I'm a big fan of old time radio (OTR) shows. I've been collecting them for years and years and have amassed quite a selection of shows including dramas, mysteries, SF, and even kids shows. My favorites have to be the comedies though, they're absolutely hilarious. Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, and Amos and Andy are some of my favorites, and those acts are still fairly well known today. One radio comedy that was just as popular back in the day, but is largely forgotten now, is Fibber McGee and Molly. One of the most consistently funny shows, the characters of Fibber and his long-suffering wife Molly were featured as the leads in three movies from 1941-44 (and supporting characters in another back in 1937). The final two films, Here We Go Again and Heavenly Days, have just been released by Warner Archives and while they are not nearly as entertaining as the radio shows themselves, it's great to see the two comedians act on the screen.
Fibber McGee and Molly were played by the real-life husband and wife team of Jim and Marian Jordan and they were fixtures on the radio for literally decades. They started out, as many radio stars did, in vaudeville but jumped to radio in 1924... and they'd be on the air in one from or another until just before Marian's death in 1961. It wasn't until 1935 that Fibber McGee and Molly, the show that would make them famous, premiered. A sitcom revolving around the Fibber, and man always more impressed with himself than the rest of the world was, and his loving and more level-headed wife, the show lasted through the depression, WWII, and the demise of radio comedy. With catch phrases that became part of the national lexicon ("T'aint funny, McGee") and consistently high ratings, it's no wonder that Hollywood decided to put them on the big screen.
The first movie on this disc, Here We Go Again, is a treasure trove for OTR fans. Not only are Fibber McGee and Molly in the film, but they share top billing with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and another radio show character, The Great Gildersleeve (played by Harold Peary) makes an appearance too. With so much talent on the screen, it's got to be good, right?
Well, no. There are some problems with this film that make it not quite as successful as one would think. First the plot is pretty disjointed. There are really three competing stories all fighting for screen time. First Fibber and Molly decide to throw a big party to celebrate their anniversary. They invite 100 people, but no one shows up so they decide to take a second honeymoon at a nearby (very expensive) resort. Fibber doesn't have the money to pay for it, so he has to come up with a scheme to pay off the hotel bill.
Plot #2 involves Edgar Bergen who is out looking for a certain breed of moth. He happens to go camping with Charlie McCarthy in the same area and spends his time keeping his dummy out of trouble.
These two stories are brought together in the third plot which involves a sleazy businessman (played by Gale Gordon) who is trying to find suckers, I mean people, to invest in a new aviation fuel that has supposedly been invented. He convinces Fibber to pitch the idea to his old friend Edgar Bergen. None of these competing plots are very compelling, and while one of them might make for a good half hour radio show, they can't support a feature film.
This movie was also an odd blend of styles. There were sections that were penned by the writers of the stars' TV shows (they received on-screen credit), while others scenes were created by the studio's staff writers. It was obvious which scenes were written by which writers since some of the film centered around witty verbal banter as was featured on the radio shows, and the rest involved sight gags that largely didn't work. The slapstick was particularly embarrassing; with many of the actual gags (Fibber falling off an ironing board that he was standing on for example) happening off screen.
Then there's the case of Charlie McCarthy. For those who don't know, he was ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's 'dummy.' (Yes, a ventriloquist had a radio show back in the day. Go figure.) For some unknown reason, someone in power decided that Charlie should get up and walk around, and even dance in a musical number. So for most of the film he's shown as a wooden dummy, but in a few long shots they dressed up an uncredited child as the toy and had him run about. It was a bit disconcerting and every time it happened it pulls the viewer out of the moment and reminds them that they're watching a film.
That's not to say the film was a total wash. There are segments that are quite funny and it is nice to see some of the radio stars on screen doing their routines. It just doesn't work as well as it should.
The second film is the last feature Fibber McGee and Molly made, Heavenly Days (Molly's catch phrase on the show.) This is an odd movie that's supposed to inspire people to become active in government, which is fine, but as a comedy it's pretty drab.
When Molly's relative invites the pair to Washington DC, Fibber doesn't want to go. After all, it's inhabited by a bunch of kooks. He changes his mind when the Spirit of '76 (also played by Jim Jordan) appears before him convinces the man that he could really help out in Washington. So they hop on a train and head off to the capital.
Once there, they finagle an invitation to observe the Senate while it's in session and that's when Fibber gets his great idea: he'll tell all of those law-makers that they need to listen to the average man and hear what he has to say. They've been ignoring the average voter for too long. So when there's a moment of quiet in the Senate Chambers he stands up and starts speechifying! And promptly gets thrown out. The rest of the movie consists of Fibber alternately complaining that on one in government listens to the people, and that the people don't take enough interest in local and national politics.
The thing that drags this picture down is that it just isn't funny. The message is just as true today as when it was made, but Fibber comes across more as an imbecile than the cagey schemer that he was in the radio show. To spice the film up there's a scene where Fibber and Molly meet a group of war orphans that come from countries all over the world. Each cute little tot steps forward and greets Fibber with a heavy accent and tells him how great it is to be in America. It's a good example of what's wrong with the film: It puts getting the message across way above being entertaining.
Both movies are included on a single DVD-R.
The original mono soundtrack is included and it sounds fine. The dialog is easy to make out and the musical numbers sound good. Nothing to complain about here.
The full frame image looks very good for unrestored movies dating back to WWII. There are some occasional spots and scratches on the print, but these are minor. The contrast is great, the picture is clear and the image is very easy on the eyes.
As with most Warner Archive titles, there are no extras included on this disc.
As an old time radio fan, I did enjoy seeing both of these films. The first one was better, but neither of them worked as well as they should. Even though they're flawed, they're worth watching... but give it a rental.