Tomorrow on TCM: Berle’s Big Picture
This was neither Berle’s first nor only starring vehicle; he’d done several broad comedies in the early 40s (and had started out as a bit player in early childhood) , but these efforts didn’t make much of a stir. This was Berle’s first picture after becoming a big television star however and this altered the equation. Always Leave Them Laughing is an ambitious picture, a drama about a comedian, as opposed to a comedy. Berle was a fine dramatic actor, at least a competent one, as he was glad to show on the few occasions when he got the opportunity. But it’s hard to transcend a vehicle like this which casts him as a thoroughly unsympathetic scoundrel who stabs anyone and everyone in the back in his drive to get ahead in show business. The only (supposedly) positive facet of his character is that he is funny, but not really — more like insecure and obnoxious.
The fact that the character becomes a comedy star on tv gets awfully confusing. Is this supposed to be his autobiography? Interestingly, the only similar film I can think of with a main character as heinous as this is The Oscar (1966), which has almost an identical story, and which Berle also appears in (as the manager who gets stepped on the star, Stephen Boyd). Cinematic karma, of a kind. Directed by Roy Del Ruth, the film also stars Bert Lahr (as the show biz vet that Berle screws over), and Ruth Roman and Virginia Mayo as his TWO bodacious love interests. So the picture is a little self-indulgent and I hope Berle enjoyed every moment of it, for he never had such an opportunity to star in a picture again.
For more on comedy film history see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
For more on show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.