Vinnie’s Pick: It’s In The Bag! (1945)There are a number of comedians all but forgotten by modern culture, like the Ritz Brothers or the legendary Bert Williams, first black man to headline the Ziegfeld Follies. In the world of radio, Fred Allen was once a powerhouse, but today, only fans of the entertainment of the era know him. He’s responsible for the oft-repeated quip about television being called a medium because “it’s neither rare nor well-done”* His radio show inspired the work of Stan Freberg, Johnny Carson, and if they were honest about it, damn near every comedian to come along since.
His forays into film were few, and his only starring role was It’s In The Bag!, the topic of today’s treatise. Allen plays Fred Floogle, a man of no fixed vector of success, barely scraping by with his flea circus. When he discovers he’s the only heir to an unknown uncle’s twelve million dollar estate, he thinks he’s made it, and starts a spending spree worthy of Monty Brewster. Alas, Fred discovers his uncle had been wiped out, leaving assets totaling a pool table (rack and balls included) and five chairs. He quickly sells off the chairs to an auction house…a bit too quickly. A phonograph record from his uncle reveals that he was swindled out of his fortune by persons unrevealed. Evidence of the crime, as well as three hundred thousand dollars in cash has been secreted…in one of the five chairs.
So begins a mad dash across town for the chairs, events including a sizable cameo by Allen’s on-air (and only kayfabe) foe, Jack Benny; Miss Pansy Nussbaum, a beloved character from his radio show; and eventually the hideout of gangster Bill Bendix (played by…William Bendix!).
The sequence in a wildly overpacked movie theater is a classic – Dave Willock and Walter Tetley (best known to modern cartoon fans as the narrator of the Wacky Races and the voice of Mr. Peabody’s boy, Sherman, respectively) appear as ushers who run Floogle and his wife from pillar to post in a quest for a pair of seats, finding none. A nightclub scene features Allen singing (a term used here to describe the sounds coming from his mouth, in absence of a more illustrative term) with Don Ameche, Rudy Vallee and Victor Moore. Other guest stars include Robert Benchley, Jerry Colonna, Sydney Toler and John Carradine, not to mention a small army of character actors.
A screwball comedy that still holds up today, It’s In The Bag is available via Netflix Instant Streaming.
*At least that’s how Ernie Kovacs quoted it on one of his specials; another version goes: “It’s a medium because when it’s well-done, it’s rare.” I like Ernie’s version.Dorian’s Pick: The Twelve Chairs (1970)