Grainy, blurry, scratchy, faded: it’s hard to imagine anyone watching this nowadays:
. . . but a few will, because of this.
Lum & Abner was one of the first old-time radio shows I ever heard - Sunday night on public radio in DC. They played L & A, X-Minus 1, and a few others. L & A seemed at first like the worst sort of hokey old stuff from a dusty bygone era - a treacly organ theme, cackling hillbillies, “ethnic” humor of the rural sort. If Amos and Andy was blackface, this was redneckface.
But then I did them the courtesy of listening to the show instead of judging it, and discovered something else entirely: one of the sweetest, most endearing, comfortable pieces of sustained consensual hallucination that ever flowed across the airwaves. It wasn’t a soap opera, but the stories went from day to day (the show ran M-F); it wasn’t a comedy like any other on the air, because it underplayed the jokes, never oversold, never went for cheap gags. The humor arose from the relationship between Lum and Abner, the proprietors of the Jot ‘Em Down Store, men of a certain age who’d settled into the bickering ways of an old married couple. There were a few other characters, some just implied, others given voice by the men who played L & A - from the town schemer to the dimwitted Cedric, who always entered the store with the phrase “Wunnerful world.” Don’t know why; always delightful. Each episode builds off the previous day and leads to the next, but usually ends with a sharp little comedic hook.
(Cross-posted over at the old-time radio site.)
Chester Lauck, as Lum:
Norris Goff - what a name! - as Abner:
They were greyed up for the roles; both men were younger than the characters they played, but by how much, you couldn't tell - and you coulnd't say why it mattered. If if did. Anyway. This was one of seven movie they made. It’s just what the audience expected, and wanted: the store was made real, we saw the streets of Pine Ridge, Arkansas, met new characters. There’s heartbreak! Drama! Criminality! Sentimentality! Poverty! And Phil Harris:
He plays a “drummer,” an old word for a traveling salesman. Audiences would have recognized his voice from the Benny show, of course, so this would be like someone from a popular TV sitcom showing up in the movie version of another sitcom. Also in the cast:
Auntee Em! Auntee Em! Remember how you thought Auntie Em was cold and distant and mean in the first few scenes of Wizard of Oz? She’s all that and more here, as the town rich woman who doesn’t care about anyone.
The nice girl:
Frances Langford, who’d later achieve immortality as the screechy harpy-wife in “The Bickerfords.”
I've only seen a few of the movies, but this one fleshes out their world quite nicely, and shows the characters were perfectly capable of stretching to longer stories with darker themes. It’s all here, viewable for free.