One of my favorite film discoveries of last year was The Great Gildersleeve, the first of a series of four films to bring Harold Peary’s famous radio character to the big screen. I’ve enjoyed old-time radio programs since I was a kid so seeing one turned into a film was very intriguing for me. Having enjoyed the first film, it was about time I finally check out another film in the series, 1943’s Gildersleeve’s Bad Day.
Peary once again plays the pompous Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve (I love that name). As our story begins, Gildersleeve has received a summons to report for jury duty. Of course, he is thrilled and is anxious to put to use the vast amount of legal expertise he imagines he has. Among the other jurors are local pharmacist Mr. Peavy (Richard LeGrand) and newlywed Henry Potter (Grant Withers), who is literally handed his summons at the altar. Meanwhile, two shifty characters are plotting to influence the jury in the favor of the defendant, their boss Louie (Douglas Fowley). They decide Gildy looks like the best possibility to help turn the jury their way, so they send him a note promising $1,000 in return for a not guilty verdict.
On the morning of the trial, however, Gildersleeve is running late. So when the letter arrives he shoves it into the pocket of his robe without reading it. Turns out the crooks didn’t need to even send the letter, since Gildy already has it in his mind that the prosecution’s case is based on circumstantial evidence, despite the defendant’s obvious guilt. This leads to a jury deadlock. To try and get some revenge on Gildersleeve for causing so much trouble, the judge has the jury sequestered at Gildy’s home. During the night, the other jurors, who just want things over with, agree with Gildersleeve and pass down a not guilty verdict.
The next day, Gildersleeve receives $1,000 cash, which he assumes is a donation for a charity event his niece Margie (Nancy Gates) is working on. Gildy gives the money to Judge Hooker, who is collecting the charity money. In reality, though, the money was originally stolen by the crooks from Judge Hooker’s safe. Since the judge has the serial numbers of what was stolen from him, it will soon appear that Gildersleeve accepted a bribe for the not guilty verdict. This leads to more hijinks as Gildy tries to get the money back and avoid the crooks who also want the dough. All that in just a little more than an hour’s worth of running time!
For a B-comedy, Gildersleeve’s Bad Day has a very complicated storyline. I admit, I had a difficult time summing it up. We have various storylines concerning Gildersleeve, Margie, nephew Leroy (Freddie Mercer), Aunt Edna, the crooks, two battling suitors for Margie…it’s a lot to keep track of. I certainly think things could’ve been simplified a little bit. The side story concerning Margie going to the dance is a bit of a distraction that we could’ve done without. Still, the film does a pretty good job of keeping things moving and, most importantly, has some genuinely funny moments sprinkled throughout.
As in the first Gildersleeve film, there are many moments of physical comedy for Harold Peary. It’s surprising to me that these films went for that style of comedy considering that they are based on a radio character. Physical comedy is not really an option when dealing with that medium. It makes sense, though, as Peary certainly proves himself to be a skilled physical comedian. The supporting players also have their share of funny moments as they play off the colorful Peary. Freddie Mercer as Leroy doesn’t have as much screen time as he did in the first Gildersleeve movie, but is still a welcome presence. I also found the Dink Trout in the small role as court official Otis to be wonderfully geeky. Charles Arnt as Judge Hooker and Richard LeGrand as Peavy are also very good.
The complicated story of Gildersleeve’s Bad Day does require a little extra work on the part of the audience. So I don’t think I would rank this one as high as the first Gildersleeve film. However, the film still delivers funny characters and a clever script that makes me quite excited to check out the two remaining entries in the series.
Todd Liebenow is a movie geek. It’s that simple. From Denver, Colorado, he writes the blog Forgotten Films and produces the Forgotten Filmcast podcast—both of which focus on “the movies that time forgot.” He also happens to be a professional puppeteer.