Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Jack Benny and Priscilla Lane
THE MEANEST MAN IN THE WORLD (1943). Director: Sidney Lanfield.

Richard Clark (Jack Benny) is a struggling small-town lawyer with a fiancee, Janie (Priscilla Lane), who wants him to make good. Janie's father, Arthur (Matt Briggs), suggests that Richard go to New York where there is real opportunity, so he packs up his employee-confidante Shufro (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson) and heads to Manhattan. When business proves just as dismal as it was back home, Richard somehow rents a Park Avenue apartment to impress Janie and her dad, but Shufro advises him that only by becoming "mean" and ruthless can he ever hope to achieve success. Richard is somewhat dubious, but takes Shufro's advice, leading to him taking a lollipop away from a small boy on the sidewalk. Literally taking candy from a baby, Clark becomes known as the Meanest Man in Town. When Janie discovers that he helped toss an old woman into the street, she wants to call off the wedding -- and things get worse from there! -- but maybe the poor sap isn't quite as mean as she and everybody think ... The Meanest Man in the World is a very funny movie, with Benny, Anderson, Lane, and the supporting cast all in fine fettle. Anne Revere [Fallen Angel] is amusing as Clark's slightly acerbic secretary; Edmund Gwenn is great in a surprisingly nasty role as one of his clients; and we've got bits by Nick Stewart as the wide-eyed elevator operator and Ralph Byrd as a reporter. Tor Johnson [The Black Sleep] of Plan Nine from Outer Space infamy even shows up in a long black wig as the Russian wrestler and wannabe bodyguard Vladimir Pulaski! Anderson [Honolulu] is up there with Benny all the while, playing an employee who is never truly subservient, thank goodness, but who displays an inoffensive wise and sassy quality. This is a remake of a silent movie made twenty years earlier.

Verdict: Lots of big laughs in this amiable and often zany movie. ***.


angelman66 said...

Looking forward to seeing this one - the only Benny movie I have ever seen is The Horn Blows at Midnight...

William said...

I haven't seen that in years, although my father told me he hated it when it first came out. I saw it on TV years ago and don't remember much about it.