Written Feb. 1843. Filmed Feb-March 1943. Released by 20th Century Fox June 1943. Produced by Sol M. Wurtzel. Directed by Malcolm St. Clair.
Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Vivian Blaine, Bob Bailey, Douglas Fowley.
STORY: Hepcat "jamspreaders" Laurel and Hardy team up with a con man to outswindle some swindlers. In the process, Ollie gets to portray a Southern Colonel, and Stan does a turn in drag. Like most exciting yarns, it all ends on a runaway showboat.
seem to be split on JITTERBUGS these days, some believing it is flat
out boring, others consider it the best of a sorry lot. For me,
JITTERBUGS is a fun little movie, the only one of these 1940s films
that comes close to the admittedly average standards of the films
Abbott and Costello were making at the same time. The music is utterly
forgettable but pleasant thanks to Vivian Blaine. Bob Bailey, as the
love interest, comes off better than the usual Howdy Doody saps that
normally play these roles. The production values are higher than usual
and the script, if confusing and chock full of gangsters, is at least
Nazi-free (but there are outlandish costumes and funny inventions).
If I haven't mentioned Laurel and Hardy yet, it's because this film would probably played just as well if two other comedians had played the leads. There is very little L&H byplay here, just costume switches, straight role-playing and strict following of plot machinations. But at least The Boys have a halfway decent story to work with, one which gives them some scoipre to step outside their usual characters. Ollie posing as a Southern Colonel is delightful, and Stan's last appearance in drag is equally memorable. There is even a moment where Stan is introduced as "Potts", Ollie's valet, and for about three distressingly short seconds, we spend some time in the presence of yet another alternate Laurel characterization, someone utterly unlike "Stanley", "Lord Paddington" or "Phillip", yet with an obvious family resemblence.
What is good about the story is that although Laurel and Hardy share much of their footage with Blaine and Bailey, they are allowed to carry the plot rather than be comic relief in their own movie. It is not the greatest farce ever, nor the funniest, but there is great satisfaction in watching the Boys maneuever themselves through the twists and turns of the sting they and Bob Bailey have set up. Except for a few production numbers, they are rarely offscreen for more than a minute or so.
There are a handful of good gags here and a few lines of memorable dialogue ("You know, Ollie, I was just thinking", "What about?" "Nothing - I was just thinking."). And, of course, we have a funny invention, this time a "gas pill" which starts off being a phoney pill that supposedly turns water into gasoline, but later, we discover, makes people float in the air if they accidentally swallow one (it helps if they are also attached to highly visible piano wire to boot.)
JITTERBUGS, which I hadn't seen in so long, was like a new movie to me.
It was interesting to see my wife's reaction -- she's seen all the
Roaches by now, and it was her first time with a Fox-era film. She
found it lackluster, thought that Stan and Ollie didn't even act like
themselves any more, and couldn't believe it when I told her that it
was regarded as the best of their last films. What shocked me about it
was that I thought Stan gave an awful performance -- the only time I've
seen him when it looked like he wasn't even trying. He delivers his
lines with all the force and conviction of your average somnambulist.