austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

I walked along happy and then came back, I follow the yellow brick road

More from the Movies Watched While Doing WiiFit Step Aerobics Files: 1944's Heavenly Days, starring Fibber McGee and Molly. In this, Fibber and Molly are invited on vague grounds to visit Molly's relatives in Washington, DC, and so right away we have same problem with the movie that the Lum and Abner feature Two Weeks To Live had: much of the fun of the show is the interaction with the supporting players, and here we skip out on them after the first few minutes. And many of those minutes are taken up with a pompous shopkeeper that I dimly think I kind of remember from the radio show, a character I believe may have tried to fill the arrogant blowhard role left vacant by Throckmorton P Gildersleeve's being spun off to a sitcom proper. (There were two prior movies, and perhaps they stuck more to the radio cast; I suppose the proto-sitcom format of the show would be hard to adapt to movies, particularly as the radio show didn't really support plots so much as extended riffing on a theme, and that's fine for thirty minutes with two song and one commercial interlude but a bit flimsy a structure for eighty uninterrupted minutes.)

About half the movie is Fibber and Molly trying to get to Washington, being bumped off their train when a jeep of soldiers needs transport, then getting a ride with a farmer to the airport, then taking a flight (across the aisle from George Gallup, of pollish fame) to the city where their relatives are missing but there's a pack of orphaned kids form all the Allied nations who need foster parenting. Anyway, Fibber starts making a weird speech about listening to The Average Man from the Senate gallery, which gets him kicked off his new cushy job of preparing forms for postwar surveys on what We The People want.

As the plot skeleton may suggest this is not a movie trying to be restrained in pushing people's buttons, mostly in the spirit of You Better Be More Patriotic. In a few spots that works --- Fibber and Molly, after having had some conversations and a song with soldiers on the train, remark as the train leaves that it feels like they'd known their passengers, bound for Destination, much longer than they actually had; and that feels like something which might have actually happened. The pack of orphans screaming in terror and fleeing for shelter when Fibber blows a whistle also feels for a moment like emotional depth that's pretty out of line with the light silliness of the other goings-on.

A lot of the movie is obsessed with the idea of The Average Man, and whether there is one, and who he might be; Fibber has vague ambitious ideas of bringing The Voice Of The Average Man to Washington, and of course, everyone he meets insists he's above average. The McGees' talk with George Gallup inspires a thread about a nationwide search for The Most Average Man which I bet you already guess ends up with Fibber McGee being selected. You're wrong; that plot thread just peters out, unresolved. I wonder if there was some promotional tie-in which is now so obscure even Wikipedia doesn't know about it.

Amusingly to me, much of the talk about The Average Man is countered by criticisms of just how stupid, selfish, and lunkheaded the opinions of The Average Man are. A really weird allegorical dream sequence set in heaven-and-the-Senate-Floor has the Spirit of '76 (played by Fibber McGee) presiding over Fibber, as The Average Man, trying to stand up for himself, getting sat on by the stuffed shirt shopkeeper I mentioned before, and being told by the dream-Senators that The Average Man has got almost no idea what he wants and barely expresses it. There's also a lot of talk about how in the old days The Average Man was patriotic and public-minded but in these days of 1944 everyone's so busy with their petty little problems and greedy desires that they don't look to the welfare of the nation. I think one of the great things about learning pop cultural history is the immunization it builds against doom stories of how things were better before and this generation is gone to pot, and seeing The Greatest Generation being put down in the words usually reserved for explaining how The Twitter Generation Is Doing Everything Wrong is a refreshing tonic. Of course, for my money, any time a movie puts in a strange allegorical dream sequence it's bumping itself up a grade or two just for the weird of it.

The movie ends with Fibber and Molly offended that there's weak turnout for a local Wistful Vista election that has gone un-mentioned the entire movie to that point. I suppose it ties to that Responsible Government Is Your Responsibility theme that's slopped over the slow parts of the story, but it's still a weird conclusion when the Gallup story line was clearly set up to be the capping scenes.

There are a few jokes taken straight from the radio show, and I'm glad to say that both Fibber McGee and Molly look about right --- I assume that pictures of Jim and Marion Jordan worked their way into my expectations --- and their house also looks surprisingly close to what I imagined. Even the opening of the closet door looked about as right as the sound effects were. I know there were two other Fibber McGee and Molly movies, and I wonder if they didn't stick closer to the setting of the radio series and make for a product less needing the ``well, there was a war on'' justification for all the goings-on.

Trivia: For the first nineteen weeks of their run on Fibber McGee and Molly, the title characters were vagabonds wandering the country, with Harlow Wilcox popping in periodically, typically at gas stations, to promote the benefits of Johnson's Car Wax. Source: On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, John Dunning.

Currently Reading: Scandal! Amazing Tales Of Scandals That Shocked The World And Shaped Modern Business, Editor Cait Murphy.

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