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George Burns and Gracie Allen

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George Burns and Gracie Allen

It’s not only Mad About You. Every relationship comedy on TV these days seems to take the war between the sexes awfully literally. Let’s just call the whole genre Mad at You. The couples are so relentlessly, narcissistically combative. They’re arch and cranky, which, I think, sounds like a vaudeville team. That is to say, they’re not Burns and Allen, who, of course, were a vaudeville team and who, equally significant as a point of comparison, were clearly mad about each other.

To see how loving humor can be, as well as how funny a real romance once was, click out of sitcom mode for a night and rent one of the vintage movies featuring the seminal husband-and-wife comedy team of George Burns and Gracie Allen newly issued on video in a three-tape series: Six of a Kind, Love in Bloom, and Here Comes Cookie. Ironically, when the films were originally released more than 60 years ago, they were television. By that, I mean they were the functional equivalent — mainstream ”programmers” churned out by Paramount at a time when popular entertainment meant movies, radio, and the stage, and Burns and Allen were among the biggest comedy stars of all three.

The funniest of the batch is Six of a Kind, an anarchic road movie involving $50,000 in a suitcase, a big slobbering dog, and W. C. Fields (three separate elements). Love in Bloom is, as a whole, pretty lame. (The New York Times called the story about a woman on the lam ”one of the oldest plots known to Hollywood” in 1935.) Burns and Allen redeem the film by escaping it, reprising bits from their stage act. Here Comes Cookie uses the team better by having them essentially play their famous selves, a light-headed family gal and a vaudeville comedian.

Video tip: Freeze-frame when Burns is shown full body next to someone, and note how short he was. Then, when he’s shot from the waist up, see how tall he looks; he’s often standing on a box. Kind: B+ Bloom: C Cookie: B-

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