Sunday 21 May 2023

Tralfaz Sunday Theatre: Charlie's Haunt

By 1958, 55-year-old Edgar Bergen had wound down his radio career and was appearing in night clubs, at paid business engagements and occasionally on television.

He also found time to bring out Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd for a film project.

This wasn’t a feature for one of the big studios. Charlie’s Haunt was a half-hour film on safety, funded by Bell Telephone and produced by Jerry Fairbanks Productions.

The Library of Congress catalogue summarises it this way: “When off-the-job accidents increase alarmingly in a small town, Charlie McCarthy and his friends haunt people who act carelessly and therefore help to prevent accidents.”

The summer 1959 of the Bell Telephone Magazine reviewed the film this way:
STILL ANOTHER GOOD EXAMPLE of the system-wide interdepartmental approach is the Bell System movie, “Charlie’s Haunt,” in which safety ideas of all departments were coordinated. The picture was produced in 1958. “Charlie’s Haunt” is devoted primarily to promoting off-the-job safety. Included in the cast are Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, and Don Wilson.
In the picture, men and women employees of the various departments are shown performing their work safely; but away from the job they engage in similar activities with much less regard for safety. As the story unfolds, Edgar and Charlie, in their inimitable way, keep emphasizing the basic theme of “taking safety home.” While it is reasonable to expect that this will be done, the fact that it is not is well illustrated by the much larger number of accidents that occur to employees when they are off the job. . .
“Charlie’s Haunt”. . .this year received Award of Merit certificates from the National Committee on Films for Safety.”
Various publications reveal the film was shown at employee meetings, before community groups and PTAs, in elementary school classrooms, at Boy Scout affairs, and even in a kiddie programme at the Lincoln Theatre in Massillon, Ohio in 1964 (it was billed in one showing with It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World).

Bergen’s face wasn’t the only familiar one. The Los Angeles Citizen-News of August 21, 1957 reported: “Jack Benny’s genial pal Don Wilson has been signed by Producer Jerry Fairbanks to play himself in ‘Charlie’s Haunt,’ a public service film for American Tel and Tel shooting in color. Picture, which stars Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, is under the direction of Robert Florey.”

Yes, the same Robert Florey who directed Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), God Is My Co-Pilot (1945) and The Beast With Five Fingers (1946).

There’s a cast list on the credits, but it’s not complete. A pre-Dobie Gillis Sheila Kuehl is easily recognisable in the opening. And Mr. Smedley with the lawnmower (who has no dialogue) toward the end of the picture is character actor Herb Vigran.

Edward Paul, Fairbanks’ resident composer, comes up with a nice tongue-in-cheek score.

This looks to have been dubbed off a VHS tape, so it’s murky, but still watchable.

I still wonder if they came up with the punny title based on “Charlie’s Aunt” then built the film around it, or the other way around.

1 comment:

  1. Nice, informative post. One thing, though: Robert Florey did not direct the 1931 "Frankenstein". That was James Whale.