Warner Archive's recent release of "Fibber McGee and Molly Double Feature" allows fans of classic radio shows a chance to put a face to the voices of one of that medium's most successful radio teams. Married couple Jim and Marion Jordan portrayed those fictional counterparts from 1935 to 1959.
A very condensed description of the premise of the radio show is that Fibber is a sitcom-style "big dopey husband" with an inflated sense of both self and the schemes in which he engages. Molly is his sweet and supportive wife.
They live in the Wistful Vista, which is a typical show business style Depression-era small American city in which even the not-so-nice neighbors have "friends" status and the the tough economic times do not seem to seriously impact anyone.
The legacy of "Fibber" includes pompous next-door neighbor the Great Gildersleeve and a comically over-stuffed closet that sends its contents tumbling out every time that it is opened.
The uber-success of that formula led to three McGee and Molly films; the first is "Look Who's Laughing" from 1941. The second two comprise the double feature in the recent DVD release.
"Here We Go Again" from 1942 centers around the McGees celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary at a luxurious mountain lodge that is beyond their means. The primary plot has the ability of Fibber to save face requiring that he help an unscrupulous promoter convince Fibber's friend the uber-famous ventriloquist Edgar Bergen invest in a gasoline substitute.
Bergen's main story has him camping nearby as part of a butterfly hunt with shades of the obsession around which "Moby Dick" revolves. His wooden companions Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd come along to contribute to the ensuing hilarity.
Very brief creepy scenes that bring McCarthy and Snerd to "life" are an unsettling reminder of the less sophisticated era to which "Here" belongs. An amusing segment that has Bergen and McCarthy don Indian garb to sneak onto a nearby reservation is another reminder that the '40s predate political correctness.
Other fun elements of "Here" are the chances that it provides Bergen and orchestra leader Ray Noble to perform.
Although the end credits of "Here" include a plea for the audience to purchase war bonds, the second film in this double feature has a much stronger patriotic message; "Heavenly Days" from 1944 has Molly's wealthy cousin inviting the McGees to visit him in Washington, D.C.
The hilarity begins ensuing when Fibber starts bragging before even leaving Wistful Vista that he is being summoned to Washington to provide his valuable insight regarding national woes. The first leg of this journey has our heroes meeting a group of singing soldiers, played by the King's Men and "friends," while on the train to Washington.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is from the scene described above and does a great job depicting the War-era fun of the film.
A voluntary derailment regarding that journey inspires Fibber to commence a quest to determine the characteristics of the common man in a country in which most individuals consider themselves to be extraordinary. The objectives of this mission include reminding the leaders in Washington of the views and wisdom that said "Joe the Plumber" possesses.
The misadventures that Fibber and Molly encounter on reaching their destination include being mistaken as the servants in the home of their host, being pressed into service as foster parents for an international group of child war refugees, and Fibber creating a major political scandal.
A "Heavenly" scene that depicts the evils of voter apathy hits home 70 years after the debut of the film; many recent local, state, and federal elections are characterized by candidates who tout receiving a small majority of the votes that roughly 30-percent of eligible voters cast as a strong endorsement of the policies of that candidate.
Instances such as this support sending a message in the form of writing in "None of the Above," rather than simply not voting, when you do not support any candidate for an office. This at least dilutes the percentage by which the "not the other guy" candidate wins.
Consideration of both films in the double feature shows that their individual merits make them equally good.
"Here" has more vaudeville-style humor that is true to the radio show that spawns the films; at the same time, "Heavenly" has a slightly more sophisticated style and very apt messages for both the '40s and today. Fortunately, our friends at Archive eliminate any angst regarding having to choose between the two.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding either film or "Fibber" in general is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.