Where’s Charley? (1952)

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.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • College
  • Gender Bending
  • Gold Diggers
  • Mistaken Identities
  • Musicals
  • Play Adaptation

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.


One thought on “Where’s Charley? (1952)

  1. First viewing. A tentative once-must (if you can *ever* find it), but only for Bolger’s buoyant performance.

    This has been an all-but-impossible film to find, and it’s looking like it very well might remain that way.

    In a way, one can see why. Though, overall, the film is more or less a combination of ‘Tootsie’ and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, it is never as witty as either one. The main problem with it is the fact that it is rather dated; what humor is in the film is not particularly distinguished, though it may have been for audiences of its time.

    As well, aside from one song – ‘Once In Love With Amy’ – I can’t say that the musical score has anything in its favor, really. (And I do love musicals.) However, a musical highlight (without lyrics) does occur when we’re given a fantasy sequence set in Brazil – it’s quite a nice (and needed) lift for the film; the choreography is clever and nicely done.

    All that said – Bolger (in what he called his favorite role) is clearly having a ball in a part that draws heavily from traditional French (or British) farce. He’s given the script’s best lines and delivers them with panache and high style. His performance is practically a textbook example of comic timing.

    The film itself at least moves relatively quickly – the pacing is ok, so the film doesn’t drag (if you will). It’s just not often that I come across a film that has been almost-singlehandedly saved by one performance. (And the last 10 minutes are kind of fun – once again, in the typical manner of farce.)

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