Saturday, May 17, 2008

DOUBLE DYNAMITE (RKO 1951) Warner Home Video

Based on characters created by Mannie Manheim, Irving Cummings’ Double Dynamite (1951) is a slick, if modestly stylish, screwball caper that unites the formidable talents of Frank Sinatra, Jane Russell and Groucho Marx into one delightfully silly package of fun. The screenplay by Melville Shavelson is taut and rife with snappy one liners delivered to perfection by Groucho mostly, though Sinatra has his way with a few barbs. Two forgettable Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn songs; It’s Only Money, and, Kisses and Tears interrupt an otherwise memorable holiday bon-bon with lots of oomph and chuckles along the way.

Sinatra is meager bank teller, Johnny Dalton whose repeated attempts at procuring a raise from stingy boss, J.L. McKissack (Harry Hayden) prove fruitless much to the chagrin of Dalton’s girlfriend, Mildred Goodhue (Russell). The two frequently dine at Mr. Bagganucci’s (William Edmunds) restaurant where they share their dreams and problems with head waiter, Emile J. Keck (Groucho). Emile advises Johnny that he should throw caution to the wind and marry Russell on his $42.50 monthly salary – a sum that Mildred is more than willing to settle for, but not Johnny. He wants a stylish wedding.

All seems lost – especially after Mildred throws caution to the wind and her heart to bank V.P and heel, R.B. Pulsifer Jr. (Don McGuire) whose intentions are not honorable. Meanwhile, Johnny becomes embroiled in a gambling racket run by Hot Horse Harris (Nestor Paiva). After doing a good deed for Harris, the bookie gives Johnny $1,000; then turns it into a cool $60,000 on illegal betting. Hurrah! Johnny’s in the chips. Now he and Mildred can marry.

But wait; before any celebration can occur, McKissack discovers a coincidental $70,000 deficit in the bank’s records, forcing Johnny to rely on Emile’s discretion and open an account with Johnny’s money in Emile’s name at the bank. The rest of the screenplay takes great pleasure in mixing up these already confusing variables until they fizz and pop like sparkling champagne.

Cast against type as the sweet ingénue, Russell isn’t very convincing (she’s much better at playing the cynical vamp) though she manages to keep it together throughout the story. Sinatra is fairly appealing as the harried clerk who only wants to give his girl everything she desires, but cannot help but break a nervous sweat whenever money is mentioned. Groucho is at his brilliant self-deprecating best.

Cummings’ direction is slick and assured. In just under 80 minutes he gets great mileage from both the screenplay and his stars. In the final analysis, Double Dynamite may not represent the top echelon of screwball comedy. However, its extremely solid second tier.

On the whole, Warner Home Video’s DVD exhibits a thoroughly satisfying B&W image. With minor exceptions, the gray scale exhibits some solid tonality. In the final reel, contrast appears weaker during the night scenes, perhaps artificially bumped up, resulting in a sudden loss of fine details. The audio is mono but adequately represented. The disappointment herein is NO extras – not even a menu for ‘Chapter Stops.’ Boo-Hoo!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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