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‘One More Quart’
Viewing Two Comedies from 1933

Wondering what comedy looked like almost a century ago I viewed two short films.

The first was:

Too Many Highballs, about a husband living with in laws who lies so that he can slip off to see a boxing match with a friend. Fairly primitive physical and conversational comedy ensues. It is notable that police on foot commanded motorists to stop in the street and then mounted the running board and had the driver pull over to the side to receive his ticket. Talk about a high-trust society. The father-in-law has an entire closet full of moonshine, which he doles out to his son-in-law. A job is mentioned as a thing of great importance to one’s social status.

The second film was:

Million Dollar Legs, staring W. C. Fields as the eccentric president of a meat-headed nation called Klopstokia, where the election consists of arm wrestling. Despite the slapstick nature of much of the comedy, a fair balance consisted of social and political commentary, with the idea of a surveillance state well- established by various devices, such as a comically cloaked spy with notepad. The rules of society are patently absurd, with such laws as barring the president, who is shown exercising with Indian clubs, from punching anyone under 200 pounds. Interestingly credit in Klopstokia is determined by honor, which is based on athleticism, which drives the simple storyline.

Of most interest is the film’s core message, that an oligarchy of moneyed interests and powerbrokers lurk predatorily just under the social surface and that the buffoonish president is charged with keeping them from ruining the country. Aimed at poor folk, this film in which the president says to a political schemer, “The country starves and you with gold in your teeth,” casts the head of state—essentially a king—as the best hope of getting out from under the oppressive system.

Taken together, the viewing of Too Many Highballs and Million Dollar Legs plays to and depicts the common person of 1933 as oppressed by conniving oligarchs and heavy-handed police, and finding refuge in past times and alcohol at the base of a society crowned by celebrity worship.

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