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Watch the Birdie
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Watch the Birdie

Watch the Birdie

The Red Skelton vehicle Watch the Birdie (1950) finds the comedian as the operator of a photography store who, in the course of trying to become a news cameraman, comes to the rescue of Arlene Dahl, the head of a housing project that is being sabotaged by Leon Ames. Slapstick and horseplay abound, with Skelton even playing his character's own father and grandfather.

Ann Miller is also on hand; she was hot off the classic On the Town (1949), and MGM made a point of advertising this new film as her first non-musical. She would ultimately appear with Skelton in four features, though in the first, Having Wonderful Time (1938), she was uncredited. Their other joint efforts were Texas Carnival (1951) and Lovely to Look at (1952).

Skelton and Dahl had just teamed successfully in A Southern Yankee (1948) and Three Little Words (1950), and so were paired again. It was the lovely Dahl's fifth studio assignment in 12 months; she was rapidly ascending the ladder at MGM. Soon after the release of this film, Dahl wed Lex Barker, her first of six husbands.

For Skelton, Watch the Birdie was an immediate follow-up to Three Little Words, which had been a sizable hit. This one, however, was not a moneymaker, and reviews were mixed to negative. The New York Times, for instance, said, "Either Red Skelton is weakening or his writers have sadly let him down. There is little credit in it for the star... Miss Dahl has the job of playing straight to a virtual vacuum, and Ann Miller bears up rather bravely in a small and humiliating role. The time has come for Mr. Skelton to look for a new formula."

The Hollywood Reporter, on the other hand, declared, "Skelton handles the three generations with genuine artistry. Arlene Dahl, Ann Miller and Pam Britton take care of the pulchritude side most effectively and delightfully. Miss Dahl is beautiful and capable as the ingénue, and Miss Miller shows some real comedy talent as the beauty contest winner."

Variety's review was less effusive but still positive: "Red Skelton's cornball comedy is excuse enough for Watch the Birdie. Comic's followers will like it and others will find much to chuckle at... Broad and zany, plot uses a lot of gadgets as laugh assists. Included among these are clips from two earlier Metro releases, Johnny Eager [1942] and Boom Town [1940], setting up a neat sequence that instructs Skelton in the proper wooing of a miss, instructors being Lana Turner and Robert Taylor in the first clip and Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in the second." (In typical Variety language, the reviewer added: "In the gam display Miss Miller registers.")

Parts of Watch the Birdie were inspired by Buster Keaton's The Cameraman (1928). Keaton, in fact, was at this point working as a gagman at MGM, advising Skelton on several films. Keaton tried to talk Louis B. Mayer into letting him actually write and direct comedies with Skelton, but the studio chief refused.

Producer: Harry Ruskin
Director: Jack Donohue
Screenplay: Ivan Tors, Devery Freeman, Harry Ruskin; Marshall Neilan, Jr. (story)
Cinematography: Paul C. Vogel
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Georgie Stoll
Film Editing: John Faure, Robert Watts, Ferris Webster
Cast: Red Skelton (Rusty Cammeron/Pop Cammeron/Grandpop Cammeron), Arlene Dahl (Lucia Corlane), Ann Miller (Miss Lucky Vista), Leon Ames (Grantland D. Farns), Pam Britton (Mrs. Shanway), Richard Rober (Mr. Hugh Shanway).
BW-71m. Closed Captioning.

by Jeremy Arnold

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