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Selected Short Subjects: “Money Squawks” (1940)

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An Andy Clyde short comedy co-starring Shemp Howard

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By the time he landed in the short subject division at Columbia Pictures in 1934, Andy Clyde was a veteran comedian whose career dated back to Mack Sennett silent comedies during the early 1920s. Clyde enhanced many a comedy alongside Harry Langdon, Billy Bevan, and Ben Turpin, among others. Producer Jules White built quite a stable of comedians for his shorts department at Columbia, the best known being The Three Stooges. White also liked to employ veteran comics like Langdon, Clyde, Buster Keaton, and Charley Chase. By the time Clyde made “Money Squawks,” Columbia was producing some of the best and most popular short comedies in Hollywood.

In “Money Squawks,” Clyde is teamed with frequent co-star Shemp Howard, who had joined brother Moe Howard and Larry Fine as one of the Three Stooges until the early 1930s when he went off as a solo and brother Curly took over. Shemp would return in 1946 after Curly’s illness kept him from continuing with the act. At the time of “Money Squawks,” Shemp was appearing in shorts with others, starring in his own series, and doing bits in features for most of the major studios.

Andy and Shemp are assigned to guard $10,000 overnight at the train depot where they work as watchmen. Meanwhile some gangsters, aware of the money, are interested in stealing it. This results in a series of gags, corny dialog, and a chase sequence (some of which uses footage from an earlier 1935 Clyde comedy entitled “Old Sawbones”).

Cornball comedy is most evident during a lunch sequence when Andy sloppily consumes a large sandwich in one hand and a big turkey drumstick in the other, conversing with Shemp as his mouth overflows with food. Shemp meanwhile is relegated to a small sandwich and a green onion. They use the old gag of a frog’s croak being mistaken as a burp, with Shemp warning Andy to exhibit better manners, stating, “I hate people who make noises when they eat,” then loudly crunching a celery stalk.

One of the funnier bits has Andy and Shemp mistaking a crime show playing on an outside car radio for the real thing. When the radio voices order the boys to lie on the floor with their hands up, they do so. The radio station is changed to an exercise program, with Shemp and Andy dutifully following instructions, believing the orders to still be coming from armed gangsters. Just as two innocent duck hunters walk in with their hunting rifles, Andy and Shemp decide to defend themselves and begin shooting at the men, who immediately flee. The gangsters waiting outside realize Andy and Shemp are armed, so they leave to plot another way to obtain the money.

Every so often there is a neat visual image, such as a peacefully sleeping Shemp cradling a large rifle in his arms, the barrel of the loaded gun pointing at his chin. They also resurrect an old gag from the Laurel and Hardy comedy “Oliver The Eight” (1934) when a derby landing on Andy’s foot is mistaken for a person, causing Andy to shoot his own toe. When Andy hops about in pain, he steps on a rake which rises up and hits Shemp in the face.

The duck hunters bring the sheriff back, but he is mistaken for another bandit and shot at as Andy and Shemp run to their car and drive away. A nicely shot car chase, with autos circling about and narrowly missing each other, extends to Andy continuing on the chase in a horse drawn wagon when their car hits a tree and is demolished. Andy mistakenly delivers the funds to the gangsters, and when he realizes his error, he slams a window pane on their heads and starts spanking them with a 2x4.

“Money Squawks” was directed by Jules White, who had a keen eye for visuals and liked edgier slapstick. Usually his films contain more violent sequences than other Columbia directors, but they’re also the most quickly paced and contain the greatest number of gags. Jules White’s movies never let up, and their energy is contagious. The viewer is usually breathless after a White-directed short.

Six years before he rejoined the Stooges, Shemp Howard shows that his gruff character is already fully honed. Clyde, was under 50 when he made this short, but made up to look much older, as befitting the crotchety old character he’d been playing since his Sennett films. Clyde had established this persona in his Columbia comedies long before “Money Squawks” was released.

The cast is rounded out by familiar faces like Vernon Dent, Cy Schindell, Eddie Laughton, Lynton Brent, and Bud Jamison, all of whom were Columbia short comedy stalwarts at this time.

“Money Squawks” is a very funny example of a solid Columbia short comedy starring someone other than The Three Stooges (Clyde had the second longest running and, arguably, second funniest Columbia shorts series after the Stooges).

It is available on DVD here

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