Sunday, May 27, 2007

It's in the Bag

Frequent blog commenters Todd Mason and Art Scott recommended this movie starring Fred Allen and a plethora of others, including Binnie Barnes, Robert Benchley, Jack Benny, Don Ameche, Rudy Vallee, William Bendix, John Carradine, Sidney Toler, Minerva Pious, and Jerry Colonna. I immediately recognized the plot as that of The 12 Chairs, a Russian tale that Mel Brooks filmed in the '70s, except that in Allen's movie there are only five chairs. Not that the plot matters, but it's essentially this: Allen has inherited his uncle's fortune. Turns out that the uncle was murdered, and the identity of his killer, along with $300,000, is hidden in one of five chairs that Allen has sold to an antiques dealer, who's passed them along to others. Allen needs to recover the chairs to prove that he's not a killer and to get his hands on the money.

The plot is just a device to give Allen an excuse to get into a lot of situations ranging from the absurd to the more absurd. The logic of movies is pretty much tossed out the window, and the fourth wall not so much shattered as ignored. (Characters address the audience and even ask for directions.) One thing I particularly liked was the villainous lawyer John Carradine's hair, which appears to be especially coiffed to accommodate his top hat. Yes, he wears a top hat. And a cape. Plays the organ, too.

It would be futile to try to explain why this movie's funny. If you've ever heard Allen's radio show, you might have some idea, but not a very good one. You have to see this to believe it. Check it out.

12 comments:

Ed Gorman said...

Not to sound too old-fashioned but this movie is proof that innocence was fun, too. I've seen this a couple of times and it's taken me to an alternate universe, one I enjoyed very much, both times.
Ed Gorman

Bill Crider said...

I know what you mean, and I kind of wonder what someone under 40 would make of it.

Jeff Meyerson said...

I think John Carradine must have had the top hat and cape left over from some of his earlier classics, like Bluebeard.

Vince said...

Consider this an answer to the under-40 question. I adore this movie. Its antic sensibility is ahead of its time. If anything, I think younger audiences would find it easier to relate to this movie than other comedies of the era.

I know it has a cult following among filmmakers. Both Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen are fans. One of my heroes, Jay Dratler, who wrote LAURA, worked on the script.

Bill Crider said...

Well, Vince, I was thinking of the average under-40 type, not the savvy folks who read this blog. I can see why Allen's a fan. I'll bet you could draw a straight line from this movie to, say, Bananas. Well, pretty straight.

Todd Mason said...

Argh. I just lost all my paste pearls in a Blogger hiccup. I'll note that I tagged this as a TWELVE CHAIRS variation in the previous discussion, and think Vince is right, except that the best of several sorts of comedy still work for today's sensibility, I think...BAG is certainly an ancestor of Adult Swim deadpan, though. I'm not sure I agree that it's an innocent film, though, Ed...tasteful, for the most part, but knowing. But I haven't seen it in twenty years, either. Glad you liked it, Bill! How was SO CLOSE by you?

Bill Crider said...

No wonder I noticed the 12 Chairs resemblance so quickly.

I haven't had a chance at So Close yet.

Juri said...

There was also a Soviet version of the Soviet (not actually Russian) book, in the seventies. I remember seeing it sometime, but not anything about it. I seem to remember, though, that at least the Finnish critics liked the Soviet version better than the one by Mel Brooks. (There may've been political reasons for that.) The director was Leonid Gaidai, who was the most famous of all the Soviet comedy directors.

I don't think IT'S IN THE BAG was ever mentioned with the other movies.

Gerard said...

"In the Bag" does get mention as one of the Twelve Chairs films. I remember because after a previous mention of Brookss version I ended up reading through the reviews and comments at allmovies.com rather than working.

Bill Crider said...

Reading reviews beats working any day.

Anonymous said...

IITB is clearly the best of the slew of films from that era designed to showcase popular radio stars. The scenes with Jack Benny & "Mrs Nussbaum" are pretty standard fare for this sort of picture, but the rest of the movie is really "out there". I can certainly see Woody Allen being a fan, but Marty Scorsese?!

For an entirely different cinematic experience from radioland, have a look at Playmates, starring Kay Kyser (of Kollege of Musical Knowledge fame) opposite John Barrymore in his last role, looking ghastly & clearly headed for a hearse. It was on Turner some months ago and it was like watching a train wreck.

And by the way, The Horn Blows at Midnight is another personal favorite, hardly the stinker Jack Benny made it out to be.

Art Scott

Bill Crider said...

I've actually seen The Horn Blows at Midnight. I like it quite a bit, but then I'm a Benny fan.