Tomorrow on TCM: A Groucho Rarity
Tonight and tomorrow on Turner Classic Movies is turning out some heavy Frank Sinatra rotation. There’s lots I could write about here (Dirty Dingus McGee, anyone?) but I would be remiss in my duties as a whatever-I-am if I didn’t give priority to the movie Ol’ Blues Eyes co-stars in with Groucho Marx and Jane Russell: Double Dynamite (1951), which screens at 6:15am (EST) tomorrow.
In Double Dynamite, some gangsters trick Sinatra into betting money on their behalf; he does (because he wants to marry Jane Russell) and wins big. Unfortunately he does this on the same day that funds are noticed missing from the bank so it appears suspicious that he is spending money.And so his friend (Groucho) cooks up elaborate schemes to help him get out of his jam.
You might think that a film co-starring Groucho Marx, Frank Sinatra and Jane Russell would be better known than Double Dynamite. But it probably deserves its obscurity. Mostly its three principals are miscast. Neither Sinatra or Russell can do comedy. (I just saw The Joker is Wild the other night. I reiterate. Sinatra can NOT do comedy. What’s the evidence that he can? Robin and the Seven Hoods?) In Double Dynamite he attempts to play a nervous bank clerk who doesn’t drink. An excellent Danny Kaye role. Sinatra, I don’t buy. And the usually hard-edged, cynical Russell here plays a ditzy, innocent girl — in other words a Marilyn Monroe or Judy Holiday part (at times she seems to be doing an impression of them).
And Groucho? He plays a waiter at an Italian restaurant who loves to gamble! In other words, he is playing Chico! At other times, he sings musical numbers with Sinatra, occupying the musical comedy part of the plot, the part of the show which it used to be his job to ridicule. This might seem like a de-evolution, like a horrible transformation of some sort. But having spent so much time investigating Groucho’s early years for Marxfest I’ve gained some insights. Like any other performer, Groucho wanted popularity and legitimacy. It’s not like he “finally drank the Kool-Aid”. He INITIALLY wanted to be a singer. Comedy came later. He fancied himself a singer and an actor as well as a comedian. Many’s the time he tried on more legit type parts over the years (Twentieth Century, Room Service, The Mikado, etc) While he delivered funny one-liners second to none, in the opinion of this reviewer his acting and singing skills left much to be desired. Watching him try to act cheerful rather than nasty is kind of painful. In my dream world there would be another Groucho in this film making fun of the one who forms a happy trio with Sinatra and Russell. This is easily the worst of his solo movies.
For more on comedy film history please check out 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 etcTo find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.