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   ALWAYS LEAVE THEM LAUGHING (1949) 

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CAST
Milton Berle
Virginia Mayo
Ruth Roman
Bert Lahr
Alan Hale
Grace Hayes
Jerome Cowan
Lloyd Gough
Ransom M. Sherman
Iris Adrian

DIRECTED BY
Roy Del Ruth

PURCHASE


DVD




Time: 116 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Comedy/Musical


SYNOPSIS: Kip Cooper, a struggling vaudeville comic does whatever it takes to get to Broadway and make a name for himself instead of merely copying the material of his more famous compatriots. His relentless ambition takes a toll on the lives of his friends and sometime fiancée, who all become tired of his selfish ways, leaving him to figure out what really is important in his life.

BOTTOM LINE: This film is Berle's first as a leading man after he found fame on television and broadway. It seems Warner Bros. wanted to see if the public would pay to see somebody on the big screen that they could otherwise see for free at home. Since this is his one and only staring role, I guess the studio got a less positive response than they were hoping for. Berle certainly gives it his all and manages to pull off both the comic and dramatic moments quite well. He was notorious in the business as a joke stealer, so one has to give him and the writers some credit for being so open and joking about it here. That said, it's not exactly an admirable trait, so it's hard to root for or even like his character. It's clear he's good with a joke and has some dancing talent, but if he's just imitating better comics than why should he be rewarded with fame and fortune? Which is the burning question the film tries to answer.

He gains some support from Fay Washburn (Roman), a struggling dancer herself, who constantly tries to see the best in him, despite evidence to the contrary. Almost everything that comes out of his mouth is either a lie or someone else's material, so it's hard to get a handle on his character. Kip is certainly energetic and ambitious, but we don't really see any other side of him for most of the film. Of course, no one takes him seriously as a performer because he has yet to come up with his own original material, so he's forced to take whatever jobs come his way just to get by. His big break comes when the beloved Eddy Eagen (Lahr), a comic legend, is forced to leave his new show due to a bad heart. Lucky for Kip he knows all of Eddy's jokes by heart, so he's hired to fill in until Eddy can get back on his feet. This leaves Fay in the lurch as Kip transfers his attention's to the show...and Eddy's pretty wife and onstage partner Nancy (Mayo). You can imagine where the plot goes from here. Disaster strikes, hearts are broken and Kip finally takes pride in his own talent.

While everyone performs their roles admirably – Lahr, Roman and Mayo make the most of their cookie-cutter parts – there's just nothing original about this story to truly draw you in. Even the comedy and musical numbers seem tired and overworked. Is Berle funny? Sure. Compelling? At points. Leading man material? Afraid not. At heart, he's just in it for the laughs and that's not enough. Running from one joke to another might work on the stage, but you need real characters and a decent plot to carry a feature-length film. A comedy about how hard comedy is that left me less amused than I hoped. Interesting, but not always entertaining.




"There will be a two minute silence out of respect for the three jokes that just died."

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