Tuesday, April 19, 2005

It's A Joke, Son!

Dollar DVDs rock! I bet you have seen them by now, lining the shelves of dollar stores, Wal-Marts and gas stations.

I even saw a dollar store advertise "THREE DOLLAR NIGHT AT THE MOVIES", a deal that gives you a bottle of grape Shasta, a bag of American Pride popcorn and the public domain movie of your choice.

It's really no wonder that the dollar DVDs have taken off so well. For starters, unlike VHS tape that needs to be recorded, DVDs are pressed. This way, the manufacturer can produce a lot more DVDs for a lot less money than VHS. Couple that with the effort of major retailers to convince consumers that life is not worth living unless you own a bookcase full of DVDs and you can understand why dollar DVDs are such a great deal.

For 10 bucks at a dollar store you get more than just two fists full of forgotten, black and white films; you get acceptance in the community.

The other day I stopped by target to pick up some essentials:

A gallon of milk
A T-shirt featuring Homer Simpson and the words "Chick Magnet"
The new Lindsay Lohan CD
A lamp shaped like a tiki god

A few days later I went back and bought a dollar DVD.

"It's A Joke, Son!" was the name of the film. As a bonus, the DVD had an episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies" where Jethro dresses in drag as "Jethrene" and a cartoon about mice that went to school.

It is almost impossible to imagine that "It's A Joke, Son!" could be the highlight of the DVD, but it was.

The movie starred Kenny Delmar who, at the time, was a big radio star. Delmar appeared on "The Fred Allen Show" as part of "Allen's Alley". I know this means nothing to anyone young enough to want to use a computer, but this was a very popular show. Delmar was the announcer and he also played a few characters on the show.

His most famous character was Senator Beauregard Claghorn. Senator Claghorn was a man who loved the South so blindly that he thought North Carolina should be called Upper South Carolina. He was a blustery loudmouth and his catch phrase was "It's A Joke, Son!”

The character of Senator Claghorn has almost completely faded away in the nearly sixty years since this film. Except for one very famous impersonation of Senator Claghorn that EVERYONE is familiar with today.

Foghorn Leghorn. That's right; the comic rooster from the Looney Toons series was based on the Senator. Even the name 'Foghorn Leghorn' is a play on the name 'Senator Cleghorn'.

Foghorn also took many of the Senator's favorite lines including "It's A Joke, Son!" and brought them into the barnyard. So, if you have heard Foghorn Leghorn, you know EXACTLY how Cleghorn sounded.

This film was the first and only big screen appearance of Senator Cleghorn. If you ever hear someone complaining about the latest TV show or video game turned into a movie, tell them about how radio shows used to be made into movies! Then stand next to them and tap them on the shoulder farthest from you. Then they will turn around and see NO ONE. It's a riot!

Many radio shows like "East Side Kids" and "Ma and Pa Kettle" fared better as movies than Cleghorn. They had sequels, but Cleghorn was retired and Kenny Delmar went on to a successful career doing voices for cartoons (Underdog, Go-Go Gopher).

Many believe that the reason the film didn't strike a cord with the audience was the fact the Foghorn Leghorn had debuted in theaters A YEAR EARLIER. That's right; Foghorn had ALREADY ripped off his shtick when he was at the top of his game.

All of this not withstanding, the film is actually a whole lot of fun. The film opens with Cleghorn, not yet a Senator, berating a shopkeeper for selling "northern" apples. Delmar looks a little like French Stewart; he's a young man playing a character older than him. In fact, the woman playing his wife is a decade older than him and his on screen daughter was just 15 years younger than him.

Delmar also looks different than the Cleghorn sounds. The voice makes me picture a much fatter, balder man. Still, Cleghorn is a riot.

He says things like "Do you know why rivers run to the south? Because they can't stand being up north!"

Soon we meet Cleghorn's wife. She orders Cleghorn around and he sheepishly follows her orders. We also meet his daughter played by a young and SUPER HOT June Lockhart (she is better known for her roles as a mom on "Lassie" and "Lost in Space"). Cleghorn's daughter is ready to marry her boyfriend Jeff, but mother disapproves. Dad likes the young man, but he has no say in the matter.

The other member of the Cleghorn house is Daisy the dog. Daisy is listed in the credits PROMININTLY. She is billed "as herself". At first glance it may seem like just a cute joke in the credits, but further research reveals that Daisy was a STAR! She appeared in over a dozen films, most notably as Dagwood Bumstead's pooch Daisy in the "Blondie" films. If you were unaware of them, they were a successful series of films based on the "Blondie" comic strip.

You can also tell THAT to the guy that complains about today’s movies based on other sources of media. Then you could pull that "I've got your nose" gag or that gag where you pretend to pull off the tip of your thumb, but it's really the tip of your other thumb. Those jokes are always a winner!

Anyway, the movie plays as a prequel to the radio show. It explains how Cleghorn becomes Senator. In the film his wife belongs to a group composed of snotty, upper class dames. They decide to have Mrs. Cleghorn run for senate. Then a small child accidentally spikes their punch and they all get drunk.

In case you are wondering, in this film a drunk, old lady does one of three things:
a) laughs
b) sleeps
c) sings Italian opera

By the way, that wasn't multiple choice. There was a dozen drunk, old ladies in the scene laughing, sleeping and singing Italian opera. It was like a David Lynch fantasy.

As the movie rolls forward, we meet the incumbant. in order to keep from losing his Senate seat, he hires Beauregard Cleghorn to run against his wife (just to split the vote, not to win.)

Soon, Cleghorn IS winning and they kidnap him. He ends up escaping just in time (oh yeah! SPOILER ALERT) to win the seat making him Senator Cleghorn.

It was a fun, fast paced film that lasted just over one hour. It was WELL worth the dollar I paid for it.

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