Tuesday, May 15, 2007

My Favorite Psychotronic Iconoclastic Comedy Team from the pre-Code Era

"Ultimately, the team's output for RKO is a mixed bag that seems to be something of a Rorschach test for classic comedy fans." Aaron Neathery, film historian and writer/producer, Electromatic Radio

Tied with The Brothers Marx, Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey and such fast-talking dames as Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell as my pre-Code movie favorites, the comedy team of Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough make me laugh out loud, for reasons - to paraphrase Pete Townshend and The Who - I can't explain.

Their comic style  is, to say the least, aggressively un-cuddly and as anarchic as Olsen & Johnson, The Marx Bros. and The Three Stooges.

And I repeat, Clark & McCullough are not cute in any way, shape or form.

Even now, in 21st century, the most diehard classic film buffs and comedy geeks will either be in utter hysterics or register blank, uncomprehending stares at the team's stark raving mad antics.

Bobby Clark (1888-1960) and Paul McCullough (1883-1936) started their showbiz career as teenagers. Their hard knocks-filled path culminated in starring on Broadway in The Ramblers and George Gershwin's Strike Up The Band.

As production of early talkies proved quite the opportunity for vaudeville and Broadway acts, the team was signed by Fox to appear in two-reel comedies and featurettes, starting in 1928.

Only two entries from Clark and McCullough's Fox series, The Belle Of Samoa and Waltzing Around, still exist.

The former, in this 21st century world now available via YouTube, is a fascinating 1920's vaudeville time capsule.

The latter exists in 16mm home movie prints and, from the accounts and reviews of those who have seen it, gives Paul McCullough is much more of a focal role than he would in the team's later films.

Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough subsequently starred in 21 comedy shorts for RKO Radio Pictures in 1931-1935. I personally find the RKO Radio Pictures comedies of Clark & McCullough hilarious, much in the take-no-prisoners spirit of the pre-MGM Marx Brothers.

In particular, I like their 1934 opus, Odor In The Court.

Several of the funniest entries in the team's RKO series were directed by Mark Sandrich, who later was at the helm for a wildly successful series of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals.

Clark & McCullough have been in the "lesser known movie comedy teams" category for one principal reason, besides the fact that they never starred in a feature film: Paul McCullough's suicide in 1936.

Even jaded, diehard 1930's movie comedy buffs watch their films and ask "why doesn't Paul have more to do?" and "isn't Bobby running roughshod over Paul?"

Unfortunately, the answer is often yes - and the chemistry between the boys onscreen appears uneasy at best. It is said that he is more of an equal partner in their early films for Fox than in the later RKO series, where Paul frequently has little to do other than be Bobby's straight man.

After his partner's death, Bobby Clark retired briefly before returning to the stage and pursuing a successful career as a solo comedian.

Bobby only once appeared in a movie again, in The Goldwyn Follies.

While these aren’t the easiest films in the world to see, there are DVDs of Clark & McCullough comedies available from A-1 Video, as well as Encore Entertainment and Looser Than Loose.

Am I thankful for DIY classic film preservationists and historians who have kept Clark & McCullough's onscreen legacy alive. YES!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You write very well.