Please Note: The stills used here are taken from promotional materials and other sources, not the Blu-ray edition under review.
With the amusing, ahead-of-its-time 1948 satire So This Is New York, Olive Films continues their plunge into the Paramount holdings for offbeat films - this particular one serves as a good vehicle for the semi-forgotten radio and television personality Henry Morgan. Although it tends to wear out its welcome too soon, this well-cast "gold-digging in the big city" tale will be a welcome sight for fans of offbeat comedy.
So This Is New York is a satire on "The Good Old Days" from the pen of popular humorist Ring Lardner. The short stories and novels of Lardner often got adapted into radio dramas and films (like 1933's Alibi Ike), mostly written from a bemused perspective on the subject of sports. His 1920 novel The Big Town forms the basis for this comedy, which turned the antiquated notion of finding a wealthy suitor into a full-on parody poking fun at the quaint ridiculousness of that period (silent melodramas, walk-hobbling dresses, gaudy home decor, etc.). It turned out to be a great fit for the talents of Henry Morgan, the prickly comedian perhaps best remembered from his long-time post on the TV game show I've Got a Secret. For those who've enjoyed Morgan's proto-Letterman subversiveness on that show, the Morgan of So This Is New York offers more of the same. He's actually a very capable, appealing actor, which makes me wonder why he didn't appear in too many films.
Henry Morgan's So This Is New York character is Ernie Finch, an affable if henpecked cigar salesman quietly living in South Bend, Indiana. Ernie's placid existence gets overturned, however, with the arrival of an inheritance left to his wife, Ella (Virginia Grey), and her perky younger sister, Kate (Dona Drake). Ella and Kate pool their combined fortunes and persuade Ernie to move to New York City with the goal of finding a millionaire to fall for the attractive Miss. From there, the trio encounter a succession of men who initially look perfect for Kate - only to turn out to be duds. Ernie, Ella and Kate meet a smarmy businessman (Jerome Cowan) who is eventually revealed to have lustful eyes for Ella; a wealthy, eccentric neighbor (Hugh Herbert) who neglected to mention his wife; a rich horse racing enthusiast (Rudy Vallee) who has his genuine feelings for Kate spoiled when she falls for his jockey (Leo Gorcey in a rare non-Bowery Boys part); and a down-on-his-luck actor (Bill Goodwin) who uses the sisters' cash to mount his comeback in an unbelievably awful stage play. With funds running out and Kate no more engaged than before, Ernie starts to become smugly aware that the whole affair was a colossal waste of time.
So This Is New York director Richard Fleischer (The Narrow Margin) invests this cynical story with refreshing, interesting touches. Each of Kate's suitors gets introduced with an unflattering freeze frame, while Morgan narrates with an ironic bemusement similar to MGM's contemporary "Pete Smith Specialties" shorts. The film's initial scenes are bursting with unique, transgressive bits (supplying a cabbie's New York-ese with subtitles, for instance) - its manic energy starts to become shrill (and a lot more typical) as it goes along, however. Speaking of those Pete Smith Specialties, their goofy humor worked largely because it was well-suited to the short subject format. While feature-length parody would become more refined in later years (ask Mel Brooks), here the genre is in its pupa stage and looking mighty awkward. The movie does score points for Henry Morgan and a good, eclectic supporting cast, although I wouldn't count So This Is New York as a lost gem of comedy.
The Blu Ray:
The black and white picture seen on Olive Films' Blu Ray edition of So This Is New York generally looks pleasant, with not too many instances of wear, dust and specks. A few scenes appear to be taken off a less-pristine print, however. These sequences (like the opening credits) tend to look blurry and overly contrasted, which is a slight distraction from a relatively clean and sharp looking disc.
The mono soundtrack is a pleasant listen, although it sounds more shrill and raggedy on the parts mastered from more aged film elements. As with Olive's other products, no subtitles are included.
With a perfectly befuddled Henry Morgan reluctantly dealing with a parade of rich suitors for his sister-in-law in 1910s New York, So This Is New York crackles with satiric wit - for the first twenty or so minutes, anyhow. This 1948 property would have been more effectively done as a brilliant short subject, a la Chuck Jones' classic cartoon The Dover Boys. The fun cast and mildly interesting plot make it worth a look, however. As with other Olive Films reissues, the picture and packaging looks excellent. Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.