Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Movies: And Jack Carson Goes Rolling Along

Here at Chez K, we keep the Jack Carson fires burning. He’s an unjustly neglected actor, remembered primarily for his comic performances. Even that’s misleading; his lighter turns have undercurrents of frustration and loneliness, while his natural buoyancy lends an extra dimension to his dramatic work (The Hard Way, Mildred Pierce).

I would have recorded The Good Humor Man (1950) for the title alone, not to mention timely reminders from Bill and Ivan. But the draw, in addition to Carson, is the one-of-a-kind writing credits. Script by animation legend Frank Tashlin, based on a story by Roy Huggins, called a pop culture giant by no less an authority than this website. The result is a live-action cartoon with a halfway decent crime story at its core, as Carson plays – surprise! – a Good Humor man caught up in a heist. Not many locked room mysteries end with circular saws on the loose cutting holes in the floor. Silly, entertaining stuff.

Allow me a digression on this Huggins business. Humor is based on his 1946 Saturday Evening Post story “Appointment with Fear,” which featured P.I. Stuart Bailey. Bailey appeared in several short stories and novels as well as the 1948 film I Love Trouble before being repurposed in Huggins’ landmark TV series 77 Sunset Strip. But there’s a second 1950 film based on the same material. State Secret, aka The Great Manhunt, involves a dictator replaced by an exact double and a surgeon on the run. I haven’t seen it, but I’ll wager it features no ice cream at all.

We didn’t plan on watching two Carson films over the weekend, but another turned up on TCM. Romance on the High Seas (1948) is old Hollywood heaven. Get a load of these credits. Studio system director par excellence Michael Curtiz behind the camera. Zingy script by the brothers Epstein of Casablanca fame, with additional material by Billy Wilder’s future writing partner I.A.L. Diamond. Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn songs including the standard “It’s Magic,” all choreographed by Busby Berkeley. You want character actors? They’re all here: S.Z. Sakall, Franklin Pangborn, Eric Blore. Yet somehow neither Rosemarie nor I had heard of the movie before.

There’s even a plot, with Carson as a shamus hired by a suspicious husband to follow his wife on a cruise, unaware that the wife, intent on shadowing her hubby, has given her ticket to a lounge singer (Doris Day, enchanting in her screen debut).

It makes for a tasty confection, but the bourbon in this meringue comes courtesy of Oscar Levant, grousing and grumbling from the margins. (ASIDE: You know you’re in an odd marriage when both parties feel they’re “the Levant.”) As usual, Oscar gets the best lines:

You can’t expect to start at the top – although I’ve often wondered why not.

(Her name is) Georgia Garrett. Georgia as in marching through, Garrett as in starving in.

Miscellaneous: Links

The Line has been around for weeks, and I’m only catching up to it now. Here’s the backstory, and Episode I.

Did you watch Eddie Muller’s The Grand Inquisitor yet? What are you waiting for?