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RKO Varieties Triple Feature

Warner Bros. // Unrated // March 10, 2016
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted April 3, 2016 | E-mail the Author
The Movies:

When a TV show is running over budget (in terms of time, or money, or both) the producers often make a quick episode on the cheap by filming a dreaded 'clip show.' Comprised of a basic framing sequence ("Hey do you remember when...") and a series of edited scenes from earlier episodes, they're usually not that great even if you haven't seen the earlier shows. (Movie serials which would sometimes present a 'recap chapter' in the second half of the adventure too, with similar results.) In the late 1940's, RKO decided to do something similar with a movie. They edited down some two-reel comedies, added in a dance number or two from some of their bigger productions, and threw an MC onto the screen to host the whole affair and voila! They created an hour-long film that plays like an old vaudeville show and could fill the lower half of a double feature. Warner Archives has released all three of RKO's variety shows on a single DVD entitled The RKO Varieties Triple Feature. Including the movies Variety Time (1948), the oddly titled Make Mine Laughs (1949), and Footlight Varieties (1951) the disc is hit and miss, and unfortunately there are more misses.

Variety Time (1948):

This is the first theatrical appearance of Jack Parr (who would go on to host The Tonight Show before Johnny Carson took it over and made the show an institution). He presents the acts like the throws out some jokes in between and does a decent job. The weak part is his material, which is extremely dated. For example, at one point Parr quips "I had a television... but the police took it away from me because I didn't have a liquor license." It was fun to see this early appearance of Jack Parr, even if he wasn't quite at the top of his game yet.

Another highlight of the show was a dance number by the impressive Jesse & James, two African-American acrobatic dancers who leap and bound around the stage while spinning waiter's trays on their fingers.

There is also a bit that foreshadows Mystery Science Theater 3000 by a few decades. While some edited silent shorts (The Two Paths (1911) and The Taking of Luke McVane (1915)) play, Jack Parr 'explains' what happening. It's pretty amusing overall.

Unfortunately the rest of the film is a bit drab. There are condensed versions of two RKO shorts (I'll Build It Myself and Hired Husband) which make up a bulk of the running time. The first one features Edgar Kennedy who decides to build an addition onto his house with his own two hands, with disastrous results. The second stars Leon Errol who has to pretend (for various contrived reasons) that he's a butler in his own house when his wife's rich aunt comes to visit. Neither short was particularly memorable in their original form, but cutting out the setup at the beginning makes it even harder to like them.

The rest of the bill is rounded out by various song and dance numbers taken from RKO features along with a mildly amusing sketch with Jack Parr and Hans Conreid.

Make Mine Laughs (1949):

For this second feature RKO ditched Jack Parr and replaced him with rubber-limbed Gil Lamb. His slapstick bits were quite impressive, he was able to bend in half at the waist so that his head nearly touched the floor, but he didn't have the stage presence of Jack Parr and so this film isn't quite as good.

The format is nearly the same as the previous movie, but this one takes the vaudeville style a bit further by featuring more unusual performances. There's an animal act featuring two monkeys that play musical instruments and ends with a banana-eating contest, a ventriloquist, and a duo that make animal sounds (including an impersonation of a fly landing on a lump of sugar). In addition to that there is a fairly interesting song by Dennis Day and Anne Shirley (clipped from Music in Manhattan (1944)).

Once again there is an edited short by Leon Errol, this time from Beware of Redheads (1945). This farce involves Leon having to hide another woman from his wife, while trying to avoid the other woman's husband. The fact that both women are 20-30 years younger than Errol makes it even harder to swallow.

There are also some riffed silent films this time around, and they were pretty entertaining.

 Footlight Varieties (1951):

For the final, and arguably best, movie in this trio Jack Parr returns. He's a bit more polished than in the first movie, though his jokes are still pretty stale. The acts start out with The Sportsmen Quartet who sing a couple of fun songs including one written for the movie that's pretty funny. There's also a funny skit with a very young Red Buttons who does some of his stand-up routine that's pretty funny.

Once again, there is an edited Leon Errol that fills a lot of the running time. This one was the most outrageous, but also my favorite. A shortened version of He Forgot to Remember, Leon is caught by his wife out carousing with his pals instead of being out on a fishing trip. Thinking fast, Errol feigns amnesia and his wife buys the act. In fact he's so good at pretending to have lost his memory that the wife calls in a doctor, who immediately figures out that the man is lying, but doesn't let Leon know that the gig is up. Instead he and the wife plan an elaborate gag to get him to confess.

There are also assorted song and dance numbers, including a very early appearance of Liberace.

The DVD:

All three hour-long 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 the late 1940's. There are some occasional spots and scratches on the prints, but these are minor. The contrast is good (with the exception of the beginning of Make Mine Laughs which is a bit washed out), 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.

Final Thoughts:

While there were some very good and entertaining parts to these three variety show films, there were more misses than hits and there isn't much replay value. Fans of cinema from the late 40's/early 50's will enjoy these, but not more than once. This would make a good rental.        
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