Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Six Degrees of Bacon -- Without the Bacon

Several friends of mine marvel at my apparent vast range of knowledge on seemingly unrelated subjects. It's not really that remarkable. I happen to believe that most things are interrelated, and I enjoy following the connection from one thing to another.

Case in point: the other night I stumbled across a silent film on TCM, "The Monster." It was a horror/comedy starring Lon Chaney (a still from the movie appears on the right). The bumbling amateur detective seemed familiar, so I did a quick search on IMDB and discovered that Johnny Arthur had a long career in movies, and had played Spanky MacFarland's father in a couple of Our Gang comedies (which is where I had seen him before).

I also saw he played a Japanese character named Suki Yaki in a short series of Hal Roach comedies during the 1940's. It turns out that Roach did some comedies portraying the Axis leaders as buffoons. In addition to Arthur, the series starred Joe Devlin as Mussolini, and Bobby Watson as Hitler, a role he made a career of playing.

I was already familiar with Watson -- I had seen him as Der Fuhrer in "Hitler -- Dead or Alive" a very strange B picture starring Ward Bond as a wise-cracking gangster (older readers may remember him as the wagon master in the 1960's TV show "Wagon Train").

Curious about these comedies, I popped over to, and found "Nazty Nuisance." Jean Porter gave a standout performance as a native girl, which prompted me to look her up. Sort of a Noel Neill type, she had a good mid-level career as an actress, and was married to director Edward Dymtryk, who was blacklisted in the 1950's for being a Communist.

So here's the result of my channel surfing:

1) Watched "The Monster," and discovered that comedies based on horror movies cliches were being made in 1925 - 50 years before "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

2) Watch "Nazty Nuisance" and gained more insight into the worldview of America during the Second World War -- the Japanese were treacherous, the Italians ineffectual bunglers, the Germans bullies, and the Axis would be stopped by average American joes with no pretension about them, a good sense of humor, and good old Yankee ingenuity.

4) Found out more about an actor I knew very little about.

3) Added Dymtryk's "Murder My Sweet" to my Netfix que (we'll save the discussions about my admiration for Dick Powell and Raymond Chandler for other posts).

4) Added a film or two with Jean Porter to said que.

As I say, nothing remarkable. Just follow the trail through six degrees of separation and see where it leads. I'm seldom disappointed.

- Ralph

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