Wednesday, May 28, 2008

There Goes Kelly (Monogram, 1945)

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

There Goes Kelly is a 1945 Monogram semi-musical semi-sequel to Here Comes Kelly from two years earlier, even though Here Comes Kelly not only hadn’t been a musical but the leads were played by different actors and only Sidney Miller, as Kelly’s Jewish sidekick, Sammy Cohn (pronounced “Cohn” in the previous film and “Cohen” in this one), carried over from the earlier cast.

This time around Kelly, who you’ll recall was drafted at the end of the earlier film, must have served his two-year hitch and got out of the military, since there’s no hint of war service in this one and he’s back to his old tricks, though instead of a barely contained blowhard such as Eddie Quillan played in Here Comes Kelly, here he’s a page boy at the Amalgamated Broadcasting Company (ABC — and it’s a bit of a slip on the part of writers Edmund Kelso and Tim Ryan that they used the initials of an actual network, even though the real ABC is the American Broadcasting Company and had only existed as a separate corporation for two years when this film was made), as is Coh(e)n, and while Sammy is content to be a page boy and make a meager living while getting to wear a cool uniform, Kelly is staying in street clothes as long as possible and trying to win the heart (or at least get in the pants) of receptionist Ann Mason (Wanda McKay) by pretending to be a producer and actually taking over a studio to audition her as a singer.

Kelly’s interest predictably is of no help to her at all, but that of Farrell (Anthony Warde), an older, established producer who also has the hots for her, actually gets her noticed and considered as a replacement for singer Rita Wilson (Jan Wiley), whose diva-like antics are pissing off not only Farrell but also the sponsor, Hastings (Harry Depp). Ann gets her big break when Rita is bumped off in the middle of a studio rehearsal — the shooter turns out the lights and fires point-blank, hitting her between the eyes — and a principal suspect is a former radio cowboy from Wyoming, Tex Barton (John Gilbreath) — who gets to do a dreary rendition of “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” in which chorus after chorus proves his utter inability to sing until the network officials blessedly turn him off.

Rita had previously worked in radio under her real name, Gladys Wharton, where she had attracted unwelcome attentions of both Hastings and a mystery man named Martin (Edward Emerson), Hastings’ assistant and, it turns out, Rita’s killer — and Tex’s, since he had to kill him too when he got too close to the truth. There are four songs in this one (not counting “Bury My Heart on the Lone Prairie”) — “Walkin’ the Chalkline” by Louis Herscher and Jules Loman, “Where Were You?” by Louis Herscher and Ruth Herscher (a married couple, I presume — Her and Herscher), “By the Looks of Things” by Harry Tobias and Edward J. Kay (Kay was Monogram’s musical director and also credited with the instrumental underscore) and “Tootin’ My Own Horn” by Edward Cherkose and Edward J. Kay — and while they aren’t great songs, nor are they that well presented (they’re all sung straight ahead by one or the other of the two cast members playing singers, and both Wanda McKay and Jan Wiley are clearly being doubled — in fact I think they’re being doubled by the same actual singer, and McKay seems pretty clueless about getting her lip movements to match her voice double’s pre-recording — at least they do add a bit of appeal and they’re perfectly serviceable pop material of the time.

Despite a rather tired plot gimmick and a weaker cast than the principals of Here Comes Kelly — Jackie Moran plays down the sheer rambunctious aggressiveness of the character Eddie Quillan did so well in the earlier film, and Wanda McKay was rather blankly attractive and certainly a more than adequate actress for the meager demands of the role, but she didn’t have Joan Woodbury’s charisma or her depth — There Goes Kelly actually emerges as the better of the two films, and the reason is its director: Phil Karlson, still working under his original last name “Karlstein” and clearly warming up for biggers and betters. On Here Comes Kelly, William Beaudine had played traffic cop, not hurting the film any (as his slovenliness had harmed potentially interesting projects like the 1943 Bela Lugosi vehicle The Ape Man) but not helping it any either; under Karlson’s direction here, the actors perform with snap and drive, and lines and situations that were pleasantly amusing in Here Comes Kelly here emerge as genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.

Karlson never had the major career he deserved, but he did direct some quite interesting productions on both movie screens and TV shows, including 99 River Street (one of John Payne’s best noirs) and Ladies of the Chorus (a 1948 Columbia “B” starring Marilyn Monroe — her only work under the six-month contract Harry Cohn gave her before he decided, in his finite wisdom, that she’d never amount to anything — a much better film than its reputation; Karlson got a subtler, more nuanced performance out of Monroe than many of her later, higher-priced, more prestigious directors did); on There Goes Kelly, Karlson got excellent performances out of some pretty mediocre actors and, though he wasn’t going to be able to make much more of this movie than what the writers put into it, his direction has authority and power and help make what would otherwise be a routine “B” into something rather special.