Saturday, July 28, 2012

Did people find Joe Penner funny?

Yesterday, TCM showed the movie Go Chase Yourself, which sounded like an interesting enough B comedy, based on the one-sentence synopsis you'd see on the box guide or TCM's website. The movie has made it to DVD thanks to the female lead, Lucille Ball.

Joe Penner stars as Wilbur Meeley, a bank teller who is constantly entering contests and has dreams of becoming a singing radio star. (In real life, Penner was a radio star whose shtick some producers obviously thought would appeal to movie-going audiences.) He's not a particularly good teller, though, as he spends more time singing to them, and even reveals to a pair of depositors the location of the bank's vault! Even if you haven't read a one-sentence synopsis, it's clear these people are going to rob the bank. But more on that later. Wilbur's luck has finally come through in one of the contests, when he's given the grand prize of a camping trailer (even though he doesn't have a car to tow it!). Wilbur brings the trailer home to his wife Carol (Lucille Ball), who is none too impressed, as she thinks it gives her one more thing to have to vacuum. Where some husbands would have to sleep on a couch, at least this husband now has a trailer to sleep in.

But back to the bank robbery. The two depositors are joined by their henchman to empty the vault, but instead of setting off an aural alarm (Really? They had fire alarms back then; wouldn't a bank have had an automatic alarm?) they reveal their presence when they pull down a windowshade in one of the film's more inventive scenes. The cops are on to them, and the bank robbers wind up on a cul-de-sac in the same neighborhood where Wilber lives. They get a brilliant idea: hook their car up to the trailer and drive off, passing themselves off as people about to go on a camping trip. There's also a piece of evidence at the crime scene linking Wilbur to the crime, so the police are after Wilbur thinking he led the crime, and Carol is after him because she knows her husband is just too stupid to have committed the crime.

At this point, the plot starts to get really convoluted: One of the people they meet is Judy (June Travis), who is trying to escape her wealthy family which is trying to marry her off to Count Pierre (Fritz Feld). The family catches up with her, and Carol, having been tipped off as to Wilbur's whereabouts, meets Count Pierre on the train with the police following her, having no idea that their two stories are going to intertwine shortly....

Go Chase Yourself is a movie that has potential, but one that I think winds up going pretty badly wrong for long sequences. The first cause of all this is Penner. I found him almost uniformly irritating instead of funny, with a few exceptions (one being the way he's able to call his wife in the era before cell phones). There are also a lot of plot holes: the cops don't seem to have checked the bank for fingerprints, and it doesn't look like the robbers are wearing gloves. Not only are there holes; the plot veers from one thing to another much too much And the climax of the film, if you will, involves a runaway trailer and some bad rear-projection photography in a tedious scene that goes on much too long. (Didn't they have escape ramps in those days, either?)

Go Chase Yourself, as I mentioned earlier, got a DVD release. In fact, it's on a box set with two other Lucille Ball comedies, Next Time I Marry (1938) and Look Who's Laughing (1941). I haven't seen either of those, so they may be funny. And perhaps some of you might find Go Chase Yourself funny.

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