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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Mid-week Movie Break



Hi there! My name is Josh and I’ve been invited to contribute a regular film feature to the mighty WFMU Ichiban blog! My goal is to do a regular weekly focus on great pop cultural artifacts from the early days of cinema through the early 1970s, likely regularly featuring the names and faces found indelibly revered on the mighty Rex’s Fool's Paradise memorial playlists.



I figured I’d utilize my inaugural post to focus on something we could all use a little of right now, and that’s levity. We’ll get to the rubber monsters, masked adventurers and secret agents later, but right now I’d like to highlight a comedy classic that works two-fold with the modus operandi of this here music-talky blog, which is highlighting great ephemera from the early half of the previous century, and providing a musical element that can be appreciated as an obscure piece of pop music history as well. The feature in question is Abbott And Costello’s Comin’ Round The Mountain; the 1951 Universal feature that follows their meeting the Invisible Man, and prefaces their being Lost In Alaska. 


Margaret Hamilton as witch Aunt Huddy in
Comin' Round The Mountain

In Comin’ Round The Mountain, Bud Abbott plays not-quite-adept talent agent Al Stewart, and Lou Costello plays bumbling would-be escape artist Wilbert Smith. When Wilbert’s debut escape attempt goes awry, Stewart’s one lucky break, singer Dorothy McCoy, realizes that Wilbert is a member of her family, the McCoy clan of Kentucky—an old hill folk family that has claim to a lost treasure secreted by clan patriarch Squeeze Box McCoy. Dorothy and the boys head back to the hills to stake a claim on the hidden treasure. In the interim, the cast runs afoul of a love potion concocted by show-stealing hill witch Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz, 13 Ghosts), forced marriages, and reigniting a feud between the McCoy clan and their rivals, the Winfields, lead by Glenn Strange in the hillified role of Devil Dan. Obviously some of the Abbott and Costello routines in the picture haven’t aged well in the eye of modern sensibilities, and the played-for-laughs running theme of child brides will likely cause some clenched teeth, but overall the humor still stands strong. The hillbilly kinfolk are portrayed in the broadest Li’l Abner stereotypes this side of an episode of Hee-Haw; this isn't a Herschell Gordon Lewis production. Think torso-long beards, shapeless felt hats and moonshine jugs corked with corn cobs. There are numerous musical pieces by co-star Dorothy Shay "The Park Avenue Hillbillie" and they are fantastic in the Spike Jones / Stan Freberg vein of humorous novelty numbers. The film also features some other recognizable faces, including character actor and dialectician Robert Easton (The Giant Spider Invasion) and singer/actress Shaye Cogan, who can be seen/heard singing “Pathway To Sin” in the 1957 Alan Freed vehicle Mr. Rock ’n’ Roll here. She also starred again with Abbott And Costello the following year in the 1952 color feature Jack And The Beanstalk



Poster for a double bill of Comin' Round The Mountain paired with the 1948
Marjorie Main, Percy Kilbride (not as Ma & Pa Kettle) film Feudin', Fussin' and A-Fightin'.

Co-star Dorothy Shay (born Sims) had a rather ironic career trajectory: born in Jacksonville, Florida, Shay took professional singing lessons to try and lose her southern twang to find success as a professional singer. Later, after she found fame by performing a hillbilly novelty tune “Uncle Fud” with the Morton Gould orchestra, she made her way as a solo novelty act, billed as Dorothy Shay “The Park Avenue Hillbillie”. Shay recorded a handful of records, starting with The Park Avenue Hillbillie Sings on Capitol in 1946, and eventually moved to Columbia. By the early 1960s she had changed career paths to become a bit player in television shows like Adam-12, The Virginian, The Brady Bunch and The Waltons. 

You can watch/hear Shay perform "A Little Western Town Called Beverly Hills" here.





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