We’re back again to take a look at the 1939 comedy Zenobia, starring Oliver Hardy and Harry Langdon! We’ve got a theatrical short to get through first, but then it’s on to the movie!
Coming Up Shorts! with… One Cab’s Family (1952)
(Available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 2 from Warner Archive Collection)
(Length: 7 minutes, 56 seconds)
A pair of taxicabs raise their new son (with the hope that he will also be a taxicab), but he wants to be a hot rod. This one feels like a lesser Tex Avery cartoon. While it has its visual gags, they are not as consistent or as good as some of his other work. To me, the world in this cartoon is not that consistent. Outside of the three main cars that this short follows, the rest of the population is essentially human, with all the other vehicles rather lifeless. This short does have its moments, don’t get me wrong. I just think that some of the other shorts that Tex Avery directed have been better and more original.
And Now For The Main Feature…
In a small Mississippi town, Jeff Carter (James Ellison) wants to marry his sweetheart, Mary Tibbett (Jean Parker). However, they are worried about how his mother, the wealthy society lady (and hypochondriac) Mrs. Carter (Alice Brady) will react, considering Mary’s father, Dr. Emory Tibbett (Oliver Hardy), is a poor country doctor (well, that and the fact that Dr. Tibbett used to be a doctor for members of high society, until he grew fed up with Mrs. Carter’s hypochondriac ways and decided to treat everybody, even if he wasn’t being paid as well). Mrs. Carter does not react well when she hears about the engagement, as she would prefer that her son marry his old childhood friend, Virginia Reynolds (June Lang). Still, Mrs. Carter decides to host a party in Mary’s honor (but plans to embarass her). Meanwhile, at a nearby carnival, medicine man Professor McCrackle (Harry Langdon) is in a tizzy, when his star, the elephant Zenobia, falls ill. He sends for Dr. Tibbett, who comes running (mostly because he thinks a PERSON is ill). He is less than thrilled when he finds out his “patient” is an elephant, but he does what he can to help (and urges Prof. McCrackle not to spread word about it). Zenobia gets better, but she soon starts to follow Dr. Tibbett around. This ruins the party that Mrs. Carter is hosting, and Prof. McCrackle decides to sue Dr. Tibbett (with Mrs. Carter’s help) for the alienation of his elephant’s affections. Can Dr. Tibbett gets himself (and his family) out of this mess, or will Mrs. Carter get her way?
Famous comedy team Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy worked at the Hal Roach Studios in the 1930s, but Stan Laurel and producer Hal Roach had a contract dispute that saw Stan Laurel put on suspension. Since Hal Roach had separate contracts for Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, he decided to instead create a new comedy team by pairing Hardy with former silent movie comedian Harry Langdon (who had been working at least partly as a writer for some of the Laurel and Hardy films). Hal Roach had previously bought the rights to the story “Zenobia’s Infidelity” for actor Roland Young, but decided to use the property instead to feature his new comedy “team.” The movie ended up being a failure at the box office (not helped by comparisons to previous Laurel and Hardy films). Laurel and Hardy came back together, but they ended up leaving Hal Roach for other studios (including 20th Century Fox to start with), so that they could hopefully have more artistic freedom.
I hadn’t seen or heard of this one until recently, but I will say that I enjoyed this film very much! Now, I’m not the most familiar with much of what Laurel and Hardy did together, save for a few films that I’ve had the opportunity to see, a few classic cartoons, and imitators (mostly like Dick Van), so I am not presently comparing this film with anything that Laurel and Hardy did together. What I can say is that Oliver Hardy’s character is different from what I’ve seen him do otherwise (but that’s not a bad thing). Oliver Hardy and Harry Langdon are fun together, but, at the same time, them being billed as a “team” doesn’t really make sense, as they don’t really have too many moments together (so I can understand them not being paired together for any more films). The pair that I really enjoy in this movie (and the ones who should, in my opinion, have been promoted as the “team”) are Oliver Hardy and actress Billie Burke (who plays his wife). I think they are a lot of fun together, and I don’t mind watching them (especially with all her antics)!
Admittedly, it’s not a perfect movie. The plot does seem to go all over the place, with some focus on the elephant, some on the romance, and some on the issues between Alice Brady’s Mrs. Carter and the doctor’s family. With it being set in Mississippi in the 1870s, the film also has its issues with some of the racial stereotypes, particularly the somewhat lazy servant Zero, played by Step’n Fetchit. Oliver Hardy’s character *almost* seems to be heading in the right direction in how he treats blacks, as he has little Zeke (Philip Hurlic) learn and recite the Declaration of Independence (and everyone listens as he recites it). This may not be the best movie ever made (especially from Hollywood’s Golden Year, 1939), but it’s a fun one, and one I certainly would recommend!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Classicflix. This release utilizes a restoration from a 2K scan from a 35mm nitrate fine grain. The result is a wonderful transfer (it’s Classicflix, so what else is new?), with many tears and dirt cleaned up. The disc contains a before-and-after restoration comparison that showcases some of the work they’ve done. As always, this recent release is the best way to see this movie, and I would highly recommend it!
Film Length: 1 hour, 13 minutes
My Rating: 8/10
As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Harry Langdon – All-American Co-Ed (1941)