If You Knew Susie (1948)
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It is a story about the Parkers, a family of entertainers who decide to quit the showbiz world and settle down amongst a community who are linked to the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution. The community elders take a dislike to the Parkers and try to avoid their "Colonial" themed restaurant in the hope of bankrupting them.
One day the Parkers find a letter written by their ancestor who was a merchant around the time of the American Revolution who mentions that he is owed money by the Continental army for a shipment of arms and supplies.
The Parkers are overjoyed that the letter may finally give them recognition and acceptance from the community of the Founding Fathers. So Mr and Mrs Parker travel to Washington to try and get the letter verified by the US government. There they discover that they are owed millions by the US government for the shipment of weapons which brings them to the attention of the Press and also the attention of Mobsters.
This film turned out to be a very enjoyable film. I was surprised that I was able to watch it to the end as I am not a fan of musicals (Particularily B/W ones). However this film is not overladen with songs like other musicals (there are only 3 and they are all quite good!!)
The emphasis of this film is "light hearted comedy" and it delivers it very well. I thought Cantor and Davis made an excellent double act. But overall Joan Davis stole the show with her funny dance moves and witty one liners.
The choreography of the film is very good. Particularily at the very beginning of the film where Eddie Cantor (dressed as a B/W minstrel) does a musical number.
The comedy and the plot blended well together and the film ended quite satisfactorily. I am not saying that "If you Knew Susie" is an all time classic. But it is a very good film that suprisingly given its age and genre is very watchable today. Which is a lot more than one can say about many of the so called "entertainment" films that are made nowadays.
But not only their show business background makes the folks in Brockford snub Cantor and Davis. Everybody else seems to have had a Revolutionary War Hero in the ancestry, but poor Eddie. Which makes Eddie start hitting the archives for something about his ancestor Jonathan Parker.
He hits a proverbial jackpot when he discovers that the First Continental Congress appropriated a sum to this ancestor which was never paid. That compound interest really compounds and if the debt is paid the Cantor/Davis family is Howard Hughes/Bill Gates type wealthy.
Which makes these old Vaudevillians instant celebrities. And they gain a manager of sorts in Allyn Joslyn who is a news reporter for a wire service. He sees many stories that can be had with their movements of all kinds. And when interest wanes, Joslyn creates a couple of stories.
The story line was a bit confusing, but you might not notice it especially toward the end with the frantic antics of Cantor and Davis. Allyn Joslyn has some good moments as well. I think that Joslyn's part might have originally been meant for Adolphe Menjou who played a few such madcap characters in some of his comedy roles. Still Joslyn was very good, grabbing the spotlight when he was on screen even from the leads.
This was Eddie Cantor's last starring film. He'd be concentrating now on radio and that new medium of television. And Joan Davis did a couple of years in an early TV comedy that I still remember, I Married Joan. Both of them went out on a good film and a funny one.
And that brings me to my one concern about this film -- it opens with a black-face number. Now this is interesting. Why was it done in black-face? There's nothing actually demeaning about the number...no slow-acting or lazy-speech stereotypes here. No, no point to it...nothing would have been different sans the black-face. So -- why the black-face? It still mystifies me! Aside from that, it's a rather fun movie...in some places reminiscent of some parts of some Red Skelton pictures. Cantor plays the husband in a former vaudeville team that settles down, only to find his ancestor may have been a hero in the Revolutionary War...or not. Has the money owed his ancestor by the government morphed into millions of dollars...or not? And of course, there are some gangsters who get involved. It all works pretty well, and there are some dandy jokes here.
Joan Davis plays his wife. Davis is an interesting comedienne...flirted with the big time, but never quite made it. She has a talent for slapstick and one-liners, and seems pleasant enough on the screen...but perhaps she mugs too much. She's reasonable in this part, though she comes close a few times to overdoing it.
Allyn Joslyn is here as a scheming newspaperman. He's a wonderful character actor who specializes in comedy, and he does it well here. Always a pleasure to see him in a supporting role. Sheldon Leonard is here to play his frequent gangster role, and he is good at it...not too menacing, though...just about right for light comedy.
I was a little disappointed in the way the film concluded...all rather suddenly...almost as if they had run out of time. But, all in all, it's worth watching this film for several reasons, including the opportunity to catch one of American's greatest early stars.
This could have been a very amusing comedy with songs, but instead of slapstick, the comedy simply ends up violent. Poor Cantor is thrown through a glass door not once but twice, and the set-up for a finale to rival "The Fuller Brush Girl" ends up sadly humorless. Davis is funnier with verbal humor, not slapstick, although there is a funny moment where Davis, cooking eggs, gets spooked by their resemblance to her husband. The opening number, in spite of its already then dated black-face, features some good dancing by Davis who sadly can't match Cantor in the singing department. There's also the "Brooklyn Love Song", a song I doubt that anybody across the Williamsburg, Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridges will ever sing. An outtake from "Show Business" proves pointless and simply stops the story cold. Some good moments from Mabel Paige, Fritz Feld and Sheldon Leonard (typecast as a gangster) help rise the film above total mediocrity. It is sad that talented and likable performers like Cantor and Davis couldn't get a better written script.
Given that this film opens with a musical number with a gollywog face and a dancing troupe in full blackface it is perhaps no great surprise that this film is not seen as often as others in the same genre. After this rather un-pc start the film settles down to a rather convoluted story that sees the Parkers come into money and get targeted by mobsters the whole historical things is only a means to an end. Although it has too much story and have bits that seem to be filler more than anything else, the film is still entertaining and quite lively even if it never really does anything that well. The humour is basic but lively and, combined with the musical numbers produce a distracting piece of period entertainment. The plot doesn't matter but some viewers may find its silliness and lack of narrative cohesion to be a real turn off that the liveliness is not enough to cover.
The cast are all OK but they do tend to overplay as if they were on a stage but I suppose they match the obvious material. Cantor may have been popular at the time but he is not that well known now and his crowd-pleasing humour has not aged well. He tries hard but he is nothing that special. Davis matches him with a performance that approaches mugging at times. Support is pretty average with each actor playing to the back row with some basic double takes but decent enough energy. Driscoll is all 'gee whiz mister' and full of enthusiasm but it is hard to forget his fate even here.
Overall this is an instantly forgettable film but one that is just about lively enough to cover up all the weakness it has. The humour is broad but has a few laughs without ever risking being hilarious and the musical numbers are OK without really doing anything special. An OK genre film with plenty of enthusiasm but really needed more work on the laughs, the songs and, most importantly, the plot.
After this hellish routine, the Parkers (Joan Davis and Eddie Cantor) announce their retirement from show business. They've bought back Sam's ancestral home in the town of Brookford in New England. Apparently, Sam (Cantor) comes from a very undistinguished family that has been in the States since the colonial era. However, the uppity nosed folks in Brookford are NOT happy about the Parkers' plans to turn their colonial home into a nightclub. A possible reprieve from bankruptcy occurs when they discover a letter from the founding fathers--proclaiming Sam's relative as a hero of the Revolution. To prove this letter is real and convince all the Brookfordites, Mr. and Mrs. Parker head to Washington, DC. There, however, something VERY unexpected happens...and the Parkers go from nobodies billionaires to nobodies all in one short visit! What does all this mean?! See this cute film and find out for yourself.
Despite this being Eddie Cantor's last film, it's also one of his best. The picture is very well written--with a very clever plot, wonderful dialog and quite a few laughs. And, it IS quite original. You'll particularly enjoy the portion with the gangsters kidnapping the Parkers...it's strange and quite funny.