Friday, February 17, 2017

Moron Than Off, a comedy short remake of Langdon effort

Review by Doug Gibson

As part of our occasional series that explore the old-time Columbia comedy shorts that do not feature the (great) Three Stooges, we turn to Sterling Holloway, a skinny, gangling funnyman who made a half-dozen shorts for Columbia in the mid 1940s. Holloway had a long, distinguished career. His voice was unique, and heard as Winnie The Pooh and many Disney cartoon characters. My favorite screen moment of his is a one-time guest spot on The Andy Griffith Show as Bert Miller, low-pressure salesman who can't stand doorbells.

For this post, we're going to look at the 1946 short "Moron Than Off." As always, we thank Greg Hilbrich's The Shorts Department for getting these shorts available. YouTube address here. Actually, a short called "Man Or Mouse" is a better Holloway effort, in my opinion, but we look at "Moron Than Off" because it's a remake of a 1935 Columbia short, "I Don't Remember," starring the great Harry Langdon. It's worth a comparison. (We thank YouTube's Johnny Flattire for this and other offerings.

The plots of both concern an absentminded husband who is driving his wife, and mother, to despair over his general ineptitude. He's the kind of man who brings home dogs panting from the heat when his wife asks him to buy hot dogs, and leaves himself to dry, rather than the umbrella, after a jaunt in the rain. Holloway's character is named Elmer Fossdinkle. He draws paintings with cryptic humor that are unsalable. Langdon's character, by the way, is named Harry Crump.

A problem Holloway has is that he lacks the subtle, facial humor of Langdon. Langdon can arch an eye, or stare blankly at a dilemma and get laughs. Holloway has to play the role more broadly, with exclamations and some face-mugging. The budget for "I Don't Remember" seems much higher than "Moron Than Off," and the cast is better. Holloway's sidekick is Monte Collins. Langdon has Vernon Dent. Also, Geneva Mitchell as the harried wife to Langdon is better than Eleanor Counts as Holloway's better half.

After breakfast, the wife of Holloway's friend, played by Collins, comes over to complain that Fossdinkle is making her husband gamble. As she arrives, Holloway, thinking the doorbell was the phone, carries on a phone conversation briefly with her as she talks just behind him. This is actually one rare moment where the remake has a scene funnier than the original. In "I Don't Remember," Langdon sees his friend's wife before he can start talking on the phone.

Eventually, Fossdinkle is told to go pay for the home furniture or it will be repossessed. Instead of doing that, he gives the money to his friend Collins to bet on the Irish sweepstakes. Returning home to his mother's lamentations, he decides to paint the walls of the house to look like it's furnished. This leads to some gags of Fossdinkle and his wife trying to st down and falling. This scene is done much better in Langdon's "I Don't Remember." There are more paintings shown in a much better home setting. The cheapness of "Moron Than Off" shows in this scene as only a small wall is shown.

After failing to save the furniture, Fossdinkle, in despair that he'll likely lose his wife, prepares to commit suicide, but instead decides to try to kill his friend, who comes to visit. This scene might jar more politically correct audiences today but it's played for laughs, involves a policeman, and in "I Don't Remember," a hapless maintenance man as well. During the chase, both notice newspapers with headlines saying they won the sweepstakes. The pair go to turn in their halves of the tickets. Predictably, Holloway and Langdon's character can't recall where their half is, then find it, then lose it, then find it, then lose it, and so on ...

I love these Columbia shorts and I think Holloway does a good job. He's no Langdon but he has a certain, goofy enthusiasm and physical comedy skills. Certain parts of "Moron Than Off" have stock footage from "I Don't Remember," including a final scene at a beach with Fosdinkle still searching for the ticket in the sea.

Jules White directed "Moron Than Off" and his brother "Preston Black" directed "I Don't Remember." Remakes were not uncommon with Columbia shorts. We'll back with another Columbia comedy short review in a couple of months or so.

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