Soap Opera in the Cornfield
Movie Lover: Clifford Weimer
Sacramento, CA US
-- November, 18, 2004
Lum & Abner (Chester Lauck and Norris Goff) were a popular radio team for 25 years beginning in 1931, and they moved to the big screen in 1940 for DREAMING OUT LOUD, which was popular enough to lead to half a dozen sequels (the last, a belated fare-thee-well, was produced in 1956). It is one heck of a strange film, part backwoods comedy, part heart-tugging drama; it's as if a soap opera broke out in the cornfields of HEE-HAW.
Proprietors of the Jot 'em Down General Store in Pine Ridge, Arksansas, Lum Edwards and Abner Peabody have a nice perch with which to comment on the goings-on in town (what goings-on there are, if any) and get involved in as Mary Worth-type helpers to young lovers, kids with dark secrets, the town drunk, and anybody else stumbling through. (Note that Lauck and Goff were in their mid-30s when this film was produced, but were made up to appear 30 to 50 years older).
The first third of the picture is pure corn, as our heroes discuss changing the signs in front of the store (one says "Fall Clearance Sale", the other says "Spring Sweep Sale", and they finally decide to leave 'em both up in case?n they ever decide to have another one of either). There's a shiftless gentleman who sleeps by the stove all day; Abner explains that he has been tryin? ter get a position as steamboat captain on a riverboat. "There ain't no river near here," Lum retorts. "He'll wait," Abner responds. Perhaps the funniest scene has the two of them playing checkers; when Lum quits, Abner decides to go right on playing checkers by his lonesome, only he gets in a big argument when he accuses himself of cheating.
From this urbane, witty photoplay we slip right into the crisis, when the spunky young daughter of the town's drunk becomes the victim of a hit-and-run driver. The drunk sobers up and becomes the town's assistant constable, and Lum and Abner help him look for the man who hit his daughter. They also assist the town doctor who's had a stroke, advise the doctor's son in his romance with the town's beautiful young postmistress, and try and talk the town's mean old rich lady into donating some much-needed medical supplies. I was sitting there thinking, "Gosh, if only somebody would burst out into song, this movie would be perfect." Within seconds, Frances Langford (the aforementioned postmistress) begins warbling "Dreaming Out Loud", thereby giving the film its title.
The best thing about this mishmash is the supporting cast; you'll find Frank Craven (SON OF DRACULA), much-used character actor Irving Bacon, Clara Blandick (Auntie Em in WIZARD OF OZ), Robert Wilcox (MYSTERIOUS DR. SATAN), and Phil Harris! Director Harold Young also gave us THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (1934) and a trio of Universal horrors, THE MUMMY'S TOMB (1942), THE FROZEN GHOST (1945) and JUNGLE CAPTIVE (also 1945).
On the Alpha DVD, DREAMING's print and transfer are okay, a bit jumpy and seeming to be missing a little footage, but quite acceptable if you're really in the mood for a Lum and Abner festival.