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This was first purchased for telecast in New York City in mid-1948 by WPIX (Channel 11), as part of its newly acquired series of three dozen Hal Roach feature film productions, originally released theatrically between 1931-43 and now being syndicated for television broadcast by Regal Television Pictures. However, no record of WPIX ever showing the film has been found. Its earliest documented telecasts took place in Philadelphia Tuesday 31 May 1949 on WCAU (Channel 10), in New York City Tuesday 2 August 1949 on WJZ (Channel 7), which picked up the Roach package after WPIX was finished with it, and in Cincinnati Sunday 4 September 1949 on WCPO (Channel 7). See more »
Great World War II Period Humor; largely forgotten Today, except for Turner Classic Movies! THANX, Teddy boy!
By the mid 1930's things at Hal Roach Studios were in a great state of unrest. The Company, which had made its major portion of Bread and Butter with the likes of Harold Lloyd, Laurel & Hardy, Snub Pollard, Will Rogers, Thelma Todd, Charley Chase, Zasu Pitts, Patsy Kelly, Edgar Kennedy, Max Davidson and OUR GANG. The format mainly employed with these Comedy Stars was that of the Short Subject. They were displayed to their best advantage in the 2 Reeler.
With 1935's THICKER THAN WATER, Laurel & Hardy had done their last Short; thereafter sticking strictly to Features. After 1936's output was all harvested and in the 'Old Barn'. Charley Chase left the Roach Lot for Jules White's Short Subjects Unit at Columbia Pictures; where he would Star in 2 reelers as well as serving as Director on Short Subjects starring the likes of Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard.
This left Roach's Shorts Department all to Director Robert McGowan and his pet project, OUR GANG (aka THE LITTLE RASCALS). Even they were eventually sold-off to MGM during the World War II years.* MR. Roach had another innovation that he was rapidly implementing. That was the "Streamliner"; being a short Feature of about 50 minutes in length, which were designed to be the supporting film in ever more popular Double Feature. In addition to some of the fine titles of truly 1st Class Movies like TOPPER (1937), OF MICE AND MEN (1939) and ONE MILLION B.C. (1940) he gave us these sort of half cast 'B' Movie called 'Streamliner'.
Following the legislation creating our first Peacetime Draft in 1940, the Nation's thoughts were doubtless preoccupied with the War already raging in Europe, Northern Africa and East Asia. This War phobia was a natural cause of our collect concerns; so logically it was conversely a great subject matter for creating laughter and consequently releasing a lot of pent up fears and tension. In short order we saw the likes of Abbott & Costello in BUCK PRIVATES (Universal, 1941), GREAT GUNS (20th Century-Fox, 1941) with Laurel & Hardy and TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP (Columbia, 1942) with Jack Durant and a young Jackie Gleason.
Not to be outdone, Hal Roach came up with TANKS A MILLION, a 50 minute wonder about a bunch of green and raw Recruits coping with the rigors of being transformed from civilians from all walks of life into Soldiers for Uncle Sam. First we had a 'great cross section of the Country' platoon of trainees featuring actors like Noah Beery, Jr., Dick Wessel, Frank Faylen and Dub Taylor. To that is added a crusty, old Commanding Officer, Colonel 'Spitfire' Barkley (Jimmy Gleason) and a high energy and efficient Company C.O. in Captain Rossmead (Douglas Fowley). In between the two, in rank anyway, was the Major Eastwood * (Veteran Silent Film Leading Man, Norman Kerry).
Now any basic training situation requires the services of a skilled, veteran Drill Instructor, a Sergeant long in the tooth, with the whiskers. Our new Platoon didn't just get any Sergeant; but their Sgt. Ames (Joe Sawyer) was an actor who seemingly made a living out of portraying these 3 Striped Non-Coms.
As a counterbalance to Ames' hard-guy Regular Army background and demeanor, we needed a meek, cerebral type. This would be a natural; fire vs. water, light & dark, Politics & Common Sense! So in among the new batch of G.I.'s, we have a former clerk with a photographic memory, Dorian Doubleday (William Tracey). 'Do-Do' Doubleday's academic skills and memory bring him nearly overnight Sergeants' Chevrons; which of course aggravated the hell out of Ames, the career man.
The stage was set and the rest of the movie plays out sort of like a Road Runner/Coyote cartoon. The next gag would no sooner hit the screen with Doubleday in the middle, we'd get reaction from the Captain, Major or Colonel and Ames would do his slow burn while 'Do-Do' manages to turn all around to his advantage.
A Lion's share of the film is devoted to sight gags, reactions, reactions to reactions and a lot of slow & fast burns and a full measure of grown men nearly crying. Much of the action plays like one of those old Silent Screen 2 Reel Comedy Shorts that Roach Studios was so famous for producing; and this is not at all a bad thing. Some prolonged scenes of physical comedy and sight gags would only have been hindered by the inclusion of any dialogue.
It must have been apparent very early on that the Doubleday & Ames combo had struck gold, caught lightening in a bottle and hit pay dirt! We suspect that the notion of doing any sequel or indeed a series would have been very 'iffy' and require evaluating TANKS A MILLION every which way. It's obvious now that they deserved a series and they did go that route. Sadly there were only Seven (7) Doubleday & Ames movies made; starting with five set in the World War II era, one back in Civilian Life and the last one being set in the Korean War in 1952.
We aren't saying that the Roach Company had to pump them out, one every 3 months as Monogram would later with their BOWERY BOYS series; but, if there had been a dozen or so movies made during the 11 year stretch, that surely wouldn't have been too many. We should be happy we have what there is from then, to now and for always.
NOTE: * The Major was given no name in the story, ergo he was 'The Man with No Name', hence the smart alecky 'Eastwood'! (Get it, Schultz!) POODLE SCHNITZ!!
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