'DOUBLE DYNAMITE' (1951)
I’ve always felt sorry for RKO. After all, this was the studio that
produced (among many others) the original King Kong and Citizen Kane,
is the only one of the ‘Big Five’ of Hollywood’s Golden Age not
to survive to this day as a production company, that distinctive logo
of the radio mast emitting high-pitched radio waves not featuring after
1967. Although much of their output to modern eyes amounts to mere
names, they did produce some forgotten gems- Double Dynamite(1951)
- A review by Richard Harrison (2010)
Double Dynamite(1951), Irving Cummings’ last film in a 30 year
directorial career, is actually really enjoyable, unsurprising given
its provenance (its stars are Groucho Marx, Frank Sinatra and Jane
Russell) but surprising given that it is overlooked by most film
critics and historians, who dismiss it in three words as a ‘later
Groucho film’. A ‘Groucho film’ it is though, and one made,
astonishingly, over 20 years after The Coconuts- the first film
to star the Marx Brothers as an ensemble. The one-liners in Double
Dynamite(1951) are not, however, confined to Groucho- although he
is the centre of the comedy that otherwise would be in rather short
supply. Jane Russell (barely recognisable as the same women who starred
in The Outlaw and The Paleface only a few years
earlier) is adequate, Frank Sinatra rather stiff as her would-be lover.
The whole premise of the plot requires Russell and the audience to be
at one- and will Johnny Dalton (Sinatra) to succeed. Instead, Dalton’s
absence of personality creates a sense of deep frustration.
One of the oddest things about the film is the song ‘It’s Only Money’,
sung by Groucho and Sinatra whilst on a fast-moving soundstage.
Musicals don’t claim to be “realistic” (or plausible) in all elements,
but this is such a jarringly bizarre moment that one is left wondering
why it was done in this way. Added to that is some clumsy editing early
on and Sinatra’s uninteresting characterisation, making Double
Dynamite(1951) in some respects a missed opportunity. These
comments made, the performance from Groucho Marx (then 60 years of age)
is truly remarkable, and one that peps up every scene he is in. Indeed,
one easily forgets that Johnny Dalton is meant to be the main character
as he is eclipsed by Emile J. Keck- one of the great characters created
by one of the great American entertainers.
Another key strength of the film is its temporal setting (Christmas)
and its highly effective mise-en-scene, which enables several superb
individual shots and set pieces to come to the fore. The musical
aspects of the film are present, but subjugated in favour of the comedy
which is largely verbal but occasionally also visual, bordering on
farce at times. The straightforward (though rather bizarre) plot is
dealt with inside a running time that leaves the audience feeling
satisfied (a more recent version of the story would probably be spun
out for at least another 20 minutes, which would be to its detriment),
and the whole film is good value entertainment.
On the technical side, the release comes with a trailer but no other
extras. The print quality is excellent, and certainly assists with the
enjoyment of the film. But, despite everything, it is Groucho’s film-
of that there is no doubt.
'Double Dynamite' is available from Odeon Entertainment.
Odeon Entertainment website