Thursday, October 22, 2015

"She's Worth Her Weight in Hog Livers!"

Read/Watch 'em in Order # 61

To get to the 1942 movie Private Snuffy Smith, we have to start in 1919. That's when cartoonist Billy DeBeck began producing the comic strip Take Barney Google, F'rinstance, which recounted the adventures of a sports-loving ne'er do well. Soon renamed Barney Google, the strip gained enormous popularity beginning in 1922, when Barney became owner of a race horse named Spark Plug.

In fact, the horse was popular enough to make "Sparky" a common nickname among boys--including the future creator of Peanuts, Charles Schulz.

But the strip changed again in 1934, when Barney took a trip to the remote town of Hootin' Holler and meets a hillybilly named Snuffy Smith.

Snuffy was so popular that he took over the strip, much the way a supposed guest-star named Popeye took over E.C. Segar's strip Thimble Theater a few years earlier. Before long, DeBeck's strip was titled Barney Google and Snuffy Smith--retaining this title even after Barney largely disappeared from it (though he would return to Hootin' Holler sporadically over the years as a guest-star himself.)

So when B-movie studio Monogram Pictures made the first of two movies based on the comic strip, Snuffy was the title character and Barney is nowhere to be seen.

Diminutive actor Bud Duncan is Snuffy, wearing a prosthetic nose and probably looking as close to the comic strip character as an actual human being can.

This is a silly, goofy movie that rambles along, with several story lines and running gags linked together just enough to be able to say that the movie does have an actual plot. Snuffy is being pursued by revenuers who want to close up his still. This makes for a hard life, but then he learns that if he joins the army, he'll get gold buttons, khaki pants, all the vittles he can eat and an astounding $21.00 a month.

At first, the army is rather understandably uninterested in letting Snuffy enlist. He gets in after accidentally saving the life of a general, but life in the army isn't as easy as Snuffy thought it would be. You can't take a nap whenever you want and his sergeant turns out to be the former revenuer who had been trying to catch him at the beginning of the film.

Entwined in this are several other plot elements. Snuffy's wife Lowizy accidentally created an invisibility formula while making soap, so Snuffy is able to bring his now invisible dog with him to the army camp. A fellow soldier (played by future head Mouseketeer Jimmy Dodd) has invented a new range-finder that Nazi spies are trying to steal. The General is desperate to win war games being held near Hootin' Holler, so finds he needs Snuffy as a scout after he's kicked the short hillbilly out of the army. He also needs that range finder, which means catching those pesky spies. All these various elements do end up playing off one another in order to resolve the plot as a whole.

One or two of the numerous running gags fall flat, but the movie is pretty funny as a whole. It won't keel you over laughing the way a classic Capra or Hawks screwball comedy does, but it has more than its share of good moments. Duncan and Sarah Padden as Lowizy play off each other nicely.

And Snuffy teaches husbands the world over how to effectively complement their wives--"She's worth her weight in Hog Livers." Gee whiz, now I want to get married just so I can use this line to woe my wife. It can't possibly fail.

Edgar Kennedy is the long-suffering revenuer/sergeant--in a role that perfectly highlights his ability to get laughs out of perpetual aggravation, with both Snuffy's laziness and the antics of the invisible dog conspiring to drive him to apoplexy. I also enjoy how the movie succeeds in making gentle (not mean-spirited) fun of the military and its customs.

Monogram would make one additional Snuffy Smith movie that same year, in which we do get a chance to meet live-action versions of Barney Google and Spark Plug. We'll return to Hootin' Holler soon and take a look at that.

In the meantime, Private Snuffy Smith is in the public domain, so here it is in its entirety:

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