“It’s all in fun, boys!”: Rare Clark & McCullough

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I always find Clark & McCullough a breath of fresh air. Their short comedies, mostly made for RKO in the early 1930s, are whirlwinds of action, puns, sight gags and farce. Add to this some great supporting actors (many moonlighting from Hal Roach Studios), some great comedy directors like Mark Sandrich and you have a terrific little bunch of films.

Though they always concentrated primarily on their stage work, with films a way to fill downtime in the Broadway “off-season”, it’s not correct to say that their films were tossed off carelessly. In fact, a lot of effort went into crafting their comedies. Bobby Clark always took a hand in writing the scripts, and the films are peppered through with some very original ideas.

C & McC never made a feature, preferring the quick, flexible format of shorts. This is entirely in their favour, I’d say. While their contemporaries like Wheeler & Woolsey almost exclusively made features, these usually feel a bit stretched out to me, with subplots and musical numbers. The C & McC films are pure bursts of sustained comedy, and hold up much better to modern tastes.

Over the years I’ve managed to catch up with quite a lot of their RKO shorts, but a few have always eluded me. Now, the YouTube channel ‘Geno’s House of Rare Sitcoms’ has posted almost all the films that circulate. If you’re not familiar with the team’s films, I’d probably start with IN A PIG’S EYE or THE ICEMAN’S BALL

For long term C & McC fans, the real gems are three more rarely seen comedies on this channel…

HEY NANNY NANNY is in the team’s normal idiom of crashing society. This time, they impersonate magicians at a swanky party just for the hell of it, and cause havoc with a goat. Great stuff.

While Paul McCullough is usually fairly passive in the team’s films, he has a much bigger part in A BEDLAM OF BEARDS. This is an enjoyably surreal kidnapping caper with four different people all impersonating the same bearded professor in the hope of gaining a ransom. The climax, with all four going in and out of doors, reminds me of the ‘fake Grouchos’ in DUCK SOUP.

IN THE DEVIL DOG HOUSE is a film I’d long read about in Leonard Maltin’s THE GREAT MOVIE SHORTS, but had never seen. Featuring the boys at odds with irritating practical joker Bud Jamison and tough marine Tom Kennedy, it’s not quite on the top shelf of their films (a practical joker shouldn’t be any match for these two anarchists!) but has some fun moments, not least Bobby Clark’s libidinous flirting.

I’d love to see a comprehensive DVD release of these fast-moving, fresh films one day. Kickstarter, anyone?

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