Saturday, May 21, 2016

One Shivery Night, Columbia comedy with Herbert and Dickerson

By Doug Gibson

Watch "One Shivery Night" above, do it even if it's in place of reading this review. To Plan9Crunch, it's important to let cult film fans know that there are more to the Columbia Comedy Shorts than just The Three Stooges, as great as they are. "One Shivery Night" stars Hugh Herbert, who made close to two dozen Columbia shorts; "One Shivery Night" is one of his funniest, and later Columbia shorts.

Directed by Del Lord, who made it for Hugh McCollum's team at Columbia, it was released July 13, 1950, about two years before Herbert's death. His co-star in the film is the African-American comedian Dudley Dickerson, a familiar face in Columbia shorts, including with the Stooges. Dickerson made several shorts with Herbert and the pair had a good rapport, treating each other as equals. (Another frequent co-star of Herbert's was blonde Christine McIntyre. They made domestic comedy shorts. McIntyre is one of the few supporting players in Stooges' shorts who achieved icon status. Vernon Dent and maybe Emile Sitka are others. But these players were in many non-Stooges shorts and just as good in those as the ones we see on TV.

Back to "One Shivery Night": Herbert runs a construction company with Dickerson as his sole employee. The business is tottering, literally, and Dickerson hasn't been paid, the power is out as well as the phone. A potential customer enters, played by Vernon Dent. He wants the pair to demolish and renovate an old mansion. Rumor has it that a fortune was left there and it may be haunted, but Vernon tells them both that's nonsense.

This opening scene is very funny with witty banter by both Herbert and Dickerson and Dent being a perfect foil for the hijinks. To try to impress him, Herbert has an alarm clock serve as a ringer for a phone, only to have the alarm go off again when Herbert's on the phone. A mousetrap pinches Herbert's fingers, and Dent's nose.

So, the pair head off late at night to the mansion. There's a nice matte, or stock shot, of a creepy looking mansion. Before the boys get there we discover two fortune hunters (Philip Van Zandt and Robert Williams) searching for the alleged fortune. They are determined to get Hugh and Dudley out of there, so they claim to be electricians.

What follow are Stooges-type slapstick situations that are very funny, helped considerably by the tight, focused plot, the banter of the stars as well as their comic timing. In one scene Herbert is more or less locked into a wall and Dickerson tries to free him using a pick that comes dangerously close to Herbert's skull. Later there's an amusing scene where a portrait of a bare knuckle-era boxer moves from the wall revealing a hole in which a boxing glove smacks Dickerson.

I won't give away the ending; in any event it's one of this "let's end the short" skits that are common in Columbia comedy shorts, with no real resolution.

The non-Stooges Columbia shorts are a mixed bag; there are clinkers. But this is a very strong 1950s offering. It's mostly slapstick comedy but there are sequences of snappy dialogue, particularly in the first half. Greg Hilbrich, who runs the indispensable Columbia Shorts Department website, is a big fan of "One Shivery Night" and he's the reason we can watch it on the Net.

Herbert was a pretty fair-sized star for much of the 30s and 40s. Some films he was in include "Hollywood Hotel," 1937, the pre-code "She Had to Say Yes," 1933, with a gorgeous Loretta Young, and the 1941 Universal horror comedy "The Black Cat." His Columbia era was on the downside of his career, and he apparently clashed with director Edward Bernds, who claimed he was surly and lazy on the set. In any event, the two were separated from each other and both continued toiling on various shorts. Herbert, had he lived, could have done a passable job as Fred Mertz in "I Love Lucy" in my opinion. He had a looser version of William Frawley humor.

Dickerson was in dozens of shorts and, as mentioned, had great comic timing. Most of his non-Columbia work were bit parts but he did have a prominent role in the "Amos and Andy Show" of  the 1950s. In style, Dickerson reminds me of Mantan Moreland, who was a busy actor at Monogram, including a series with Frankie Darro,

We've devoted a small part of 2016 to featuring non-Stooges Columbia shorts and I think our next one, in a month or so, will be a Glove Singers short. Below is a still from the short with Herbert and Dickerson.

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