Saturday, May 24, 2014
'A Slight Case of Larceny' DVD: Mickey Rooney's 'The Honeymooners'
Although the Warner Archive DVD release of the 1953 Mickey Rooney comedy "A Slight Case of Larceny" roughly coinciding with the death of that actor is purely coincidental, it provides a timely reminder of the charm and overall talent of that legend.
The opening scene in which Rooney's Augustus "Geechy" Cheevers and his Army buddy Frederick Winthrop Clopp experience comic mayhem in their jointly owned diner sets the terrific '50s-style sitcom tone of the film. Eddie Bracken, who also stars in the uber-awesome Unreal TV reviewed Preston Sturges classic "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek," plays Clopp.
The action soon flashes back to the Army days of Cheevers and Clopp to establish the dynamic of conman Cheevers coercing Clopp into going along with daring schemes. One can easily picture Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden doing the same to Art Carney's Ed Norton on the uber-uber-uber-classic '50s sitcom "The Honeymooners."
The predictable post-Army paths of the film duo have Clopp becoming married with children and holding a steady job as a mechanic in Galveston. Cheevers bounces around from one menial job to another before reuniting with Clopp and turning his life upside down.
Cheevers convincing Clopp to mortgage his house to finance the purchase of a gas station does not take long; the imminent demise of the not-to-big-to-fail business soon follows. Again, a variation on a classic "Honeymooners" episode.
The clever scheme of Cheevers that reverses the aforementioned reversal of fortune that he experiences triggers the event that leads to the titular larceny. This first taste of not-so-sweet gasoline-scented success also prompts a large entity to build a gas station across the street and instantly start a price war.
Matching the prices of the competition requires that Cheevers escalate from low-level shading deals to flat-out ongoing theft. The manner in which Cheevers develops that scheme and gets Cloop to do the dirty work and take the largest risks is very reminiscent of Ralph Kramden of the '50s sitcom "The Honeymooners" similarly making a dupe out of best buddy and neighbor Ed Norton.
Of course, "Larceny" would not be a Mickey Rooney comedy without the element of him pursuing an out-of-his-league beauty. Character actress Elaine Stewart fills that role as Beverly Ambridge, who enters the life of Cheevers as the manager of the rival business.
The collaborative effort that makes "Larceny" so fun also pulls off many neat tricks. The only guys who are doing anything unethical (let alone illegal) are the most likable characters in the movie, and the ending has the punishment fit the crime in a manner that still provides Cheevers and Clopp standard Hollywood happy endings.
On a more general level, the nostalgic element of "Larceny" is even stronger than that of typical Archive fare. Watching Cheevers and Cloop wear bright white uniforms and provide a plethora of free extras while pumping gas evokes thoughts of a newspaper essay from the opening days of "Back to the Future."
That newspaper piece comments that similar images in that film evoke laughter in the early '80s, which is the first full decade of self-service gas. The sad truth is that the guy behind the counter at gas stations/convenience stores of today does know the first thing about cars and will not come out to help if your car literally is on fire.
Further, Cheever personifies the enthusiasm and optimism of the post-WWII era that is dead today. The dream of working hard and earning your fortune is replaced either with hoping to find any job or to hold onto the lousy one that you have. Dreams of building an empire are now ones of becoming an idol by lasting through a 12-week talent contest.
All that remains to be written is RIP Mr. Rooney. Andy Hardy (hopefully) will eternally exist in the public consciousness.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Larceny" or Rooney are welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.