Note: this piece is edited from a review which originally appeared at www.jabootu.net, and has been re-printed here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.
IT'S IN THE BAG (1945)
In short: “A flea circus owner inherits a fortune, with complications.”
Jack Benny and Fred Allen were, in reality, good friends who toiled together in Vaudeville. Each went on to become among the Nation’s top comics in radio, where their characters engaged in a long-running feud. Allen would make a dig at Benny on his Ipana show on Wednesday, and Benny would retaliate on his Sunday JELL-O program by getting steamed and fire a volley of insults at Allen, who would continue the feud the following Wednesday.
|Jack and Fred as they really were...|
That fact is reflected in that, even though It’s in the Bag is a Fred Allen movie in which Jack Benny has but a brief cameo, the box cover for my Republic Home Video release rather inaccurately implies that the film will feature both comedians working as a team. In fact, on the front cover, Benny is given top billing!
Yet the story actually revolves around Allen, the skinflint owner of a two-bit flea circus on the Midway, and struggling head of a rather kooky family. His young son is a self-taught genius with a photographic memory who offers psychological advice, his wife dreams of better things, and their sexy daughter is seeing (but not committing to) the son of a high-stepping society fop, who is at loggerheads with Allen, as neither feels the offspring of the other is good enough to be an in-law.
Allen suddenly finds himself heir to a fortune when a relative is gunned down after a meeting with his lawyer (a young John Carradine – and they made him up to look older, which struck me as ironic, given how much older John would look a decade later. Seeing his young face prematurely aged is a weird sensation, to say the least).
This puts him in good standing with those who previously wouldn’t have given him the time of day, and the family immediately moves into a posh apartment in the nice part of town. Allen at once begins spending money like water. Unfortunately, when the inheritance is in evidence, the fortune is composed of nothing but a set of antique chairs.
With the bills piling up, he sells the chairs before discovering that several thousand dollars have been hidden in a secret compartment inside one of the chairs. The rest of the film follows Allen as he tracks down each chair and checks it for the money. This brings him across a number of oddball characters, including Jack Benny, who plays himself.
Naturally, comedy works best when you don’t know the gags headed your way, so I’ll avoid detailing the rest of the show. I will note a fairly spectacular parade of guest stars who drop by. Not only is Jack Benny in a large, and quite hysterical, scene, but we also get to spend a few minutes with the likes of Rudy Vallee, Don Ameche, Victor Moore, William Bendix, and Jerry Colonna!
The film is basically a long, live-action cartoon. Much like a Tex Avery short, the show isn’t a story so much as a series of rapid-fire gags. We even start with Allen hosting the main credits, and running down everybody involved in the production!
One humorous section involves an attempt by Allen and his wife to watch a movie playing at a local theater, a horror piece called “Zombie in the Attic”! It’s obvious the film was shot before television came along to thin out the herds of movie patrons, as our heroes find it impossible to find a seat in the mammoth building. Indignant, Allen goes to see the manager, and discovers no one running the place really knows what’s going on, but, he finds one of his inherited chairs in evidence….
What can I really say about the picture? Hysterical fun! Find a copy for yourself! (Sorry the review is so short, but really I wouldn't dare spoil anything else!)
[Editor Ken: The basic story behind this film was taken from a satirical Soviet novel written in 1928, and also served as the basis of Mel Brook's second movie, The Twelve Chairs.]