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Paramount Home Video presents
"It's just that Nature gave some girls talent and brians, and with you, it slipped you a mickey."
DVD ReviewOne of the popular radio comedies of the late 1940s was My Friend Irma, starring Marie Wilson as the supremely ditzy Irma, who has her friend Jane at wit's end with her stupidity. The motion picture adaptation probably would have disappeared without anyone but old time radio buffs remembering it if it weren't for one vital point: it marked the film debut and the rocketing to stardom of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. This disc collects both the original 1949 film and its 1950 sequel, both prominently featuring Martin and Lewis.
Marie Wilson returns as Irma in the film adaptation, but Diana Lynn takes over the role of long-suffering Jane. Irma's fiancee Al (John Lund) is a Runyonesque character, chronically unemployed but always cooking a deal of some sort. When he realizes orange juice salesman Steve Laird (Martin) has a great singing voice, he muscles in to be Steve's manager, even though it means that Steve's buddy Seymour comes along with the deal. Meanwhile, Jane has a plan to get a job as the secretary to wealthy stockbroker Richard Rhinelander III (Don De Fore) and then convince him to marry her. But she starts to fall for Steve instead. Will she end up with either of them, once Irma gets done interfering?
No familiarity with the radio show is necessary; the plot and the characters quickly fall into readily-recognized archetypes from sitcoms of the last many decades. Wilson is pretty entertaining as Irma, though she doesn't have the inspired looniness of Gracie Allen. Many of the other characters have a distasteful edge to them; Al is constantly nasty to Irma, as is Jane, who's nakedly interested in gold digging for much of the picture (though things take a quite predictable turn at the end). Wilson's portrayal of Irma is so hopelessly vulnerable that being mean to her just seems cruel. Martin and Lewis do indeed make a big impression, with Dean coming off best. Lewis doesn't get a lot of screen time interacting with Martin here, with much of his comedy taking place in separate settings, though he does demonstrate his knack for physical comedy well. It's generally pretty forgettable fare other than their presence. Cagney fans will recognize a parody of a moment from The Public Enemy between Martin and Lewis that's pretty cute. The songs are fairly mediocre, but Martin certainly performs them well.
The sequel, helmed a year later, keeps the motion picture cast intact but seems to pretend that the ending of the prior film didn't happen. Things are back to the status quo for the most part, although Steve has moved up to television appearances. Unfortunately for him, he's paid in cans of spaghetti from the sponsor. But things seem to be looking up when a Hollywood producer C.Y. Sanford (Charles Evans) signs him to a picture contract and has the entire group head out to Hollywood. Unfortunately for them, Sanford was an escaped lunatic and there's no motion picture job waiting at all. Instead, Al gets mixed up with a bunch of crooked gamblers, Irma gets kidnaped, and Steve finds himself pursued by French actress Yvonne Yvonne (Corinne Calvet), while Seymour is convinced that he'll be the next Hopalong Cassidy.
The best part of the sequel is that it really lets Lewis go wild. There's a great bit with him interfering with Martin's performance of The Vagabond Song, taking over as conductor in a chaotic and anarchic sequence. He also gets off some surreal weirdness such as a wild imitation of Bette Davis in The Letter. There's more slapstick violence in this installment, making up for the relatively dull going in the first outing. The pacing is also better, keeping things moving at a more reasonable pace. Neither one is great art, but they're pleasant enough entertainments that certainly have historical importance.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: The original full frame picture looks fine and is devoid of any serious defects. Both films are shot in black and white, and they exhibit a fine greyscale range; I suspect that this transfer has its origins in the original negative or interpositive since it has plenty of detail and crisp sharpness throughout. There are a few speckles at the title sequences, but really nothing objectionable at all.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The optical audio tracks unsurprisingly contain moderate levels of hiss and noise. Goes West also has a couple of loud crackles, but it's still reasonably good quality for the period. Dialogue is clear throughout and the songs sound fine if a bit undernourished.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: There are no extras whatsoever. You'd think a release that has this significance might have at least a text essay, or even a couple bonus radio programs of the show, but it's just a missed opportunity.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsThe essential beginnings of Martin and Lewis are here on a fun double feature disc that sports an attractive transfer.
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