|J. Pinkham Whinney
|Mrs. K. Rumford
|Released by Paramount | Directed By Leo McCarey
Proof That It’s Pre-Code
- Not a whole lot, except that one of the subplots is about how desperate Charles Ruggles and Mary Boland are to get it on.
Six of a Kind: A Full House of Wackiness
“We can’t hurt her feelings.”
“We can try!”
While most people remember the examples of early 1930s high-profile prestige films that matched a large number of big stars with bigger dramatic arcs– see Grand Hotel or Dinner at Eight as needed– fewer movie lovers fondly recall the many lowbrow attempts to do the same with comedies.
MGM tried it with the nightmarish Hollywood Party, and here’s an example from the much more comedy-heavy Paramount: Six of a Kind, which takes a sextuplet of performers and more often than not puts them in the same room to see what madness results.
The eternally befuddled Charles Ruggles (Murders at the Zoo, Trouble in Paradise) this go-around plays J. Pinkham Whinney, the put upon spouse of Flora (Boland). They’re planning a cross country trip for a second honeymoon. Flora is really cheap, though, and advertises for another couple to come along and split expenses.
This turns disastrous when the other couple arrives. Gracie Allen and George Burns were vaudeville and then radio staples by the time this film came out, and found their success in one particular schtick: George was the straight man and Gracie was some kind of crazy simpleton. A typical Gracie-ism: “My name is Grace, but people call me ‘Gracie’ for short!”. Oy.
Gracie isn’t just dumb, but maliciously so: one rest stop sees her encouraging Boland to walk off the edge of a cliff. Later she refuses to believe a road sign is correct and instead summons a pair of highway robbers to get directions. To cap that incident off, she helpfully points out that they missed Ruggles’ watch.
Things come to a head when they reach Nuggetville, Nevada. One subplot has involved Ruggles possessing a briefcase full of embezzled money without his knowledge, and once in Nevada he comes acquainted with the local sheriff, Honest Hoxley (Fields). Hoxley is less honest and more of a shambling drunken mess whose uncoordinated spurts and larcenous attitude get him far– if you’ve seen a W.C. Fields short, you’ve seen what he’s doing here.
Six of a Kind is a slight comedy, very amusing in spurts and a pleasant time all around. The deepest message it tries to convey is that even middle aged couples need to knock boots every once in a while. Your entire enjoyment will probably derive from whether you find a majority of Ruggles’ buffoonishness, Allen’s cluelessness, and Fields’ maliciousness endearing or grating. And that, my friends, is solely up to you.
Trivia & Links
- On a far distant spectrum to my reaction, Film Fanatic.Org asks the rhetorical question if viewers should catch it, and responds, “Definitely not.”
- On a far distant spectrum from Film Fanatic is Mordaunt Hall’s original take from The New York Times, who helpfully notes, “All those connected with this farce do excellent work, including the Great Dane.”
- Director Leo McCarey’s prior movie to this is the slightly-better-remembered Duck Soup and he followed this with the better left forgotten Belle of the Nineties.
Hover over for controls.
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This film appeared in the Wikipedia List of Pre-Code Films.
- This film is available on Amazon, and can be rented from Classicflix.
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Ken Schellenberg · January 31, 2014 at 7:55 pm
I rather like the film too. It’s also on a George Burns / Gracie Allen DVD (Here Comes Cookie/Love Bloom/Six of a Kind) available at bn.com.
Danny · February 2, 2014 at 11:37 am
That’s where I caught this as well. Glad you enjoyed it too!
Page · January 31, 2014 at 11:39 pm
“Proof That It’s Pre-Code
Not a whole lot, except that one of the subplots is about how desperate Charles Ruggles and Mary Boland are to get it on.”
This had me laughing! Very clever and most entertaining look back at this little romp. Boland and Ruggles on screen together was certain to bring the hijinks but add Gracie and Allen and you know it’s going to be a wacky, good time. Like Duck Soup, I’ve seen this film more times that I should be willing to admit.
See ya soon!
Danny · February 2, 2014 at 11:38 am
Ha! I thought this was obscure until I woke up and saw all the comments. I think it’s a nice lark, and does a good job of combining everyone’s bits without being overwhelming.
And you should never be ashamed as to how many times you’ve seen Duck Soup, especially since you’ve probably seen it less than I have. 🙂
Andrew · February 1, 2014 at 1:22 am
It’s really not a very good movie, and for a comedy it’s not all that funny to me, with the exception of W.C. Fields. He’s got some beautiful stuff in there, especially the pool table scene.
Danny · February 2, 2014 at 11:49 am
It’s kind of slapdash, but I think it does a good job juggling its performers’ strengths. Ruggles is great as the exasperated schmoe, and I was definitely more than happy to see Gracie not the protagonist idiot savant that many of her films tried to paint her as. It’s not a particularly strong piece of work, especially from McCarey who is so renowned, but I still think it’s pleasant enough.
Grand Old Movies · February 1, 2014 at 5:00 am
I confess that Gracie’s wackiness in this film comes close to the point of strangulation fantasies for me (I much prefer her in ‘We’re Not Dressing,’ in which Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman, Carole Lombard, Ray Milland, Leon Errol, and a bear, come ashore a desert island inhabited only by Gracie and her mate). But Fields is prime Fields here. I’ll always treasure the look on his face when he realizes that he has the embezzler locked up right where he wants him. His monologue on how he came by the name Honest John—including something to do with a glass eye misplaced in a tooth glass—while he plays pool, is priceless; it should be enshrined in the Smithsonian.
Danny · February 2, 2014 at 12:29 pm
I’ve still got to catch We’re Not Dressing, but I feel ya– I watched Six after two other Gracie and George features, and I thought it was a nice change of pace from her hyper-idiot-savant characterizations. At least in Six she’s an amoral agent of chaos, a parasite of terror leaping across the country with an unwieldly Great Dane.
And I’m not usually a big Fields fan, but his stuff here is definitely top notch.
Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman) · February 1, 2014 at 6:23 am
That all-star cast has got to be worth a look! I’ve been in a Fields mood lately. Maybe I’m just thirsty.
Danny · February 2, 2014 at 12:30 pm
It’s definitely an interesting setup, and there are some great moments. I won’t pretend that it coheres into a comedy classic by any means, but it’s a nice sweet time.
justjack · February 2, 2014 at 4:10 am
I agree about the Honest John monologue. Watched it again on youtube, and had to hold my sides from laughing.
Danny · February 2, 2014 at 12:56 pm
A great bit. It’s too bad that Fields only pops up in the last twenty minutes, as the film could have used more of that kind of physical humor.
Marsha Collock · February 2, 2014 at 10:44 am
This is one of those movies that I always see on a list (WC Fields, Burns & Allen), but have never seen – and would very much like to. Your blog is just awesome.
Danny · February 2, 2014 at 12:57 pm
Thanks Marsha! And it’s not a classic by any means, but it’s a fun little diversion.
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