Redemption Song: John Wayne in ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (Republic 1947)

John Wayne  starred in some of the screen’s most iconic Westerns, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for ANGEL AND THE BADMAN. Perhaps it’s because the film fell into Public Domain in the mid-70’s, and I’ve had the opportunity to view it so many times. Yet I wouldn’t keep coming back to it if it weren’t a really good movie. It’s Wayne’s first film as producer, and though it has plenty of that trademark John Wayne action and humor, it’s a bit different from your typical ‘Big Duke’ film.

Wayne plays Quirt Evans, an outlaw on the run. The wounded Quirt encounters a Quaker family, the Worths, who take him to file a land claim before the big guy finally passes out. They bring him back to their family farm to nurse him back to health, and pretty daughter Penny, unschooled in the ways of the world, falls in love with the mysterious stranger. A romance blooms just as Quirt’s arch-rival Laredo Stevens and his gang ride in. Quirt’s gun has been emptied by the peace-loving Father Worth, but he manages to bluff his way through the encounter in an effectively dark scene.

Also arriving on the scene is the ominous presence of Marshal ‘Wistful’ McClintock, a rifle-toting lawman who’d like nothing better than to put a rope around Quirt’s neck. When Penny and her family take Quirt to meeting, the love among the Quakers gives him cold feet, and he rides off with his old pal Randy to bushwhack Laredo’s crew, who’re plotting to rustle a cattle drive. Quirt relapses to his old ways of wine, women, and song before having a change of heart and returning to Penny. But while the lovers are out picking blackberries, they’re ambushed by Laredo and company, causing their wagon to go over a cliff and grievously injuring Penny. Quirt has to once again strap on his guns, and goes out seeking revenge…

Wayne’s Quirt Evans is not a “good guy”; he’s a killer and a thief who becomes a changed man by the love of Penny and her family. The theme here is spiritual vs secular, with love conquering all in the end, and not in a corny way. Writer/director Grant doesn’t hit the viewer over the head with a Bible to get his point across; he simply and effectively uses the “show, don’t tell” method. Grant was a former Chicago newspaper man who came to Hollywood in the 30’s and worked for MGM. After WWII, he began a long and fruitful collaboration with Wayne, working on ten of Duke’s films, including SANDS OF IWO JIMA , HONDO, THE ALAMO, and MCLINTOCK!. Grant, like most of Duke’s cronies, was a heavy drinker, who fortunately got sober through AA, and became actively involved in the program’s Hollywood chapter.

Not so fortunate was the beautiful but tragic Gail Russell, who sweetly plays the role of Penny. Gail was a Paramount contract player dubbed “The Hedy Lamarr of Santa Monica” by studio publicists. She was also what was then called “painfully shy”, suffering from an acute anxiety disorder. Someone suggested to the young Gail she take a few drinks before going on set to calm her nerves, and soon her alcoholism was off and running. She made a splash in the films THE UNINVITED and OUR HEARTS WERE YOUNG AND GAY before co-starring with Duke in ANGEL AND THE BADMAN; the scenes between the two show an obvious fondness for each other, and rumors of an affair abounded, which the ever-gallant Wayne always denied. They also appear together in WAKE OF THE RED WITCH, but a series of drunk driving charges curtailed her career. Producer Wayne gave her the female lead in Budd Boetticher’s 1956 SEVEN MEN FROM NOW opposite Randolph Scott . She continued to act in low-budget films and television, though by this time her disease was far too powerful for someone of her sensitive nature. In 1961, her body was discovered in her small studio apartment, dead of heart and liver failure, empty bottles strewn all over the place. Gail Russell was just 36 years old.

Duke’s pal Bruce Cabot has the part of rival outlaw Laredo, and mentor Harry Carey Sr. turns up as the marshal. Other Wild West characters dotting the landscape include Symona Boniface , Joan Burton, Lee Dixon, Kenne Duncan, Louis Faust, Paul Fix Olin Howland (in a great comic relief part), Brandon Hurst, Rex Lease, Tom Powers, Marshall Reed, Irene Rich, and Hank Worden , as well as the beautiful vistas of Monument Valley. The rousing cattle rustling scene and obligatory barroom brawl are well staged by second unit director Yakima Canutt and his ace stunt crew, which included Richard Farnsworth and Ben Johnson .

ANGEL AND THE BADMAN may not be the Greatest Western Ever Made, but it’s as entertaining as all get-out, and as I stated holds a special place in my heart. Those who still believe John Wayne only played one type of character should watch this one, and the chemistry between Duke and the tragic Miss Russell is on a par with the great screen teams of the past. It’s a Western for people who don’t even like Westerns, filled with romance, action, good humor, and, most importantly, redemption. You really don’t want to miss this one, and if, like me, you’ve seen it before… see it again!

ANGEL AND THE BADMAN is now streaming on The Film Detective! 

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Editorial: On Classic Hollywood and Historical Perspective

TRIGGER WARNING: Tonight’s post has been cancelled so I can present the following editorial. All views expressed are mine alone. Not all of you will agree with me. If you’re too sensitive, please just keep it moving. For the rest of you, read on…  

*sigh* I shouldn’t even have to be writing this. 

The New York Yankees baseball  team have stopped playing Kate Smith’s immortal “God Bless America” at their games. Hockey’s Philadelphia Flyers have followed suit, and Philly’s Wells Fargo Arena has gone so far as to  remove a statue of Ms. Smith from the premises. Meanwhile, at Kentucky’s Bowling Green University, plans are afoot to rename the Gish Sisters Movie Theater, named after pioneering film stars Lillian and Dorothy Gish.

What’s going on here, you may well ask?

Let’s start with the venerable Kate Smith. For those of you unfamiliar, Kate Smith was a popular songstress whose career took off in the late 1920s. Her radio program aired from 1931-45, and introduced the world to Abbott & Costello . She appeared in films like THE BIG BROADCAST, HELLO EVERYBODY!, and THIS IS THE ARMY, and helped sell more War Bonds during WWII than any other star in the country. Kate Smith was eventually given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan in 1982. Besides the iconic “God Bless America”, her hits included “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain”, “River, Stay Away From My Door”, “The Last Time I Saw Paris”, “White Cliffs of Dover”, and “Don’t Fence Me In”.

Kate Smith also recorded a hit called “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” in 1931, and sang a little ditty titled “Pickaninny Heaven” in the 1933 film HELLO EVERYBODY!.

Lillian Gish in Victor Sjostrom’s “The Wind” (1928)

Then there’s Lillian Gish. Famed for her performances in D.W. Griffith’s early silent classics INTOLERANCE, BROKEN BLOSSOMS, WAY DOWN EAST, and  ORPHANS OF THE STORM, as well as later roles in LA BOHEME, THE WIND,  DUEL IN THE SUN, PORTRAIT OF JENNIE, THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER , and THE WHALES OF AUGUST, she starred on stage, screen, and television, earning numerous accolades, including an honorary Oscar in 1971 for “distinguished contribution to the progress of motion pictures”, the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1979, and a Nation Board of Review Best Actress Award for THE WHALES OF AUGUST at age 93. Miss Gish was also instrumental in early efforts to preserve silent films. After her death, Lillian’s will established a trust fund for the Lillian and Dorothy Gish Prize, given to those who’ve “made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life”. Among those receiving the prize have been Ingmar Bergman, Bob Dylan , Isabel Allende, Ornette Coleman, Pete Seeger, Chinua Achebe, and Spike Lee. She was arguably the biggest star in silent cinema, so influential the great Francois Truffaut dedicated his film DAY FOR NIGHT to Lillian and her sister Dorothy.

Lillian Gish was also the star of Griffith’s 1915 BIRTH OF A NATION, when she was just 22 years old.

So what gives here? Why, all of a sudden, is “God Bless America” no longer heard in Philly and NYC? Why does Bowling Green want to remove the Gish Sisters from their theater’s name? Were Kate Smith and Lillian Gish mouth-drooling racists? Here’s where a little historical perspective comes in handy.

Segregation in America

America in the early 20th Century was a segregated nation. The Civil War was over in name only. White fear of miscegenation was rampant, and that didn’t stop at black folk. Chinese, Native Americans, and other ethnicities were under close scrutiny by the white ruling class. Hell, my Irish and Portuguese ancestors who first came over weren’t exactly greeted with open arms either, relegated to working the hardest of hard labor jobs for what amounted to slave wages. This was an age in American history before Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and the Civil Rights Movement came into being… America would have to wait until the upheaval of the 1960’s before tolerance of “the other” even began to enter the conversation.

Is “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” a racist song? Ab-so-fucking-lutely (so is ‘Pickaninny Heaven”, for that matter). Kate Smith was as unenlightened about race relations as the rest of White America back then. But does this mean we should simply erase Kate and “God Bless America” from our collective consciousness, pretend it doesn’t even exist, and (I hate to use the term) “whitewash” Kate Smith from American History?

Paul Robeson in James Whale’s “Show Boat” (1936)

If so, we’re going to have to ban Paul Robeson as well. Mr. Robeson was the pre-eminent black actor of the early 20th Century, a performer and singer of great power who was blacklisted for his political beliefs, an early Civil Rights activist. In 1931, the same year Smith recorded “That’s Why Darkies Were Born”, Mr. Robeson also recorded a version of the song. Does this make him a “bad person”, too? Do we now remove Robeson’s legacy, depriving future generations of films like THE EMPEROR JONES, SANDERS OF THE RIVER, and the 1936 version of SHOW BOAT – in which Robeson sings another (allegedly) racist song, “Ol’ Man River”.

And what of Lillian Gish? True, BIRTH OF A NATION is an abhorrent love letter to the KKK, but it’s also historically important in the development of the motion picture industry. I’ve sat through it, cringing as I did, for the simple fact it deserves to be seen – from a historical perspective! Just because Miss Gish is in it, does that mean we need to erase her contributions to the history of cinema? If so, you’d better fasten your seatbelts, as Bette Davis once said. Future director Raoul Walsh plays the part of John Wilkes Booth in the film. Shall we ban his filmography, which includes silent classics THE THIEF OF BAGDAD and WHAT PRICE GLORY, and later movies such as THE ROARING TWENTIES , THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, HIGH SIERRA , and WHITE HEAT ?

DW Griffith’s epic “Birth of a Nation” (1915)

It gets worse: future director David Butler (DIMPLES, ROAD TO MOROCCO , CALAMITY JANE) is also in the cast, as is future Three Stooges producer/director Jules White. Do they get rubbed out of Hollywood history, too? Where does it all end? Do we deprive ourselves of seeing the comedic talents of Willie Best and Mantan Moreland because the parts they played were stereotypes? Are the SJW’s coming for GONE WITH THE WIND next? (Some say they already have). America’s history of racism is not pretty; in fact, it’s goddamned ugly. But we can’t just pretend it didn’t happen. What we can do is study it, learn from our mistakes, and move forward. Banning things that make you feel uncomfortable just makes people desire that forbidden fruit even more, and they will go out of their way to find out what makes it so special. Look at Prohibition in the 20’s, or the War On Drugs today. That is just human nature.

In the 1930’s, Nazi Germany banned books with ideas the powers-that-were didn’t agree with, and burned them in public. Among those targeted were Albert Einstein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Franz Kafka, and Ernest Hemingway. Is that where we’re headed next? Historic celluloid and recordings in flames, all in the name of… what? “Social justice”? Can erasing the distasteful past, banning ideas no longer accepted by mainstream society, be considered justice?

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And you can’t learn from something by erasing it.

 

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt. 23: Spring Cleaning Edition


Continuing my quest to watch all these movies sitting in my DVR (so I can record more movies!), here are six more capsule reviews for you Dear Readers:

FIFTH AVENUE GIRL (RKO 1939; D: Gregory LaCava) – A minor but entertaining bit of screwball froth revolving around rich old Walter Connolly , who’s got  problems galore: his wife (the criminally underrated Veree Teasdale) is cheating on him, his son (Tim Holt in a rare comedy role) is a polo-playing twit, his daughter (Kathryn Adams) in love with the socialism-spouting chauffer (James Ellison ), and his business is facing bankruptcy because of labor union troubles. On top of all that, no one remembers his birthday! The downcast Connolly wanders around Central Park, where he meets jobless, penniless, and practically homeless Ginger Rogers, and soon life on 5th Avenue gets turned upside-down! Ellison’s in rare form as the proletariat Marxist driver, Franklin Pangborn shines (as usual) as Connolly’s butler, and Ginger makes with the wisecracks as only Ginger could. There are some similarities to LaCava’s MY MAN GODFREY, and though FIFTH AVENUE GIRL isn’t quite as good (few film comedies are!), it’s a more than amusing look at class warfare. Fun Fact: Screenwriter Alan Scott wrote most of Ginger’s classic films with Fred Astaire (TOP HAT, FOLLOW THE FLEET, SWING TIME, SHALL WE DANCE, CAREFREE), and penned the Rogers/LaCava follow-up PRIMROSE PATH, costarring Joel McCrea.

THE FLYING DEUCES (RKO 1939; D: A. Edward Sutherland) – Laurel & Hardy join the Foreign Legion after Ollie is rejected by (unknown to him) married Jean Parker, whose husband Reginald Gardiner becomes their captain! To say complications ensue is putting it mildly in this fast moving (only 69 minutes) comedy, with a cast that includes L&H regulars Richard Cramer, Charles Middleton (who played a similar role in their short BEAU HUNKS), and of course James Finlayson. The gags come fast and furious in this, the best of their non-Hal Roach movies. Fun Fact: This is the film where The Boys perform their famous “Shine On Harvest Moon” song-and-dance routine, sweetly sung by Ollie.

THE TATTOOED STRANGER (RKO 1950; D: Edward J. Montagne) – A young girl is found shotgunned to death in a parked car in Central Park. The only clue to her identity: a Marine Corps tattoo. This low budget police procedural moves fast (it clocks in at just over an hour), contrasting the latest in 50’s forensic investigating with good old fashioned legwork, and benefits from it’s NYC location shooting. The cast is made up of mostly unknowns, all of whom are good, including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role for a young Jack Lord. Not the greatest cops-chase-down-killer flick, but certainly not the worst, either. Fun Fact: Director Montagne went on to create the sitcom MCHALE’S NAVY, and produced most of Don Knotts’ 60’s movie comedies.

WITNESS TO MURDER (United Artists 1954; D: Roy Rowland) – Barbara Stanwyck spies George Sanders kill a woman from her apartment window across the street, but with no body or any clues to go on, no one believes her, and Sanders (who’s also an ex-Nazi!) gaslights her, leading the cops to question her sanity. Gary Merrill is the cop who helps crack the case, and the supporting cast includes brief but memorable bits by Claire Carleton and Juanita Moore as Babs’ fellow mental patients. Stanwyck and Sanders help elevate this somewhat derivative entry in the “Woman in Jeopardy” noir subcategory. Fun Fact: The real star of WITNESS TO MURDER is DP John Alton, whose dark cinematography can be found in classics like HE WALKED BY NIGHT, RAW DEAL , and THE BIG COMBO .

GUN THE MAN DOWN (United Artists 1956; D: Andrew V. McLaglen) – Big Jim Arness, TV’s heroic Marshal Dillon on GUNSMOKE, turns to the dark side as a bank robber who’s shot and left for dead by his compadres, who drag his woman along with them to boot! Patched up by a posse and sent to prison, he does his time and returns years later seeking revenge. A routine but very well made Western, as well it should be – director McLaglen was a sagebrush specialist, as was screenwriter Burt Kennedy , cinematographer William Clothier was a favorite of John Ford, and the producer was none other than The Duke himself, John Wayne ! The cast is peppered with sagebrush vets like Harry Carey Jr., Robert Wilke, Don Megowan, and Emile Meyer. A minor outing with major talent before and behind the cameras that’s sure to please any Western buffs. Fun Fact: A brunette Angie Dickinson is given an “introducing” credit as Arness’ love interest (though it’s actually her fourth credited film); three years later, she costarred with Wayne in the classic RIO BRAVO .

NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (MGM 1971; D: Dan Curtis) – Second feature film spinoff of the popular 60’s Gothic soap opera (following HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS ) sans Jonathan Frid (the vampire Barnabas) and Joan Bennett (matriarch Elizabeth), but featuring many of the show’s cast – David Selby, Kate Jackson, Lara Parker, Grayson Hall, John Karlen, Nancy Barrett, Chris Pennock, Thayer David – in a tale about ghosts and reincarnation, revolving around the beautiful but evil 19th Century witch Angelique (Parker). This underrated entry is slow to develop, building with an unsettling sense of dread; worth sticking with for horror buffs. Feature film debut for Jackson, who got her start on the soap before rocketing to stardom as one of TV’s original CHARLIE’S ANGELS, and the later hit series SCRECROW AND MRS. KING. Fun Fact: Robert Cobert’s appropriately eerie score incorporates several familiar music cues from the show, including the haunting “Quentin’s Theme”, which became a #13 hit in the Summer of ’69 for The Charles Randolph Grean Sounde:

 

Confessions of a TV Addcit #14: When Worlds Collided – Merv Griffin Meets Andy & Edie

Sometimes, while scrolling through the Internet doing research, I run across some truly bizarre things. Let me set the stage for you: Merv Griffin was a former Big Band singer whose biggest hit was 1950’s “I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts”. He turned to television, becoming first a game show host, then a successful talk show host (and created both WHEEL OF FORTUNE and JEOPARDY later on). Merv was a nice guy, but the very definition of a ‘square’, though he did present some rather thought-provoking guests over the years (including hippie radical Abbie Hoffman and John & Yoko Lennon).

Edie Sedgwick was an underground legend, a Warhol “Superstar” that epitomized Swingin’ 60’s culture, dubbed the New ‘It Girl’ and a Vogue Magazine ‘Youthquaker’, famous just for being famous before that was even a thing. She modeled, acted in Warhol’s underground films, had songs written about her by the likes of Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground, and became well-known for the posthumous movie CIAO MANHATTAN, released after her death from an alcohol and barbiturate overdose in 1971.

Andy Warhol was… well, Andy Warhol. There was no one quite like him, an avant-garde pop artist whose paintings and films set the straight world on its collective ear. During Merv’s first year hosting his long-running (1965-86) chat fest, he had Andy & Edie on as guests. The following clip of that interview is a treasure of a time capsule indeed, with an engaging and delightful Edie doing all the talking, as Andy refused to answer questions except by whispering in Edie’s ear. Also appearing is actress Renee Taylor (later Fran’s mom on TV’s THE NANNY), and a pair of gentlemen I can’t identify (I think one is Renee’s husband, Joe Bologna). WARNING: at around the seven minute mark, the clip ends, and restarts on a loop):

Strange days indeed, as Lennon once said (John, not Vladimir).

 

Merv Griffin (1925-2007)
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Edie Sedgwick (1943-1971)

Easter Egg Hunt: THE LIVING CHRIST SERIES – RETREAT & DECISION (Cathedral Films 1951)

Good morning, and Happy Easter (and Passover season!). Today’s holiday treat is from 1951’s THE LIVING CHRIST SERIES , a 12-part retelling of the life of Jesus made by Episcopal minster James K. Friedrich’s Cathedral Films. Though extremely low budget, the films are much more earnest than your typical Hollywood Biblical Extravaganza. As for your Easter Eggs, they’re in the film: see if you can spot Familiar Faces Gregg Barton, Jeanne Bates, Lawrence Dobkin, James Flavin, Lowell Gilmore, William Henry, ‘TV’ Tommy Ivo, Dennis Moore, and Will Wright as you bear witness to Jesus preaching, performing miracles, and making His decision on His road to destiny. Narrated by ‘Familiar Voice’ Art Gilmore, and starring Robert Wilson as The Lord, enjoy RETREAT & DECISION:

     Happy Easter & Passover from Cracked Rear Viewer!

The Dork Knight: Steve Martin in DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID (Universal 1982)

Quick, name a film noir that stars Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd, Vincent Price, and… Steve Martin? There’s only one: 1982’s DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID, the second collaboration between that “wild and crazy guy” Martin and comedy legend Carl Reiner. I remember, back in 1982, being dazzled by editor Bud Molin’s seamless job of incorporating classic film footage into the new narrative while simultaneously laughing my ass off. Things haven’t changed – the editing still dazzles, and I’m still laughing!

Martin and Reiner’s first comedy, 1979’s THE JERK, was an absurdist lover’s delight, and this time around the two, along with cowriter George Gipe, concocted this cockeyed detective saga after combing through old black and white crime dramas (we didn’t call ’em film noir back then) and cherry picking scenes to build their screenplay around. Martin plays PI Rigby Reardon, a hard-boiled knucklehead who takes on the case of Juliet Foster’s missing father, a famous scientist and cheesemaker. Rigby instantly falls for the femme fatale (“I hadn’t seen a body like that since I solved the Case of the Murdered Girl With the Big Tits”), and who can blame him, since she’s played by the delicious Rachel Ward, who shot to fame in SHARKY’S MACHINE and the TV miniseries THE THORN BIRDS!

“For God’s sake, Marlowe, put on a tie!”

The case leads him to discovering a conspiracy involving “The Friends and Enemies of Carlotta”, but the plot is strictly secondary to Martin’s interacting with movie stars of the past. Rigby’s got a partner named Marlowe, none other than Bogie himself, using footage from THE BIG SLEEP , DARK PASSAGE , and IN A LONELY PLACE . His interaction with Fred MacMurray in DOUBLE INDEMNITY, dolled up in a blonde wig and tight sweater to resemble Barbara Stanwyck, is a scream. Martin dons drag again as James Cagney’s mother in a funny riff on WHITE HEAT .

Besides those previously mentioned, other classic stars appearing include Edward Arnold, Ingrid Bergman, William Conrad, Jeff Corey, Brian Donlevy, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Charles Laughton, Charles McGraw, Ray Milland, Edmond O’Brien, Barbara Stanwyck, and Lana Turner, from films like THE BRIBE , DECEPTION, THE GLASS KEY , HUMORESQUE, I WALK ALONE, JOHNNY EAGER, THE KILLERS , KEEPER OF THE FLAME, THE LOST WEEKEND, NOTORIOUS , THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, SORRY WRONG NUMBER, SUSPICION, and THIS GUN FOR HIRE (and by the way, that’s 70’s Exploitation queen Rainbeaux Smith doubling for Veronica Lake in her scene opposite Martin).

There are some great running gags throughout the film, like Juliet’s unique way of extracting bullets (“It’s really for snakebite, but I find it works for everything”), Martin going berserk every time he hears the phrase “cleaning woman”, and his constant chiding of ‘Marlowe’ for not wearing a tie. DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID was the last film for a pair of Hollywood greats: composer Miklos Rozsa and costume designer Edith Head. Both went out on a high note, a loving homage to films noir past, and a brilliant piece of work that itself stands the test of time.

De-Coded: Wheeler & Woosley in KENTUCKY KERNALS (RKO 1934)


The comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woosley  join forces with Our Gang’s Spanky McFarland in KENTUCKY KERNALS, directed by Hal Roach vet George Stevens. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a barrel of laughs, right? Well, while there are some laughs to be had, the (then) recent enforcement of the Production Code finds W&W much more subdued than in their earlier zany efforts, and playing second fiddle to both Spanky’s admittedly funny antics and the plot at hand, a takeoff on the famed Hatfield-McCoy feud.

Weirdly enough, the film starts off with a lovelorn man attempting suicide by jumping off a bridge. Fortunately for him, he lands in a fishing net owned by down-on-their luck vaudevillians Elmer (Woolsey) and Willie (Wheeler), living in a waterfront shack. The two convince him to adopt a child, and go to the orphanage, where they find cute little Spanky, who has a thing about breaking glass! The man winds up eloping with his true love, and the boys wind up in charge of the glass-smashing Spanky!

Informed Spanky is sole heir to “a large Kentucky estate”, the trio head south, with Willie falling for pretty Gloria Wakefield aboard the train. When they arrive in the Bluegrass State, they get embroiled in a bitter feud between the Wakefields and Spanky’s clan, the Milfords. W&W manage to mend fences between the two warring factions, until Spanky pops a bottle of champagne. The Wakefields think it’s a gunshot, and the feud is back on in full force…

There are plenty of quick quips and good sight gags here, but that anarchic spirit Wheeler & Woolsey brought to  their Pre-Code comedies is sadly lacking. There are missed opportunities as well; Marx Brothers nemesis Margaret Dumont is utterly wasted as the orphanage headmistress. Just imagine the fun Woolsey could have had jousting verbally with Miss Dumont a few short years earlier! Ingenue Mary Carlisle (who died this past August at age 104!) is appealing as Gloria, but not given very much to do except look pretty. Willie Best is unfortunately stereotyped as the Milford handyman Buckshot, although he does play off Spanky well. Even the main song “One Little Kiss” isn’t up to the usual standards of Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby (“I Wanna Be Loved By You”, “Three Little Words”, “A Kiss To Build  A Dream On”).


Spanky of course steals every scene he’s in with his antics and facial expressions. The six-year-old tyke was already a show biz veteran, having debuted with Our Gang two years earlier and quickly becoming the group’s most popular member. In fact, the film itself feels more like a Hal Roach comedy than a Wheeler & Woolsey outing, with Dorothy Granger and Charlie Hall appearing in small roles. Noah Beery Sr. (whose son later worked for Roach) plays the meanie Col. Wakefield, while Lucille LaVerne is Milford matriarch Aunt Hannah.

KENTCUCKY KERNALS is a pleasant enough if minor comedy, but a disappointment for Wheeler & Woolsey fans thanks to the Code restrictions. It takes away the sense of chaos they brought to the screen and turns them into just another pair of comics. Damn you, Joseph Breen!