Curley/The Fabulous Joe

I’d hoped that Curley (Hal Roach/United Artists) might be a biopic of the famous Boston mayor, but instead it’s a Little Rascals type Hal Roach comedy. Curley is a troublemaking but ultimately good hearted kid who leads the schoolchildren to drive away the new teacher… who turns out to be an understanding woman who’s also a babe.

Sometimes released separately as B films, sometimes together in a Hal Roach Comedy Carnival, The Fabulous Joe has a Look Who’s Talking plot… Henpecked husband meets a talking dog, who teaches him how to assume his proper role of patriarch in his own home.

The remarkable thing about both is how they feel they could have been made in 1937, not 1947. Their style, their gender politics, and their rural milieu seem strangely out of pace with even the A-film sentimental dramas of the day. Though released through United Artists, they feel more Poverty Row in origins; the ultimate destination of the small town cinema is palpable. I have no idea how well these films ended up doing in the boxoffice.

In fact, one of the surprise revelations for me in this viewing is the range of UA's distribution in this period, from prestige films to programmers. It may be true, as Tino Balio argues, that UA would provide the model for post-classical Hollywood's organization, yet in this period it still had the cultural form of the studio, with a cultural division of labor.


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