It was his big chance:

 

Milton Berle, in his first big dramatic role!

 

 


Not really. It's Berle all the way, in one of those classic tales of an up-and-coming comic learning the ropes, clawing his way to the top. One corny gag after the other; one long hammy vaudeville act after another. But there's a story, so that means they need extra actors. Like this guy:

 

 

Alan Hale the Elder, aka the Father of the Skipper on Gilligan's Island. Dad and son had similar styles, and it's often spooky to see Sr. in a 40s movie, as if the Skipper had gone back in time.

It all looks very Forties:

 

It shows you that the 20s were still around, at least as a cultural reference point; he's not doing blackface for its own sake, but doing a parody of Jolson.

 

 

Did I mention he mugs?

 

 

Say there. Hold on. WAIT A MINUTE. Didn't we see that smoking jacket in "Strangers on a Train"? We did.

 

 

There's something that makes the movie much, much more enjoyable than the solo Berle parts, and it's this guy.

 

 

Bert Lahr. Most people know him as the Cowardly Lion, and little else. He'd done 15 movies by the time "Oz" came out, but imdb says his movie career never took off because " his gestures and reactions were too broad." I wonder if "Oz" audiences saw him as Lahr-as-lion, or just Lion, as we did when we were kids. When you see his bit in the piece, you know where the Lion came from. Straight from his old vaudeville routine.

 

 

Let's rewind the tape for a minute - here's what comes right before, when the actress steps on his lines and Lahr explains why he does what he does. I don't know why, but I find this charming. He seems like such a nice man.

 

Yer violatin' the laaaw, yer violatin' the laaaw. He's right: it is funnier twice.

Interesting fact: he starred in the American premiere . . . of "Waiting for Godot."