“When I saw George walk out on the stage, I said, ‘There’s the man I’m going to marry.’ Boom! Something hit me!”- Gracie
“Really?” – Mamie Kelly (Sarah Selby)
“Yes, it was my mother!”- Gracie (The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show)
I want to discuss some of the movies starring George Burns and Gracie Allen. I only have a handful to work with, and I know they made more together (although I’m not sure how many others have been made available on disc). Going into things, it’s definitely better to have an understanding of who they are and their style of humor, since they usually play the same type of character (and usually go by their own first names, too). To best understand them, I would suggest trying to find their radio show (The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show), which should be available as a podcast.
As to their history, George went into vaudeville, usually with a partner, sometimes doing dance, sometimes comedy, but he never really clicked until he met Gracie in 1923. At first, Gracie was the “straight man” and he delivered the punchlines, but that didn’t work, with the audience laughing more at Gracie than him. So they switched roles, and became a success, with it even becoming a running joke that Gracie was George’s “talent.” They made it big, first on stage, then got into the movies for the thirties. Not long after starting in the movies, they had a radio program that became a hit, and changed a little over the years. They then switched their radio show to TV, which also became a hit, lasting until Gracie finally decided to quit the show, partially due to health reasons.
College Humor’s plot mainly follows two characters: Barney Shirrel (Jack Oakie) as he goes through college, playing football for the college team, and Professor Danvers (Bing Crosby), who is in a love triangle with Barney’s sister Barbara (Mary Carlisle) and Barney’s football teammate Mondrake (Richard Arlen). To give a quick opinion on this movie, I wouldn’t recommend it. I enjoy it well enough, but I would sooner say this is a movie for “completists,” those who feel the need to see all the movies ever made for any of its stars. Considering this discussion is about George and Gracie, their appearance in this movie is more like two cameos, maybe amounting to about five minutes screentime, give or take a few. The movie is available on DVD, and is about one hour, twenty minutes in length.
The 1934 movie We’re Not Dressing mainly concerns a socialite and her friends who end up shipwrecked on an island. By now, you should have seen my individual review for the movie (if you haven’t yet, go do so!), so we’ll stick to George and Gracie. Their presence here is definitely greater than it was in College Humor, but they are for the most part separated from everything else happening in the movie. Their bits are still hilarious, though, and still worth seeing the movie for (I think).
In A Damsel in Distress, we mainly are concerned with the romance between Lady Alyce Marshmorton (Joan Fontaine) and Jerry Halliday (Fred Astaire). Again, this I have reviewed this one previously, I’ll stick to George and Gracie. George is Jerry’s press agent, and Gracie is their secretary (and not necessarily a good one either, but her father had invested in Jerry’s first show, as we are reminded multiple times). Of the (currently) 5 movies I have seen them in together, this one is the most fun, giving them a chance to dance with Fred Astaire (and doing a pretty good job of keeping up with him, I think).
College Swing basically goes with the premise of Gracie being in charge of the college. Gracie is given the lion’s share of screen time here, as it seems like they were trying to give her a solo career. George has his moments, too, both with Gracie and without, although this is one movie where they don’t end up together as a couple in the end.
Honolulu brings them both back, one last time. With a Prince and the Pauper type of story, Gracie accompanies Eleanor Powell to Honolulu, while George acts as the press agent for Robert Young’s Brooks Mason. George and Gracie don’t really have any screen time together, until the end of the movie. Gracie is given one chance to dance with Eleanor Powell, to the title tune, although it is quite obvious that dancing together almost seemed to hold Eleanor back a little, as her style was quite different than Fred Astaire’s, so Gracie didn’t end up doing the whole routine with her. I still think this movie is fun, although not as highly recommended if you are watching it for them as a team.
As a whole, George and Gracie are a wonderful comedy team. While I can only comment on a few of their films together, due to lack of availability of most of them, they are worth looking into. After Honolulu, Gracie had a couple of solo outings in the movies, while George didn’t return to the big screen until his Oscar winning role in the 1975 The Sunshine Boys, nearly a decade after Gracie’s death. But together, whether onscreen in the movies, on tv, or just on radio, they are always worth a good laugh when together, and I recommend trying to find any of their work if you can!
Ratings (note: Since they are generally not the main focus of these movies, I am also including a third rating, a “George and Gracie” rating, if you will, to reflect on how much I think the movies may be worth viewing for them alone).
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My Rating: 4/10
“George and Gracie” Rating: 2/10
We’re Not Dressing
My Rating: 8/10
“George and Gracie” Rating: 6/10
(This applies to both College Humor and We’re Not Dressing)
A Damsel In Distress
My Rating: 10/10
“George and Gracie” Rating: 10/10
My Rating: 8/10
“George and Gracie” Rating: 9/10
My Rating: 10/10
“George and Gracie” Rating: 8/10