Friday, April 26, 2019

The Good Humor Man (1950)

Today Good Humor is still a well-known brand of ice cream. While it is now sold only through stores and street vendors, there was a time when the company made most of its money from sales made from Good Humor trucks. Good Humor men were a fixture in the Mid-20th century United States. From 1920, when Good Humor was founded, to 1978, when the company ended its sales from trucks, Good Humor men and their trucks could be found throughout much of the United States. Given how much a part of the American landscape Good Humor men were in the mid-20th Century, it was probably no surprise when Columbia released the comedy The Good Humor Man in 1950.

The Good Humor Man was one of two follow-ups to Columbia's 1948 movie The Fuller Brush Man starring Red Sketon (the other being The Fuller Brush Girl, starring Lucille Ball). The Fuller Brush Man proved to be a hit at the box office, so naturally Columbia wanted to make another film similar in its concept and tone. The Good Humor Man stars Jack Carson as Good Humor ice cream salesman Biff Jones, who not only finds himself implicated in a payroll robbery, but involved in a murder as well. Biff is helped by his girlfriend Margie (played by Lola Albright) and his girlfriend's little brother Johnny (played by Peter Miles), as well as the local Captain Marvel Fan Club (to which Biff and Johnny belong).

The Good Humor Man was the product of two comedy legends. Director Lloyd Bacon had started as an actor in films, appearing with Chaplin in such films as The Tramp (1915) and Easy Street (1917). He began his directorial career with comedy shorts (including 10 shorts for the legendary Mack Sennett) before going onto such feature films as 42nd Street (1933) and Footlight Parade (1933). Writer Frank Tashlin started out as an animator, first with Paul Terry's studio and later Warner Bros. and Disney. In 1946 he shifted from being an animator to being a gag writer for such talents as the Marx Brothers and Lucille Ball. His first feature film screen credit was as one of the writers for the musical Variety Girl (1947). In the years previous to The Good Humor Man, he wrote screenplays for such movies as The Fuller Brush Man, One Touch of Venus (1948), The Paleface (1948), and Love Happy (1949).

With Lloyd Bacon as director and Frank Tashlin as screenwriter, it should come as no surprise that The Good Humor Man largely plays out as the live-action equivalent of a classic Warner Bros. cartoon. Indeed, the gags in The Good Humor Man come as fast and furious as in any animated theatrical short of the time, and they get more and more outrageous as the movie progresses. What is more, the film features plenty of in-jokes for viewers who pay careful attention.

Strangely enough, even though The Good Humor Man plays out like a live-action cartoon, Frank Tashlin was not particularly happy with the movie. Along with the film Kill the Umpire (1950), Mr. Tashlin cited The Good Humor Man as an example of what directors and producers had done to his screenplays, commenting "See them and weep. Believe me, originally these were bright scripts, but when the butchers, right down to cutting, get through, you're ready to step in front of a fast freight." Frank Tashlin would go onto direct his own feature films, including The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), Son of Paleface (1952), and Susan Slept Here (1954), among others.

While The Good Humor Man is definitely a comedy, many might be surprised to discover that its source material was definitely not humorous. It was a very, very lose adaptation of  the story  "Appointment With Fear" by Roy Huggins, which had appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. It was one of three stories and one novel featuring private detective Stuart Bailey. The Stuart Bailey novel Double Take would provide the basis for the 1948 film noir I Love Trouble (Mr. Huggins also wrote the screenplay for the film). The adventures of Roy Huggins's detective Stuart Bailey later provided the basis for the TV show 77 Sunset Strip. By the way, if the name "Roy Huggins" sounds familiar, it is also because he also created the TV shows Maverick, The Fugitive, and The Rockford Files.

Of course, primarily of interest to fans of Golden Age comic books is the fact that Biff Jones is a Captain Marvel fan and even belongs to a Captain Marvel fan club. The Good Humor Man not only has plenty of vintage issues of Captain Marvel comic books on display, but also such Captain Marvel merchandise as Captain Marvel sweatshirts, Captain Marvel pennants, and so on. Fawcett Comics would even publish a comic book tied into the movie, Captain Marvel and the Good Humor Man. Curiously, Captain Marvel co-creator (with writer Bill Parker) C. C. Beck was not fond of The Good Humor Man. In an interview with the Fawcett Collectors of American, he said, "It was a pretty stupid movie and was made solely to attract readers of the Captain Marvel comic books, whom it treated as a bunch of empty-head juveniles who road around on bicycles shouting 'Niatpac Levram!" at the top of their voices." Another comic book connection in The Good Humor Man is the fact that George Reeves, soon to be Captain Marvel's archrival Superman in the classic TV show Adventures of Superman, plays detective Stuart Nagle in the film. Perhaps fittingly, Stuart Nagle is Biff's romantic rival (and more) in The Good Humor Man.

The Good Humor Man would get mixed to positive reviews. Variety gave the movie a fairly good review, referring to it as "...eighty minutes of fun and frolic." The Hollywood Reporter also liked The Good Humor Man and Jack Carson in particular, saying "The film is definitely Carson's show, designed to please his fans. He may find it difficult to top this job." On the other hand, Bosley Crowther in his review in The New York Times said of the film, "For we aren't underrating this effort when we say it does nothing to enhance the reputations of either the movies or a national confectioner's brand." He concluded his review by saying, "As we say, we might dignify this effort by calling it slapstick comedy. But slapstick implies a bright tradition. Let's not call it anything."

Jack Carson and Lola Albright apparently got along very well on The Good Humor Man. The two were married in 1952. That having been said, the marriage would not last long. They divorced in 1958, which was also the year that Miss Albright began playing Edie Hart on the hit detective series Peter Gunn.

While Frank, Tashlin, C. C. Beck, and Bosley Crowther might not have liked The Good Humor Man, I suspect most viewers, will, particularly fans of slapstick comedy and animated theatrical shorts from the Golden Age of Animation. The film is very funny, and Jack Carson is in top form, proving he could be much more than a supporting player. With The Good Humour Man, director Lloyd Bacon pulled out all the stops. Not only are the gags nearly non-stop, but they are often larger than life as well. My much older sister, who dislikes most classic films, actually loved the movie. While The Good Humor Man would not see the success of The Fuller Brush Man, there is every reason it should be as well known.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

I found great fun in The Good Humor Man. My expectations were not high as I wanted only the type of laughs and giggles I knew Carson and Tashlin would provide. It is not my habit to berate movies for what they are not (Mr. Bosley Crowther), but take them as they are.