The head of a big movie studio is pulling his hair out because the company is bankrupt unless they can find a writer for a smash comedy. An aspiring writer is awaiting outside the office ... See full summary »
The head of a big movie studio is pulling his hair out because the company is bankrupt unless they can find a writer for a smash comedy. An aspiring writer is awaiting outside the office and the producer agrees to see him. He listens while the writer tells his story and acts the numerous parts. The story is rotten, but the producer lets him escape while vowing vengeance on any other author who would read his story aloud. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Virtually everyone at Hal Roach Studios worked on this film, which had a very troubled production history. Eventually Stan Laurel wrote a script that allowed them to use some of the existing footage as part of a story where a studio executive is looking for material. See more »
Comedy buffs will recognize this plot outline: our setting is the office of a harried movie producer, played by a veteran character actor known for comic roles. A screenwriter enters and announces that he has a brilliant idea for a picture, and proceeds to outline it for the producer and his staff. The story he tells is crazy and disjointed, and the producer reacts with growing irritation. Elements of the guy's scenario include a middle-aged roué courting a younger woman, gags involving exotic animals, and a wild climactic chase. The screenwriter fails to sell his story, and is ejected from the producer's office.
If the producer is Franklin Pangborn and the screenwriter is W.C. Fields, then this describes the 1941 comedy NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK. But if the producer is Max Davidson and the screenwriter is Stuart Holmes, then we're talking about an obscure silent comedy short produced at the Hal Roach Studio 15 years earlier called DON KEY (SON OF BURRO). The bizarre title derives from Douglas Fairbanks' DON Q SON OF ZORRO. This film has nothing whatever to do with Fairbanks or Zorro, but a strained pun is as good a title as any for such an oddity as this.
I don't know what went on behind the scenes, but from what I gather the folks at the Roach Studio originally intended to make this a more conventional comedy and then realized that the results weren't so good. Apparently it was Stan Laurel (working behind the camera at this point in his career) who came up the film-within-a-film idea involving a screenwriter pitching a story idea. It's a clever notion, because it allows the filmmakers to capitalize on the disjointed quality of the footage they had to work with. By cutting back to the producer's office and emphasizing his dismay at what he's hearing they give the material a fresh quality by supplying their own ironic commentary, the way Saturday Night Live or similar shows will run captions commenting on a skit that's bombing.
Although this is a Roach comedy featuring many familiar faces from the studio, the "scenario" scenes play more like the kind of material found in a Sennett comedy of the period: i.e. broad and cartoon-y in tone. The central character (i.e. the aging roué) is Jimmy Finalyson, and he's courting Vivien Oakland. She has a little boy who plays in the yard with a monkey who gets most of the best gags. The monkey gets into a fight with a duck and things get a little harrowing, but not to worry: a fake duck was employed for the more demanding scenes. ("Bring in the stunt duck!") While Finlayson spruces up in a barber shop there's another Fieldsian moment when his ear is nearly sliced off and a dog shows eagerness to get it. As it happens Finlayson has a rival for Vivien's affection. They quarrel, and Finn also has a run-in with the monkey and gets squirted by the duck . . . the fake one, I believe. Things get complicated and a wee bit confusing when burglars break into Vivien's house, shots are fired, and everyone heads for the hills. As noted above, it all climaxes in a big chase, complete with amusing animation effects.
I hope Stan received a bonus check for salvaging this project. It's not a great comedy, but the framework involving the screenwriter neatly "explains" the weirdness of what we're seeing and gives it a satirical spin. DON KEY (SON OF BURRO) is kind of a mess, but thanks to Stan it's a nice mess.
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