Jack Benny is preparing his New Year's Eve radio broadcast but takes time out to take his valet Rochester to meet his girlfriend Josephine arriving on a steamer. Fred Allen and his sister ...
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Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson
Jack Benny is preparing his New Year's Eve radio broadcast but takes time out to take his valet Rochester to meet his girlfriend Josephine arriving on a steamer. Fred Allen and his sister Barbara are also en route to the dock to meet Barbara's daughter Mary, returning from a personal appearance tour in South America. Josephine is her maid. Their cars get involved in an accident and, in a bumping contest, Fred reduces Jack's old Maxwell to junk, and is taken to jail. Mary loses her dress in an accident and Jack offers to get her another one, but winds up being arrested for stealing. Barbara tells Mary that Fred is a nervous wreck because of Jack's continual slander of him on Jack's radio program. Jack hires the Merry Macs away from Fred and Fred decides to go to Miami for a rest. Jack decides to open his radio program from Miami. They meet, have another brawl, and end up in jail again. The two are in a motorboat accident where both are knocked unconscious and Mary, in an effort to end ... Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Jack Benny and Fred Allen, in their respective popular and long-running shows in the golden age of radio, carried on probably the most famous and well-loved comedy mock-feud in history. The battle, carried on in snide remarks and guest appearances on the two series, was at its height around 1940, and "Love Thy Neighbor" capitalized by extending it to the movie screen.
The result is a slightly strange-feeling but enjoyable musical that seems torn between being an extension of the Benny and Allen radio series and being a standard-issue Hollywood musical. The two leads carry over their characters, but in spots seem to be playing toned-down versions of them. Jack Benny is still the butt of countless jokes for his vanity and cheapness, but he also, uncharacteristically, is the romantic lead who get the girl.
The girl, incidentally, is called Mary, and Jack's saying of that name reminds us that while this sometimes may seem like "The Jack Benny Program" with pictures (and a decade before it appeared on television), we do miss Mary Livingston, Don Wilson, Dennis Day, Phil Harris, and the other regulars. The one who is here is Rochester, who gets a very substantial subplot to himself. Eddie Anderson runs with this and proves if proof were needed that's he's an enchanting performer. His song-and-dance number is a delight, and he actually gets more introspection and character than Jack and Fred do. His subplot does wrap him up in gambling, womanizing, and partying, though -- aspects of his radio character that were phased out after World War II for being too stereotypical and which don't play too well today. It also involves him losing a lot of money at dice to his girlfriend; they have an odd relationship.
the movie is at its best and funniest when Jack and Rochester get to play off each other -- or when he and Fred Allen simply go at each other (the scenes with the car at the beginning, or backstage of Jack's show). These are very wittily written and it's great fun to watch the chemistry between the two. However, it must be admitted that without the Benny-Allen feud element, there would not be much to this movie besides an old hidden-identity plot and a few songs.
It's a little unbelievable for Jack Benny to be falling for Fred Allen's niece, but the niece is very engagingly played by Mary Martin. As a musical, though, this suffers from the fact that the soundtrack seems to be pushing one not-to-special song, "Isn't That Just Like Love," a little too hard to be a hit.
There are some off moments of humor here as well. Fred Allen absurd and witty barbs are just as funny as ever (I would be surprised if he did not contribute heavily to his part of the script), but he also seems to be a trigger-happy madman. He shoots the neon sign for Jack's upcoming show through out through his bedroom window (helps him get to sleep). Then later he seems to get on a motorboat and chase Jack's boat around while firing a gun and trying to shoot him dead. All this is played off breezily and they then briefly even make up, but having Fred try to kill Jack in cold blood seems a little over the top. We also have him taking about 60 sleeping pills in an attempt to alleviate the insomnia Jack has given him. He survives, and I suppose the filmmakers missed the suicidal implications.
Sometimes-out-of-character schizophrenia, this film is great fun for fans of Jack Benny and/or Fred Allen -- and it's essentially fun because of them and Rochester. When this film is fun, it is a triumph over the material, which veers from glorious film meeting of two of the funniest radio series ever, to mediocre standard musical.
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