Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, April 08, 2006
      ( 4/08/2006 09:26:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"NO, I'M NOT CRAZY – I'M THE NEW GENERAL MANAGER!" – Third Banana connoisseur Aaron Neathery alerts us to an on-site download of a fifteen-minute short from 1935 featuring Joe Cook, the star of Frank Capra's circus comedy Rain or Shine. The flick, an "Education Star Personality Comedy" entitled "Penny Wise," features the vaudevillian as a lunatic department store clerk named Joe Widget who – as a result of one of those bets that are only made in comedy shorts – gets installed as General Manager to prove that "even the most incompetent" can manage the store. Chaos ensues and, of course, Cook is also provided the opportunity to show off his well-honed juggling and balancing skills: when chased in the end by a mightily peeved store owner and hic cohorts, Widget flees by balancing and rolling down the hall on a large globe, a one point asking the movie projectionist to run the film back a bit so he can better make his escape.

Cook's the pure "nut comic" in this: unlike the feature-length Rain or Shine, there's no attempt at making him recognizably human, more a creature of wacky impulses and comically dumb ideas. He nearly drives the store into bankruptcy by extending the One Cent Sale idea into absurdity, selling initial items for a penny and then the second for nothing ("We won't make any money, but think of the sales we'll have!") Since Cook himself wrote the minimal story, he presumably had little interest in humanizing his character. And even if the comedian plays beyond the bounds of believability, his persona is snappy enough to come across on a low-res video file. W.C. Fields, also prone to meshing juggling with comedy, once called Cook the best of the nut comics. I've gotta admit I personally find the thirties era "nuts" more fun to watch than their devolved modern day counterparts.

Apart from the breezily wacked-out Cook, the film also maintains a firm foothold in vaudeville comedy styles: it even contains a classic wooden leg joke that a later generation'll remember from the movie Mary Poppins. (Which, come to think of it, included a more long-living vaudevillian, Ed Wynn.) If you've got a reasonably fast connection and a love for professionally played old jokes, why not check the full short out yourself?
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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