Friday, June 28, 2013

Mill Creek comedy classics #24: "Heading for Heaven" (1947)

Stuart Erwin wags his finger at Glenda Farrell in Heading for Heaven.n

The flick: Heading for Heaven (Ace Pictures, 1947; numerous distributors including PRC) [buy the set]

Current IMDb rating: 5.7

Director: Lewis D. Collins (directed an average of three or four B-movies a year for 32 years, half of them Westerns and none terribly famous)

Actors of note
  • Stuart Erwin (The Bride Came C.O.D., Son of Flubber)
  • Glenda Farrell (I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Little Caesar)
  • Russ Vincent (Gilda)
  • Milburn Stone (Invaders from Mars, Young Mr. Lincoln)
  • George O'Hanlon (voice of George Jetson for almost 30 years; also appeared in Rocky and a whole series of "Joe McDoakes" shorts)
  • Janis Wilson (Now, Voyager, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers; retired from acting as a teenager because she wasn't photogenic enough)

The climactic seance from Heading for Heaven.
The gist of it: The Elkins family has been holding onto a seemingly worthless piece of property for generations in the hope that one day it would bring a fortune. Beleaguered family man Henry Elkins (Erwin), inheritor of the property, has turned down offers to turn it into an amusement park and a garbage dump because he has his heart set on transforming it into a housing development called "Elkins Eastern Acres." But due to one of those typical 1940s movie comedy misunderstandings, Henry thinks he only has four months to live and must provide financially for his wife Nora (Farrell), daughter Janie (Janis Wilson), and no-account brother-in-law Alvin (O'Hanlon).

An airline wants to buy Henry's property and turn it into an airport, but various schemers and con artists -- including a fake swami (Vincent) with whom Nora is infatuated -- conspire to keep him from getting a fair price for the land by sending a phony telegram, supposedly from the airline, withdrawing their offer. The increasingly desperate Henry resorts to dishonesty to unload the property (which he thinks is worthless again) on a local banker but is quickly found out. Scandalized, Nora threatens to leave Harry. Instead, he voluntarily leaves home and becomes a hobo. Thinking he's dead after his pants are discovered in a river, Henry's relatives, friends, and business associates try to contact him in a laughable "seance" presided over by the pseudo swami, setting up the film's farcical conclusion.

Korla Pandit: Fake Indian..
My take: Basically a domestic sitcom in movie form, Heading for Heaven would be perfectly accentuated by prerecorded chuckles on the soundtrack. In fact, the film's cast has two patron saints of laugh-track-saturated reruns: George O'Hanlon of The Jetsons (about which I once wrote a quite brilliant article) as a layabout who claims to be an insurance salesman but sleeps 16 hours a day, and Irene Ryan of The Beverly Hillbillies as an ornery maid who does nothing but complain about her employers and make empty threats to quit. Stuart Erman is your typical harried, slightly dim TV husband and father. The plot, too, is built around the coincidences and miscommunications typically found in such shows. If you like old -- or shall we say, vintage -- sitcoms, Heading for Heaven will be an enjoyable experience. Fortunately, I do... and it was.

From a filmmaking standpoint, there's not much upon which to comment. It's a serviceable, competent job, but nothing special. The film was adapted from a stage play, For the Sake of the Family by Daniel Brown and Charles Webb, and I can imagine it working fairly well as dinner theater entertainment. (On stage, they'd have to up the energy level and the pace a bit.) If there's anything of particular interest in this plot, it's the presence of a fraudulent swami. Russ Vincent, the actor in this role, is not even remotely Indian but he has charmed the housewives of the community in this film by presenting them a vague, romanticized version of the Mysterious East. This puts him in close company with Korla Pandit, (about whom I also wrote a quite brilliant article). Like Korla, the swami in this film favors snazzy suits and bejeweled turbans.

Is it funny: I'd say so, yeah. While no masterpiece, it appealed to the rerun-loving part of my brain. I especially enjoyed the opening sequence in which generation after generation of Elkins men tell their children never to sell the family's sure-to-be-valuable property, foolishly putting their trust in Democrats, then Republicans, and finally Democrats and Republicans. At his lowest ebb, Henry has an amusing, slightly trippy scene in which he is visited by the spirits of his ancestors who, later in the film, literally turn over in their graves. Moliere it ain't, but I'll admit I laughed.

My grade: B

P.S. - Stereotype-free again, folks! Well, uh... except for the swami, who is the recipient of a couple of "towelhead" jokes.