Oy vey! And a bit more…
Comedy routines, with the exception of those set to music, were rare on the Panoram screen. Consider that most of the Panorams were placed in crowded locations where listening closely was difficult – not even desired – and the spoken word would often be lost in the background noise. In the case of Willie Howard’s heavy accented delivery, it is strange that Jack Berry’s Minoco Production decided to produce five Soundies with this veteran of the vaudeville stage. And yet….
Willie and Eugene Howard were two of the earliest vaudeville performers to openly embrace the fact that they were Jewish. They were immensely popular on the vaudeville and Broadway stage, and Willie Howard played a lead, Mayor Gieber Goldfarb, in the immensely successful Gerswhin musical from 1930, Girl Crazy. The brothers worked together until Eugene retired in 1940.
While Willie Howard appeared on stage and film throughout the 1930s, by 1941 he was somewhat of an anachronism, taking a comedic backseat to a new generation of performers like Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Abbott and Costello, Danny Kaye and others. In fact, Howard’s Soundies series would be his last film appearance before he passed away in 1949.
Comes the Revolution harkens back to the Howard Brothers’ early performances on the vaudeville stage. Poking gentle fun at Socialism was part-and-parcel of comedy in the 1920s and ‘30s, although “red baiting” was as common back then as it is today.
Taking brother Eugene’s place as Willie’s comic stooge/foil is Al Kelly. While it is sometime difficult to understand the heavily-accented Howard, the routine is actually quite funny. This is one of the relatively rare Soundies to be filmed and recorded simultaneously; only Sam Medoff’s novachord introduction was pre-recorded. A strange Soundie, perhaps, but still a very important glimpse back to early vaudeville and the birth of Jewish humor on stage.