In 1953, Alec Guinness starred in an hilarious movie called "The Captain's Paradise". Guinness played the bigamous captain of a ferry that plied back and forth across the Straits of Gibraltar ... bigamous, because Guinness's captain had a wife at each end of his ferry route, with neither wife suspecting the other's existence. In 1958, "The Captain's Paradise" became a flop Broadway musical renamed "Oh! Captain!", starring Tony Randall in the title role. (I have difficulty imagining Tony Randall as a man with two wives.)
Amazingly, the 1945 movie 'Don Juan Quilligan' did this idea first ... and worst, because this movie is much less funny than the Guinness version. Having read the book and lyrics of "Oh! Captain!", I'm prepared to state that the Broadway musical flop (which I never saw) was probably funnier than this movie too. The title role in 'Don Juan Quilligan' is played by William Bendix, an actor who has frequently dazzled me with his comedy performances. Bendix's set-piece routine with a revolver in 'A Connecticut Yankee' (1949) is one of the funniest scenes ever filmed, full stop. Working opposite Abbott and Costello in 'Who Done It?' (1942), Bendix upstaged Bud and Lou so uproariously that Costello refused ever to work with Bendix again. When I learnt that 'Don Juan Quilligan' starred Bill Bendix, I was all set to laugh myself into conniptions. I'm still waiting. As Chester A. Riley would say: 'Dis movie ain't funny, Peg.'
Bendix (who was raised in Manhattan but had a fine career as Hollywood's quintessential Brooklynite) plays a Brooklyn seaman who captains a scow that runs between Flatbush and Utica. As in "The Captain's Paradise", he has a wife in each of his two ports. And the difference between the two wives in that film is EXACTLY the same as the difference between the two wives in THIS film: Quilligan has one wife who's a cosy domestic homemaker (Mary Treen), and one wife who's a hot mama (Joan Blondell). Well, there is ONE difference: the wives in "The Captain's Paradise" were a blonde and a brunette. In this movie, they're both blondes.
Part of the problem with "Quilligan" is that Blondell's character is supposed to be sexy and vivacious. I've always found Blondell cheap and vulgar in all her roles, and that goes double here. Mary Treen was an underrated actress (she was quietly splendid in her small role as James Stewart's cousin and workmate in 'It's a Wonderful Life'), and I'm annoyed that the script and direction of 'Quilligan' have Treen's character playing very much a second fiddle to Blondell's. I wanted Bendix to shove Blondell over the starboard fo'c'sle and sail off into the sunset with Mary Treen. Instead, we get a stupid plot in which bigamous Bendix accidentally enlists in the Army AND the Navy, and then he gets arrested for murder. No, wait, this is Brooklyn: he gets arrested fah moider.
I usually enjoy comedy based on Brooklyn stereotypes, but this movie relies heavily on 'deeze-dem-doze' accents and references to Brooklyn geography, with very little actual humour. Some genuine humour is supplied by Phil Silvers as Bendix's first mate aboard the scow. (With a plotline like this, I hesitate to use a term like 'first mate'.) But Silvers's laughs are few and far between, and that's the fault of the script and the direction. This movie is comatosely directed by Frank Tuttle, who made a couple of good movies and one brilliant movie ('Puritan Passions') but who for most of his career was a lacklustre hack.
Gravel-voiced B.S. Pulley is prominently featured in this movie. Pulley (in real life a borderline criminal and all-round Broadway character) was one of those "naturals" who was very funny when he simply played himself and didn't make any attempts to "act". Unfortunately, Pulley had delusions of being a thespian, and directors often had to struggle to prevent him from "performing" his roles instead of simply DOING them. Tuttle doesn't make that effort, so Pulley is awful here. Almost as bad is Byron Foulger, whom I've found painfully unfunny in every film role I've ever seen him in. Except for Silvers and Treen, almost everyone in this film is awful, including the usually reliable Bendix. What a disappointment. I rate this garbage scow 1 point out of 10. I'll moider da bum!
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