Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Double Talk (Warner Bros./Vitaphone, 1937)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night Charles and I watched two shorts in addition to Hollywood Hotel. One was a bonus item on the Hollywood Hotel disc: a comedy short called Double Talk featuring Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, a clever film directed by Lloyd French from a script by Burnet Hershey and Jack Henley (though I suspect Bergen wrote most of his and Charlie’s dialogue — ventriloquists usually do so they can use only words that require little or no visible lip movement to speak) in which Charlie is one of the orphans at the orphanage Bergen is running and Bergen is trying to get wealthy dowager Mrs. Virginia Delaware (Florence Auer) to adopt him. The film starts out with an orderly (Charles Dingle) bathing Charlie after he’s been found inside a garbage can (again!), and as we hear Charlie singing from the bathtub Bergen heads down the hall to confront him, and I joked that he was saying, “How can he talk without me being there?” (Charles replied, “In the movies anyone can be a ventriloquist.”) The gag is that Charlie makes himself out to be as obnoxious as possible so that he’ll be adopted not by Mrs. Virginia Delaware but by another woman with a bi-state name, Georgia Maryland (Virginia Reed, later known as Lynne Carver) — only he’s crushed when the attractive, personable Georgia (whom Charlie had fallen in lust-at-first-sight with) turns out to be Mrs. Delaware’s housekeeper and the woman who would have taken care of him if Mrs. Delaware had adopted him. It’s not much of a movie, and the camera gets close enough to Bergen that you can see him moving, or at least pursing, his lips as Charlie “talks” — but it’s still funny, even though Bergen’s act reached its height when he and his “cast” were paired with W. C. Fields and their mutual antagonism reached delightful heights, especially when Fields came up with lines that gave away an awareness of who and what “Charlie” really was: “Quiet, wormwood, or I’ll whittle you down to a coat hanger.”