"PUFNSTUF" MEETS "GUYS AND DOLLS" @ 3 July 2011 11:05 PM
"Li'l Abner" the comic strip is probably unknown to younger audiences, but it was a sensation in the mid 20th century for decades and made creator Al Capp a millionaire -- a bit ironic since the strip spoofed the rich, the powerful and especially the political. Sort of The Daily Show of its day with a rural overlay.
The strip was so successful that it actually spawned a theme park, Dogpatch, U.S.A. and a hit Broadway show that was one of the few to transition to film virtually intact. The wide screen Paramount extravaganza looks great on DVD (compared to washed out prints shown by local TV stations in the '60s) and is worth revisiting or experiencing for the first time.
There are several reasons, one of them being the immensely energetic Billie Hayes as Mammy Yokum. In her TV role as Miss Witchiepoo, Hayes made Sid & Marty Krofft's Saturday Morning fantasy series "H.R Pufnstuf" a showcase of comic timing worthy of classic American vaudeville and British music hall. Her Mammy Yokum is clearly Witchiepoo's cousin -- right down to a few minutes cackling and screaming over a glowing cauldron! The colorfully whimsical Dogpatch setting itself looks like something from a Krofft show, if it had a realllly big budget, with no attempt at the typical realism of a Broadway musical that becomes a movie -- like Camelot for instance, which became extremely gritty on film.
Li'l Abner also boasts Stubby Kaye doing a variation of his Guys and Dolls character with tailor made songs, the most scathingly accurate (and still timely) "The Country's in the Very Best of Hands" with Abner himself, played by Peter Palmer. Palmer did little after "Abner" since he became so identified with the role, but you can see him as a prizefighter in one of those musical episodes of The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason.
Then there's the Amazonian splendor that is the eternal Catwoman Julie Newmar, as Stupefyin' Jones, who entrance elicits a brief cameo by an unbilled Jerry Lewis. This alone makes the movie worth a look or two or three.
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