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Saturday, 24 November 2007

Penrod and His Twin Brother (1938) William McGann

Billy Mauch, who played Booth Tarkington's Penrod in these three late 30s films, was one of a pair of twins who apparently appeared in quite a few films together, often as each other because the crew couldn't tell the difference. Given the title, I wondered how they could suddenly introduce a twin into an established series but it's the old wish fulfilment story.

After all, how much more convenient an excuse is there than to say that there's someone out there who looks exactly like you and they must have done it? Well here Penrod's dog Duke is causing some trouble, and very obviously too given that bank manager Mr Bitts and his wife are the people he's causing trouble for. So when someone who looks precisely like Penrod has a dog who looks precisely like Duke and this someone sics this dog onto young Rodney Bitts, the push is to get Duke into the pound and tested for rabies.

There are more holes in this plot than in the average pound of Swiss cheese but it's handled with a modicum of fun that outweighs at least some of it. The scriptwriters must have been shopping at Coincidences R Us and you'll need to suspend your disbelief early on. There's a subplot about a carrier pigeon that is obviously there entirely to give a way out for another subplot about bank robbers.

Films like this one are great examples to teach us how Hollywood scriptwriting works. First ask what you want the end to be, then backtrack an hour to make your film. Anything needed to make it work gets added, however unlikely or nonsensical. Given that this is 1938, you must also throw in some dubious racial content just to liven up the mix. So here we have the young black kid Verman, a dubious name to start with but miscredited as Vermin to make it even worse, talking to someone 'till he's black in the face'. I'm no politically correct prude but it does sometimes get difficult to understand how anyone would have found this funny seventy years ago.

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