears a necktie that makes her look downright tomboyish, and it cloches with the clash (I mean it clashes with the cloche).

I'll rate 'George Washington, Jnr' 7 out of 10. It's an enjoyable, well-made film ... but it only distantly resembles George M Cohan's original stage version, and for that reason this movie will be of only limited interest to Cohan's fans.

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