Where’s Charley? (1952)

“I’m Charley’s aunt, from Brazil — where the nuts come from.”

In Victorian-era Oxford, a student named Charley (Ray Bolger) impersonates his wealthy aunt so that his girlfriend (Allyn Ann McLerie) and the girlfriend (Mary Germaine) of his friend (Robert Shackleton) can be “chaperoned” in their presence — but trouble arises when both Shackleton’s father (Howard Marion-Crawford) and McLerie’s father (Horace Cooper) decide to pursue the hand of Charley’s aunt in marriage, and a woman (Margaretta Scott) claiming to have known Charley’s aunt’s deceased husband suddenly arrives.


This long-out-of-circulation film adaptation of Frank Loesser’s popular Broadway musical (which was in turn based on the Victorian-era play Charley’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas) is notable primarily for allowing Ray Bolger to reprise his Tony-winning role on the big screen. As noted by Bosley Crowther in his review for the New York Times, the original Broadway production “was of such delightful buoyance and frank frivolity that a rhapsodized fan could only wish it preserved for all time in a deepfreeze” — which is essentially what has been done here, through David Butler’s competent if undistinguished direction. What that said, the decidedly creaky mistaken-identity storyline — which centers around Charley’s obvious inability to appear at the same time both in his own form and as his aunt — quickly becomes rather repetitive and tiresome, and Bolger’s broadly comedic acting style (which probably worked wonderfully on stage) ultimately is too close to caricature. However, there’s enough here for film fanatics to enjoy to make it worth a look — primarily the opportunity to see Bolger’s inimitable, Scarecrow-like dancing style in action. The tunes are also mostly jaunty and memorable (fans of movie musicals will be pleasantly surprised), and Allyn Ann McLerie (reprising her role from the Broadway production) is an enjoyable — if improbable — romantic partner for the 48-year-old (!) Bolger.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Several enjoyable tunes
  • The opportunity to see the inimitable Ray Bolger dancing
  • Allyn Ann McLerie as Amy

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth seeking out for one-time viewing, as a curiosity.


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