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December 28th, 2008

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01:45 pm - 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.

(8 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:December 28th, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC)
There were a couple of Jack Benny episodes that had Dennis Day doing all the Allen's Alley characters (including one inspired by It's a Wonderful Life, where Jack sees a world where he was never born, and Dennis works for Fred Allen).
[User Picture]
Date:December 28th, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC)
I have the episode where Benny lampoons Allen's show with "Clown Hall Tonight", but I haven't heard the It's A Wonderful Life one. Sounds like a good one to find.

I watched the televised Fred Allen program when I was at the Museum of Television and Radio in NYC, where they put on an Allen's Alley segment with puppets. Lordy but it wasn't very good at all, and further justifies Allen's total disdain for the medium (all together now: the medium which is neither rare nor well-done.)
Date:December 28th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
I believe the It's a Wonderful Life episode is February 2, 1947. I have it in MP3 format, so it is available. It has Frank Capra as himself.
[User Picture]
Date:December 28th, 2008 09:10 pm (UTC)
Dennis Day doing the Allen's Alley characters?? I would love to hear that, especially as I had no idea he did more than one voice (or is the gag that they all sound like Dennis Day?). Any idea where one might be able to find that episode?

edit Whoops, just saw your reply to Spatch. Thanks, I'll see if I can find that one!

Edited at 2008-12-28 09:11 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:December 28th, 2008 09:12 pm (UTC)
Is this something you're planning on showing, or just a review? I have fond memories of what little I've heard of the Fred Allen program, Allen's Alley and the good Senator in particular, so this sounds fun.

Edited at 2008-12-28 09:13 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:December 29th, 2008 05:56 am (UTC)
You know, it never occurred to me until I read this how much Fred Thompson reminds me of a less-blunt Foghorn Leghorn. I guess he's a ripoff of Claghorn too, then.
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Date:December 29th, 2008 06:35 pm (UTC)
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.

Anyone who grew up watching a lot of cartoons and kids' shows on TV has the experience of first encountering various characters, songs and other cultural tropes through parody, then encountering the actual thing later. (If at all, considering cases like Foghorn Leghorn where the parody is generally remembered much longer than the original.) There's a lot of this going on in the Looney Tunes corpus, because so much of that material was contemporary pop-culture references from the mid-20th century.

I remember several cases where a piece of music sounded weird to me because I had first encountered some parody or pastiche of it that was different enough to avoid copyright violation. These were frequently the work of Sesame Street composer Joe Raposo, so a couple of years ago I decided the correct word for this phenomenon is "Raposognosia".

But a non-Raposo case is the original Alexander Courage Star Trek theme. I first encountered Star Trek through the low-budget Filmation cartoon in the Seventies, whose producers evidently didn't want to pay for the rights to the theme music, so it used a similar-sounding pastiche instead, and initially that was the version that sounded right to me.
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Date:December 30th, 2008 06:45 am (UTC)
As a Civil War buff as well as a flag geek with lots of Southern relatives, I find the misuse of the Army of Northern Virginia's battle flag to represent the Confederacy pretty funny. As my little brother puts it, "They're not even being offensive the right way." You wouldn't hang out the POW/MIA flag to show you're an American would you? Its always bothered me that people think the AoNV's flag is the Confederate flag. They had a different flag almost every year of their existence and I doubt some of the "good ol' boys" and bikers in places like Snellville, GA or Penascola, FL could identify them as Confederate flags...like the Bonnie Blue flag (their first) or the so-called "Stainless Banner" flag (the second to last one). Although I guess the latter flag would be easier than the former. They ditched the Stainless Banner because when it hung limp it looked a flag of truce.

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