Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

June 13, 2020

The Complete Hal Roach Streamliners, Volume 1: The Tracy & Sawyer Military Comedies (Classic Flix DVD)

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The Complete Hal Roach Streamliners, Volume 1: The Tracy & Sawyer Military Comedies (Classic Flix DVD)

contains the following  six 5-reel feature films

TANKS A MILLION (1941)

HAY FOOT (1942)

ABOUT FACE (1942)

FALL IN (1943)

YANKS AHOY (1943)

HERE COMES TROUBLE (1948, in Cinecolor)

starring WILLIAM TRACY (“Terry”‘ in the serial version of the comic strip TERRY AND THE PIRATES) and JOE SAWYER

supporting players in the films (some more than once) include Noah Beery, Jr., Margaret Dumont, James Gleason, Douglas Fowley, and Frank Faylen

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The short feature running around 35-45 minutes—-longer than a short subject but shorter than a one-hour programmer—-has always been an appealing phenomenon to me. They were also appealing to exhibitors, in that they allowed for more showings of a double-bill per day, meaning more money in the till. Also, they did not wear out their welcome. In the 30’s we had films such as the Bud’n’Ben western shorts (pairing western comic and perennial sidekick Ben Corbett with a leading-man cowboy such as Wally Wales or Jack Perrin…. titles include Potluck Pards, Nevada Cyclone, Romance Revier, Pals of the Prairie, Arizona Nights, Rainbow Riders, Ridin’ Gents, West on Parade, and Girl Trouble….I had 3 or 4 of them on VHS back in the 80’s, and some of them are presently available from Sinister Cinema…none are on You Tube, unfortunately) which ran around the half-hour mark, and short features running under 50 minutes such as the 1934 INSIDE INFORMATION (see end of post for a link to that).

Even the 1929 crime short-feature THE LINE-UP, which I posted a link to here a few weeks ago, would qualify, as would some of the extremely short western features of Victor Adamson or Robert J. Horner.

In the early 40’s, after Laurel and Hardy had moved on, producer/studio head Hal Roach created the term “Streamliner” for feature films made on the Roach lot and distributed by United Artists, which ran between 40 and 50 minutes. Roach made 22 of these, and all 22 are going to be reissued on DVD, from Roach studio archival materials, by Classic Flix, a company known to me previously for their wonderful collection of the five PRC “Michael Shayne, Detective” films starring Hugh Beaumont as Shayne.

The first set from Classic Flix is now out and features the six military comedies starring William Tracy as the lovable and bumbling bookworm Sgt. Doubleday and Joe Sawyer as the always-mad and flustered Sgt. Ames (think of Tracy as a Harry Langdon with a photographic memory, and Sawyer as a slow-burn exasperated character like Edgar Kennedy in his comedy shorts, but more angry).

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Although their 20’s and 30’s glory days were just a memory by 1941, Roach’s “lot of fun” was still firing on all cylinders as a comedy factory when they made the Tracy-Sawyer films. They move as quickly as Roach comedy shorts but allow for more of a plot and more comic set-ups, even though they are over before you know it. The supporting players such as Noah Berry, Jr. and James Gleason are first-rate comedy talents themselves (Berry had a 40+ year career and is known and loved by millions as James Garner’s father in The Rockford Files TV show).

Most of the plots revolve around the trusting and friendly Sgt. Doubleday winning friends and admiration from the military brass and the ladies, with his senior sergeant, Ames, trying to take him down a few pegs and show off, both of which he fails at…miserably. This formula worked quite well through all six films (and there were two more, distributed by Lippert Pictures in the post-WWII period, not included here). If you can imagine a combination between a classic Roach two-reeler and Abbott and Costello’s BUCK PRIVATES (surely an inspiration for Roach to ride the coattails of), that’s what you get here, with no padding of any kind. Anyone who enjoys 30’s Roach comedy shorts and Abbott and Costello should enjoy these films….and this set from Classic Flix. More sets of Roach Streamliners will be coming this year on DVD, the next being a series totally unknown to me, western comedies starring Noah Beery Jr. and Jimmy Rogers (a son of Will Rogers, though not the same man as Will Rogers, Jr.), scheduled for release at the end of June. I’m looking forward to it!

Speaking of Robert Lippert, he also produced 40 minute (more or less) features with his pre-Lippert Pictures outfit Screen Guild Productions, circa 1947-48, a series of four Mountie films starring Russell Hayden (which are available from VCI as a set and which I really enjoyed), and a series of two detective films, THE HAT BOX MYSTERY and THE CASE OF THE BABY SITTER, starring Tom Neal as private eye Russ Ashton, with the ever-bumbling Allen Jenkins as his sidekick. THE HAT BOX MYSTERY is on You Tube, and THE CASE OF THE BABY SITTER is on one of the Kit Parker Films’ FORGOTTEN NOIR sets.

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You need some “streamliners” in your life, so I’m sharing links for two PD ones, mentioned above, which are on You Tube. First, the Tom Neal detective film THE HAT BOX MYSTERY, from 1947:

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and when you’re through watching that,

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the 48-minute feature film from 1934 INSIDE INFORMATION, starring REX LEASE and TARZAN, THE POLICE DOG, an old favorite of mine (I reviewed this online about 20-25 years ago, but alas, it’s no longer up and I don’t have a copy of the review…and yes, I did try the Wayback Machine)….

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