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Hal Roach Studios (Spotlight)
Remind Me

Taxi, Mister

In the early 1940s, the Hal Roach Studios specialized in producing "streamliners," very short features, usually of four to five reels in length. After Laurel and Hardy broke off their association with the studio in 1940 to produce their own films at Fox, Roach sought a new comic team to replace his stars and a new formula that could repeat the success of such hits by the comic duo as Way Out West (1937), A Chump at Oxford (1940), and their last film for the studio Saps at Sea (1940). What he came up with was a series of very short features called "streamliners," even shorter than the Laurel and Hardy pictures, and a new team, Joe Sawyer and William Tracy as a couple of comic Army sergeants. As the streamliners proved to be moneymakers for the studio, Roach decided to expand the series and brought in a 36-year-old character actor with a prominent jaw, broken nose, and burly build, William Bendix, to team with Sawyer, since Tracy was younger and due for war service.

The Bendix-Sawyer streamliners, beginning with Brooklyn Orchid (1942), a reworking of the 1931 Laurel and Hardy film for Roach, Come Clean, took place in the eponymous New York borough with the actors playing, respectively, Tim McGuerin and Eddie Corbett, owners of a taxicab company whose peregrinations around the city led them into comic misadventures, sometimes involving McGuerin's socially ambitious wife Sadie, a former burlesque star. Sadie was featured more prominently in the second film of the "Taxi Trilogy," The McGuerins of Brooklyn (1942). The 46-minute Taxi, Mister (1943) was the final film in the series. By this time, Hal Roach had already begun the process of converting his facility from production of entertainment features to making military training films. According to another Hollywood Reporter news item, some scenes in Taxi, Mister were shot at the Veteran's Administration in Sawtelle, CA.

The plot of Taxi, Mister takes McGuerin and Corbett back several years in a flashback to the beginnings of their successful company, when they were still struggling to buy an engine to get a second cab running. Set in 1928, the story relates how Tim and Sadie met when she was still working in a burlesque house run by Louis Glorio, who was in reality the notorious gangster The Frisco Ghost. Sadie's attentions to Tim infuriate Glorio, who plants guns and illegal liquor in the boys' cab, then turns them in to the police. After an inept attempt at water torture to get Tim and Eddie to confess, the cops realize their mistake and go in pursuit of Glorio. The outcome unexpectedly provides the taxi drivers with the money they need to get their business going full steam.

Bendix continued to perform notable character roles in major features while doing the Roach series, including supporting parts in the crime thriller The Glass Key (1942), the Tracy-Hepburn romantic comedy Woman of the Year (1942), and the war drama Wake Island (1942), which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination. After the trilogy, he moved on to even more important roles, including the screen adaptations of such acclaimed dramas as Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape (1944) and William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life (1948) with James Cagney. His leading roles included the baseball legend in The Babe Ruth Story (1948) and a regular-Joe factory worker in the B comedy The Life of Riley (1949), which was based on a story by Groucho Marx. Four years later, Bendix played Riley again in a long-running television sitcom of the same name. Because of his accent, he was often cast, as he is here, as a Brooklyn native; in fact, he was born and raised in Manhattan.

In 1937, Grace Bradley, who plays Sadie, had married William Boyd, the star of the popular Hopalong Cassidy series, and she left show business after Taxi, Mister--but not before performing a bewitching "hoochie-coochie" routine to entice Bendix as the young Tim. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the number, as originally performed by Bradley, had been banned from her earlier picture, Come on, Marines (1934). She was married to Boyd until his death in 1972, and her remaining years were devoted to preserving and promoting her husband's memory and to the support of children's hospitals in Southern California. She died in September 2010 on her 97th birthday.

Sheldon Leonard (Glorio/Frisco Ghost) was known for playing gangsters and tough guys, often comic ones, most memorably as Harry the Horse in the musical Guys and Dolls (1955). Later in his career, he became an important television producer-director, responsible for such hit series as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and I Spy.

There is some confusion about titles in this series, thanks largely to a reissue of the material later in the decade. Some sources list Two Mugs from Brooklyn as an alternative title to both this film and The McGuerins of Brooklyn. Scenes from both pictures were edited together into a longer (71 min.) feature released in 1949 under the title Two Knights from Brooklyn, which some sources claim also bore the Two Mugs title. It was an attempt by Roach to recapture the popularity of the pre-war comedies; he also tried reuniting Sawyer and Tracy as their same characters from the military comedies, now a police officer and a reporter, in Here Comes Trouble (1948), but the resurrected team failed to catch on with the public.

Director: Kurt Neumann
Producers: Hal Roach, Fred Guiol
Screenplay: Clarence Marks, Earle Snell
Cinematography: Robert Pittack
Editing: Richard Currier
Art Direction: Charels D. Hall
Original Music: Edward Ward
Cast: William Bendix (Tim McGuerin), Grace Bradley (Sadie), Joe Sawyer (Eddie Corbett), Sheldon Leonard (Glorio/The Frisco Ghost), Joe Devlin (Henchman Stretch), Jack Norton (Reginald Van Nostrum).

by Rob Nixon



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