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Friday, April 20, 2018

More Than Offbeat, But Not A Dog


Powell Trades Tough For Rib Tickle in You Can Never Tell (1951)

Turns out Universal-International was making Disney live action comedies before Disney. This one's about a poisoned dog that returns in the person of Dick Powell to unmask his killer. Walt and crew might have done as much with Fred MacMurray or Dean Jones a decade later and to far wackier degree than restraint applied here. The subdue effect to what should have been friskier fare is what hobbles potential of You Can Never Tell. As long as they weren't really going to cut loose with the comedy, I found myself wishing the yarn were played straight, Powell's reincarnated pooch now a private eye squaring accounts in earnest, and never mind effort at laughs. Universal did any number of coat-and-tie (read genial) comedies during the 50's where nuttiness that was needed gave way to punches pulled. You Can Never Tell tries occasionally at breaking out of the pack. Powell's sidekick, formerly a racehorse, and now Joyce Holden, runs 45 MPH on foot to catch a departing bus, a bit of narrative abandon this show could use more of. I wish Frank Tashlin had directed You Can Never Tell instead of Lou Breslow. Powell in comfortable 50's status took properties he liked, made offbeat choices, had as many clicks as misses (and would seriously consider Curse Of The Demon a few years later). The idea of You Can Never Tell is, alas, more engaging than its execution, but isn't that the case with so many? Here is one that Universal could remake to advantage. Their On-Demand Vault series has You Can Never Tell for DVD purchase.

7 Comments:

Blogger Donald Benson said...

One of those movies I just caught bits of as a kid. I remember Powell growling under his breath (a sound effect, not Bob Hope's version). Also remembering Joyce Holden being cuter than the heroine. There was a gag where they visit a ranch; Holden spots some thoroughbreds in a corral and trots out to socialize. A few moments later she's back, ruffled and insulted ("Darn Arabians!"). What are we meant to assume?

3:43 PM  
Blogger top_cat_james said...

So its Oh! Heavenly Dog with the concept reversed.

8:14 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Griff considers Dick Powell's latter days in features:


Dear John:

I remain surprised that Dick Powell never acted in another theatrical feature after starring in Tashlin's 1954 SUSAN SLEPT HERE. Powell produced and directed a number of features and became a prolific producer for television -- and continued to act extensively on the small screen -- but apparently decided against appearing in another film. It would have been interesting to see him in a few more comedies, mysteries and dramas before his passing. John notes that Powell at least considered starring in CURSE OF THE DEMON; he could have brought the "hard-boiled" part of his screen persona to that part with some distinction.

Regards,
-- Griff

11:38 AM  
Blogger Ed Watz said...

I saw this as a preschooler once and it stayed with me. In the afterlife's version of Animal Kingdom Heaven, the animals speak to each other through voiceover, their ectoplasmic status projected as b&w film negative. But now I'm curious: was the ruling lion who allows the dog to return to Earth supposed to be the animals' deity? I wonder how the filmmakers got around this ecumenical question without inciting the Breen Office...

11:44 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Yup, Donald B. Joyce Holden was something... to a twelve year old anyway. Saw this and THE WEREWOLF about the same week when I was a kid and I was smitten. One of my first movie star crushes. Well, 'star' is a bit strong. I think I assumed she must have been world famous, but it would be years before I even ran across anything else featuring this classy but somewhat obscure actress. Still smile when I see a photo of her.

3:17 PM  
Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

Ms. Holden is 88 years old these days and is apparently witnessing Jehovahs.
The Wolf, man.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Rodney said...

I'm pretty sure Holden was interviewed in Classic Images awhile back and spoke of her faith in that interview, but, thankfully, not as extensively as she spoke about her film career.

3:11 PM  

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