By Doug Gibson
Above you is a Columbia comedy short from 1947. It is obscure primarily because it's not one of The Three Stooges shorts. The wonderful trio has endured, and arguably is on TV somewhere daily. But there are many, many other Columbia comedy shorts, and they are gems. Stars include Buster Keaton, Charlie Chase, Harry Langdon, Hugh Herbert, Andy Clyde (of whom we will talk about in this post) and many more.
They merit appreciation today, and at Plan9Crunch we plan to highlight the non-Stooges Columbia shorts. There are a lot. We'll also make sure when we review a short, that our readers can watch it via YouTube, or other sources. That takes me to a wonderful film historian named Greg Hilbrich, who following the fantastic research of Ed Watz, Ted Okuda, Leonard Maltin and others, has created The Columbia Shorts Department website. It's a labor of love to pay homage to all the shorts that studio released over a quarter century. We interviewed Greg on his site recently and we reviewed Watz and Ted's book on the Columbia shorts as well.
What Mr. Hilbrich has done, as well as some others on YouTube (Johnny Flattire and Billie Towzer come to mind) is to upload many of the "lost" Columbia shorts on The Shorts Department YouTube page. Thanks to the Columbia Shorts Department, I have watched a 1947 Andy Clyde Columbia short, "Wife to Spare," several times in the last week. You can watch it too, it's at the top of this blog.
In what will be, as mentioned, and occasional series on Plan9Crunch, we'll make "Wife to Spare" the first Columbia short to be reviewed in 2016. (By the way, we have reviewed another a ways back, Harry Langdon in "To Heir is Human."
Wife to Spare, 1947, Columbia comedy short, black and white, about 16 minutes, 25 seconds, directed by Edward Bernds, starring Andy Clyde, Christine McIntyre, Lucile Brown, Dick Wessel, Vera Lewis, Murray Alper, Emile Sitka and Heine Conklin.
What's best about this late 1940s offering is the cast. It's stellar. Besides Clyde as the fussy businessman married to beautiful Brown, and forced to live with a ne-er-do-well brother in law (Wessel) and a mother in law from hell (Lewis) you have Columbia second player stars Sitka and McIntyre in supporting roles. Finally, Conklin, a name from the comedy silents, has a small role as a janitor. It's retro movie magic, and although the tight budget and hurried script is evident, the manpower of talent, as well as above-average direction of Bernds, make this an enjoyable 1,000 seconds and I'm sure pleased theater audiences.
Clyde made hundreds of Columbia shorts. By this time he had long shaved his beard, kept the mustache and was able to play a fussy, yet determined city man, trying to solve others mistakes, get out of his own jam, and have a peaceful life with his wife and no mother in law. The plot has him trying to get his layabout brother in law (Wessel) out of a $500 jam due to activities with a sexy gold-digger, played by a very attractive McIntyre, who literally lets her hair down, chewing up the scenery as a schemer who moves to frame Clyde once she realizes he has more cash.
In a funny scene, McIntyre maneuvers Clyde into compromising photos and audio while her co-swindler husband, Alper, gathers the "evidence." Things appear bleak for Clyde; the swindlers are demanding $5,000, his wife has overheard him talking to McIntyre, and his mother in law hires a lawyer (Sitka) to have her daughter divorce Andy.
As with most of the films, before budgets were really slashed in the 1950s, there's a lot of plot for two reels. Enough of the jokes work to leave you with a smile. These actors stayed busy. Clyde had overall 390 acting roles, says IMDB, McIntyre 130, most with Columbia shorts. Wessel 301!
I'd like to focus on two "Wife to Spare" Columbia shorts regulars. McIntyre is best known as a classy co-star to the Stooges, with her hair up and manners impeccable. Like Dent and Sitka, she's achieved iconic status as a Stooges' foil. In "Wife to Spare,' she has a more prurient sexual appeal, with her hair down and trying to sweet talk Clyde with a fake southern accent (her name is Honey Jackson). The other occasional Columbia player is Wessel. He hasn't gained iconic status and while he had his moments in other shorts, he's the weak link in "Wife to Spare." His idea of comedy is to laugh hysterically (maniacally) every time Andy bumps his head or walks into something.
The opening scene sets the pace for a slightly above average short, with Clyde dressed in woman's clothes, forced to clothes model for the women in his household. Watch it above and come back to Plan9Crunch for another Columbia shorts review in the near future.