Monday, April 28, 2008

OTR Review: the Jack Benny Program on the set of Charley's Aunt (41-05-18)

In a typically funny and clever episode of the classic Jack Benny Program, the cast visits the set of Charley's Aunt (a film starring Jack Benny and Kay Francis, and directed by Archie Mayo, who also helmed Francis in Street of Women).

This episode is special in the series because the marriage between Phil Harris and Alice Faye is first announced. (Harris and Faye would later go on to star in their own comedy radio series together, with a supporting cast that would include such radio veterans as Elliott Lewis and Walter Tetley.)

Several early jokes are made regarding Benny's cross-dressing performance, and especially funny is the scene where Benny tries to explain to dim tenor Dennis Day why Charley "doesn't have an aunt who's a woman." Later, there's a bit of hubbub when Jack offers to introduce Kay Francis to the gang. Phil refuses, "I'm a married man ... you know how weak I am," while Mary Livingstone shouts, "You charged me 25 cents to come on this set and I wanna meet Kay Francis!"

Both Francis and Mayo make appearances. Francis proves herself deft with Benny's writers' comebacks, insulting Jack with grace (though the words don't quite feel real coming from her mouth). Mary makes a jealously mocking comment (Jack is obviously infatuated with Kay), and Kay ripostes with a comment about where Mary must buy her clothes (Francis was famous for her taste in fashion), prompting Mary to ask for her quarter back.

There's a little too much anger in the deliveries for my taste (Benny is usually a lighthearted comedy), and this is by no means a classic episode (it was obviously written as a promotion for the film), it still has many funny moments and is recommended to fans of the movie, its actors, or its director (though Mayo portrays himself as the stereotypical tyrannical dictator).

Download Jack Benny on the set of Charley's Aunt from the Internet Archive.

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