Sunday, October 28, 2012
Not The Worst Comedy Teams Ever
All this talk of bad comedy teams - Mitchell & Durant, Noonan & Marshall, Sacco & Vanzetti - gets me realizing that boy, do we all need laughs (and plenty of 'em) and also pondering various vaudeville and movie funmakers who, in my estimation, weren't so bad after all. One example: The Ritz Brothers.
The temptation is to compare The Ritz Brothers to the Marx and Howard boys and find them wanting. Don't - their acts are completely different from each other.
And besides, I take Mel Brooks' claim that Harry Ritz was the funniest guy onstage ever seriously!
Supporting Mel's assertion: the following Ritz Brothers clips.
In Irving Berlin's On The Avenue, Harry is dressed as Alice Faye (he enters at 4:35).
While characterization is definitely not their strong suit, if regarded as a musical dance act rather than as movie comedians in the same sense that Laurel & Hardy, The Marx Brothers, Wheeler & Woolsey, Abbott & Costello and Clark & McCullough are, then Harry, Jimmy and Al Ritz definitely have their charms.
Here are some darn good caricatures of The Ritz Brothers by the brilliant animators of the Walt Disney Studio.
Bringing to mind the question "if one took a trip through the literary, jazz and rock n' roll worlds and eliminated any artist who met a tragic end, who who you have left?" are the comedy team of Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough.
Although the team generally is widely disliked by 21st century classic comedy buffs, largely due to both Clark's over-the-top style and Paul McCullough's gruesome suicide in 1936, this blogger finds them quite funny, even in the worst of their existing films for Fox and RKO.
Of course, the guys who spelled comedy for RKO from 1929-1938 were the outrageous, randy and unfailingly cheerful Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey - and among the numerous star cameos in the following 1931 fundraiser short, The Stolen Jools.
And as far as the following Masquers Club short goes, I wonder if anyone, including the intrepid archivists of UCLA, The George Eastman House and The Library Of Congress has seen this since 1935!
Also at RKO, but later on, in the 1940's: Wally Brown and Alan Carney, a surprisingly good low-rent answer to Abbott & Costello.
In such "chills and spills" comedies as Zombies On Broadway, the team were consistently funny .
Unfortunately, Brown & Carney did not get to do a picture at RKO with Orson Welles. That's everyone's loss, including Orson's, who could have definitely used a laugh or two at that time and never did direct a comedy - and who knows, he may well have very much enjoyed the experience.
Not surprisingly, Brown & Carney got some serious competition in the "most lowbrow 1940's comedy team" department from the Columbia Comedy Shorts department. With high hopes to come up with another series as popular as The Three Stooges, producer/director Jules White experimented with all kinds of casting combinations - some good, some dreadful - through the 1930's and 1940's and even into the 1950's. The following 2-reeler, High Blood Pleasure (1945), with the team of Gus Schilling and Richard Lane, is among the better and most mayhem-filled efforts along these lines.
In the latter 1920's, Paramount Pictures teamed Ziegfeld Follies headliner and master juggler W.C. Fields with Mack Sennett Studio knockabout star and all-around schlemiel Chester Conklin. We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog love both comedians without reservation, but cannot fathom what possessed Paramount's grand poobahs to do this. Fields in a silent movie is like a mixed drink without tequila, rum and vodka! It took sound to bring the glorious 100 proof Fields to the silver screen.
I love the ultra-zaniness of Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson. Their success onstage in Helzapoppin' was quite the showbiz phenomenon in the 1930's.
Although the Olsen & Johnson mojo never quite translated 100% to movies or TV (the one existing live episode of All-Star Revue they hosted, unfortunately, bears this out), the team's features, like those of Abbott & Costello, definitely have their moments.
Ole and Chic deserve an esteemed place in the yuckster pantheon for Helzapoppin' and Crazy House alone.
Viewing the "flying O&J" animation gag, it disappoints that an official collaboration between Universal Pictures comedians and animation producer Walter Lantz, at the top of his game in the 1940's, did not happen.
Between memorable stints at the beginning and the end of The Golden Age Of Stoogery, the great comedian Shemp Howard was teamed with various partners.
Among the funniest of Shemp's non-Stooge appearances were the mid-1930's Vitaphone 2-reelers in which he co-starred with diminutive yet zany, ever-feisty Australian comedienne Daphne Pollard. Here's Shemp and Daphne - enjoy how they let 'er rip!
And speaking of let 'er rip, then there were these guys. . .
And two guys who cleverly and shamelessly copied another comedy team to the letter and got sued for it!