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So This Is New York (Blu-ray Review)

14 Jul, 2014 By: Mike Clark

$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated
Stars Henry Morgan, Rudy Vallee, Virginia Grey, Dona Drake.

Cast as the Jack Webb LAPD partner who nodded quietly in agreement every week with Joe Friday’s dyspeptic late-1960s “Dragnet” rants against the counter-culture, Harry Morgan had long before been forced to switch his stage name from what had been Henry — or, as it was sometimes rendered, the cumbersome Henry (Harry) Morgan. This was to avert the confusion posed by the other Henry Morgan, a radio humorist who was a different kind of cat altogether. You couldn’t, for instance, imagine radio Henry in The Ox-Bow Incident as his namesake was, unless he was there to make acerbic asides about the lynch mob.

This was because radio Henry, like Joe, was pretty dyspeptic himself, the kind of guy who poked on-the-air fun at his sponsors, and with more wit than Arthur Godfrey did (Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan had to have taken a close look at both when embarking on A Face in the Crowd). For years during my childhood and early adolescence, he was a regular panelist on CBS-TV’s “I’ve Got a Secret,” and even then I always wondered why he was so edgy and borderline irritable. Then, many years later, on a Game Show Network rerun, I realized why: He was always seated between blonde Betsy Palmer and brunette former Miss America Bess Myerson, both of them usually in low-cut cocktail dresses. The poor guy must have been in a state of arousal every Tuesday night for years.

So This Is New York has one of the two big-screen roles that this Morgan ever had — the other a praised dramatic supporting role in 1960’s Murder, Inc., a shaky-‘A’ that got youthful featured player Peter Falk a supporting Oscar nomination. New York, which features Morgan’s only lead, was also the first movie Stanley Kramer produced (think about that) — as well as the screen debut of Richard Fleischer (the billed Richard O.), who to my mind was always a better director of ‘B’s than ‘A’s. Which is a good thing because this one is very close to a ‘B,’ and Olive’s no-frills but certainly decent transfer, given the source, reflects these origins.

Co-adapted by future High Noon scripter Carl Foreman from Michigan-born Ring Lardner’s The Big Town, it reflects an inveterate Midwesterner’s gander at a bulging metropolis, as reflected by Morgan’s weariness over a New York trip spearheaded by his wife and sister-in-law, who’ve both just inherited money that makes them targets for big-city sharpies. The kid sis (Dona Drake, and yes, she spelled it with one ‘n’) is also cute and naïve, which makes her particularly vulnerable to lecherous losers — all of whom, by the actors’ appearances here, must have subscribed to some “60 was the old 40” dictum of the day

The movie is minor frivolity, but it has a wacky tone I like — and liked the only other time I saw it: on TV in 1970 just after my own Midwestern self ended up going to NYU just after the Kent State shootings agitated most progressive campuses. The only other movie it reminds me of is 1945’s even more eccentric It’s in the Bag, another comedy that Olive issued on Blu-ray a couple years ago — and one that by coincidence also features Rudy Vallee in the cast.

Fellow layer Leo Gorcey took what had to have been a welcome break from his Bowery Boys cheapies to play a jockey with designs on Drake, leading to a flukish precious moment in screen history that allowed Gorcey and Vallee to share a frame in the same movie. Martin Scorsese is said to be a fan of Bag, and I would not be at all surprised to hear that he harbors some affection for this one because it must have played all the time on New York television starting sometime in the ’50s.

Morgan’s performance lingers somewhere between passive and droll, but it’s fairly spot-on as a counterpoint to the surrounding burlesque. I think he could have had a better screen career in either comedy or drama, though the last I even heard of him before his death was about a letter he wrote to “Saturday Night Live” about some episode that offended him — sparking Lorne Michaels or Brandon Tartikoff or one of the Peacock biggies to note that he was happy to see that Morgan was still alive. My final memory long previous to that was his weeklong appearance on some syndicated game show for which all five episodes were apparently taped on the same day. Morgan didn’t even pretend otherwise because he wore the same loud shirt on every show, which I took to be an outstanding gesture when it came to commenting on the quality of the show. I forget who the host was, but he didn’t wear a cocktail dress.

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