Uneven comedy series is still historically important. 2.5 Stars

Cinema historians and comedy fans will be pleased to find this first volume of Hal Roach Streamliners now available for viewing even if the films themselves are erratic in quality and the video and audio quality are likewise variable.

Tanks a Million (1941)
Released: 12 Sep 1941
Rated: APPROVED
Runtime: 50 min
Director: Fred Guiol
Genre: Comedy
Cast: William Tracy, James Gleason, Noah Beery Jr., Joe Sawyer
Writer(s): Edward E. Seabrook, Paul Girard Smith, Warren Wilson
Plot: An Army draftee with a good memory makes sergeant and saves the day.
IMDB rating: 6.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Other
Distributed By: ClassicFlix
Video Resolution: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Subtitles: None
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 4 Hr. 58 Min.
Package Includes: DVD
Case Type: Amaray case
Disc Type: DVD-9 (dual layer)
Region: 1
Release Date: 03/31/2020
MSRP: $24.95

The Production: 3/5

By 1941, Academy Award-winning producer Hal Roach had pretty much abandoned the one and two-reel comedies which had been his bread and butter since the silent era and embarked on feature films. He also began producing a series of what he termed “streamliners”: five-reel film featurettes which could play the lower half of double bills since they would always run less than an hour. Produced for about $110K apiece, these quickies usually brought it profits of $50 to $75K per entry making them highly profitable for Roach. Among the almost two dozen entries in the streamliner series were six featurettes starring a comic pair of rivals: Dorian ‘Dodo’ Doubleday and William Ames played respectively by William Tracy and Joe Sawyer. Slapstick comedies without much subtly, the six films contained in this first volume of streamliners all play off the same tonal formula: the sweet, innocent Dodo constantly trying to be upstaged and outwitted by the bungling Ames.

1941’s Tanks a Million gets the series off on a high note: blessed with a photographic memory, Dorian Doubleday, having memorized the Army manual for conduct and procedure once he’s drafted, is almost instantly promoted to staff sergeant, a promotion that greatly angers Willie Ames who got to the rank of sergeant over a long period of time. His constant attempts to sabotage Dodo in the eyes of deadpan Capt. Rossmead (Douglas Fowley) and the high-strung Col. “Spitfire” Barkley (James Gleason) always tend to backfire on him, especially once Doubleday’s squad, who had initially been adverse to the bookworm, realize that maintaining his rank will always be in their best interests. The hijinks are fun if somewhat lacking in invention (lots of pratfalls and sight gags), and the first film is blessed not only by its leading players but by familiar faces as Noah Berry, Jr., Frank Faylen, and Dick Wessel as Army grunts who come to admire their milquetoast Sgt. Dodo.

The rival sergeants are back in Hay Foot, a less inspired comedy with Doubleday and Ames as rivals for the hand of Col. Barkley’s daughter played by Elyse Knox (who was also in the first film playing a different character). The two men also have a third rival, Noah Berry, Jr.’s Charlie Cobb now also a sergeant. Cobb and Ames are also crack pistol shots. Doubleday knows everything about the assembly and proper technique for weapon firing, but he’s gun shy and a lousy shot. That doesn’t stop the mild misunderstandings that occur when mistaken shots find impressive targets that convince Barkley that Dodo is an ace marksman. The script seems a jumble of disparate ideas not well tied together, but its 47-minute running time means the minor amusements come and go painlessly.

Invention takes a further tumble in About Face where the two soldier-nemeses are trying to impress women (Marjorie Lord in Tracy’s case and Veda Ann Borg in Sawyer’s case) while the perpetually penniless Ames tries to leech off Doubleday’s recently won $100. None of the romantic complications are funny or interesting (brainless Jean Porter sets her own cap for Tracy much to Marjorie Lord’s disgust), and the slapstick seems very tired (an automobile deconstruction melee is the height of the movie’s meager humor). On the plus side there is the immortal Margaret Dumont as the starchily officious Mrs. Culpepper lifting every scene she’s in with her own brand of disapproving superiority while familiar faces like Frank Faylen and Dick Wessel turn up again this time as civilians and Charles Lane scores as the dyspeptic rental car agent determined to see the destructive sergeants get their comeuppance for their negligence.

Much better is the next entry in the set, 1943’s Fall In. To show he’s worthy of a promotion to lieutenant, Dodo is given a new pack of hillbilly recruits, personally selected by his nemesis Ames who was passed over for promotion. Doubleday wins the scruffy squadron’s trust when he pretends to be kissin’ kin from Kentucky, and their skills as marksmen make him look like a first-rate teacher on the firing range. The script inserts a spy ring plot with less than twenty minutes left in the featurette, and it all ends in a wild, overlong melee as the soldiers fight German spies masquerading as loyal American citizens, but the really clever sight gags staged by director Kurt Neumann (a room of domino chairs, flying targets aimed at Ames) give the film’s first half hour some distinction. Jean Porter returns as Dodo’s love interest (but as a different character without a lisp), and Frank Faylen likewise turns up again in the military ranks, this time as a captain. A young Arthur Hunnicutt has some funny lines as hillbilly Luke Hatfield.

The boys leave the security of Camp Carver for their first overseas assignment in Yanks Ahoy, the last of their World War II-set comedies (and it’s a good thing, too, since the battle helmets used in the movie are worn backwards by all of the soldiers). It’s a shipboard farce with Ames finally achieving his goal of getting his nemesis Doubleday busted down to private despite his having achieved some miraculous feats on his first naval voyage. There’s a new love interest for the duo – Marjorie Woodworth as nurse Phyllis Arden, but the focus of the shenanigans revolve around a suspected saboteur on board. Minor Watson is the ship’s captain, and Frank Faylen makes another appearance, this time as the ship’s quartermaster. Despite its being the longest of the series entries, it’s decidedly one of the lesser efforts.

Out of the Army and now trying to make it in civilian life in Here Comes Trouble, Ames and Doubleday are plying their trades as a policeman and a reporter respectively, neither with striking success. Doubleday’s boss Winfield Blake (Emory Parnell) is trying to expose the chief crook behind an underworld gang, not knowing that his own lawyer (Paul Stanton) is Mr. Big. Arranging to buy an incriminating diary from stripper Bubbles LaRue (Joan Woodbury) for $10,000, Doubleday manages to mess everything up leading to a frantic climax at the burlesque theater where Bubbles strips. Fred Guiol had directed the initial two entries in the series, and returns here for this one, but the plot is trite and not very funny and the slapstick escapades are too elongated for their slight entertainment value. Dodo’s photographic memory gimmick isn’t used to much good purpose, and Ames has less to do with the plot than usual. The Cinecolor in this installment gives this final Roach entry (there would be two additional films made in the 1950s for a different production company) its only distinction.

Video: 3/5

3D Rating: NA

The six films in this one disc set are framed at 1.37:1. They vary quite a bit in quality. Tanks a Million looks by far the weakest of the series with lots of dirt, scratches, and debris though its sharpness is better compared to entries like About Face. That film and the next one Fall In are overly bright with weaker contrast than the others though Yanks Ahoy has the opposite problem with some crushed blacks and unnatural dimming in certain scenes. Reel change markers can be spied in most of the films. The final one Here Comes Trouble is in the Cinecolor process which means flesh looks a bit on the orange side and blue tends to dominate the color timing. Each movie has its own chapter placement ranging from 3 to 9 chapters depending on the length of the movie.

Audio: 2.5/5

Each movie has a Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix which Prologic decodes into the center channel. While dialogue is always understandable, there is a fair amount of hiss present in many of the films, and Tanks a Million also has pops and crackle to distract the listener. Music and sound effects are combined with the speech to make solid soundtracks, but age has taken its toll on these elements.

Special Features: 0.5/5

The Thelma Todd-Patsy Kelly Comedy Collection trailer (2:09)

Overall: 2.5/5

Cinema historians and comedy fans will be pleased to find this first volume of Hal Roach Streamliners now available for viewing even if the films themselves are erratic in quality and the video and audio quality are likewise variable.

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Matt Hough

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Robin9

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Thanks for the review but . . . . you haven't encouraged me to buy this set!
 

BobO'Link

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I didn't need encouragement. I love these "Streamliners" from Hal Roach and have all of them ordered. The prices are excellent on these and I'm anticipating getting the entire series, of course assuming they continue past volume 3.

I've also purchased the 2 sets with Thelma Todd - one with Patsy Kelly and one with Zasu Pitts. Only the Thelma Todd/Zasu Pitts set has arrived and I can hardly wait for the others.
 

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I've never seen these, but that lukewarm summation to the review was kind of what I expected. I wish they would release the better stuff from the Roach library... in particular "Fiesta" 1941. I'd be interested in seeing the Taxi Boys and the Edgar Kennedy shorts too.
 

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The "Taxi Boys" streamliners are coming in Volume 3, with an expected release date of June 30th. It contains Brooklyn Orchid (1942), The McGuerins from Brooklyn (1942) and Taxi, Mister (1943).

Volume 2 is the Westerns with Noah Beery, Jr. and Jimmy Rogers and contains Dudes Are Pretty People (1942), Calaboose (1943) and Prairie Chickens (1943).

All of them are currently available at Target and part of their B2G1 free sale (Ends Saturday the 11th at midnight). They're also up for order/pre-order direct from ClassicFlix (w/$2.99 flat rate shipping per order). Both those guys are less than Amazon - Target much less if you go for the sale and pick up all 3 (that'll also get you past their free shipping minimum).

Here's a HTF post about volume 3:

https://www.hometheaterforum.com/co...ners-vol-3-taxi-comedies-june-30-2020.366124/
 

ClassicFlix

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Thanks for the review but . . . . you haven't encouraged me to buy this set!
I appreciate Matt's review, but he is giving his opinion and those do vary. He seemed to like About Face the least, but it happens to be one of my favorites in the set.

Approach these expecting 45 minutes of breezy fun, and not cinematic masterpieces, and I think you'll enjoy the set very much -- especially if you like William Tracy and/or Joe Sawyer as they are funny here and have good chemistry.

- David
ClassicFlix Founder, Producer
 

ClassicFlix

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The "Taxi Boys" streamliners are coming in Volume 3, with an expected release date of June 30th. It contains Brooklyn Orchid (1942), The McGuerins from Brooklyn (1942) and Taxi, Mister (1943).

Volume 2 is the Westerns with Noah Beery, Jr. and Jimmy Rogers and contains Dudes Are Pretty People (1942), Calaboose (1943) and Prairie Chickens (1943).

All of them are currently available at Target and part of their B2G1 free sale (Ends Saturday the 11th at midnight). They're also up for order/pre-order direct from ClassicFlix (w/$2.99 flat rate shipping per order). Both those guys are less than Amazon - Target much less if you go for the sale and pick up all 3 (that'll also get you past their free shipping minimum).

Here's a HTF post about volume 3:

https://www.hometheaterforum.com/co...ners-vol-3-taxi-comedies-june-30-2020.366124/
FYI - The "Taxi Boys" comedies were early 30s Roach shorts and not the "Taxi Comedies" we're releasing in June.

- David
ClassicFlix Founder, Producer
 

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I've never seen these, but that lukewarm summation to the review was kind of what I expected. I wish they would release the better stuff from the Roach library... in particular "Fiesta" 1941. I'd be interested in seeing the Taxi Boys and the Edgar Kennedy shorts too.
Fiesta is coming, and while not remastered, it'll look better than anything out there.

- David
ClassicFlix Founder, Producer
 

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It is absolutely just me I know, but I almost totally lose interest in movies from the classic era, except musicals, by 1940. The comedy seems stupid to me, and horror of horrors along come Abbot and Costello, and I can’t stand more than 5 minutes of them!

On the other hand I could be convinced I am re-incarnated from the 1920 to 1933 era.
 

ClassicFlix

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Are you able to provide any information about the remaining Streamliners? Like - how many films/volumes to expect?
We plan to have 6 volumes:

Nothing solid yet, but Musicals are likely in August,
  • All-American Co-Ed (1941)
  • Fiesta (1941)
  • Flying with Music (1942)
a "Comedy" Volume in September/October time frame:
  • Niagara Falls (1941)
  • Miss Polly (1941)
  • The Devil with Hitler (1942)
  • Nazty Nuisance (1943)
  • The Fabulous Joe (1947)
then a "Curley" set hopefully this year, but the materials for Robbin are a challenge at the moment so it's tough to say a specific time frame:
  • Curley (1947)
  • Who Killed Doc Robbin (1948)
- David
ClassicFlix Founder, Producer
 

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I appreciate Matt's review, but he is giving his opinion and those do vary. He seemed to like About Face the least, but it happens to be one of my favorites in the set.

Approach these expecting 45 minutes of breezy fun, and not cinematic masterpieces, and I think you'll enjoy the set very much -- especially if you like William Tracy and/or Joe Sawyer as they are funny here and have good chemistry.

- David
ClassicFlix Founder, Producer
Mine arrived yesterday and while I haven't had a chance to watch any of them yet, breezy fun is what I'm expecting. I've already preordered volumes 2 and 3, looking forward to getting all six!
 

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Just watched "About Face" (1942) this evening. Breezy, minor-league fun. And with the distaff side merrily represented by Jean Porter, Marjorie Lord, Margaret Dumont and Veda Ann Borg. With the 'streamliners' relatively short 45-minute running times, they zip in and zip out before wearing out their welcome. I'd seen some of these Tracy-Sawyer flicks before, but I'm really happy to have them all batched together in a collection. And I'm particularly pleased to now see a decent color print of "Here Comes Trouble." Looking forward to all of ClassicFlix' Hal Roach releases. On a sheer percentage-wise basis, I think I own more ClassicFlix releases than any other brand. I took a powder on only three or four of them.

The only other outfit besides Roach that I'm aware made streamliners were those Comet Pictures releases, which Mary Pickford and Charles 'Buddy' Rogers were involved with. I don't recall ever seeing them circulate anywhere, but I've always been curious to see "Little Iodine" (1946), ostensibly based on the comic-strip, as well as "Susie Steps Out" (1946).
 
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Just watched "About Face" (1942) this evening. Breezy, minor-league fun. And with the distaff side merrily represented by Jean Porter, Marjorie Lord, Margaret Dumont and Veda Ann Borg. With the 'streamliners' relatively short 45-minute running times, they zip in and zip out before wearing out their welcome. I'd seen some of these Tracy-Sawyer flicks before, but I'm really happy to have them all batched together in a collection. And I'm particularly pleased to now see a decent color print of "Here Comes Trouble." Looking forward to all of ClassicFlix' Hal Roach releases. On a sheer percentage-wise basis, I think I own more ClassicFlix releases than any other brand. I took a powder on only three or four of them.

The only other outfit besides Roach that I'm aware made streamliners were those Comet Pictures releases, which Mary Pickford and Charles 'Buddy' Rogers were involved with. I don't recall ever seeing them circulate anywhere, but I've always been curious to see "Little Iodine" (1946), ostensibly based on the comic-strip, as well as "Susie Steps Out" (1946).
Thanks for your support Bert!

- David
ClassicFlix Founder, Producer