Jack in the Saddle: BUCK BENNY RIDES AGAIN (Paramount 1940)

The gang’s all here in BUCK BENNY RIDES AGAIN – Jack Benny’s radio gang, that is! Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, announcer Don Wilson, band leader Phil Harris, comic actor Andy Devine, and crooner Dennis Day all show up for this fun-filled musical comedy romp directed by Mark Sandrich. Even Jack’s radio nemesis Fred Allen is heard (though not seen) cracking jokes at his rival’s expense!

The movie plays like an extended sketch from one of Jack’s radio or TV programs, as the vain Jack falls for pretty Joan Cameron (Ellen Drew), one of a trio of singing sisters (the other two are Virginia Dale and Lillian Cornell) trying to break into show biz. They “meet cute” when Jack accidentally smashes into Joan’s taxi. Jack keeps flubbing his chances with Joan, who only goes for manly, rugged Western types (“I wouldn’t go out with him if he drove up in a sleigh and had white whiskers and toys!”), so Jack goes West, pretending to own Andy Devine’s Nevada ranch to impress her. The cowardly comedian pays off the ranch hands to make himself look tough, but a couple of real-life tough hombres (Ward Bond,  Morris Ankrum) cause trouble for scaredy cat Jack. When the outlaws tie up Joan while attempting to rob the local dude ranch/hotel, the inept Jack manages to rescue her and save the day – with an assist from his pet polar bear, Carmichael!

In between the admittedly thin plot, you’ll find a treasure trove of classic Benny comedy. There’s plenty of bantering with Rochester, wisecracks about his cheapness, vanity, age sensitivity, and of course his ongoing radio “feud” with comic Fred Allen (sourpuss Charles Lane plays Allen’s press agent, out to expose Jack as a Western fraud). Jack in his Western get-up is a sight to behold, and his cowboy song , with it’s refrain “with the deer and the antelope”, is a hoot!

A real treat in BUCK BENNY RIDES AGAIN is Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, who gets a rare opportunity to showcase his talents. Besides the back-and-forth banter with “Boss” Benny, Rochester even gets a romantic subplot with Joan’s maid Josephine, played by Theresa Harris .  They duet on “My My” (written by the film’s songwriters Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh) which made the Hit Parade that year, and he has a jazzy solo tap number highlighting his fancy footwork. Other than CABIN IN THE SKY, this is Rochester’s biggest movie part, and we can all be grateful he was given this chance to shine.

There are dance numbers by a troupe called the Merrill Abbott Dancers, solo songs from Irish tenor Day, hepcat Harris, and Drew (dubbed by big band singer Martha Tilton) to go along with the crazy comedy. Director Sandrich was no stranger to musical comedies, having sat in the chair for Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers classics like TOP HAT and SHALL WE DANCE (and later the Christmas perennial HOLIDAY INN with Fred and Bing Crosby). While BUCK BENNY RIDES AGAIN may not be on a par with those films, it’s an   entertaining vehicle for fans of Jack Benny, and a good starting place for newcomers. Carmichael alone is worth the price of admission!

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