When movies started to sound the death knell for vaudeville and burlesque houses, one fortunate by-product was the preservation of physical comedy routines on film. Performers and sketch writers transitioning to the latest media naturally made use of the bag of tricks they'd spent half their life crafting. Some of these films were slapdash affairs, hardly memorable as cinematic art, and seemed destined to be forgotten. But survive they did, thanks to the advent of DVDs and Netflix streaming, and it turns out there are diamonds to be found in these rough cuts.
Which brings us to this post's video clip, a quite well-done piece of business featuring Hollywood actress, comedienne and singer Betty Hutton, in Star Spangled Rhythm (1943), one of those musical and sketch revues produced as a morale booster during World War II. Hutton had begun her performing career in her family's Prohibition-era speakeasy, and later gained fame from such movies as The Perils of Pauline (1947) and Annie Get Your Gun (1950). I'm not sure who was in charge of this piece; the movie had at least six sketch writers on board, including playwright and Marx Brothers collaborator George S. Kaufman.
What I love about this piece is how it takes the goal of Hutton needing to climb over a wall and the obstacle of the characters not being able to ungrip hands and fashions them into a sustained routine. While Hutton is the big name, and does a fine job (though perhaps doubled for on one or two tricks), it is the men who seem to come right off the vaudeville stage. Indeed, one of them is Walter Darewahl, whose later credits include the Phil Silvers movie Top Banana, and on television the Ed Sullivan Show, Jackie Gleason, and Cavalcade of Stars; on the latter he is listed as "vaudeville comic." Not sure who the other guy is, however.
A thank you to New York clown and dancer Tanya Solomon for alerting me to this piece. Enjoy!
Update: Greg DeSanto posted the following comment, which I'm adding here so you don't miss it: "His partner is Johnnie Trama. They performed this basic routine till the late 1960s on variety shows and club revues."
Update (3-26-15): Here's a new blog post with a wonderful comedy acrobatic act by Walter Dare Wahl and Emmet Oldfield.
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