Monday, November 21, 2016

Journey Into DVD: The Stork Pays Off

It's tough to have a real "journey" with a Columbia Classics DVD. There's no featurettes, no audio commentaries, no trailers, no nothing. The Stork Pays Off doesn't even have a menu. Insert DVD, watch movie  RIGHT AWAY. I must admit, though, the jarring lack of a menu and the disappointing (even in 2016) lack of special and not-so-special features is almost worth it to avoid an FBI warning.

It's cool that Sony is even bothering to release unassuming "minor" pictures from the archives like 1941's The Stork Pays Off, which doesn't even have enough reviews on IMDB to display a user rating. ClassicFlix lists it as a Columbia Classic, another site calls it a Sony Screen Classic by request, and the  top of the packaging calls it part of the "Choice Collection." So what IS this movie? It's a fun, brisk effort headlined--yes, headlined--by Maxie "Slapsie" Rosenbloom, and that alone merits a video release. I recommend you check it out if you can get it at a discount and/or rent it from ClassicFlix.

It's the story of a gangster who has his trio of goons take over a night club, only to discover it's actually a nursery. Once he sees what's going on, Deke Foster falls for the proprietess, divorced mother Irene, and instructs his goons to maintain and grow the daycare operation. Of course Deke and Irene fall in love, but there are enough other things going on to fill 68 minutes without too much strain.

Stork may not be a classic, but it sure feels like a Columbia. I mean, even the fonts used on signs in the movie remind me of those used in the titles of Three Stooges shorts. Rosenbloom, Horace McMahon, and George McKay have lots of comic business as Foster's lieutenants, and a lot of their bits wouldn't be out of place in an old two-reeler. How can you not be drawn into a movie that opens with hoods named Brains, Photofinish, and Ear to the Ground pulling off a protection racket?

Much as I enjoy Rosenbloom's predictable  (I mean that in a positive sense) performance as malaprop-spouting "Brains," the actual story leads are Deke and Irene, played by Victory Jory and Rochelle Hudson. The two are likable enough, but there is zero chemistry between them, and I never buy Jory's character's transformation into earnest father figure/romantic partner/upright citizen.   It seems like the kind of role, say, Richard Conte would have been great in paired with someone like Lynn Bari at Fox, but then again, why recast the movie? I'm not bowled over by the romance, but director Lew Landers spends as much time on the light comedy as he does on that aspect, anyway.

In fact, things happen quickly in this story. When Deke demands his charges go to night school to be better role model for the children, bam, we go to an extended scene set at night school.  We have a good time, too, as Brains exercises some goofy wordplay to confound the teacher (character actor Byron Foulger with amusing exasperation).  Later, a political situation comes up, and, hey, Deke decides to run for local office to become respectable.

The 68-minute film somehow seems to have a lot going on and yet not much of a main plot at the same time, but it's an entertaining diversion nonetheless. Rosenbloom and his colorful cohorts are a delight, with McKay standing out as a guy who talks in horse racing lingo all the time, even to the kids at the daycare center. The Stork Pays Off isn't necessarily something I want to pay 20 bucks for, but it would be great to see it on TCM, and I appreciate that Sony released it, even if through its ultra-bare-bones manufactured-on-demand line.

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