This month we are excited to be paying tribute to maverick writer / producer / director Andrew L. Stone, was one of the first to independently self-finance films and maintain personal control over their content, allowing them innovation in subject matter and filming styles the studios would not. From the silent era to the ‘70’s, in multiple genres, he continued to find stories to tweak the conventions of the time. Later in the month we will be featuring two of his most acclaimed noir thrillers, but we begin on July 3th & 4th with two hard-to-see madcap comedies, one of which had big influence on one of our boss’ biggest hits!
In 1943’s HI DIDDLE DIDDLE, you could say that WWII is tightening the screws on screwball romance, as sweet Navy sailor Sonny (Dennis O’Keefe), with only two days’ shore leave to marry and honeymoon with his fiancee Janie (Martha Scott), gets roped into not one but two get-rich-quick schemes by his wily father (Adolphe Menjou) and his paramour Leslie (June Havoc). A wild array of relatives and marks, including silent film legend Pola Negri and Billie Burke (“Good Witch Glinda” from THE WIZARD OF OZ, also playing this month) add to the whirlwind, with racy dialogue and fourth-wall-breaking meta-jokes that will leave you aghast that a movie like this ever got made.
HI DIDDLE DIDDLE was Stone’s followup to his hit musical STORMY WEATHER, and features two numbers performed by Havoc. One song, “The Man with the Big Sombrero,” was rerecorded in French by Samantha Shelton for the soundtrack of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, and a promotional video with Shelton even inserted her into original DIDDLE footage to recreate Havoc’s choreography. BASTERDS fans will also remember Pola Negri as one of the answers in the celebrity game played during the La Louisiane sequence. If you’d like to know even more about the ties between DIDDLE and BASTERDS, this link to an earlier article by yours truly has more observations for you.
Stone came up with the original concept for DIDDLE, as a light-hearted but pointed poke at the all-consuming nature of WWII patriotism and how it often ridiculously interfered with people’s business. Edmund L. Hartmann, who went on to write several Bob Hope comedies along with producing the sitcoms “MY THREE SONS” and “FAMILY AFFAIR”, fleshed out the story, and the gag-stuffed screenplay was by prolific Broadway playwright Frederick J. Jackson. The end result is a farce that is not overtly political (even the opening disclaimer dares you to find a point to it) but most overtly hilarious.
Adolphe Menjou and Billie Burke reunite with Stone, and Frederick Jackson contributes punch-up dialogue, for 1946’s THE BACHELOR’S DAUGHTERS, which begins with a similarly breezy comic premise like DIDDLE but takes some surprising tonal changes as the story unfolds. Four department store shopgirls (Gail Russell, Claire Trevor, Ann Dvorak, Jane Wyatt) convince two older employees (Menjou and Burke) to pose as their parents and share a Long Island mansion together, in the hopes of luring affluent future husbands. But the ruse begins to reveal unexplored truths about the players, and what started as a giddy adventure in gold-digging turns into a revealing life experience for all.
Stone had always craved authenticity in his film shoots, often eschewing sets for real locations. To create the affluent world of DAUGHTERS, he went to the trouble of obtaining entire rooms from the original Cornelius Vanderbilt mansion to serve as the setting for the ersatz family mansion. And to play one of the suitors, a frustrated concert pianist, Stone hired real-life concert pianist Eugene List, who had won notoriety for performing for Truman, Churchill, and Stalin at the Potsdam Conference; it was his first and only acting role.
Also returning from HI DIDDLE DIDDLE are bit players Joe Devlin, a frequent “mug” in over 150 movies and TV shows, and Richard Hageman, whose day jobs were conducting symphony orchestras, songwriting, and composing classic scores, often for John Ford, including ANGEL AND THE BADMAN, which DAUGHTERS star Gail Russell was cast in after this film. Pay close attention and you’ll even see the Lone Ranger himself, Clayton Moore, as one of the eligible men.
Reportedly, original elements for both films have been missing or are considered outright lost. And while some grey-market DVD or tapes can be obtained, neither DIDDLE nor DAUGHTERS have been made available in any licensed, sanctioned home video releases. Opportunities to see these films at all, especially with an audience, do not come easy. So please, make this double feature a priority. You’ll thank us for all the laughter!