Sat 21 Apr 2012
MACHINE GUN MAMA. PRC Pictures, 1944. Armida, El Brendel, Wallace Ford, Jack La Rue, Luis Alberni, Julian Rivero. Director: Harold Young.
I must have lived a sheltered life. I had never heard of El Brendel until I watched this movie. You’re never too old to learn more about the movies than you knew the day before. “El” is short for Elmer, and Brendel is pronounced “Bren-DELL.”
He was a vaudeville star, so I’m told, whose shtick was a comically funny Swedish accent. Most of the films he made through the 1940s were comedy shorts, in which he invariably played characters named Ole, Ollie, Oley, Knute or Axel Swenson, but by the 1950s he’d worked his way up to television, including an appearance on Perry Mason, among other quite prestigious shows.
In Machine Gun Mama he’s teamed up with Wallace Ford as two guys from Brooklyn who are in Mexico trying to deliver an elephant to someone whose address they’ve apparently lost. When their truck breaks down, a carnival nearby catches their eye, and that’s where the movie begins.
Let me back up for a moment. I thought when I bought this movie that maybe I was I was buying a movie about Ma Barker and her gang. Not so. Not at all. Not for a minute. The Mexican actress named Armida plays the title character, and where the machine gun comes in is a small story in itself. As it happens, Armida, the carnival owner’s daughter, is also the girl sitting in the dunking booth. Hit the bulls-eye with a baseball, and in she goes.
Three times in a row. All at the hands (or pitching arm) of Wallace Ford’s character. Armida, a miniature spitfire (just under five feet tall), takes offense at this, runs over to the booth opposite, turns the prop machine gun around and blasts away, destroying a lot of property but no lives, thank goodness.
She also falls in love with John O’Reilly, the famous “kibitzer” from Brooklyn (that’s Wallace Ford), but her father… Wait, wait, there’s an elephant in the room. Really. And there’s a bad guy (Jack Le Rue) to whom Armida’s father owes a lot of money to, but the elephant (really) is such a star attraction that…
I suppose that if you’re still with me, there’s a chance you’ll watch the movie, so I’ll say no more. It’s a lot of fun, not the silly, slapstick sort at all — or mostly not — but the kind of quiet fun that may make you smile a lot without ever cracking you up.
There are some songs and dance, too, but mostly (and strangely) not until the very end of the movie, which finishes up all of the story lines so quickly I had to back up the DVD to see what I’d missed. You can watch the entire 60 minutes for yourself online here on www.archive.org.