Does size matter in the World of Soundies? Well, maybe yes, maybe no. I’ll let you watch this Soundie and then decide for yourself
We’ll start with an excerpt from an interview I had with John Primi, one of the directors, and the head of the editing department, for Minoco Productions in 1941-42. I had asked him about the issue of censorship by a handful of state agencies, and John’s recollections were fascinating.
“One day we were called into [executive producer] Jack Barry’s office. He was pretty much the fellow in charge, but [line producer] Fred Waller, who was often there on the sets with us, he was there, too. Jack was concerned because there had been a fair amount of action by the local [state] censorship boards. It was expensive to re-edit a short, or pull it and replace it, if the board had some objection. But both Barry and Waller knew that sex sells – that’s the phrase, isn’t it? – so they told us to be careful with the images – scantily clad women were a problem with some people – and set-ups and double-entendres. But we weren’t told to stop, mind you.
Now, remember that I was not only directing some of the shorts. I was also in charge of the department that edited all of them. In some cases we might sneak in something here and there, something suggestive but not dirty at all, hoping the censors would miss it. One ploy was to put it at the very end of the film. It could be easily cut and replaced, if necessary, and by that time maybe the censors would be bored and not notice anything.”
All in a day’s work.”
Now, The Fella with the Fiddle is neither a great song nor top-notch Soundie, although it is entertaining, and filled the spot for a “song-story” in the 11/17/41 weekly release. With a music track recorded by Jack Shaindlin’s studio orchestra, it really doesn’t do any harm at all. The song and “screenplay” were written by Minoco’s jack of all trades Charles Abbott, the man responsible for most of the “plots” of the song-stories churned out at that time. No real musicians are seen on screen, just a story acted out by the cast. The voice we hear throughout, regardless of who sings on screen, is that of Clarence Nordstrom, a veteran film performer perhaps best known for introducing the standard “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” in the 1933 Warner Bros. feature 42nd STREET. He appears as the “suitor,” while Robert “Tex” Allen (a regular Minoco sideline extra) is his rival … “the fella with the fiddle.”
The film passed muster with the censors, and whether or not the conclusion was meant to be risqué, or is something that I am reading into the short many years later … well, as I said, that’s for you to decide.