Thursday, June 24, 2010
Callaway Went Thataway - 1951
this previous post on Herb Jeffries, were given little by either Hollywood or TV in the way of a black hero to emulate. Clearly, we are shown that Callaway appeals to everybody in this democratic republic. It’s a cute shot, that can’t help but ring hollow. Grownups love him, too, including a fawning Natalie Schafer, who plays the wife of the big TV boss. You may remember her as Lovey in “Gilligan’s Island.”
She and MacMurray have that 1930s screwball comedy rapport with each other, but it’s somewhat forced and we are given to understand there is no romantic involvement between them. She undergoes a conversion when she falls in love with Howard Keel and decides the ad racket has gotten too deceitful for her. Mr. MacMurray never undergoes such a conversion, remaining a likeable, but undependable trickster to the end. MacMurray was so good playing guys on the knife edge of good and bad.
There are even a few star cameos. Esther Williams and her sons accost Keel in a hotel lobby, and later he meets Elizabeth Taylor and Clark Gable at the Mocambo, both of whom he greets effusively and neither of whom he recognizes.
Finally, the real one learns of the charitable foundation set up by his look-alike, and bails out of the whole Smokey Callaway franchise. He doesn’t want any part of it if he can’t keep the money himself. The look-alike gets to keep the job.
Fred MacMurray tosses off a funny line with all seriousness, “What’s the Smokey Callaway Foundation? Have we got a girdle tie-in?”
“Dreamboat” and “Callaway Went Thataway” harken back to the screwball comedies of a previous generation, but they land squarely in the present, using it as surely as any socially conscious dramatic film of that era did to bring reality to the movies. “Callaway” ends with the interesting disclaimer, as much a signpost to the era as the fake signpost it was printed on. (The opening screen titles on a similar signpost remind me of “My Darling Clementine.”)
“This picture was made in the spirit of fun, and was meant in no way to detract from the wholesome influence, civic mindedness and the many charitable contributions of Western idols of our American youth, or to be a portrayal of any of them.”
A case of methinks they doth protest too much?
Actually, Hopalong Cassidy, is the real hero on whom this movie is based. You might remember his showing up Boris Karloff in the 1950 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, as discussed in this previous post. From the book “Total Television” by Alex M. Neal (Penguin Books, NY, 1996, 4th edition), we have a few stats on our hero. Hoppy made 66 B-movies from 1935 to 1948. William Boyd, who played Hoppy, cannily acquired the TV rights to his films, and re-edited them to fit 30 and 60-minute timeslots. According to author Mr. Neal, “thus, he was in a position to offer a readily available source of action programming to the rapidly expanding postwar television station market.”