Sunday, August 06, 2006

M as in ‘mule’. T as in ‘talking’.

And, F as in ‘Francis’. Because that was the name of the smart talking Army mule who used to upstage (after six appearances with Francis, the mule got more fan mail than the actor and land into trouble his GI sidekick, Peter Stirling (Donald O’Connor), in movie after movie. I think I first met Francis in 1952 at the Eros Theatre, opposite the Church Gate Station, just after appearing for my SSC Board examination. It was good fun once you willingly suspended your disbelief which was easy to do after you listened to Francis’s cynical and sardonic smart talk in the screen voice of Chill Willis. The pivot of the comedy was that Francis only spoke to Peter and when Peter followed his advice and acted in a manner beyond his competence, he had to tell his bosses that his source of information was a talking mule. This landed him into a psychoanalyst’s couch for analysis. I was taken aback when I came across a long-faced and solemn 693-word review of the first Francis flick in the New York Times (16 March 1950) by Bosley Crowther via (Movie Review Query Engine). I didn’t know Francis inspired such awe among movie critics when he made his debut. BC called 1950 the year of the mule, bitched about “the animal's limited histrionics” and didn’t seem to relish the hypothesis that mule could be superior to man. Famous last words? “In short, we can't say that ‘Francis,’ a Universal-International film, offers comedy of rich and subtle nature. But it holds a few good laughs – especially for mules.” I rest my case.

[Note on New Learning about the Good Ol’ Days: Even in 1950, on the stage at the Paramount, there were live performers: the King Cole Trio, Larry Storch, Johnny Coy and Ray McKinley and his orchestra. Did Francis ask for all those props?]

No comments: