Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Movie Review: The Great Rupert

The Great Rupert, now sold under the name of A Christmas Wish, was produced by George Pal Productions in 1950, and appears to be often listed as a class B film, sometimes not even showing in some of the actors’ bios. However, it is quite a delightful little movie, especially if you are a Jimmy Durante fan.

We came across it quite by accident when our oldest daughter was here for Thanksgiving and she grabbed some one dollar DVD’s on a rack as she checked out at a local grocery store. Looking for something different to watch Sunday while home with an ill child I stuck the DVD in the player, never thinking it would be worth reviewing, after all it was only a one dollar rack special.

Durante quite steals the show while Rupert, the creation of George Pal and one of Hollywood’s earliest attempts at animation comes in at a close second. It is Rupert’s tricks that turns the Amendola family's fortune around. When we are introduced to this out of work, vaudeville family act we learn that they are both homeless and penniless. When Mrs. Amendola (Queenie Smith) asks Mr Amendola (Durante) if he has checked their other account in Chicago, Durante pulls a letter out of a coat pocket and reads to his wife, and daughter Rosalinda;

“Dear Mr. Amendole:

This is the last monthly statement we will mail you as we believe it is hardly worth the three cents to tell you that you have two cents.”

They then run into another luckless vaudeville act, Joe Mahoney the once famous lion tamer, who now is trying to convince others that his dancing squirrel (Rupert) is box office material. Amendola, after blowing a lot of smoke and mirrors about how they have been booked in Europe where a good human pyramid act is still appreciated, he learns that Mahoney has just been evicted this last half hour and better yet, managed to live at this location for six months without paying the rent. All pretext is dropped as Mr. Amendola grills Joe for the details, and they leave poor Mahoney in the park while Amendola quickly drags his girls to the address provided by the former lion tamer before some other misfortunate should stumble upon the vacancy.

The land lord’s son, Peter Dingle (Tom Drake) is in the apartment practicing on his tuba and when he sees the beautiful Rosalinda, ( Terry More) he is smitten and easily bamboozled out of the first months rent, putting him squarely in his father’s (Frank Orth) miserly bad books. Before long we are drawn in a tale that has both an innocent romance between Peter Dingle and Rosalinda which is marred only by the foil provided by theatrical agent Phil Davis (Chick Chandler) and a touch of the story of Scrooge while we get to watch Mr. Dingle’s miserly ways slowly become his ruin and Mr. Amendala’s generous soul become his salvation . All of this is aided by the antics of Rupert who moved right back into the apartment the same day his trainer had set him free in the nearby park.

All in all, the whole family enjoyed this film, even while in black and white. The music when Durante sometimes played piano and sang in his typical style that he was so famous for caught the baby’s attention and the other children were quite amused by the simple actions of the animated squirrel. While we are tempted to laugh at this 1950’s attempt at animation, it is interesting to know that “This technique is where it all started and the same basic process is the building block of all computer CGI today from JURASSIC PARK to TOY STORY.” (To read more click here. ) As well, I was fascinated to learn through my research about this film, that Rupert's producer, George Pal, had his office directly across from Gene Roddenberry who received a lot of advice from Pal on the making of his Star Trek series.

This DVD can be rented from Netflix and is also available for sale online from various websites. If you decide that you wish to own your own copy it can be found for as little as 9.95 but be sure to search about if you come across some the ones I found at 24.99. Although I liked the movie very much, I would be hesitant to spend more than ten dollars on it myself, but then I am not an avid Jimmy Durante fan!

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