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Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson
Charley Wyckham and Jack Chesney pressure fellow student Fancourt Babberly to pose as Charley's Brazilian Aunt Donna Lucia. Their purpose is to have a chaperone for their amorous visits with Amy and Kitty, niece and ward of crusty Stephen Spettigue. Complications begin when Fancourt, in drag, becomes the love object of old Spettigue and Sir Francis Chesney. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Somewhat a landmark film for 20th Century-Fox, as it was the first film they offered the exhibitors under the recently-established terms of the consent decree, conditions that no longer allowed a film studio or company to force the exhibitors to book a large block of films from the same company in order to get any film from that company in a production season. They could still require the exhibitor to make bookings in blocks of five, and "Charley's Aunt" was the first of the five offered. The other four could have been turkeys, but they had to be booked in order to get "Charley's Aunt." See more »
(at around 4 mins) The "Square Leg Umpire" is in the wrong position. Technically he is at "Backward Square Leg". See more »
Good afternoon, Mr. Redcliff.
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A big hit in London 125 years ago...and Charley's Aunt still is as a movie
This perennial chestnut by Brandon Thomas has been wowing audiences ever since it opened in London in 1882. Charley's Aunt has had numerous stage revivals and more screen versions than most people can remember. When Jack Benny took it on in 1941, nearly 60 years after the London opening, the movie turned into one of his biggest hits. Now, nearly 65 years since the movie opened, it remains one of the funniest, most good-natured and most antic farce comedies around.
Benny plays Babbs Babberley -- Lord Fancourt Babberley -- an aging student at Oxford in the year 1890. His two friends, Jack Chesney (James Ellison) and Charley Wyckham (Richard Hayden), are keen to marry, respectively, Kitty Verdun (Arleen Whelan) and Amy Spettigue (Anne Baxter). The girls are beautiful and sweet, and as shallow as tea saucers. But old skinflint Stephen Spettigue (Edmund Gwen), Kitty's ward and Amy's uncle, will have none of it. He will lose his income from Kitty's fortune when she marries. Then there is Jack's father, Sir Francis Chesney (Laird Cregar), who has inherited a title which has more debts attached than income. When the girls come to call on the two boys in their rooms at Oxford, it is essential that they have a chaperone. For reasons too complicated to explain, the chaperone, who was to be Charley's aunt, Donna Lucia (Kay Francis) from Brazil, has been delayed (but will shortly show up incognito). The boys blackmail their good friend Babbs to dress up as Donna Lucia and be the required chaperone. Ah, but then old Spettigue learns of Donna Lucia's wealth and decides to do some wooing of his own. Even Sir Francis, reluctantly conceding that an advantageous marriage would help the Chesney exchequer, decides to pursue Donna Lucia. And poor Babbs, now got up in a Victorian gown with corset, wig and fan, must fend them all off...over tea, in the garden, at dinner, by a garden pool, while trying to secretly smoke a cigar, while furtively trying to shave.
Will Jack win Kitty? Will Charley win Amy? Will old Spettigue receive a comeuppance? Most importantly, perhaps, will Babbs wind up marrying Sir Francis or the real Donna Lucia?
Benny plays Babbs with gusto and great timing, and spends most of his time in a dress. It's definitely a Jack Benny movie, but the play itself is so inherently ridiculous and funny, and so good-natured about every bit of stuffy Victorian manners and proper Victorian behavior, that it still works now as great light entertainment...just as the movie worked originally in 1941 and the play has worked for 125 years. I saw a regional production of Charley's Aunt some years ago; it really is a fast and funny farce, and depends heavily on the skill of the actor playing Charley's aunt. The movie, like the play, is funny and silly, and it does no harm.
In addition to Jack Benny, two actors stand out for me. Edmund Gwen as Spettigue provides a classic lesson in how to play farce; utterly serious with the kind of timing that comes from experience. For those who know of Gwen primarily as an avuncular and kindly old Santa Claus, his Spettigue should be a welcome relief. And then there is Laird Cregar, an immensely gifted actor. Cregar was only 25 when he played Jack Chesney's father. The actor who played his son was 31. Cregar was a big man -- 6'3" and 300 pounds -- who disliked the idea of being type-cast as a bad-guy; he longed to be a lead actor. He went on an unsupervised crash diet, quickly shed 100 pounds and shortly after, at 28, died of a heart attack. He made his first movie in 1940 and was dead four years later. He could be so vivid and accomplished on screen that critics still speculate on what he might have accomplished. The movies he was in may not all have been first-rate, but he tended to focus attention whenever he appeared. Two movies which were as good as his talent, in my opinion, are Heaven Can Wait (1943) and I Wake Up Screaming (1941). The Lodger (1944) also stands up well, as I remember it. And although Blood and Sand (1940) is something of a melodramatic stew-pot, Cregar stands out.
And perhaps one of these days the Frank Loesser estate, which I understand owns the rights, will release the 1952 movie Where's Charley?. The problem seems to be that the film, just as the stage production, is generally recognized as Ray Bolger's Where's Charley?, not Frank Loesser's Where's Charley?. Where's Charley was Frank Loesser's first Broadway show, produced in 1948. It featured career-defining performances for Ray Bolger as Charley Wyckham (who plays his own aunt) and Allyn Ann McLerie as Amy. There are some fine Loesser songs, including Once in Love with Amy and My Darling, My Darling. The movie may have its faults but it should be made available.
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