It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...

flim time

What flims see? Old flims! Great Belin! A Fflam never runs from a flim.

IT'S A JOKE, SON (1947)
This long-forgot comedy stars Kenny Delmar in what is arguably his most famous role ever: that of the irrepressible and blustery champion of the South, Senator Beauregard "Claghorn, that is" Claghorn. Delmar was the announcer and character actor on Fred Allen's radio series, which is where Claghorn was born. The fiercely Southern gentleman was a resident of Allen's Alley, the portion of Allen's show where Fred and wife Portland Hoffa would interview several residents of the Alley (including housewife Pansy Nussbaum, droll Yankee farmer Titus Moody, and longwinded poet Falstaff Openshaw) on pressing issues of the day. Claghorn was a proponent of all things Southern and hated all things Northern, of course: he petitioned to rename North Carolina to "Upper South Carolina", he had a compass which pointed south, and while he hated almost every city above the Mason-Dixon Line, he did make exceptions for South Boston and South Philly. "He knows the South did not lose the Civil War", the film's title card explains. "It was called on account of darkness." (They can't all be winners, son.) While the radio character is pretty much a one-joke caricature, Claghorn was the most popular resident of Allen's Alley. In fact, for a while you could actually get your own Senator Claghorn-approved south-pointing compass. The cartoon rooster Foghorn Leghorn is a caricature of Claghorn, which also shows you how entrenched the good Senator became in the public consciousness for a spell.

Beauregard's first and only film is a story telling all about how he became Senator Claghorn while we get a peek into his family life. The Claghorns make their money off their prized mint patch, which of course is used solely for mint juleps. They live in a lovely antebellum home with a Confederate flag flying proudly outside -- interestingly enough, it's the original CSA Stars and Bars and not the St. Andrew's Cross that is now most commonly connected with Dixie (this was the official war flag, as the Stars & Bars looked too similar to the Union's Stars & Stripes on the battlefield. Anyway.)

Claghorn's daughter (played by a young and sparkling June Lockhart) is in love with a common delivery driver by the name of Davis. Jeff Davis, that is. It's a reference, son; try not to let too many slip past there. Mrs. Claghorn does not approve, but Beauregard likes Jeff and wants to make sure his daughter is happy. Once expanded out of his single joke persona Claghorn is actually a very sympathetic, very likeable character, I say likeable character, and Delmar plays him quite affably.

The romance subplot is actually the B story in this little flim, as it mostly concerns the state senatorial campaign, where Claghorn is thrown into the ring as a patsy by a carpetbagging political machine. His wife also runs on a temperance campaign (hatched by her women's group after Claghorn inadvertently serves them a strong alcoholic punch, which makes the little old toe-teetler ladies go "Whoopee!" a lot) and while there's a lot of pitting-each-other-against-each-other afoot, you can probably guess the outcome of this election since the character's name is Senator Claghorn. But honestly, how can this likable fellow come out anything but ahead in his own movie?

Overall it's a very light film with some typical comedy conventions thrown in just to be sure (Cute dog -- Daisy from the Blondie films -- who does tricks on command? Check. Cute little bratty kid who appears out of nowhere and is listed in the credits with "And Introducing..."? Check.) but I liked it nevertheless. Doesn't have much general appeal beyond the Claghorn name and character, though, which is probably why it's not seen more. I mean, the first joke of the film involves Claghorn rushing around his town square alerting everyone to his sinister discovery that there are Northern spies, I say, Northern Spies! afoot. And indeed, there are: on an apple cart. If you know your apples and your old-time radio, then you are in a far better position to enjoy this film than most.

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