How could anyone not love George Burns and Gracie Allen? They were adorable, hysterically funny, and they loved each other so much.

I first discovered the pair through their Vaudeville work. I find the whole world that was Vaudeville to be completely fascinating, and George and Gracie are probably my favorite act that I’ve found.

The pair met in 1922 and performed on the Vaudeville circuit together. When their act first started, it was Gracie who was the straight man, but George quickly discovered that it worked better the other way around. The two fell in love while working together and were married in 1926.

By the early 1930s, Vaudeville was starting to die out, and George and Gracie had to find other ways to perform. While most of their work at this time was on the radio, they did make a few films, usually playing supporting roles, but always giving wonderful and bright support.

We’re Not Dressing (Norman Taurog, 1934)
We’re Not Dressing is a wonderfully strange little musical. It’s set on an uninhabited island after a shipwreck, and features Bing Crosby singing, Carole Lombard trying to sing at points, Ethel Merman and Leon Errol being goofy, and Ray Milland as one half of a duo of gold digging princes. Oh, and there’s a bear who sometime wears roller skates. So yeah, George and Gracie are actually the most normal thing in the movie. They play a couple of scientists (I think, I’m not sure we’re ever actually clear on what they do). They get a few really amazing Vaudeville-type bits, like Gracie’s “Moose Trap”. It’s a weird movie, and I kind of love it a lot, but Burns and Allen really make their scenes great.

Six of a Kind (Leo McCarey, 1934)
Despite the fact that this movie was directed by the amazing Leo McCarey, I’m not that crazy about it. I know it might be somewhat blasphemous, but I am not a WC Fields fan. He kind of grates on my nerves, especially in this movie. Though, admittedly, this is one film where he does that the least. It’s an interesting idea, making a movie using three great comedic duos: Burns and Allen, Charles Ruggles and Mary Boland, and Fields and Alison Skipworth. All the couple balance each other out pretty well. Gracie is easily the best thing about this movie, especially when she’s causing all manner of problems for Ruggles (like, oh, making him fall off a cliff).

A Damsel In Distress (George Stevens, 1937)
I’m not too crazy about this movie either. I find the story and pacing to be incredibly messy, and I think the romance between Fred Astaire and Joan Fontaine is really flat. Yet again, Burns and Allen are the high point of the movie. The trio of Astaire, Allen, and Burns is actually quite excellent. The movie might have been a lot better if more time was focused on it. And it would have been wonderful to see them in more movies together. They could have been Fred’s partners after he split from Ginger!

By Katie Richardson

Year: 1942

Director: Billy Wilder

Cast: Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson, Robert Benchley, Diana Lynn, Edward Fielding

The Major and the Minor is Billy Wilder’s American directorial debut. He also wrote the screenplay together with one of his longtime collaberators, Charles Brackett. In a period of thirteen years they wrote more than a dozen classic screenplays together for some of the greatest films in history i.e. Ninotchka, Midnight, Ball Of Fire, The Long Weekend and best of all Sunset Blvd. The Major and the Minor was based on a play by Edward Childs Carpenter.

The ever-lovable Ginger Rogers plays Susan Appleton, a young woman who after a year of starting and failing at twentyfive different jobs in New York City decides to leave the City to go home to Stevenson, Iowa and marry a local boy. When she got to the city a year earlier she held onto an enveloppe with enough money in it for her return ticket home. When she gets to the ticket counter at the train station, she’s told the fairs have gone up in the last year and that she’s five dollars short for her return ticket. She goes into the Woman’s Loung to change her appearance so that she’ll look younger; as a 12 years old girl she’s gets a ticket for half fair.

On the train a couple of conductors aren’t fooled by her masquarede and she flees into the cabin of Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland). He’s fooled by her scheme and gets mesmerized with this child, which he calls Su-Su. He lets her stay with him in his cabin. The next morning Philip’s fiance Pamela (Rita Johnson) and soon-to-be-father-in-law Colonel Oliver Slater Hill (Edward Fielding) decide to pick him up from the train in High Creek, Indiana. When they get there Pamela sees a young woman in her fiancee’s cabin and wants to break off the engagement. Philip asks the “twelve year old” Su-Su to come along to the military academy to settle things straight.

The Major and the Minor is sort of a two faced film for me. It’s a very sweet film. Ginger Rogers is great. At the time she made this, she on the height of her career as an solo actress after her six year collaberation with Fred Astaire. But it’s a movie of it’s time. It couldn’t be made now without many adjustments. Ray Milland’s character threads a twelve year old like a five year old. You would presume his character, Philip Kirby, would have some characteristics of a child predator, if his character himself wouldn’t have been such a naive and very childish character. Wilder as a director is still searching for a style; compared to other Billy Wilder films The Major and the Minor is very static. But all these dubious thoughts are in no contrast to the cheer fun this movie still brings to the audience.

Filmtrivia: Susan (Ginger Rogers) Appleton’s mother is played by Lela E. Rogers (Ginger’s mother).

By Ralph van Zuuren

Year: 1934

Director: Norman Taurog

Cast: Bing Crosby, Carole Lombard, Burns and Allen

First, let me say I love Carole Lombard. To Be or Not Be, My Man Godfrey, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Nothing Sacred…what not to like? When I first heard about the release of the Carole Lombard Collection, a six-film DVD set, I purchased it. The only film I previously seen in the set was Hands Across the Table, therefore, I was looking forward to seeing the rest. Since then, I have watched all except for We’re Not Dressing. Why’s that you ask? Well, in two words, Bing Crosby. I am not a fan and have had a love/hate relationship with his films. Holiday Inn is one of my favorite films to watch around the holiday season and as a Bob Hope fan I love the “Road” pictures yet I generally find Bing’s characters annoying, admittedly, less annoying in these films than in others. To watch We’re Not Dressing I had to look at this as a Carole Lombard film and not a Bing Crosby movie. I know, I know what you’re thinking, it’s the Carole Lombard Collection dummy!

We’re Not Dressing was more a vehicle for Bing Crosby than Carole Lombard who would really come into her own the same year this film was released when Howard Hawks used her in Twentieth Century. The film also stars George Burns and Gracie Allen, Leon Errol and Ethel Merman.

Carol is a wealthy yacht owner named Doris Worthington who is on a cruise to the South Pacific. Along for the ride are two fakes “Princes” Alexander (Ray Milland) and Michael (Jay Henry), both who are after Doris and her money. Doris has trouble choosing between which of these two phonies she wants to marry. Also on board, are sailor and deck hand Steve Jones (Bing Crosby) who has among his duties the responsibility for Doris’ pet bear. Yes, that’s right, a pet bear named Droopy who happens to like hearing Steve sing and he sings a lot! In the first fifteen minutes, Steve/Bing sings three songs. Doris’s Uncle Herbert (Leon Errol) and his man-chasing bride to be Edith (Ethel Merman) are also along the ride. Things take a turn for the worst when a drunken Uncle Herbert loses control of the yacht and it sinks resulting in crew and passengers having to abandon ship. Unknown to her, Steve saves Doris’ life when she is knocked unconscious as she prepares to jump overboard. The survivors end up on an island. Doris has always been served and pampered in her life now has to depend on Steve for survival since he knows how to survive under these more primitive circumstances finding food and building shelters. On the island, they meet George and Grace (Burns and Allen), two botanists living on the island working on their experiments. Of course, love conquers all, and they live happily ever after and Bing sings.

The film is silly for today’s audience and was probably silly for the audience of its day. This is mainly due to too many scenes with the bear. The film is a showcase for Bing, Carole’s role is secondary but she is effective, as always, and a pleasure to watch. The real highlight for me was Burns and Allen who pretty much steal the movie in every scene they are in. Ethel Merman and Leon Errol are also on hand. Crosby fans will love this because he sings quite a bit including two songs directly to the bear.

As I watched the film, it more and more reminded me of an Elvis movie. Then it struck me! The film was directed by Norman Taurog who some thirty years later would direct Elvis in nine films. All he had to do was replace Bing and Carole with Elvis and Ann-Margret and he had We’re Not Dressing…Elvis Style.

By John Greco

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