Screen Team Edition: George Burns and Gracie Allen

“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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College Humor

My Rating: 4/10

“George and Gracie” Rating: 2/10

Audience Rating:

We’re Not Dressing

My Rating: 8/10

“George and Gracie” Rating: 6/10

Audience Rating:

(This applies to both College Humor and We’re Not Dressing),movies-tv,568&sr=1-2&ref=sr_1_2&linkCode=ll1&tag=thoughtsfr066-20&linkId=bf62f9c836f0259fb03ec441b859dbf3&language=en_US

A Damsel In Distress

My Rating: 10/10

“George and Gracie” Rating: 10/10

Audience Rating:,aps,214&sr=1-3&ref=sr_1_3&linkCode=ll1&tag=thoughtsfr066-20&linkId=7c1c8d1fab14991c2900ed66456b5127&language=en_US

College Swing

My Rating: 8/10

“George and Gracie” Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:


My Rating: 10/10

“George and Gracie” Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating:,movies-tv,703&sr=1-2-catcorr&ref=sr_1_2&linkCode=ll1&tag=thoughtsfr066-20&linkId=7669d21add4bee4a54a8b9e83026e593&language=en_US

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2018) on… A Damsel In Distress (1937)

Here we are again, with another Fred Astaire-centric movie, the 1937 musical A Damsel In Distress, also starring George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Joan Fontaine!

The plot of this movie mainly concerns Lady Alyce Marshmorton (Joan Fontaine), who is now old enough to marry.  The staff at her castle are all betting on who she will marry, with the two frontrunners being Reggie, Alyce’s aunt’s stepson and “Mr. X,” an American Alyce had fallen in love with.  Now Alyce escapes to London to meet him, but, followed by her butler, she gets into a cab with Jerry Halliday, an American dancer (Fred Astaire).  One of the other members of the staff sees this, and believes Jerry to be Mr. X, and thus decides to help encourage the romance so that he can win the bet.  Now Jerry likes Alyce, and, unaware of the real Mr. X, tries to romance her.  At first, she believes him to be a friend, until he kisses her in the tunnel of love at a carnival, and she promptly slaps him.  After a while, she ends up falling for him, too.

The fun of this movie is the music by George and Ira Gerswhin.  Now, this is one of George’s final projects, as he died before the movie was released.  The movie includes (but is not limited to), songs such as “I Can’t Be Bothered Now,” “Put Me To The Test,” “Stiff Upper Lip,” “Things Are Looking Up,” “A Foggy Day” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

“I Can’t Be Bothered Now” is a nice, short solo dance for Fred.  He ends up doing a dance on a street for a busker, as he tries to evade the policeman in London, after getting into a fight with the butler.  Of course, this all happens near the beginning of the movie.

“Put Me To The Test” is an instrumental piece of music that gives Fred, George and Gracie a chance to dance together.  Apparently, the dance came about as a result of George and Gracie’s audition for the movie.  They put together a dance involving whisk brooms, and when Fred saw it, he liked it enough that he wanted to join in on the fun!

The song “Stiff Upper Lip” is otherwise known as the “funhouse dance” with this movie.  Fred, George and Gracie all dance their way through a carnival, with various mirrors and other assorted things.  It was this dance that resulted in this movie winning the Oscar for “Best Dance Direction.”  Another tidbit is that one section of the routine, that mainly features Fred and Gracie, borrowed dance steps from some of what Fred had done on stage with his sister, Adele.

The song “Things Are Looking Up” is the main romantic routine, pairing Fred and Joan Fontaine.  The music is what I enjoy with this song, although the dancing is only so-so, mainly because actress Joan Fontaine was decidedly NOT a dancer.  It is nice to see her try (as opposed to the more modern way of using doubles), and I enjoy the old-fashioned way of trying to hide her ability (or lack thereof) through the camera coming behind trees or focusing on Fred.

“Nice Work If You Can Get It” is a fun song.  What is most enjoyable is when Fred reprises the song at the end of the movie.  He proves that he can dance AND play the drums at the same time (and quite well, at that)!

I very, very highly recommend this movie.  For me, watching Fred dance is ALWAYS fun, and being joined by both George and Gracie makes it better.  Of all the movies I have seen for George and Gracie, I feel like they are at their best in this movie (and I certainly remember some of their jokes with fondness).  The plot may be a little silly, but that is part of the fun with some of these older musicals, and I do enjoy this one.

The movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection and is about one hour, forty minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

Audience Rating:

*ranked #6 in Top 11 Movies Watched in 2018

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2018) on… We’re Not Dressing (1934)

Time to get into the 1934 movie We’re Not Dressing, starring Bing Crosby, Carole Lombard, George Burns, Gracie Allen and Ethel Merman!

At first, we find everybody on the yacht of Doris Worthington (Carole Lombard), as she is giving entertaining other society friends.  The ship runs into a reef, and so she, her society friends, and one of the sailors, Stephen Jones (Bing Crosby) are shipwrecked on an island.  Stephen soon proves more adept at surviving, and all the others are forced to listen to him, including a very reluctant Doris, who ends up falling in love with him.

The movie is based on the novel “The Admirable Crichton” by Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie.  I don’t know how accurate the movie is for the story, but they do reference it at one point.

Admittedly, the plot of the movie isn’t the main concern.  It’s seeing the various actors and actresses do their specialties.  Bing Crosby has a few fun songs, in what I personally consider to be one of his better early films.  He mainly has three songs that I enjoy: “May I” which is sung near the beginning of the movie; the song “Goodnight, Lovely Little Lady” where the fun is Doris’s pet bear, which Stephen has to take care, and the bear enjoys Bing’s singing (enough to pounce him until he sings this song to get the bear off); and “Love Thy Neighbor,” sung on the island while Doris and her friends are ignoring him as he builds shelter.

Of course, George and Gracie are already on the island before everybody is shipwrecked.  They are on a hunting/ nature expedition, and they get a chance to engage in some of their trademark humor.  Especially some of Gracie’s traps (or should I say her “moose traps”).

This is a movie I enjoy, and I would definitely recommend it if you get a chance to see it!  The movie is available on DVD from Universal, either alone or as part of at least 3 multi-film sets.  The movie is about one hour, twenty minutes.

My Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating:

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2018) on… Honolulu (1939)

All right, everybody, pack your bags, we’re off again to the state of Hawaii, circa 1939, with Honolulu, starring Eleanor Powell and Robert Young!

Now in some respects, this is a “Prince and the Pauper” type of movie, with Robert Young playing the dual role of Brooks Mason, a movie star, and his Hawaiian lookalike George Smith. Now they meet when George Smith is mistaken for Brooks Mason at the premiere for one of Mason’s movies, gets mobbed by the public, and is then taken to Mason’s home by the ambulance. Now Mason has been wanting a break, but his agent and the studio keep making him work, so he decides to switch places with Smith and goes to Hawaii, Smith’s home. Now on the way there, he meets Dorothy March (Eleanor Powell). He falls for her, but he runs into trouble on isles with Smith’s fiancé and her father. Now meanwhile, Smith is getting mobbed continuously in New York, particularly as he keeps trying to get out of there. SO the remaining trouble for the rest of the movie then becomes how they can both make the switch back to their own lives.

Now my own opinion here is that this movie is a lot of fun. Prior to my first viewing of this movie, I had heard it said that Eleanor Powell was considered, at the time, to be one of the few ladies capable of out-dancing Fred Astaire, but from the movies I had seen, I never believed it until I saw this movie.

Now Eleanor only has three routines in this movie, but I would say that two of the three in particular really showcase just what she could do. Now her first routine is to the title song, where we see her start dancing with Gracie Allen on the ship, but then she goes off on her own, and we see just how good she could be as she jumps rope AND tap dances AT THE SAME TIME, both handling the jump rope herself, as well as having others do it for her. Now, for me personally, this is an amazing routine, and one I know I have never quite had the coordination to pull off (not exactly helped by my height when it comes to jumping rope).

The other routine worth mentioning is her hula dance on the islands, which is her third and final dance in the movie. Now, at the start of the dance, we see her doing her version of the more traditional hula, barefoot, and then partway through, she puts on her tap shoes (offscreen of course), and then she tap dances while simultaneously doing the hula. I really think this routine is a lot of fun, and definitely worth watching in and of itself.

The other routine, her second one, is probably one of the points of the movie that might bother people. On the ship, they have one night for everybody to come dressed as their favorite movie stars/ celebrities. As part of the show, she does a tribute to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, in blackface. Now, the dancing itself, isn’t too bad, but again, the blackface may bother many people. Since this isn’t exactly a moment that is important to the plot, it would be easy enough to just skip right past this moment, if you were so inclined.

Other than the issues with blackface, I think this movie is very enjoyable, and one I recommend. The movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is about one hour, twenty minutes in length.

Thanks for tuning in everybody, and enjoy your stay in beautiful Honolulu!

My Rating: 10/10

Audience Rating:

*ranked #10 in Top 11 Movies Watched in 2018

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2018) on… College Swing (1938)

Well, I’m back with my thoughts on the movie College Swing. The movie stars George Burns, Gracie Allen, Martha Raye, Bob Hope, and Edward Everett Horton.

We find the movie starting in 1738, at a graduation ceremony where Gracie Alden is again denied graduation, since she had failed in all her studies for the ninth year in a row. Between her grandfather and the schoolmaster, they argue whether it would be possible for an Alden female to graduate from the school within two hundred years. If one could, she would inherit the grandfather’s money and take charge of the school, otherwise the money would be left to the school. Fast forward two hundred years, the modern day Gracie Alden is struggling with her studies, and hires Bud Brady (Bob Hope) to be her tutor. He cheats, getting a hold of the examination questions and researching the answers for her. She “passes” the exam, and takes over the college, hiring many unorthodox professors.

This movie is a bit of an all-star comedy. It was made back during a time when the stars were generally under contract to one specific studio for X number of years, usually drawing a weekly paycheck, and so sometimes studios might stick a lot of their stars together in one movie to get their money’s worth. Besides the aforementioned stars, this movie also stars Betty Grable, at a time when the studios were still not quite sure what to do with her, her then husband Jackie Coogan (famous as the titular kid in Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, as well as being Uncle Fester in the 1960s TV show The Addams Family), Jerry Colonna (most probably don’t know his name or his face, but I think they’ve heard his voice, most particularly as the voice of the March Hare in Walt Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland), and John Payne (who is probably much better known for his role as Santa’s lawyer Fred Gailey in the 1947 Miracle On 34th Street). Apparently, we also have the Slate brothers here, who seem to veer into Three Stooges territory for humor (although they don’t do it quite as well).

Of course, the bigger stars of this movie also deserve a little focus, too. We have George Burns and Gracie Allen (although they are separated for a good part of the movie, with Gracie being given the focus), and if the very concept of Gracie being in charge of a college doesn’t make you laugh, then you don’t her, and I would suggest trying to find The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (their radio program) via podcast. This is Bob Hope’s second movie, made at a time when he hadn’t quite fully developed his screen persona, although we can certainly see a few parts of it shining through. Edward Everett Horton is truly hilarious here. I’ll admit, some of his comments are quite sexist, although I would like to think they are still funny, because they stem from a total and complete fear of women (after all, I think the movie says his character has been in the jungle for nearly 20 years to avoid women entirely, and when we do see him meet any women, he rather comically runs from them).

The movie itself is rather fun. I don’t think anybody can mistake it as being an accurate portrayal (even for then) of college life (at least, again, not if you consider the concept of Gracie being in charge of a college), but the movie should be worth some fun.

The movie is available on DVD from Universal, and is about an hour, twenty-six minutes in length.

My Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating: