With the unlikely coupling of Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride capturing the public’s hearts after their winning performances as The Kettles in 1947’s, The Egg and I, opposite leading players Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, Universal Studios did what was expected of them and joined the pair once again in a comedic delight. What may come as a surprise to some is it’s not the return of Ma and Pa Kettle just yet but perhaps a trial effort to see if the twosome could keep the magic going before green lighting their own series of Kettle adventures.
While they both score over the title billing, they’re still playing second fiddle to Donald O’Connor in this western setting that sees the fiery Main as the town Mayor and Pa … (excuse me) and Kilbride as the livery stable owner. When the stage comes passing through the town of Rimrock, O’Connor, heads onto the local café for a refreshment. It’s also a good time to maybe sell some product. Dr. Samson’s Hair Rejuvenator. Yes he’s a traveling salesman and just as he’s getting to know the bubbly blonde behind the counter played by Penny Edwards, the stage leaves without him. No worries. O’Connor can run like the wind and he high steps it to catch up to his ride.
“Runs like the wind don’t he.”
O’Connor is just what the town needs for the upcoming foot race between Rimrock and the next town over. There’s a hefty wager each year and thus far Rimrock’s population of 225 have lost their money each year thanks to the speed of Fred Kohler Jr. who runs against them each year. The light bulb idea strikes Main and she sends her town sheriff, Joe (Stooge) Besser, off to pull the stage over. Arriving on the scene with Kilbride she has O’Connor arrested on some phony charges in order to convince him to run for the town.
Donald wants none of it and as a result finds himself penned up in the livery stable with an armed guard at the door. A livery stable offers plenty of space for O’Connor to put on some tap dancing magic as he sings a couple songs to occupy himself. Outside of the chemistry of Marjorie and Percy, this is a definite highlight of the film as O’Connor’s dance skills and acrobatics are magical. With Main not getting any cooperation, it’s time to send in her niece, Miss Edwards. Love at first sight? You bet and just as Donald is set to agree to run the race he’s threatened by a great big jealous suitor who just happens to be the man he’s to run against, Kohler Jr.
Love will have it’s trying times over the course of this 78 minute special from director George Sherman and that includes the Saturday night dance that O’Connor attends and again he’s light on his feet. There’s also a nice crane shot of him and Edwards dancing up the middle of main street after dark that stands out in this tightly budgeted special. Director Sherman had a hand in various genres but always seemed to turn out an entertaining product. He’s credited with films ranging from late 30’s Mesquiteer films starring Duke Wayne to costume adventures like Against All Flags with Errol Flynn or car racing fun featuring Tony Curtis in Johnny Dark and finally returning to directing Duke in the popular Big Jake and plenty of others worth looking into.
Back to the film, we’ve a race to run.
It’s Donald by a nose, no it’s Kohler by a stride, no it’s …. it’s …. no I’m not telling but a betting man should know by now that Hollywood loves a happy ending with a kiss at the fadeout.
You know I sometimes wonder if any casual film fan would know who Donald O’Connor was if it weren’t for Singin’ In the Rain. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful either cause I’m a fan. But aside from that iconic film and There’s No Business Like Show Business, he seemed to be saddled with the “B” unit while at Universal during the 1950’s and of course a good majority of that was starring opposite the voice of Chill Wills in the Francis series. As far as acting goes, the 60’s offered very little and in the 70’s and 80’s he guested on many of the television series of the era. All aboard the Love Boat!!! Maybe it’s just me but as a collector of movies I have very few of Donald’s films aside from the famous musicals and the Francis series and truthfully I’d like to see more turn up on video via the made on demand market or with some luck, Kino, on blu ray.
As for Main and Kilbride, they both shined brightly again in their second pairing. Both of them personify the magic of the character actor. Go ahead, try and catch them acting. Damned near impossible. Especially Kilbride with his patented lazy delivery. He makes Slim Pickens look like a relay race Champ. There’s a couple of great exchanges between the pair to enjoy.
Main, “When I get a man, I want one that isn’t afraid of anything, not even me.
Kilbride, “That’s asking quite a lot my dear.”
Could love be in the air for the two? Well when Pa (it’s hard not to call him that) finally sets his mind in the world of romance you’ll hear him state firmly to Ma (again, sorry), “From now on there’s only going to be one person wearing the pants in this family and” … the firmness begins to fade … “it’s not going to be me.”
From here the pair were off and running and on to the hilarious exploits of Ma and Pa Kettle as a team over seven films between 1949 and 1954. Kilbride retired and Main carried on for two more, retiring herself in 1958. Thankfully this non-series entry turned up via the TCM Vault Collection as a double bill with the hilarious black comedy, Murder, He Says starring Main opposite Fred MacMurray. Give both of these fun films a look if given the chance.