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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Bon Vivant Benny Loose On Broadway


Jack Is A Broadway Romeo (1931) for Paramount

Jack Benny still feeling his way toward a lasting persona. Here he's the natty sort once called a "sharper," which was shorthand for not to be trusted. Jack had worked at relaxed style in capacity of emcee for vaudeville and performing there in nonchalant as possible mode. Others like Frank Fay had made careers of introducing with smart-alecking in between. Trouble was being sympathetic in that posture, let alone making watchers identify with you. Jack had tabbed himself the "Aristocrat Of Humor," doubtless realizing risk of being too aristocratic. Smooth could come across as smug, guys like Benny on a high wire from which they might fall. It took radio from 1932 onward to reveal the Benny character's vulnerability, and an audience ready to embrace it. Benny as A Broadway Romeo comes on as man about town and mild lecher after girl passerby Estelle Brody. He plays a mean trick on a sympathetic dining customer that may have seemed clever to Depression-sufferers, but leaves ashes in mouths for many watching now. A Broadway Romeo was Astoria-made, so Jack didn't have to miss evening performances at least. It's a fascinating reel, and available on Kino DVD, Cavalcade Of Comedy.

3 Comments:

Blogger Donald Benson said...

There's another on one of the Warner sets, "The Rounder". In that one he's edging towards nice guy as a genial rich drunk who climbs into what he thinks is his own window. He flirts with the lady who does live there, gently disposes of the slicker she intends to marry, and seems ready to marry her himself. There, he's a nice guy in wolf's clothing. Success came when he dispensed with the nice guy and made the wolf's clothing a bad fit.

Listening to some of his radio shows. During the shooting of "To Be or Not to Be", he expressed pity for Carole Lombard. She makes love to Benny on the set, but has to go home to Clark Gable. After the laugh he gallantly concedes that Gable is handsome, in a way.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

John, I'm with you concerning A BROADWAY ROMEO -- the way Benny tricks the poor guy in the restaurant is just plain mean, and Benny should be booed off the screen.

The Jack Benny of the 1930s movies was usually Wiseguy Jack, always ready with a cutting remark and a snide delivery (THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1937, ARTISTS AND MODELS ABROAD), which may have been the vaudevillian way but wasn't nearly as memorable as his cheapskate radio character. In the 1960s, when Universal of Canada drew upon its Paramount holdings for a summer TV series ("Wayne & Shuster Take an Affectionate Look at..."), Jack Benny was one of the subjects. I fully expected to see Wiseguy Jack for an hour, and was floored when not one foot of his Paramounts was used. The hour drew entirely from his TV series, with Cheapskate Jack in full flower.

11:04 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

The big thing is, the radio/TV Benny TRIES to be cutting and snide, but everybody's a joke ahead of him. Even the guileless boy tenor (Dennis Day or Kenny Baker) would land insults without even intending it.

It's a trick Bob Hope would use to garner some audience sympathy in his movies. While bursting with wisecracks and putdowns, his characters were often cowards and fools who only thought they were slickers, and often had to wise up and redeem themselves at the end. In time he became a suburbanized slicker who just had bad luck -- a version of W.C. Fields' harried husbands.

Other interesting evolutions:
-- Phil Silvers, freeform goofy sidekick until he became the con man who couldn't hide his glee while conning.
-- Burns and Allen, in early movies where they experimented with Gracie being DELIBERATELY silly, and romantically matched with characters other than George.
-- The Carry On gang, where some key players who were fairly naturalistic in the first films developed outrageously broad characters that carried over into all their later appearances.

4:04 AM  

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