Smalltime crookster and showman Jerry Flynn is desperately searching for a new act to promote in order to save him from ruin. He meets a boy on the street who claims to have a dancing caterpillar called Curly. Flynn seizes the opportunity for fame and fortune at Curly's expense.Written by
Col Needham <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When Cary Grant goes down the spiral staircase, he descends clockwise. When the scene shoots to the "downstairs room" the staircase is turning counter clockwise as they descend to the bottom. See more »
"Once Upon a Time" is billed as a comedy and fantasy, but some of the dramatic parts are what give this film a boost. That's because the fantasy is played out so silly. Curly, the dancing caterpillar is kept in a box that people must view through a hole at the end. Why not an open lid so several people can see the worm wiggle on its end? Hollywood had done all kinds of things with special effects, trick photography, etc. well before that. A little insertion of animation at that point would have worked.
Something like that would have given the fantasy aspect of this film a real boost. Of course, it would have required some script changes since the skeptical reporters and others would have seen Curly do the curls to Pinky's playing of "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" on his harmonica.
But, as it is, this film is quite silly and otherwise not that good. To compensate for a poor plot otherwise, the film gets a boost from Cary Grant's performance. Moviegoers since the last half of the 20th century have been so used to Grant's comedy and romance films, that many may not realize his acting abilities. But here he shows some of that. In a couple of scenes, Grant shows anger in his face. At other times, he appears quite mean. Pinky says, at one point, "You're a mean man, Mr. Flynn."
Besides Grant's role as Jerry Flynn, young Ted Donaldson does a tremendous job as Arthur "Pinky" Thompson. A romance between Flynn and Pinky's sister, Jeannie (played by Janet Blair) is never more than lukewarm. The only other decent performance is by James Gleason as The Moke. The rest of the supporting cast are mostly unknowns.
The screenplay just isn't very good for this film. There's so little witty or funny dialog. Some reviewers alluded to this film being a popular hit. The only place I could find anything about its box office was on Ultimate Movie Rankings, which showed it in 128th place among 1944 movies for box office. And that was at $1.1 million. So, if it made money at all, it couldn't have been much.
The only funny lines occur between two women (unidentified) working at a dance room. They have heard or read the news about Curly. The first woman says, "A dancing caterpillar? Pooh." The second woman says, "Well, why not? He can't be any worse than some of the worms that drag me around the dance floor."
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