IT'S IN THE BAG Fred Allen

IT’S IN THE BAG. United Artists, 1945. Fred Allen, Jack Benny, William Bendix, Binnie Barnes, Robert Benchley, Jerry Colonna, John Carradine, Gloria Pope, William Terry, Minerva Pious, Sidney Toler, George Cleveland, John Miljan. (See also below.) Screen treatment: Lewis R. Foster & Fred Allen. Screenplay: Jay Dratler & Alma Reville. Director: Richard Wallace.

   Alma Reville is, of course, Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock and I would like to think that some of the comic bite of this film reflects the deliciously wicked humor of the Hitchcock films.

   Many of the players in this crime comedy were better known for their work in radio than in films, and I must confess that some of my least happy hours as a child were spent watching the disappointing spectacle of radio material that did not work on the screen.

   This, I am delighted to report, is a happy exception to that experience, from the opening commentary by Fred Allen, as he “reads” the credits to the audience, to the satisfying conclusion.

IT'S IN THE BAG Fred Allen

   There is a gallery of funny supporting performances: William Bendix as a tender-hearted gangster leader who doesn’t like violence (he inherited the mob from his mother); Jerry Colonna as a neurotic psychiatrist; Don Ameche, Victor Moore, and Rudy Vallee joining Allen to form one of the must improbable — and worst — barbershop quartets you are ever likely to hear; Dickie Tyler as Allen and Binne Barnes’ precocious, unbearable son (with Allen’s bags under his eyes); and the unflappable Robert Benchley, who delivers a comic monologue that is one of the two comedy highlights of the film.

   (His son “invented” an aquarium that he converted into a universal mouse, trap requiring some remarkable gymnastics from a gullible mouse; as Allen puts it: “Why would a mouse go to all that trouble to get a piece of cheese instead of going into a restaurant like everybody else?”)

IT'S IN THE BAG Fred Allen

   The other highlight is also unrelated to the main plot (Allen has been left a fortune by an eccentric uncle who hid the money in one of the five chairs he also left his nephew). As Allen and his family enter a movie theater to see a zombie film for which they are promised immediate seating. It very quickly becomes clear that there are no seats available, and for about ten hilarious minutes the increasingly desperate group attempts to find seats.

   The film turns up occasionally on TV and I can recommend it for either prime time or late night viewing.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 8, No. 4, July-August 1986.

IT'S IN THE BAG Fred Allen