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Eddie Cantor's immense appeal as a vaudeville, stage and radio performer never quite translated to screen, and he only made 16 movies in a 22-year period, although several of them were quite popular, particularly those made in the 1930s. If You Knew Susie (1948) was his final feature film, except for a few brief cameo appearance as himself in The Story of Will Rogers (1952), and providing the singing voice for actor Keefe Brasselle in his own screen biography, The Eddie Cantor Story (1953).
Cantor produced If You Knew Susie himself, and its title is that of one of his most popular songs, dating back to 1925. The original working title of the film was "Rich Man, Poor Man," but once the script was done and original songs completed, Cantor panicked. He felt the production needed some tried and true material, so RKO spent $20,000 to license the unlimited use of the song. Shortly after it was worked into the story, the title was changed, and the female lead character's name switched to Susie to accommodate it.
The plot serves as a means to showcase Cantor's schtick and irrepressible personality. As Sam and Susie Parker, he and comic actress Joan Davis are ex-vaudevillians who are not socially accepted in the small New England town where they've retired. After finding a document signed by George Washington awarding $50,000 to one of Sam's ancestors during the Revolutionary War, they learn the government owes them billions in compounded interest, opening the door to a noble gesture that makes them national heroes and the darlings of the local blue bloods who snubbed them.
The star/producer poured a lot of his own money into If You Knew Susie, hoping for a success similar to his earlier hit Show Business (1944), some footage from which is cut into this movie. RKO, the producing studio, was also banking on it, having done well with the earlier picture. But it took a few years to come up with an acceptable follow up vehicle; everything from a musical Western to something called "It Happened in Mexico" was announced as the follow-up Cantor project before they settled on If You Knew Susie. The film proved to be a modest success but didn't come close to the box office receipts of Show Business. Although Cantor would later refer to the film as the worst of his film career, most of the critical reviews were positive with Movieland proclaiming, "If you like Eddie Cantor (and let's start out understanding each other; we adore him!), this picture is your dish." Regardless, Cantor decided it was time to quit the picture business although his career was far from over. He next shifted his phenomenal radio success to the fledgling television medium and had a popular show for a few years until heart trouble forced him into semi-retirement.
Cantor's co-star in If You Knew Susie (and in Show Business), Joan Davis, also found success on the small screen. A likeable comic foil in pictures from the mid-1930s and star of a string of B-comedies in the 40s, Davis achieved TV success as the scatterbrained wife of a respected judge (played by Jim Backus of "Mr. Magoo" and Gilligan's Island fame) in I Married Joan between 1952 and 1955. Davis and Cantor were rumored to have had an affair beginning with Show Business and lasting through production on this picture according to their co-star Sheldon Leonard. Davis, in fact, was divorced from her husband during shooting. But once If You Knew Susie wrapped, the relationship between the stars waned and they were never as close again.
Cantor and Davis's son in If You Knew Susie was played by Bobby Driscoll, a loveable child star who made his debut at the age of six in 1943 and worked solidly through the 1940s. A year after this picture, Driscoll received his greatest acclaim as the terrorized child who witnesses a murder in The Window (1949), winning a special juvenile performer Oscar® for his work. Driscoll's success, however, began to wane as he got older. He made a few films in the 1950s, most notably providing the voice of the animated Peter Pan (1953) for Walt Disney's studio, where he was the first actor under contract. He ended his career with the juvenile delinquent drama The Party Crashers (1958). He then drifted into hard drugs and ten years later, at the age of 31, was found dead in an abandoned Greenwich Village apartment. He was buried as "John Doe" in New York's infamous "Potter's Field," but his corpse was later identified by his fingerprints.
One last bit of trivia on If You Knew Susie. Keep an eye out for the small, uncredited role of Ogleby. The actor playing the part is distinguished stage artist Jason Robards, Sr., father of the now better-known stage and screen actor. Robards Sr. also had a long and varied screen career, starting in substantial supporting roles in 1921 then moving to smaller character parts, often in Westerns. He kept working until 1961, two years before his death at the age of 71.
Director: Gordon Douglas
Producer: Eddie Cantor, Jack J. Gross
Screenplay: Oscar Brodney, Warren Wilson, additional dialogue by Bud Pearson, Lester A. White
Cinematography: Frank Redman
Editing: Philip Martin
Art Direction: Ralph Berger, Albert S. D'Agostino
Original Music: Edgar Fairchild, Ramez Idriss, Jimmy McHugh, George Tibbles
Cast: Eddie Cantor (Sam), Joan Davis (Susie), Allyn Joslyn (Mike), Charles Dingle (Mr. Whitley), Sheldon Leonard (Steve Garland).
by Rob Nixon