Sunday, May 25, 2008

Here Comes Kelly (Monogram, 1943)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The movie I ran was Here Comes Kelly, a 1943 film from Monogram that for once (at least by Monogram comedy standards) was well paced and genuinely amusing (not laugh-out-loud funny but at least amusing). It was based on a 1933 film called He Couldn’t Take It, made by independent producer William Lackey and directed by future Monogram stalwart William Nigh from a script by the young Dore Schary writing under the first name “Jeb.” By 1943 Lackey was a contract producer at Monogram and so he decided to dredge up this old story (a hot-tempered Irishman — now why do I identify with movies about hot-tempered Irishmen? Maybe because I am one myself? — fist-fights his way out of one job after another until he gets one as a process server, a gig in which he’s able to use his aggressiveness to his advantage) and remake it as a Monogram production, with Eddie Quillan, who’d descended from major-studio leads in films like the 1932 Girl Crazy and 1933 Broadway to Hollywood to character-comedian roles, as the blow-top guy and Joan Woodbury as his fiancée, who’s getting more and more disgusted with the relationship as it seems less and less likely her man will be able to keep a job long enough to support them.

She’s getting so disgusted with it, in fact, that she’s giving signs of succumbing to the sexual harassment of her boss, attorney L. Herbert Oakley (a surprisingly corpulent Ian Keith, who like the star and the story had seen better days) even though he’s not only a lecher but a crook. Hero Jimmy Kelly (Quinlan) gets fired from his job as a bus driver when he punches out an obnoxious passenger; his dreams of going to night school and becoming a lawyer (he’s figured, if his girlfriend likes lawyers, he’ll simply become one) are dashed when the registrar at city college is the guy he punched out on the bus; he ends up a process server and is assigned to serve “Trixie Bell” with a subpoena to appear as part of a stock fraud investigation (with the usual framing problems of Monogram’s inserts this becomes “tock Fraud” on screen), only it turns out Trixie Bell is a man, a professional wrestler (played by real-life professional wrestler Maxie Rosenbloom, who’s billed third in this film even though he doesn’t appear until the last 20 minutes of a 64-minute movie), while his friend Sammy Cohn (Sidney Miller doing the usual Jewish schtick) is assigned the task of serving “Number Seven” even though the state has no idea of his true name or location.

Kelly overhears Bell talking to “Number Seven” on the phone and discovers it’s Oakley, and they find him on a train about to leave for Montreal; Kelly and Cohn arrive in the nick of time to serve him and save girlfriend Margie (Woodbury), whom he’d enticed to leave with him, from the Fate Worse than Death. At the end it looks like Kelly and Margie are finally going to get married when fate intervenes in the form of Kelly’s draft notice, requiring him to report for induction at the very moment he was supposed to be getting married. (Couldn’t writer Charles R. Marion, adapting and updating Schary’s original story to give it a wartime flavor, have had them get married before he has to leave for the war, à la The Clock?) There's also a nice scene, pretty obviously ripped off from the 1933 film A Man's Castle, in which Kelly serves an entertainer (Armida) on stage in the middle of her act to evade her bodyguards.

Here Comes Kelly is no world-beater, but screenwriter Marion and director William Beaudine keep it moving, the script is genuinely amusing (unlike a lot of other so-called “comedies” Monogram made about this time), the cinematography by Arthur Martinelli is straightforward but at least clear, and for once you can watch a Monogram film without having to worry about whether the sets designed by Dave Milton and an uncredited Albert Greenwood are going to fall down any moment on the hapless actors. That might seem like faint praise, but I’ve sat through all too many Monogram films that didn’t live up to these basic standards of professional competence that this one is refreshing simply because it does.