I Like Ike

Going into the peculiar TAKE A CHANCE I was already a big Lillian Roth fan. Coming out of it, I’m a big Ukulele Ike fan. He’d somehow passed me by until this moment, apart from his work as Jiminy Cricket. Of course, Ike (AKA Cliff Edwards) was uncredited in that, along with the rest of the voice cast (such strange, distant days those were — now, voice actors are cast not for their voices but precisely for name recognition).

But I read the name in Bob Balaban’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind Diary, since Spielberg had previewed his big UFO movie with the song at the end, to horrible reactions from the audience. Columbia stock dropped so fast they had to stop trading. The power of song…

Of course, Ike’s rendition, which is beautiful in its own right and works like a charm in the Disney, would have been fatal in Spielberg’s wide-eyed conspiracy thriller, unbalancing the thing and undoing all the credit it gets for having edgy seventies actors and cinematography, turning it into the big load of baloney it secretly wants to be but is ashamed of owning up to. Balanced on that knife-edge, it never quite becomes total kitsch, and is something I’m really quite impressed by, despite my cynicism about it.

(The live radio version heard 3.50 into the above clip is much preferable, I think, to the soupily orchestrated movie version — when vocals are as emotively quavery as these, you don’t need syrupy strings.)

Anyhow, for my reactions to TAKE A CHANCE, and for two Lillian Roth numbers and one Ukulele Ike, skip over to The Daily Notebook for the penultimate Forgotten Pre-Code.

12 Responses to “I Like Ike”

  1. If you like Ike, take a look at this clip from Doughboys with him and Buster duetting on the ukulele. It’s delicious.

  2. Beautiful! I’ve heard Doughboys has its moments, I guess it’s the best of the MGM talkies Buster Made? Must see it, anyhow.

    Edwards certainly seems a more suitable foil to Buster than Jimmy Durante.

  3. I haven’t seen Doughboys, but Rudi Blesh talked of it quite highly in his Keaton biography, which remains a fine book. No one else seems to have singled out the film, but Blesh’s taste seems trustworthy. Doughboys was quite recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive:

  4. According to Jim Kline’s book, ‘The Complete Films of Buster Keaton’, “Buster and Cliff Edwards shared a love of eccentric vaudeville tunes and a lifelong friendship developed between them. Buster himself was an accomplished ukuleleist, and the two men enjoyed strumming together on the set between takes on the three features they made with one another at MGM.”

    Doughboys has a few good things in it, I guess, but I prefer Parlor, Bedroom and Bath which came next. None of those MGM films is an easy watch, though.

  5. Lillian Roth was my favorite thing about MADAM SATAN on a first viewing, but I just noted something odd in looking at her filmography. THE LOVE PARADE takes place in the mythical kingdom of Sylvania, and of course Sylvania goes to war with Freedonia in DUCK SOUP. Are those two movies some kind of weird crossover? (No, Lillian isn’t in DUCK SOUP, but she was in ANIMAL CRACKERS,which is close.)

  6. Fascinating! One thing about Duck Soup that’s harder to appreciate now is how it’s mocking the whole Lubitschian tradition of operetta-films. Plus Charles Middleton as prosecutor seems like a poke at Sternberg’s American Tragedy (also referenced in Horse Feathers).

  7. Hm. All Paramount films, too.

  8. I have to say that it’s also easier for me to sit through Parlor, Bedroom, and Bath than Doughboys. Of course, that clip from Doughboys is better than the rest of either film. One day, I’ll have to tackle The Passionate Plumber, but I need to buy a bottle of something strong first. From the small bit I saw, blind drunk is the only way I’ll find it funny. I sat through Sidewalks Of New York sober, a feat I could never attempt again. I think I’d rather just sit through Boom In The Moon than another MGM Keaton talkie.

  9. Yeah, Sidewalks is the one I dread most. With low expectations, I can probably make it through most of them. But I still have several of the Educational shorts I could watch first.

  10. After Sidewalks was over, it was a wonder to me that Jules White was ever thought of as a comedy director. Arranging some dogs and moving them about was a step up.

  11. He found his level! Would that some of today’s directors would specialize so profitably.

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