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I was amazed when I saw this picture. After having seen The Horn Blows
at Midnight, I had assumed that all of Jack Benny's pictures were
pretty stupid and that his talent only extended to television and
radio. Boy was I wrong.
This very short movie (57 minutes) is outstanding and I have nothing negative to say about it. Benny is actually NOT the Meanest Man in the world but perhaps one of the nicest in the film. This is a real surprise because he is a lawyer (sorry to all you lawyers reading this). However, he finds that if people THINK he is mean and heartless his business will pick up considerably! If it comes on TCM or you can find it on video, give it a try. You're bound to love it (unless YOU are the meanest man in the world).
This is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen -- not surprising, since it stars Jack Benny, one of the funniest stars ever. Jack is believable both as a nice guy and as a meanie. You might think his mean acts wouldn't be as funny, but the way he does them is the funniest part of the movie. And there is always a newspaper photographer to record it. The movie's only drawback is that it is so short, less than an hour. Usually, especially today, movies drag on too long and wear out their welcome. Jack Benny has never worn out his welcome. This movie should be on DVD. Perhaps a box DVD set with other under-appreciated Jack Benny movies.
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
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.
YouTube has this old chestnut. 'Meanest Man in the World'is a few minutes under an hour, and a good thing it is. The story is silly, yet Jack Benny, albeit wooden, remains the Jack Benny we know. And that isn't bad. And it's good to see Priscilla Lane as the love interest. She does a good turn when she's tipsy at a bar towards the end of the film. Then, there's Edmund Gwenn plays gleefully plays a meanie. And for once Anne Revere playing a secretary and not someone's suffering mother. But Rochester has star billing and the best quips. At a time when Blacks had walk on roles or a dance or song number as relief in a film, he plays the 'wise' Benny side kick who puts his finger in the eye of silliness, and manages to get Benny out of hot water of his own heat. An obvious boy gets girl film. And a pleasant hour of viewing, during the dark moments of the war against Nazi Germany and militaristic Imperial Japan.
As I stated, I love Jack Benny. One of those comedians who warms my heart just upon sight. Eve Arden (who would have been good in the Anne Revere part) is another example of that kind of persona whose mere presence makes me happy. Unlike the character he portrays in some movies and certainly on his TV shows, he was a very generous man with friends and strangers. No surprise there. He exudes that which makes his stinginess even more funny. This picture, with a lot of false starts and ending up nowhere, went off on the wrong track. Priscilla Lane was actually a nifty actress in so many of her films, almost surprisingly so. In addition, she is about as adorable as they come. (Benny often has some of the most appealing actresses to accompany him on his sprees.) Rochester, too, is a delight. Could have done without the black-face routine, but it was 1943 and awareness of this sort outrage was not yet in our craws. It did not go as far or as interestingly as it might have but what could have remedied it, I wouldn't know where to begin. "The Horn Blows at Midnight" is often claimed by Benny to be a failure and brought down his movie career. My impression is that it is more delightful than most of his forays into filmdom. Then of course he is in the utter classic "To Be or Not To Be". Nothing wrong with that one. And with him. And with Lane. It's just the film which isn't especially good. But so what? It has Jack Benny,
I was always a fan of JACK BENNY and his radio shows and later his
appearances on TV after his movie career waned. But while I enjoyed
some of his films tremendously (GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE, CHARLEY'S
AUNT, THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT), I found THE MEANEST MAN IN THE WORLD
to be a huge disappointment.
Even though it runs less than an hour, it's a dud. Poor PRISCILLA LANE has a hard time convincing me as Benny's patient sweetheart that she'd have anything to do with the character Benny plays. He's a softy, with a heart of gold, but discovers that people pay more attention to him as a lawyer if he appears to be mean and ruthless in his dealings. So much for the ironic flavor of the plot.
Thankfully, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson is on hand for a few laughs and there are a few clever moments in the script, but most of it just lays an egg--a big one. If you want to enjoy Benny in films, I'd recommend GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE as one of his better comedies.
"The Meanest Man in the World" has a misleading title ... at least for
audiences here in Britain where, if a person is called "mean", it means
that he's a cheapskate. When I saw that this film starred Jack Benny
(who usually played cheapskates), I assumed that the title referred to
his legendary tightwad antics. I was wrong. In "The Meanest Man in the
World" (based on a play by George M. Cohan), Jack Benny plays a
nice-guy lawyer who's broke all the time because he hasn't any clients.
When he picks up the phone in his law office to make a call, the
Accounts department of the phone company is on the other end to turn
off his service for non-payment.
This movie raises an interesting point: namely, that nice people are often much less successful than S.O.B. types. When nice-guy Benny decides to pretend to be a meanie, his law practice starts getting more clients. But in order to become a real success, Benny will have to become a real meanie. Is it worth it?
This movie is basically a character study. It isn't a flat-out comedy like most of Benny's starring films, so don't expect too many laughs. Eddie Anderson ("Rochester") plays Benny's factotum assistant here, but their relationship here isn't quite like Rochester's relationship with "Mister Benny" in their radio show.
There's one funny gag. Benny's one-man legal practice is in an office building full of law firms. When an ambulance drives past the building with its siren blaring, Benny hands his business card to Rochester and orders him to follow that ambulance. As Rochester rushes out into the hallway, all the doors of all the law offices open, and all the lawyers come running out with their own business cards!
Anne Revere (a talented actress whom I never liked, somehow) is wasted here in a poor role. The romance between Jack Benny and Priscilla Lane isn't believable, especially as Lane is far too young for him. "The Meanest Man in the World" was a popular stage play, but this film version has very little to recommend it. I'll rate this movie 3 points out of 10, only because I'm a Jack Benny fan.
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