April 26th, 2010

krazy koati

I'm laughing at clouds

From the Movies Watched While Doing Wii Fit Files: Two Weeks To Live, a short comedy based on longrunning serial-comedy radio series Lum and Abner. I generally like the series, based on the rambling adventures of small-town Arkansans who have absolutely no guile but also no ability to see catastrophe marching directly for them. Some of the stories can be frustrating based on that latter aspect, but generally, everyone's so amusing in a low key that it's a fun ride. It's also powerfully character-driven; while there are setup-punchline type jokes they don't really show off what's attractive about the series. Late in its life it shifted from 15-minutes-a-day serial stories to a half-hour weekly sitcom, complete with laughing audience, and it got incredibly worse for that. (If this all sounds vaguely like an echo of Amos and Andy with the complicated racial questions replaced by Ozark Personalities, yes, there are considerable parallels.)

The movie starts out in Pine Ridge, Arkansas, but swiftly leaves it behind for Chicago, where Abner goes to claim his railroad inheritance from one of those backstory relatives who's always dying and leaving railroad inheritances. And that's about where things go wrong, for my tastes, since the fun of Pine Ridge is that it's stock full of characters who if not genial get at least to be so single-minded that it produces endearingly mad conversations (eg, ``why does a human fly have to climb the outside of a building, don't he know he could take the stairs inside?'' and try to get the human-fly concept explained from that starting point, though it does come along with the good question of why exactly department stores did used to pay for human-fly services). By taking Lum and Abner out to the big city --- something done several times in the radio series, incidentally, and sometimes working well --- they're cut off from the supporting cast and the movie will sink or swim based on how entertaining the new interactions go.

Anyway. Against all expectations if you've never seen or heard of any form of fiction before the railroad turns out to be worth nearly $46, and the notary's fees $50; but Lum and Abner took the townsfolk's money to invest in railroad improvements and something happens to it and they have to earn it back. Earning prospects are improved when a mix-up at the doctor's office leaves Abner thinking he's got, er, two weeks to live and he becomes more amenable to high-risk, high-pay positions.

It's all pleasant enough, except for the lingering plot point that apparently there's someone left wandering around Chicago who has two weeks to live and thinks he's in perfect health. (Spoiler: everything turns out all right for Lum, Abner, and Pine Ridge in the end.) Mostly I was badly thrown by how old Lum and Abner looked. They sounded relatively old, on radio, but about all that I remember specified regarding their ages was that they were too old for the draft. My mental image was a lot younger. (And it was justified: stars Chester Lauck and Norris Goff were about forty years old when the movie was made.) It's disconcerting to have radio people in the movies.

Trivia: From 2 April 1934 to 30 August 1935 Lum and Abner ran on the Mutual network, with sponsor Horlick's Malted Milk. Source: On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, John Dunning.

Currently Reading: Ripe: The Search For The Perfect Tomato, Arthur Allen.