Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Films of Joan Davis - A Slapstick Sensation

Joan Davis was a master of zany comedy. She was the feminine variant of Danny Kaye, Oscar Levant and Billy de Wolfe all rolled into one. But mostly she was uniquely Joan Davis : rubber-faced, loose-limbed and shamelessly outrageous. A lost species from the bygone era of vaudeville.  

It was in vaudeville that Joan got her start. Billed as "The Toy Comedienne" she toured all around the states during the 1920s and by the time she reached her upper teens had performed on virtually every vaudeville circuit in the country. Her broad sense of comedy appealed to the masses and after entering films she quickly became one of the most popular comedians of the 1930s and 40s. Some critics hailed her as "the world's funniest woman". In over 45 motion pictures she exercised her raucous voice and muscle-straining grimaces in wet-your-pants-funny gags.  

Like Eve Arden at Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox often utilized Davis as "comic relief" to their box-office stars, Shirley Temple and Sonja Henie. She played second-fiddle to Alice Faye in several films ( "On the Avenue", "Wake Up and Live", "Tail Spin", "Sally, Irene and Mary" ) and got to take center stage in a number of musical showcases such as "Around the World" and "Sun Valley Serenade" where she performed solo in several short skits.  It was in these vaudevillian style skits that she really excelled. In the 1937 Sonja Henie film "Thin Ice" she performs 'Olga from the Volga' and 'My Swiss Hilly Billy' with adroit burlesque.


"Gee, if I only had your face. You know, when I was born, my father took one look at me, called up the insurance company, and said 'I want to report an accident.'" ( Show Business ) 


It was after leaving Twentieth Century Fox however that Joan Davis got starring roles in films at other studios such as Republic Pictures and RKO. In 1941 she teamed up with Jinx Falkenberg in "Two Latins from Manhattan", a film that proved to be enough of a success that the two were teamed again in "Two Senoritas from Chicago" ( 1943 ). She was paired with Eddie Foy Jr. in "Yokel Boy" ( 1942 ), Jack Haley in "George White's Scandals" ( 1945 ) and Eddie Cantor in the wonderful "Show Business" ( 1940 ) and "If You Knew Susie" ( 1948 ), one of Cantor's last films. 




Although she was a versatile comedian and could perform in any scenario with success, it was in Joan Davis' dance performances that her forte in humor lay. She would enter a dance with such an expression of seriousness and then as the number would continue, and get progressively worse, it would clearly turn into a farce, with Joan usually ending up on her rump by the conclusion of the dance. The "Swan Lake" dance with Lou Costello in Abbott and Costello's "Hold That Ghost" ( 1941 ) was Joan at her prime...no matter how many times that scene is watched a gigantic belly-laugh ensues. It remains one of the greatest shticks in any Abbott and Costello film. 



In the mid-1940s she starred in several comedies written especially to suit her unique comedic style - "Kansas City Kitty", a musical about a piano teacher literally falling for her music publisher, played by none other than Bob Crosby, and "Beautiful But Broke" where she plays a secretary who slaps together an all-girls orchestra at short notice. 



Over at Universal Joan Davis made two little gems, "She Gets Her Man" ( 1945 ) , a fast-paced mystery about the daughter of a former police chief having to fill his shoes and catch a mysterious blow-gun killer at large, and "She Wrote the Book" ( 1945 ) , a humorous tale revolving around a college professor who takes the place of a steamy bestselling author to save the real author from embarrassment only to receive a bump on her head and suffered a brief case of amnesia where she believes she is the scandalous author. Oh my.

By the late 1940s, the public's taste in humor was changing and the wild and wacky slapstick of Joan Davis wasn't selling tickets anymore. Yes, it was time to move to television! Anything goes there. Her last film was "Harem Girl" ( 1948 ) and then Miss Davis took the plunge...all the way. She formed her own production company and vigorously plugged herself as America's favorite comedienne starring in the now-obscure I Married Joan television series. The show featured the misadventures of a scatterbrained housewife married to a lawyer, a pre-Magoo Jim Backus. Whilst on-air there was an all-out war between NBC's I Married Joan and CBS's I Love Lucy which premiered one year prior. The stations battled it out and Lucy won, hands down. 

Despite the results for the shows, if Lucille Ball and Joan Davis were to go head-to-head in a battle of the dippy dames, Joan Davis would emerge the victor. She was the batty blonde to top all. 

Today Joan Davis is little known, even among film buffs. Cable channels have neglected to play her films and the I Married Joan series has yet to get an official dvd release. But as is evident in this clip from "Yokel Boy", she is a delight to watch and in our opinion remains one of the greatest film, tv and radio comediennes. 

Joan Davis ( June 29, 1907 - May 22, 1961 )  Happy Birthday Joan! 





This post is our contribution to the Funny Lady Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently where over 35 bloggers shed the spotlight on the greatest funny ladies of the silver screen. 

11 comments:

  1. Hi there!
    I know Joan Davis best from her collaborations with Alice Faye, thanks for filling in the gaps in my knowledge. She was truly a talented woman! I loved the way you highlighted her best comedic bits. My to-watch list has grown after reading this!

    Fritzi, MoviesSilently.com

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    1. You have to catch her performance with Abbott and Costello in "Hold that Ghost"...that's truly a winner. Actually, I'm a big Alice Faye fan but have not yet seen any of the films that she made with Joan Davis. Oh it's such fun to have a long list of movie titles yet to watch and enjoy!

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    2. i am so happy today for what doctor Dr. AKHERE of AKHERETEMPLE@GMAIL.COM He is a great spell caster. My family have be living together in peace and love, we were married for 15 years with Five beautiful kids and everything went smoothly until my husband started staying out late and would beat me up with any excuse he gets, he would always get drunk and i was bent on finding out what the problem was and i discovered that he was seeing a young woman outside who he was planning to move in together and was preparing a divorce. I became devastated as i love my husband so much and i looked for help, i contacted many spell casters but nothing happened until i met with doctor Dr. AKHERE, who told me so many things and said i should worry about my present situation and that all will be well and told he said he was going to cast a reunion spell that will bring my husband back to me and he was true to his words, i want you all to help me thank and i promised him that i will always tell people of his good works. He is a powerful spell caster. contact for what ever problems you have and he will help you out of it. Here's his email address AKHERETEMPLE@GMAIL.COM. contact him he is a powerful spell caster and i pray he help you out too

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  2. I would love to see "I Married Joan". The mere idea of the Davis-Backus combo makes my funny bone tingle.

    Loved your article reminding us of a great and talented lady.

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    1. Thank you Caftan Woman! You can check out I Married Joan on Youtube..a Joan Davis fan created a channel devoted to her and posted many of the episodes. They're zany but fun to watch.

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  3. Thanks for that video clip with Eddie Foy. I love Joan and one of my favorites is Show Business - she and Eddie Cantor are a riot. Wish it was out on DVD.

    Vienna's Classic Hollywood

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    Replies
    1. I wish Show Business was available too, I'd love to see it again! We really have to pester the studios to release the movies we want... :-)

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  4. Must admit I knew very little about Joan Davis, but you have written a great piece about her and I will hope to catch up with some of her films!

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    1. We're glad we instilled in you an interest in Ms. Davis's work...check out her part in "Hold That Ghost" if you can, she's a hoot in that one!

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  5. I remember enjoying reruns of "I Married Joan" as a kid on weekday afternoons in the late '50s & early '60s. An interesting fact is that Joan Davis and her real-life daughter, Beverly Wills, played sisters on the show during its last two seasons.

    ReplyDelete
  6. i am so happy today for what doctor Dr. AKHERE of AKHERETEMPLE@GMAIL.COM He is a great spell caster. My family have be living together in peace and love, we were married for 15 years with Five beautiful kids and everything went smoothly until my husband started staying out late and would beat me up with any excuse he gets, he would always get drunk and i was bent on finding out what the problem was and i discovered that he was seeing a young woman outside who he was planning to move in together and was preparing a divorce. I became devastated as i love my husband so much and i looked for help, i contacted many spell casters but nothing happened until i met with doctor Dr. AKHERE, who told me so many things and said i should worry about my present situation and that all will be well and told he said he was going to cast a reunion spell that will bring my husband back to me and he was true to his words, i want you all to help me thank and i promised him that i will always tell people of his good works. He is a powerful spell caster. contact for what ever problems you have and he will help you out of it. Here's his email address AKHERETEMPLE@GMAIL.COM. contact him he is a powerful spell caster and i pray he help you out too

    ReplyDelete

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