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Milton Haskins, a math genius known for his infallibility with numbers, quits his job with an insurance company when he discovers he made a mistake, and hooks up with a traveling carnival. His knowledge of mathematics makes him a natural as an assistant at the wheel of fortune. His fiancée begs him to return to his job but he refuses, so she joins the carnival and becomes a striptease artist. When Milton attempts to drag her off the stage, a brawling mêlée breaks out and the entire troupe is arrested by the local police. The carnival is sold but Milton reveals that the new owner has conspired to defraud the insurance company. The insurance company has to accept the carnival in lieu of the money owed, and they allow Milton and his fiancée, Vivian, to stay with and help run the carnival. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In the days when travelling carnivals and circuses were common in America, these shows would often pick up temporary employees along their tour routes. The temporaries might be performers, or might be day labourers (roustabouts), or might be entrepreneurs (not always honest ones) selling candy or cheap toys, or running some sort of game (usually a con, such as three-card monte) and hoping to make some money for their own pitches from the rake-off of customers who came to see the circus or carnival. Because people who travelled with the circus or carnival were constantly encountering new people, and couldn't always be certain if the newcomers were carny folk or 'civilians', they developed the habit of asking 'Are you with it?' ... meaning, 'are you part of this travelling show?'. Veteran circus people and carny folk knew what this question meant, but civilians were more likely to reply: 'Am I with WHAT?'. This is why someone who is knowledgeable or avant-garde is described as being 'with it'.
'Are You with It?' is a pleasant low-budget musical with a carnival background and no impressive songs. Donald O'Connor plays a rather stiff young nerd named Milton who has a high I.Q. and is very good at maths (he uses a slide rule while he talks), but who is out of touch with his emotions. He loses his job and falls in with some troupers from a passing carnival, including flashy Vivian (Olga San Juan, cheap and vulgar) and fast-talking carny pitchman Goldie (Lew Parker, giving a deft performance of such skill that I'm amazed he didn't go on to a greater career as a character comedian).
The script forces O'Connor to play a character that's a very poor choice for the protagonist in a musical comedy. About twenty minutes into the movie, some music starts playing and Milton taps one foot idly. Then he breaks into a spirited tap dance, casually explaining that tap dancing is merely a physical application of elementary scientific principles. I didn't like this, me. Donald O'Connor is a brilliant dancer, one of the best who ever performed in films ... so it's utterly implausible that a wonk like Milton (who shows no interest in having a good time) could attain such a level of dancing skill simply by applying his intellect.
'Are You with It?' is enjoyable but hardly memorable. O'Connor's dancing is excellent (as always), and he's in better singing voice here than he was in several of his other (better) musicals. But the songs which he's singing and dancing aren't especially good. George Balzer, who worked on the script, wrote some of Jack Benny's funniest radio and tv material ... but you'd never know it from what's on offer here. Veteran comedian Walter Catlett has almost nothing to do in this movie, and he's easily upstaged by Lew Parker. I'll rate 'Are You with It?' 3 points out of 10: that's one point for Lew Parker's performance, and one point for each of Donald O'Connor's tap-dancing feet.
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