Snuffy Smith, Yardbird

Snuffy Smith, Yardbird
(or Private Snuffy Smith)
Monogram Pictures 1942

Before watching the movie:

This is based on the newspaper comic strip (Barney Google and) Snuffy Smith, that’s coming up on its hundredth anniversary and is still in newspaper comics today that one could argue that fresher strips deserve, except at this point all the new strips worth reading are webcomics. In that hundred years, the focus shifted from city slicker gambler Barney Google to the hillbilly rascal Snuffy Smith, to the point that Smith was added to the title by the 1930s and Google was written out by the 1950s, only very recently being remembered by the current writer(s).

It looks like it’s going to be hard to tell what the movie changed from the strip and what the strip itself changed between the 40s and the time I became familiar with it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Snuffy’s moonshining, which seems to be a major character point here, was a bigger part of the strip that got deemphasized to the point of nonexistence by the 90s for the purpose of making the funny papers safe for children who might accidentally learn about alcohol and lawbreaking otherwise.

After watching the movie:

Snuffy Smith is a moonshiner in the hills outside the Appalachian town of Hootin’ Holler, who defends his still from the Revenuers with the help of his friends. When revenue agent Ed Cooper tracks Snuffy back to his cabin, he goes to his friend Saul’s cabin to hide out, and arrives while Saul’s daughter Cindy is being courted by Don Elbie, a Hootin’ Holler native now a US Army Private. As Snuffy is impressed by Don’s khaki britches, gold buttons, and description of “all the food you can eat, a nice place to sleep, and $30 a week”, and as he interfered in Saul trying to run off Don for blood feud and daughter-protection reasons and so now can’t hide out there, Snuffy decides that joining the Army sounds like a pretty good deal. However who does his sergeant turn out to be but Sgt. Ed Cooper! Also there’s a distilling accident that turns Snuffy’s dog invisible.

The concept of “cartoon character joins the military” stories during the 40s is pretty well-traveled. Popeye didn’t wear his iconic outfit before he joined the Navy, and of course Disney and Warner Bros. characters made propaganda cartoons that are still enjoyed today. Everyone was making “the characters you love join the military to do their part for their country (so how about you do too?)” movies. So it’s not too weird to take a hillbilly with no interest in leaving his part of the hills and drop him into the military. What’s odd is that he doesn’t just enlist or get drafted, he tries to enlist, gets refused for very good reasons, and then the General is accidentally indebted to him, and gives Snuffy special dispensation, to a point.

The invisible dog is a much more random element, and what’s bizarre is that an entire movie could be done with that, but instead, it’s a really minor thing that’s used for some jokes here and there, but mostly just gets Snuffy out of some scrapes in the third act. Snuffy and Loweezy don’t understand why this batch turns things invisible, and Snuffy suggests he’ll paint his still with it to hide it from the Revenuers for good, but then the Army calls him up and tells him he can’t bring his dog, so he just pours the invisible spirits on the dog and brings him anyway. That’s weirder than anything that I can imagine happening in the comic.

So like a lot of the propaganda wartime “join the army” stories, this is all about being at a camp still at home. The rising action is mostly concerned with Snuffy’s division winning a wargame with a special new gunsight that Don invented, but there’s also American fifth columnists trying to steal the gunsight to sabotage the army, which would be the most bizarre thing about the movie if not for the invisible dog that’s mostly ignored.

I understand why this exists, but also, the entire thing is a “why does this exist?” Most pieces make sense on their own, but they add up to something highly unusual and not necessarily good. The parts that aren’t confusing are fun, though.

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The Third Man

The Third Man. London Film 1949

Before watching the movie

Apparently, this movie has appeared in the number two spot on a list of best British movies, and I only hear about it in discussion of lesser-known great Orson Welles movies. Welles is playing the (supposedly?) dead man, so, while even in the late 40s, you don’t cast Orson Welles as a corpse, his presence might be inflated by the fact that he’s the only recognizable name in the cast.

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The Stranger

The Stranger. International Pictures 1946.

Before watching the movie:

As much as personalized algorithmic suggestions tend to point me toward things I want to watch, they tend to get trained more narrowly than my tastes actually are, and they’re limited by what’s been made available based on what the userbase as a whole wants to see. So sometimes it’s a refreshing change of pace to just go to the library and see what jumps off the shelf.

Perhaps a learning AI trained on the entire back catalog of my blog and having the entire history of Hollywood movies to choose from might suggest a 40s Orson Welles thriller about searching out an escaped Nazi officer, but it doesn’t seem likely.

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Who Done It?

Who Done It? Universal Pictures 1943.

Before watching the movie:

What can one expect from an Abbott and Costello movie? Bumbling into trouble, one-liners, slapstick. I can’t point to anything about this movie that I think is going to be truly remarkable. It’s a vehicle picture coming out of the Hollywood machine of the Golden Age contract films model.

I have nothing to point to that I’m very interested in, beyond seeing Abbott and Costello get into trouble and be silly for a bit. They’re what sell the movie, which is the whole point.

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Neptune’s Daughter

Neptune’s Daughter. Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer 1949.

Before watching the movie:

I’m pretty sure this movie was recommended to me, and that’s why the title sounded familiar, but I don’t really remember what basis the recommendation was made on. It was probably close to the reason it caught my attention now. The stars include Red Skelton and Ricardo Montalban. The leading lady is Esther Williams, who I’m not really familiar with, though apparently MGM never missed an opportunity to put her in circumstances that involve swimsuits.

It looks like a basic romp with a swimming and  polo theme (and perhaps water polo?), and with musical numbers included in a runtime of not much past an hour and a half, not only a light story, but light on story. Just a bit of fun with some Hollywood legends.

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Gentleman’s Agreement

Gentleman’s Agreement. 20th Century Fox 1947.

Before watching the movie:

I’m unclear whether the anti-Semitism the main character wants to expose is within a particular institution, or more broadly, within society at large, like the seminal Black Like Me, or less seminal White Chicks.

While there are people, perhaps even people who would not be considered eugenicists or race-nationalists, who consider “Jewish” a morphological race, the physical characteristics are very subtle, to the point where I’m not sure how a Gentile reporter would pose as a Jewish man other than introducing himself to people who don’t know him with a “hi, I’m Jewish, by the way!” A long game approach would probably be to get a new job somewhere and drop big hints, but that would point back to “within a single institution”. I feel like I got out of my depth three paragraphs ago and I should just let the movie tell its own story.

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Laura

Laura. 20th Century Fox 1944.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not sure if I’ve been aware of this movie before it came up in recommendations or not. I seem to be vaguely aware of “Laura” as a title, but I may just be thinking of the song (which I know because Spike Jones exploded it), that turns out to be the theme from the movie with lyrics added.

Vincent Price appears to have a small role, judging by his billing, but he’s the biggest name I can see. The only other name I even recognize on the shortlist is Clifton Webb.

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