Friday, October 27, 2006

You Don't Know Jack


Jack Carson is my all-time favorite character actor and since Turner Classic Movies is running a marathon of his films today (including the great Hope-and-Crosby wannabe comedy team pairings with Dennis Morgan, like the Two Guys series and the classic The Time, The Place and the Girl, all stylishly directed by David Butler), I thought it was time to ruminate about my man. Or let others do it (and better, at that). Here's a great summation of Jack Carson by film critic David Thomson that's taken from the "Jack Carson - No Ordinary Guy" fansite:
Never nominated or celebrated, never given lead roles in front-rank pictures, Jack Carson could be stupid, vacant, coarse, vain, amiable, decent, touching, nasty, hateful...even ordinary. Somehow one doubts that he ever got, or needed, much direction. Instead he understood story and character. He was cast and he was relied on, and let us say that one in ten times he was indelible... Apart from that, he was only perfect.."
- David Thomson (New Biographical Dictionary of Film)
The NO ORDINARY GUY site continues:
Jack Carson was quite simply one of the best character actors to flourish in the "Golden Age" of Hollywood.

That he is not better known today, is due mostly to his death from cancer at the age of 52, but he left behind a large body of work, in his relatively short career. He was never really allowed to forget his vaudville beginnings, as if somehow this made him a lessor actor than his contemporaries - but sometimes he did slip under the net - as in "Mildred Pierce".

By the fifties he was surprising many with performances of some depth in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" or the wonderful Matt Libby in "A Star is Born" - I think it's about time for his star to rise again, hopefully this site will contribute to that.


Check this site out! It's really good. Don't just take my word for it -
cartoonist Evan Dorkin (Milk and Cheese) is a big Jack Carson fan too and agrees with me about this great site. Here's what he had to say on his House of Fun website:
We here at the HOF are big fans of the late studio-era actor Jack Carson, so we were happy to learn about a dedicated fan site to man and his work. If you're a Carson/old movie/radio fan, you might want to check it out:

If you're not a Jack Carson fan, well, you might be and just don't realize it. You may have seen him as a creep in Mildred Pierce, that father in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, as the bastard who sends James Mason back to the bottle in A Star is Born, as the dumb wannabe playwright cop in Arsenic And Old Lace, the dopey archery buff trying to steal Myrna Loy from William Powell in Love Crazy, Dennis Morgan's buddy in a number of B's from Warner Bros, and top-billed in a few minor films such as The Good Humor Man, where he's an ice cream vendor and Captain Marvel fanclub president (!) who gets involved with gangsters and cartoon slapstick (courtesy of ex-Disney animator turned director Frank Tashlin). He had his own radio shows, appeared on numerous others, and popped up on T.V. in the Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Thriller among other things.

Carson was a character actor similar in some ways to folks like William Bendix and Eve Arden, versatile, professional and useful performers who didn't seem to need much direction and were capable of humor or nastiness (with Arden, both usually intermingled, in pure verbal form). These folks were a notch above the usual character actor, they punched up pretty much anything they appeared in by their mere presence and professionalism, you often find yourslef hoping "that guy" would come back sooner to perk up the movie. Carson turned in great stuff in the few meaty dramatic roles he was given, and was precise without seeming mechanical in his myriad stupid/blustery/goofy-guy roles. He could sell a song well enough, could take a fall, could kill-deliver a line. Read the David Thompson quote that opens up the tribute page, from his great Encyclopedia of Film. It's a terrific summation, certainly better than anything I can say.

Anyway, if you're already aware or even slightly curious, check out the site, poke around, see if there's a film you might be interested in hunting down (if nothing else there's some keen old press/promotional photos of Carson and co-stars and cohorts such as Ann Sheridan, Dennis Morgan, et al). The HOF heartily recommends Mildred Pierce, A Star is Born, Love Crazy, Blues in the Night (not great, but a weird, weird flick mixing music, noir, comedy, and a bizarre ending), The Good Humor Man, It's a Great Feeling, Two Guys From Milwaukee, Arsenic and Old Lace (some folks don't like it, I mostly do). The man had a relatively short career (cancer claimed him in his 50's) but he was all over the goddamned place until then. Whenever we're watching something and he pops up unexpectedly we both yell out "Jack!" like he's a good friend we're happy to see. Because in a way, he is.

So get to know HOF character actor of the week, Mr. Jack Carson, won't you?


The first film I ever saw Jack Carson in was the great One More Tomorrow (the second filmed version of Philip Barry's play The Animal Kingdom; Barry also wrote The Philadelphia Story and Holiday). Unfortunately, this movie (which was filmed in 1943 but held back from release until 1946 - probably because Ann Sheridan's character "Christie Sage" was a left-wing "socialist" photographer) is currently unavailable on VHS or DVD. Anyway, the thing that got me about Jack was his "double-take" look. No one did the "quizzical look" double-take better than Jack Carson.

And early on, when he was typecast strictly as a goon or clown, Jack never got the girl. As the "No Ordinary Guy" website observed, "Jack's first bosses, must have seen him only as a man who should lose the girl in pictures, because for six straight films, Jack lost Ginger Rogers to other guys, including Ronald Colman. Warner's must have liked the way Jack lost his ladies. At any rate they sent for him to lose Bette Davis to Jimmy Cagney in The Bride Came COD, and that's how he became a Warner's regular." He eventually starting getting the girl - and meatier roles - in the 1940s, maybe as a result of his acclaimed dramatic turn in Mildren Pierce (1945), scoring Jane Wyman in Make Your Own Bed, Janis Paige in The Girl, the Place and the Time and Lola Albright in The Good Humor Man (1950). (He ended up marrying Lola Albright - in real life - two years later!)

My Fave Jack Carson Movies: A Selective Filmography


Jack plays butler Patrick Reagan, sidekick to society playboy Tom Collier (Dennis Morgan).

In this first entry in the David Butler-directed Two Guys series, Dennis Morgan plays Henry, a European prince on a trip to New York posing as a regular guy from Milwaukee. Jack Carson is the Milkwaukee cabbie Buzz Williams who befriends him and brings him home. In real life, Dennis Morgan was born in Milwaukee and although Carson was born in Manitoba, Canada, he grew up in Milwaukee and considered it his American hometown. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall make a surprise appearance as themselves at the end of the picture.

William Powell and Myrna Loy star in this screwball comedy that also boasts a stellar supporting cast in Gail Patrick (who seemed to specialize in the role of "the other woman" love interest - see also her role as Cary Grant's second wife in My Favorite Wife) and Jack Carson as the next door neighbor archery enthusiast Ward Willoughny.

The stuffy manager of lovely opera singer Vicki Cassel and her uncle, a classical conductor, is determined to close down the noisy nightclub that's next door to the Cassels' home. The club's owners--Steve, a handsome ladies man, Jeff, his clownish sidekick--hatch a plan to keep the club open. Steve arranges to meet--and woo--Vicki and then invite her and her uncle to the club. When Vicki's snobbish aunt and the manager discover that Vicki now favors popular music to the classics, they arrange to get the club closed. But that doesn't keep Steve and Jeff down. Instead they decide to put on a Broadway show if they can get a backer. They find their "angel" in Vicki's uncle who agrees to finance the show only if Vicki is the leading lady. But once again, Vicki's aunt and manager may be the spoiler in everyone's plans. (summary by Daniel Bubbeo)

Jack Carson plays magician The Great Georgetti in this turn of the century tale about vaudeville stars Nora Bayes (Ann Sheridan) and Jack Norworth (Dennis Morgan).

A really dumb and implausible Nazi spy ring plot is the backdrop for budding detective Jerry Curtis to go undercover as a butler, along with his estranged fiancee Jane Wyman, in Jack Carson's debut starring role at Warner Brothers.

From the Jack Carson - No Ordinary Guy website: "Has a footnote in history as the film selected by psychologist Stanley Schachter as part of his research into how drugs affect emotions. Hundreds of hours were spent selecting a film that wasn't obviously funny or sad, and The Good Humor Man was selected to test reactions of students from the University of Minnesota, who had been injected either with adrenaline or a placebo, to monitor the emotional impact of the film."

Related Links:

One More Tomorrow (Movie Mirror Review)
Jack Carson in Wikipedia
Jack Carson - No Ordinary Guy
Jack Carson at Northernstars (Canadian film site)
Jack Carson in IMDB


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