Movie Thoughts: “Gildersleeve’s Ghost”

gildyghost“The Great Gildersleeve” is my favorite old time radio show, but I can’t necessarily say this big-screen version is the best example of what made the show work so well.

Running for police commissioner, Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve is caught up in a whirlwind affair involving an escaped gorilla, an invisible woman and a mad scientist lurking in a mysterious mansion near Summerfield. The chain of events is set in motion by two ghosts from the Gildersleeve family tree (played by Harold Perry, in addition to his work as our favorite Uncle Mort). Of course, only Gildy sees the gorilla, the ghost girl and other mysterious goings-on, leading everyone to believe he’s probably going a bit mad.

Lots of the humor comes from misunderstanding or conveniently placed trap doors and invisible girls vanishing at just the right moment. Plot threads are brought up and then dropped just as quickly (once the ghosts vanish in the first reel, they’re not heard from again, despite claims they want to help our hero).

As a fan of the radio program, it’s fun to see various cast members from the show on screen, playing their familiar roles. Marjorie and Leroy are played by different actors (a necessity since both roles were played by older actors than the characters they played) however. Mr. Peavey and Judge Hooker are on hand, with Mr. Peavey playing the foil to Gildy throughout the film. (You may become weary of his famous line, “Well now, I wouldn’t say that” before the final reel).

At just over an hour, the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it’s not necessarily anything to write home about either. If you’re a big fan of the radio show, give it a try. If you’ve not heard of Gildersleeve, find some of the radio programs first to get a better feel of why the show was so popular.   The plot and characterizations used in the movie isn’t necessarily reflective of what exactly the radio show was all about (Birdie, the family cook isn’t well served here) and part of the fun of the radio show was hearing Gildy square off with  Judge Hooker and other denizens of Summerfield as well as keeping track of his increasingly complicated love life and his lack of competence as water commissioner.    There is little to no time for any of that here and the movie suffers as a whole for it.

There are some fun aspects to it.  Seeing Perry play multiple generations of the Gildersleeve family is fun and seeing the facial expressions that go with some of Gildy’s signature catch phrases work well.  And it is nice to see how similar and how different the real versions of these characters are as opposed to the mental pictures I’ve created of them while listening to the show.

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