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Three weeks after finishing Cabin in the Sky (1943), his extremely well received first feature, director Vincente Minnelli was handed a mess. I Dood It (1943) was a Red Skelton-Eleanor Powell vehicle whose original director, Roy Del Ruth, had been fired during production. Minnelli wasn't too happy about this rescue job, later writing, "Doing a comic potboiler like I Dood It wasn't my idea of logical progression after such an auspicious start. Call it my sophomore jinx."
Minnelli also said, "Some footage had to be maintained, I was instructed. There were two irrelevant musical numbers shot previously, one of them an Eleanor Powell production number on a battleship and the other an exercise in twirling ropes. We all did the best we could, and managed to do a creditable job. If nothing else, the picture taught me that I could function in an uninteresting exercise if I had to."
I Dood It was conceived as a loose remake of Buster Keaton's last silent film, Spite Marriage (1929). Skelton lifted many of Keaton's gags blow-by-blow in the story of a tailor's assistant who adores the young stage star (Powell) of a Civil War melodrama. He attends all her performances and tries to impress her. She marries him, but it's clear this is only to spite her boyfriend, who has taken up with another woman. In a plot device that reveals the film's WWII era, Skelton then foils a saboteur plot, which really does impress Powell - and it's not too hard to guess the ending that follows. The thin plot isn't much, existing merely to showcase the talents of Skelton and Powell, as well as performers Lena Horne ("Jericho"), Hazel Scott ("Taking a Chance on Love") and Jimmy Dorsey ("One O'Clock Jump"). Several of Eleanor Powell's dance routines are stolen from her earlier movies - most notably in the film's climax, which is lifted almost step-for-step from Born to Dance (1936). Minnelli was unable to reshoot these scenes and as such they are not representative of his talents.
Not surprisingly, the best thing about I Dood It is a musical sequence that Minnelli did come up with himself, three months after principal production wrapped. Poor test screenings prompted Minnelli to devise a battle of songs between Lena Horne and Hazel Scott, playing themselves against an all-black chorus. As was common in this era for musical numbers featuring black performers, it was designed to have so little to do with the plot that it could easily be excised by southern theater owners.
This was Eleanor Powell's last film for MGM. Soon afterwards, she married Glenn Ford and virtually retired from the screen, except for a part in United Artists' Sensations of 1945 (1944), some sporadic cameo appearances, and a television show. The phrase "I dood it" came from Red Skelton's popular radio comedy act.
Producer: Jack Cummings
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay: Sig Herzig, Fred Saidy
Cinematography: Ray June
Film Editing: Robert J. Kern
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Ted Fetter
Cast: Red Skelton (Joseph Renolds), Eleanor Powell (Constance Shaw), Richard Ainley (Larry West), Patricia Dane (Suretta Brenton), Sam Levene (Ed Jackson), Thurston Hall (Kenneth Cawlor).
BW-103m. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold