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O-Kay For Sound (1937)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of O-Kay For Sound (1937)
35mm, black and white, 86 mins
DirectorMarcel Varnel
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
ProducerEdward Black
Screen AdaptationMarriott Edgar, Val Guest
Book and LyricsR.P. Weston, Bert Lee
PhotographyJack Cox
MusicLouis Levy
SongsNoel Gay, Michael Carr, Jimmy Kennedy, R.P. Weston, Bert Lee

Cast: Bud Flanagan (Bud), Chesney Allen (Chesney), Teddy Knox (Teddy), Jimmy Nervo (Cecil), Charlie Naughton (Charlie), Jimmy Gold (Jimmy), Fred Duprez (Sir Hymen Goldberger), Enid Stamp-Taylor (Jill Smith), Graham Moffatt (Albert)

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The Crazy Gang are mistaken for investors at an ailing film studio and given freedom to alter the films currently in production. Despite the generally chaotic nature of the film they produce the result is a commercial success which saves the studio.

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The first Crazy Gang film is a ragbag of disconnected routines built around the flimsiest of plots (and refusing to play fair even by that), taken directly from a successful stage revue. Trading in a unique mix of absurdism and knowingly ancient music hall puns and wheezes, slapstick, cross-talk and gentle songs, the Gang was an essentially theatrical phenomenon. (On several occasions remarks addressed to the audience receive off-screen replies.)

Though later films, especially Alf's Button Afloat (d. Marcel Varnel, 1938) tried harder to make film comics of them, it is this straight-from-the-stalls effort that best conveys the versatility, energy and unpredictability that resembles no other British act of the period. However, shades of the Marx Brothers are evoked in the scenes of theatrical destruction, the addresses to camera and the deliberate baiting of pompous authority, while the cross-talk routines anticipate Abbott and Costello.

While each member of the team (comprised, in fact, of three discrete double acts) has a clearly defined comic personality, they also enjoy the unusual freedom of being able to assume different roles in comic sketches. The best of these is the sequence in which Teddy Knox provides both American and hilariously vague British commentary to a wrestling match: "If we only had the River Thames running through here and a few boats on it you'd think it was boat race day". There is also much saucy humour of a kind that would probably not have passed US censors: a character called Farquhar is asked "How are the little Farquhars?", a scene in which the blasting of a dam is delayed is met with the observation "There's no dam blast!", and Enid Stamp-Taylor has her skirt ripped off three times.

The other acts making appearances throughout offer somewhat more esoteric pleasures, but are important records of the period. It is fascinating to note, for instance, that the unnerving entertainment offered by 'fight dancers' Lucienne and Ashour was by no means unique to this duo but a popular novelty of the day (a joke in Chaplin's City Lights (US, 1931) depends for its effect upon the familiarity of such routines, while a murder is concealed within one such performance in Charlie Chan in Paris (US, 1935)). It is intriguing too to see the black dance team Three Little Words cheerfully displaying considerable virtuosity amid a throng of blacked-up white extras in a hokey plantation setting.

Matthew Coniam

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Video Clips
1. 'Free' (3:03)
2. Film title puns (2:35)
3. English wrestling (3:24)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Friday Night with the Crazy Gang (1956)
Cox, Jack (1890-1960)
Crazy Gang, The
Guest, Val (1911-2006)
Varnel, Marcel (1892-1947)