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Posts Tagged ‘Irving Cummings’

Irving Cummings’ 1951 film Double Dynamite has the feel of something which wasn’t really getting the full attention of any of its originators. It was produced in 1948 under the title It’s Only Money, as one of the first films made by RKO after Howard Hawks bought the studio; it then sat on the shelf for years, during which time Hawks changed the name – Double Dynamite sounds like a meaningless fridge title, until you figure out it’s a reference to the bust of leading lady Jane Russell (not that she or the bust is particularly prominent in the movie).

1948 was also the year that Frank Sinatra co-starred in On the Town, one of those films which has really lasted. Bizarrely, he’s third-billed in Double Dynamite, despite being the leading man. He plays Johnny Dalton, a reserved and prudent bank clerk, who is engaged to be married to his co-worker Mibs (Russell). But they just don’t have enough money to actually marry or start a life together, something which is causing some angst in the relationship. Their friend Emile (Groucho Marx), a waiter in the local restaurant, doesn’t help matters much when he suggests that the shortage of cash is just a convenient pretext to disguise Johnny’s commitment issues: Mibs duly storms out of the restaurant in tears when she hears this suggestion. ‘Are you happy now?’ demands Sinatra. ‘Not really, I was hoping for a tip,’ replies Groucho. (He’s not wearing the famous greasepaint moustache and eyebrows, but Groucho Marx’s role in the film is basically just to be Groucho Marx – he even seems to be doing a toned-down version of the Groucho lope in a few scenes. The other two, in contrast, are rather cast against type.)

Well, on the way back to the bank, a disconsolate Johnny comes across a man being beaten up in an alleyway, and being a decent sort he steps in to rescue him. The victim (Nestor Paiva) turns out to be one Hot Horse Harris, proprietor of an illegal bookie’s, and in gratitude he gives Johnny (rather against his will) a thousand dubious bucks, which (courtesy of a multiplier bet the crook also insists on treating his rescuer to) ends up as $60,000, obviously a huge sum. Could this allow Johnny and Mibs to settle down together at last? Should he be worried about the dodgy provenance of the cash? Nonsense, says Groucho – it’s only money, so make the most of it!

Cue a slightly baffling but nevertheless charming interlude, as Groucho Marx and Frank Sinatra perform a jaunty duet together entitled ‘It’s Only Money’ (Sinatra later commented, half in jest, that singing was the only thing he could do better than Groucho). There are only a couple of songs in Double Dynamite, so it hardly qualifies as a musical, but I suppose the thinking was that it’s Frank Sinatra, so he has to sing at some point (maybe The Manchurian Candidate would also have been improved by some crooning about the technicalities of brainwashing). This is a perky little tune, but the staging is rather distracting, as the duo caper down a street – thanks to the miracle of substandard back projection, they and the background seem to be travelling at different speeds.

Anyway, all looks good for Johnny, until it is revealed that the bank he and Mibs works for has a huge black hole in its accounts, and investigators are trying to work out if one of the employees has pinched it. This is not a good time for Johnny to be swanning around with large amounts of cash, especially as the bookie he got it from has dropped out of sight and can’t confirm his account of how he got it…

What ensues is a sort of amiable farce, with lots going on: Sinatra has to quietly steal back all the gifts he’s given to Russell, Groucho volunteers to look after the money and ends up impersonating a millionaire who made his money in pickled pig’s feet, Russell is pursued by the lothario son of the bank president, and so on. Groucho’s scenes in particular are good fun – one wonders how much of his dialogue was ad libbed, or at least written by him – but the plot is a bit of a shambles.

It honestly feels like another one of those movies where the makers thought that just casting three stars like Sinatra, Russell and Groucho would be enough to guarantee results. It hardly ever works that way, though – as noted, Groucho is always good value, and Sinatra’s singing is as melodious as you might expect, although Jane Russell doesn’t get quite as good material as either of them. The problem is that one almost gets the impression they’re making the script up as they go along – the best farces are precision-tooled devices of entertainment, relying on intricate plotting and timing. Double Dynamite just meanders about from scene to scene.

You can perhaps see something of an influence from the screwball comedy genre on Double Dynamite – the film is, after all, about a romance, and there are the usual misunderstandings and false identities and scrapes with the police involved. Even before It’s Only Money, the film was provisionally titled The Pasadena Story, something obviously intended to recall The Philadelphia Story and The Palm Beach Story, two of the best-known screwball comedies. Compared to films like that, though, Double Dynamite just feels shapeless and baggy; the characters are nowhere near as strong as the ones in Howard Hawks’ own Bringing Up Baby, and the script doesn’t come close to sparkling in the same way – though, this being a script from the forties, the dialogue is often unexpectedly good (even if there’s a slightly laborious in-joke about the police hunting a man with a ‘strong resemblance to Frank Sinatra’ at one point).

In the end Double Dynamite is one of those films which manages to be very insubstantial despite the presence of three big-name talents. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching it, but less than a day later most of the details of the plot are already beginning to fade from my brain. It obviously has a certain curiosity value, but I’m not sure it’s accomplished enough to really be worth seeking out.

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