It was always a part of comedian Jack Benny’s shtick that he had a lousy movie career and starred in the worst movie ever made, The Horn Blows at Midnight. It was an act, of course, for the hugely popular radio star had an above average movie career in terms of quality (even The Horn Blows at Midnight isn’t THAT bad). The Meanest Man in the World is the film he made after his two best ones To Be or Not To Be (coming soon on Blu-ray from Criterion) and George Washington Slept Here, but sad to say it doesn’t have the polish and pluck that those two films possess. Benny is fine and Rochester’s along for the ride, but this one is minor Benny at best.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 0 Hr. 57 Min.
Package Includes: DVDAmray case
Disc Type: DVD-R
Release Date: 04/16/2013
Small town lawyer Richard Clarke (Jack Benny) takes the advice of his fiancé Janie Brown’s (Priscilla Lane) father (Matt Briggs) and moves to New York City in an attempt to make the big bucks that will allow him to provide a luxurious lifestyle for his soon-to-be wife. But the Big Apple treats the good-natured lawyer and his valet Shufro (Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson) harshly with no one trusting the milquetoast attorney to do the dirty jobs. But when Frederick P. Leggitt (Edmund Gwenn) suggests he’d get more business if he’d take on a ruthless demeanor, Clarke tries it by evicting Leggitt’s mother (Margaret Seddon) from her apartment, and when his skullduggery earns headlines, clients flock to his offices. But Janie wants nothing to do with a man who would be so cruel to a little old lady and breaks their engagement, not realizing that Clarke is letting Mrs. Leggitt live in his new lavish apartment rent-free.
The Production Rating: 2.5/5
Though George Seaton would go on to win a couple of Oscars for screenwriting, his script for The Meanest Man in the World (co-written with Allen House) is a thoroughly mediocre accomplishment. There’s little originality to the story of a man who affects meanness while remaining a kind-hearted soul behind the scenes, and there are lots of little gaps in continuity and reality that irritate (secretary Anne Revere continues working for months on end with no pay, the telephone company informs Clarke he can no longer make outgoing calls due to a lack of payment only to have Clarke instruct his secretary the next day to make a call which she does and which goes through). Though Benny isn’t playing his pinchpenny persona from the radio, every effort to remind viewers who he is is taken with the film’s theme song being Benny’s theme song “Love in Bloom” (played ad nauseam during the film, sometimes on a scratchy violin) and Rochester in the same role (with a name change) and with the same relationship to “the boss.” There’s an uncomfortable Benny-in-blackface routine used in one sequence, and Jack and Priscilla Lane both play drunk in an unconvincing scene late in the film where the two lovers are so out of it that they don’t recognize one another. None of this rings really true or is very funny.
It’s nice to see Jack Benny playing something other than his radio character, and were the film better written and more imaginatively directed, this role could have been as funny as his work in his previous two comedies prior to this one. Priscilla Lane is completely wasted as the love interest, but it’s great seeing character actors like Anne Revere and Edmund Gwenn milking their scenes for every bit of effect they can squeeze out of them. Eddie Anderson is his reliably amusing self chasing after ambulances in a futile effort to drum up business for his employer. Tor Johnson pops in for the film's last scene.
The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1. This is perhaps the best presentation of a vault title seen thus far in the Fox Archives program. The grayscale offers solid blacks and clear whites with contrast dialed in expertly. Sharpness is excellent throughout, and there are almost no instances of age-related dust specks or scratches. Apart from some fleeting moiré patterns, the image is impressive throughout. The brief film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so this film has 6 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. Once again, the volume has been encoded at excessive levels in this transfer, and one is advised to turn down the volume control before playing the disc to prevent audio distortion. There is some hiss present, and there is intermittent crackle, too, that sometimes intrudes on the audio experience. However, dialogue has been well recorded and is never compromised by the sound effects or the music score.
Audio Rating: 3/5
The discs in the Fox made-on-demand program do not contain any bonus material, not even a trailer.
Special Features Rating: 0/5
The Meanest Man in the World is not primo Jack Benny. Fans of the comedian, however, will be pleased with the excellent picture quality found on this disc. Too bad the screenplay doesn’t measure up to the abilities of a wonderfully talented cast.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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