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Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Compassionate small-town lawyer Richard Clarke moves to New York City to seek his fortune, but is unsuccessful until he takes a friend's advice and tries to convince the world he's a ruthless heel. Suddenly he's the most popular lawyer in town -- but he could lose his fiancée. Written by
Kevin Ackley <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The original Broadway production of "The Meanest Man in the World" by Augustin MacHugh opened at the Hudson Theater on October 20, 1920 starring George M. Cohan and ran for 202 performances. See more »
Extremely lightweight comedy is delightful but too brief
Jack Benny stars as Richard Clarke, a small town lawyer who moves to New York to seek success and discovers that he may not have what it takesnamely, he's just too kindhearted and sympathetic to attract any clients.
Eddie "Rochester" Anderson co-stars as Shufro, Benny's valet and right hand man; their relationship essentially duplicates that between Rochester and boss Benny on their radio programthat is, Rochester mainly follows orders but seldom hesitates to offer an opinion or suggestion.
The simple plot: Benny decides to try being meaner. Sure enough, when he steals a lollipop from a child and the event is captured by a newspaper photographer, the work starts flooding in. Success at last? Well, there are complications .
Priscilla Lane, charming and lively as Benny's fiancée, is understandably upset when she discovers that he's become a minor celebrity famed for unabashed meanness.
Edmund Gwenn is hilariously wicked in a small role as a client who needs help throwing an old lady out of her apartment. (It's his brother's widow.) Anne Revere is also good as Benny's bored secretary. (She hopefully shows him a trashy novel she's reading about a lawyer who makes passes at his secretary; instead of taking the hint, Benny asks to borrow the book when she's done with it.)
Unfortunately, the whole thing is only 57 minutes long, which doesn't allow much time for any of these fun supporting characters to shine. Oddly, the plot seems to build rather slowlyand then when things do start happening, the action is suddenly very fast paced, and then is just as suddenly over. (Apparently there were some editing issues behind the scenes.)
Definitely worth watching, though, especially for the great teamwork between Benny and Rochesteralso for the hilarious series of newspaper headlines that chronicle Benny's adventures as the Meanest Man.
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