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The Good Humor Man

A slapstick farce produced by Columbia Pictures as a follow-up to The Fuller Brush Man (1948), which had starred Red Skelton, The Good Humor Man (1950) features Jack Carson as the inept ice cream man of the title. Tangled up in a crime ring, he becomes the patsy in a payroll holdup; now the bad guys wants to rub him out while the police want to arrest him, and his only hope may be a gang of kids and their "Captain Marvel Club." Ultimately, he and leading lady Lola Albright hole up in a schoolhouse that becomes the setting for a chase so elaborate that one reviewer said "all the breakaway props at Columbia Studios must have been assembled for [it]."

Albright had recently been featured in Champion (1949). She married Jack Carson soon after making this film, a union that lasted until their divorce in 1958. That same year, she started work on the TV series Peter Gunn, in a role that would mark her greatest claim to fame.

Behind the scenes of The Good Humor Man were two masters of comedy, one nearing the end of his career and the other having only just begun. Director Lloyd Bacon was for decades one of Warner Brothers' most reliable, hard-working, and fast-working directors, and his career stretched back to the Keystone comedy days. He brought a skilled craftsman's experience to the inventive action and physical comedy on display here. As The Hollywood Reporter said, "With a man like Lloyd Bacon as director you can be sure that the gags are played to the hilt and that every ounce of humor is dragged from the zany proceedings. He can take a good share of the credit for the successful emergence of Jack Carson as a solo comedian. The film is definitely Carson's show, designed to please his fans. He may find it difficult to top this job."

Variety echoed this assessment, calling the picture "eighty minutes of fun and frolic... The physical gags and action are a throwback to the two-reeler days, done with the perfectionistic timing of the present film era."

The second, younger, comic master at work here was screenwriter Frank Tashlin. He had begun his career as a cartoonist, honing a sensibility that carried over into his live-action films. The Good Humor Man was the second screenplay written by Tashlin that Lloyd Bacon directed, following Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949). Tashlin would go on to write two more films for Bacon: Kill the Umpire (1950) and The Fuller Brush Girl (1950).

But Tashlin generally wasn't happy with the way his scripts were being directed. According to a biographical article in the 1994 Locarno Film Festival program book, Tashlin wrote a letter around this time in which he cited this film and Kill the Umpire as examples of "what 'experienced' directors have done to some recent scripts of mine -- and the horrible casting that 'experienced' producers have done.... See them and weep. Believe me, originally these were bright scripts, but when the butchers, right down to cutting, get through, you're ready to step in front of a fast freight.... In Hollywood, the writer is always the fall guy."

Soon after this film, Tashlin would direct parts of The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) and then fully direct The First Time (1952) -- beginning one of the major directing careers in all of American film comedy.

The Good Humor Man opened in many cities as the top half of a double bill with the fine, low-budget film noir Armored Car Robbery (1950).

By Jeremy Arnold

VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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