Bert Lahr's Comic Genius Demonstrated in This Short
Bert Lahr will always be best known as the Cowardly Lion in the 1939 classic THE WIZARD OF OZ. However, he also enjoyed a long and distinguished Broadway career and even starred in the first Broadway production of Samuel Beckett's WAITING FOR GODOT. Lahr's film career wasn't as successful as his stage career, THE WIZARD OF OZ notwithstanding. The films, however, have preserved his talents for posterity. A good exemplification is the short subject OFF THE HORSES.
OFF THE HORSES was one in a series of shorts Lahr starred for the studio Educational in the 1930s. In this one, Lahr's boss is in trouble: unless he raises $15,000 by 6 PM, the company will collapse. Lahr offers to help by betting on a series of horses. Will Lahr hit the jackpot? And can he conceal his betting activities from his disapproving wife?
Director William Watson smoothly moves the film along, but Lahr provides the film's energy. It's easy to understand from watching his film why he became a star; he has a boisterous charisma that dominates the screen. But he tempers this brashness with an affecting vulnerability. When Lahr frets over his financial prospects, one is not only amused by him but is concerned about him. And it is his essential humanity, even more than his bluster, that makes Lahr a memorable three-dimensional clown. What a shame he didn't enjoy greater success in movies.
Incidentally, the actress who plays his wife, Mildred Schroeder later became his wife in reality.
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