Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Alibi Bye Bye (1935)

Despite making films at the same time as The Marx Brothers and WC Fields, the comedy duo of Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough seem to have faded into obscurity, and on the strength of Alibi Bye Bye, it might not be too hard to see why.

The story, set in “America's Favourite Playground”, Atlantic City sees the duo play Flash and Blodgett, photographers who specialise in faking pictures so that people can convince their spouses that they have been on a business/hunting/sightseeing trip, rather than a hedonistic weekend of gambling, booze and adultery. Things get complicated when they find themselves with two particular clients – Mr Nimrod, who is supposed to chasing moose in the woods and Mrs Nimrod who told hubby she would be in Washington.

To call Clark and McCullough a duo is to imply that there is a level of equality in their act, but this is not the case, and is at the root of the main failing of the film. Clark does not just steal the show; he practically is the show, hardly letting McCullough get a scene or word in. Not a good choice, as Clark's persona is weird mix of Groucho Mark (lecherous one liners, lurching gait, but painted on glasses instead of moustache) and Harpo Marx (horny energy and a honking horn to punctuate sentences), but nowhere near as inventive or unhinged as either.

His other problem is that, like The Marx Brothers, or other contemporaries such as Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin, or Keaton, Clark came from a theatrical background, but unlike them, he did not seem to adapt to the medium of cinema and the idea of playing to the camera. His voice seems like it is still trying to reach the back rows, and his acting style is too theatrical and exaggerated, giving the gags a slightly strained feel, as though he is trying just a bit too hard.

As for McCullough, there is very little you can say about him. With his negligible screentime, he barely registers, but what impression he does make is largely that of an affable roly poly man, who appears to have wandered onto a movie set by mistake.

However, while not side-splittingly funny Alibi Bye Bye has a brevity and manic energy, as well as enough of a (for the time) ribald story that watching it once, as a historical obscurity, is not that much of a chore.

There is a grisly and bizarre coda to Alibi Bye Bye, which became the final film the duo made. Just a year after its release, McCullough checked himself out of a sanatorium, paid a visit to a barber, and, after getting a shave, grabbed the razor and slashed his throat and wrists, dying two days later in hospital.