Double Dynamite (1951)

This little romantic comedy sees Groucho Marx join forces with Frank Sinatra and Jane Russell.

+++ premise: Johnny Dalton (Sinatra) is a lowly bank clerk with a very modest income. He has been engaged to his colleague Mildred “Mibs” Goodhue (Russell) for a long time now, but he feels they cannot afford to get married – much to his chagrin and her frustration. And their branch manager (played by Harry Hayden) keeps turning down Johnny’s requests for a raise.

To keep in line with common plot conventions, Mibs is also being romantically pursued by the son of their bank’s millionaire proprietor – although his intentions are not so much marriage-related.

Johnny and Mibs are being teased by the waiter at a restaurant they frequently lunch at. Emile (Marx) is telling them to “live dangerously”, to get married no matter if they can afford it, or to rob the bank, etc. Although he himself has to admit later on that he never followed his own advice, and that he is just a 50-year-old waiter after all. Emile is a veritable font of knowledge. He not only keeps reciting 16th-century poetry, he also knows every little detail about historic bank robberies and banking scandals.

Through a series of unlikely circumstances, Johnny receives a significant amount of money, but is unable to convince either Emile or Mibs that he did not steal it. Emile tries to help Johnny to hide his ill-gained fortune, which leads to more and more complications. +++

 

I am not a big fan of “musical comedies”, so I was apprehensive seeing Double Dynamite billed as such. But thankfully, there are only two songs in the entire film. One is a schmaltzy love song sung by Sinatra, the other is a short humorous song about money, sung by Sinatra and Marx. The latter one, titled “It’s Only Money”, is being repeated at the very end of the film.

 

The acting in this film is pretty good. Sinatra gives a good performance, even though he is clearly no threat to the genre’s leading men like Gregory Peck or Cary Grant. Marx is also very good, but the writers have his characters deliver a lot of typical Groucho Marx jokes that often feel shoe-horned in. Russell also shows her talent in this film. Her performance is hampered, however, by the stereotypical way in which her character is written. There are also some acting choices she makes (or is told to make by the director) that I am not entirely happy with.

Supporting and minor roles of note are played by Harry Hayden (as mentioned above), Howard Freeman as bank proprietor and Don McGuire as his son, as well as Nestor Paiva as a bookie.

 

The biggest problem with the cast is that – in my opinion – Sinatra is slightly miscast. His good performance notwithstanding, you have a hard time buying him in this role. Despite being only 33 at the time of shooting (three years passed between the shooting of this film and its actual release), he looks slightly too old and haggard to convince as the romantic lead. And when we are told that Johnny does neither drink nor gamble, you find yourself thinking that this is not the face of a teetotaller. In fact, Johnny is described by one character in the film as “anaemic-looking”; and, in a self-referential joke, he is also described with “resembles Frank Sinatra”.

 

The writing is solid. There are a number of nice little ideas put in here that add to the comedy. Groucho Marx provides a lot of the comedy, and he is at his best when he is actually allowed to play his character, rather than being forced to be Groucho Marx. There are a number of risqué scenes and remarks (as well as some rather sinister lines) that make you wonder if this was really all in compliance with the Hays Code.

Case in point: the film was produced by Howard Hughes’s RKO, and as Hughes had already done with 1943’s The Outlaw he was determined to also promote this film based on Russell’s looks. Originally titled It’s Only Money (like the aforementioned song), the film was changed by Hughes to Double Dynamite, in reference to Russell’s breasts.

 

As I said, the writing is solid: the premise and plot are very interesting, and the story is told in a competent way. The pacing is all-right as well, although there are a bit too many things and twists thrown into the final 15 minutes of the film and so the ending feels a bit crowded and a bit rushed.

 

All-in-all there is nothing wrong with this film, if you are ready to accept that this story is rather small in scope. It is not as witty as the best comedies, and the combination of Sinatra and Russell does not give you nearly the same kind of buzz that you get from watching, for example, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn together on screen. But this film by director Irving Cummings is short and entertaining, and you could do worse than watching this film when you have 76 minutes to fill.

 

Rating: roughly 7 out of 10.

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