Monday, April 13, 2009

Mantan Moreland and the Irish Luck

"Irish Luck" (1939) is not a great film -- but very few movies from Monogram were. But many of the productions from this B-picture studio are still very entertaining -- especially those with Mantan Moreland. (I've talked about this under-rated African-American actor before.)

In the late 1930's he was teamed with Frankie Darro for a series of films where they, in essence, played the same characters. Darro was the enthusiastic kid, always getting the pair in trouble by impulsively plunging into trouble. Moreland played the most level-headed of the pair, who was always dragged into predicaments by Darrow against his better judgement.

What I find interesting about these films is that Moreland is treated pretty much as an equal. In "Irish Luck" for example, Moreland plays a janitor (Jefferson) to Darro's bellhop (Buzzy O'Brien) -- both employed in menial jobs. And Jefferson's reluctance to go along with Buzzy's hairbrained amateur sleuthing has nothing to do with racial stereotypes of the day. He simply wants to keep his job and out of trouble with the police. In fact, Jefferson's relationship to Buzzy is very much like that of Ethyl Mertz to Lucy Ricardo.

The difference is that Moreland, a gifted comedian, gets all the best lines (many of which he either wrote or ad-libbed for himself).

This opening scene gives an idea of the movie's pacing. It's fast, glib, and never meant to be taken very seriously.

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When we meet Jefferson, he's (as usual) helping out Buzzy who's taken it upon himself to single-handedly capture some crooks in the hotel. Buzzy's plan? Have Jefferson use a dummy to fake a suicide attempt so the hotel would be surrounded by police and firemen! Detective Steve Lanahan (Dick Purcell) at first treats Jefferson as a madman (but without racial condescension). When he finds out that the son of his dead partner's at it again playing detective, sparks fly.

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Here's Mantan Moreland in a typical scene with Frankie Darro.

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Here are Moreland and Darro towards the end of the film, when Jefferson's just about had enough of Buzzy getting them both into trouble.

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"Irish Luck" was never meant to be anything more than a Saturday afternoon diversion. This breezy little mystery is about as challenging and fraught with danger as an episode of "Murder She Wrote." But the chemistry between Darro and Moreland make this (in my opinion) much more fun to watch.

"Irish Luck" is in public domain, and is readily available from Archive.org. Not a great movie, but not a bad one to have on your iPod to while away an hour.

- Ralph

Day 8 of the WJMA Podwatch. They added the word "news" to the title. Still not helpful, still not getting it. The watch continues....

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