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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Jack Benny Looking For A Screen Persona


The Rounder (1930) A Single-Reel Curio

Jack Benny, dapper in straw boater, is the title figure attempting drunken entry into upstairs window of a residence not his own. That means ladders, a curious cop, and business not played to Jack's strength, which in 1930 was not so clear as radio would establish a few years later. Jack had scored in vaudeville, played the Palace, but was slower to conquer movies. His emceeing of The Hollywood Revue Of 1929 wasn't noteworthy, and a surrounding cast in The Rounder seemed more congenial to film work. His character is described by Dorothy Sebastian as a man who "laughs and drinks and scoffs at life," but dissolute didn't become the Benny we'd come to love. Neither he nor Sebastian are quick on verbal uptake, but that may have been uncertainty re talking technology new to both. She'd been girl support to Keaton and part of flapper retinue at MGM, candles burnt at both ends offscreen, but only one wick lit when onscreen,  partnering with Sebastian leaving comics with most of a load to carry. Briefer-in George K. Arthur had been half of a sock team with Karl Dane, but they were for most part done by 1930, and he'd tumble down billing from there. Appearing even less was Polly Moran, on verge of success with Marie Dressler, giving The Rounder halves of Metro comedy teams both going out and coming in. The short is DVD-available on Warner Archive's Classic Shorts From The Dream Factory, Volume Two.

3 Comments:

Blogger Dave K said...

Will have to dig out THE ROUNDERS for another peek, haven't looked at it in years. Don't have that Warner Archives Collection, but think the short was tucked in as a bonus on the old Warners DVD of TO BE OR NOT TO BE. Have always been amazed at how famous Jack Benny was before there was a Jack Benny... at least the Jack Benny we know. The guy really was over 39 before developing the persona he's remembered for!

By sheer coincidence, I just watched SPITE MARRIAGE last night, and was marveling at how really good Dorothy Sebastian is in that one. Far and away one of Keaton's all time best leading ladies. Of course, Sebastian silent vs. Sebastian sound is probably the issue, as I remember thinking her only 'okay' in ALLEZ OOP, one of Buster's best talkies.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

This movie, and others early in Benny's screen career, are astonishing only because you'd never know what a great comedian he'd someday be.

11:25 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson sees aspects of a Jack Benny to come in "The Rounder":


A footnote to Benny's character in "The Rounder": You could argue that Benny's future character THOUGHT he was this witty man-about-town.

The Benny we know would try to be that suave and assured, with the same relaxed pacing and even the same smug smile. They he'd be cut down to size by circumstances, an unimpressed companion (who'd get the best lines), or his own failings (vanity, cheapness, and violin abuse).

There are one or two moments in "The Rounder" where Sebastian lands an insult on him. Today we might chuckle because we recognize the Benny to come for an instant. One wonders if audiences of the day laughed because they enjoyed seeing the smug guy taken down . . . and if Benny noticed and started thinking.

5:35 PM  

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