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Though I've not seen this movie since the 1960s, I do have the musical numbers on an audio cassette (somewhere ...) and can attest to the great soundtrack. Jack Benny was one of a kind, a comedian who could have you in fits of laughter simply by lifting an eyebrow, or gazing at the camera as if to say: "I told you so." If this ever appears on dvd, I'll be at the front of the queue!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As previous reviewers have said, this film was a cinematic
capitalization of the very famous feud between radio icons Fred Allen,
the star of Allen's Alley, and the immortal Jack Benny. The film shows
them at their fussy best, with Allen in fact becoming manic and
homicidal! He was also a master comedian, and became known as the
greatest wit of the old time radio era. This feud was so famous that
one of the first requests of the Command Performance listening audience
was that these two gentlemen would "make up." As those listeners were
strictly World War II GI's, this wish was granted--but only briefly!
The two were actually great friends, and very appreciate of each
others' gifts. The best element of this film, then, are their wonderful
scenes together: they are funnier together than apart.
Another true, valuable talent here is Eddie Anderson. This Negro entertainment pioneer was associated with Jack Benny since the mid-30's, when he began as a bit part on a radio program, until the end of his life. He was so funny as a train porter on that first program that Benny, never jealous of real talent, created a permanent role for him as Rochester, the rascally butler/chauffeur/cook/man Friday, and he became wealthy and famous.
The film is charming, unpretentious, fun, musical, and hilarious. The jokes are great; and Benny, though somewhat out of character, was never better. It was post-depression and pre-war, but its audiences didn't know that: escapism was what movie audiences of the day got. If you like the Hope and Crosby "Road" pictures, you will like this one. It's also a great treat to hear a luminous young Mary Martin render "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." It was America ofthe day at its happiest. And it showcases the funniest man we have ever produced.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Warning--Contains minor SPOILERS.
First of all, let me say that I've been wanting to see this movie for over 10 years. Although I'm still in my 20s, Jack Benny has been my favorite comedian for a little over 13 years. I loved hearing him and Fred Allen together on radio, so I was very excited when I found a VHS tape of this movie for sale on ebay at a good price, so I bought it without reservation.
To be very honest, I just plain didn't like it. In fact, I liked The Horn Blows at Midnight much better than Love Thy Neighbor. Maybe this was partly due to the fact that I'm not a fan of musicals, but I prefer plot and humor.
For me, this movie had way too many songs in it, which was just filler for a pretty weak story. Yes, Jack and Fred had their scenes where they fought well and insulted each other, but that was the only thing this movie had going for it. Also, considering that they were both playing "themselves" (their radio personalities), why is Jack falling in love with and marrying Fred Allen's attractive niece? On radio, all the beautiful women hated Jack, and the only women who would go out with him were plumbers, telephone operators, waitresses. Besides, Mary Livingstone was the closest thing to a "girlfriend" that Jack had on radio. I understand that Mary had severe stage fright, hence only appearing in one film ever, but she could have at least been mentioned in this movie.
All in all, I was very disappointed with it, because it didn't come close to being what I had hoped for. The best thing about it was at least having a chance to see Jack and Fred arguing rather than just hearing them.
I was very keen,as a longtime fan of both Jack Benny and Fred Allen to see how they would work together in a film.What a disappointment.The script was feeble and devoid of any wit at all.It has to be said that Jack Benny was far better in films where he actually played a character than when he played his radio character.Maybe he was a far better actor than anyone realised at the time.Maybe if you took his character out of the radio situation it just did not work.The least you would expect from 2 great comedians together is a few laughs but believe me this film is a chuckle free zone.There are a couple of good songs sung very well by Mary Martin who made far too few films.The production numbers are likeliest and seem to have been done almost as an afterthought.So if you have fond radio memories of these two comedians avoid this woeful effort.
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