Rarely Seen Jack Benny Film Makes DVD Debut

jacknbcmikeThe title character in Sidney Lanfield’s comedy THE MEANEST MAN IN THE WORLD  (1943) is not particularly mean, nor is he particularly funny. But he is portrayed by the otherwise hilarious Jack Benny, with support from radio sidekick Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, and those are reasons enough to pick up this rarely seen misfire, making its long-awaited home video debut on Fox Cinema Archives manufacture-on-demand DVD.

Jack Benny had a confounding career in the movies. After nearly two decades on the Vaudeville stage, the pride of Waukegan, Illinois made his film debut playing himself in MGM’s THE HOLLYWOOD REVUE OF 1929. A series of mostly forgettable movie roles followed, but the comic finally hit his celluloid stride with with BUCK BENNY RIDES AGAIN (1940), a Paramount-produced adaptation of his popular NBC radio show, co-starring boozy bandleader Phil Harris, portly announcer Don Wilson, conniving valet Rochester, dim-witted crooner Dennis Day, and, in voice only, Benny’s wife Mary Livingstone.

The comedian successfully transcended his acerbic on-air persona in his next three pictures: Archie Mayo’s CHARLEY’S AUNT  (1941), in which he appears in drag; Ernst Lubitsch’s TO BE OR NOT TO BE  (1942), with co-star Carole Lombard in her final role; and William Keighley’s GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE  (1942) opposite “Oomph Girl” Ann Sheridan. Of these, Lubitsch’s groundbreaking parody of Nazi occupation is generally considered to be Benny’s best picture, and the only one in which his natural strengths as a performer appear to have been taken into consideration.

And then came THE MEANEST MAN IN THE WORLD, which marked the beginning of the end of Jack Benny the Movie Star…

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About willmckinley

I'm a New York City-based writer, video producer, print journalist, radio/podcast host, and social media influencer. I've been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by Robert Osborne), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the official TCM podcast. My byline has appeared in Slate.com and more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News. I'm also a social media copywriter for Sony's getTV and a contributor to four film-and-TV-related books: "Monster Serial," "Bride of Monster Serial," "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial," and "Remembering Jonathan Frid."
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5 Responses to Rarely Seen Jack Benny Film Makes DVD Debut

  1. Jack’s cheapskate persona could be miserly, vain, and smug but ultimately his schemes were utterly transparent and easily seen through by the supporting characters. The only person he defeated was himself. That was a big part of the joke for the audience – plus aspects of the Benny character were familiar to viewers (in other family members, friends, or even in themselves). So seeing Jack in a vehicle where he played a genuinely “mean” or nasty character would have come as quite a shock. Audiences loved Jack, foibles and all, so being encouraged to NOT love him through a role would likely not have succeeded, as you describe here so well.

    It would have been great to see Jack and the gang in a movie version of the radio program, a la Fibber McGee & Molly and Bergen/McCarthy in “Look Who’s Laughing”.

  2. le0pard13 says:

    My grandmother wouldn’t miss (which meant I didn’t either) a Jack Benny program on TV. Fine look at this. Lubitsch’s ‘To Be or Not To Be’ will be coming to the Criterion Collection this summer, which should be great. Thanks, Will.

  3. Robby says:

    I’m glad Fox is digging up these lesser known titles for release. I love Jack Benny and can’t wait to check this film out, which I haven’t seen yet. Thanks for the heads up.

  4. Pingback: Jack Benny in Bloom | Sarah's Notebook

  5. Carol Parsons says:

    I’ve been waiting to see this movie they use to show it every year during Christmas,the movie was call the cheaper. I ‘ve seen it in a long time, I wish I could see it.

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