Uncle Joe is a short, little, black and white movie from 1941. At just less than 51 minutes long, this sweet movie makes a nice family film for all generations. The parents and grandparents will recognize the stars and enjoy a look back at a simpler time, the little kids will think Uncle Joe’s inventions are funny and won’t have to worry about adult language or situations, and the young adults will be google eyed that anyone ever actually lived like that.
Uncle Joe also has two silly but catchy songs that are sung later in the movie by vocalists on a radio show. The first song “Woogie Hula” is very much in the style of the hugely popular singing trio, the Andrews Sisters. I think the second song, “Land of Nod”, is supposed to bring to mind the beloved songs of America’s “little princess”, Shirley Temple, “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and “Animal Crackers in My Soup” since all three songs are cute songs of childish imagination.
Uncle Joe stars three important performers from Hollywood’s earlier days. First we have George “Slim” Summerville (1892 – 1946) as Uncle Joe himself. Slim started out doing silent comedy shorts as a Keystone Kop. He was 6’2 ½” tall, had a “malleable mug”, a “gangly build and naïve innocence, not to mention his potato – like nose” and has a long list of comedy performances. But he also did dramatic roles and even directed more than 50 short films. I remembered his face as soon as I saw the movie Uncle Joe although I can not remember exactly what I’ve seen him in. I think he just has one of those unforgettable faces. Slim also starred in a series of comedies with our second featured performer from Uncle Joe: Zasu Pitts.
Zasu Pitts ( 1894 – 1963) plays Uncle Joe’s former sweetheart, Julia, in our movie. I know her name but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in a film and I did not recognize her when I watched Uncle Joe. But Zasu Pitts was a very popular actress and starred in a very long list of early movies. Zasu started her career playing silent screen heroines. By the 1930s, Zasu was well established as a top character comedian famous for her “stock persona” of a “fretful, flustered, worrisome spinster” with nervous, fluttery fingers. Later in her career, Zasu concentrated on television and had one of her best known roles as the side kick to Gale Storm, our third featured performer, on The Gale Storm Show.
Gale Storm (1922 – 2009) plays Uncle Joe’s niece, Clare. Gale Storm’s acting career started with one of those fairy tale stories that keep legions of wanna-be actors and actresses flocking to Hollywood. When Gale (born Josephine Owaissa Cottle) was 17, two of her teachers encouraged her to enter a contest on the radio show, Gateway to Hollywood. Gale won the contest and received a one-year contract with a movie studio. Her future husband, Lee Bonnell, was the male winner of the contest. Eventually, Gale was signed by Monogram Pictures. Monogram was a “poverty row”, low budget studio but they found a real star in Gale and she starred in more than three dozen movies for Monogram. Later, Gale “became an American icon of the 1950s, starring in two highly successful television series.” Her first popular sitcom was My Little Margie (1952 – 1955) followed by The Gale Storm Show (1956 – 1960) which co-starred Zasu Pitts.
All three of these highly popular performers star in our movie, Uncle Joe. Gale Storm plays Clare Day, a wealthy young lady with an interest in a self-important artist. Clare’s parents are worried about the artist and decide to send Clare to spend a summer on her uncle’s farm. Uncle Joe, played by Slim Summerville, is a lonely farmer who spends his spare time making all kinds of inventions – some more successful than others. Uncle Joe is carrying a torch for his long ago sweetheart, Julia (played by Zasu Pitts). When Clare discovers that Julia is in danger of loosing her farm, she and Uncle Joe and four eager country boys try to find a way to save Julia’s home.
All three of our stars are in top form. Gale Storm is sweet and wholesome as Clare. Slim Summerville is helpful and handy as Uncle Joe and his inventions are clever and amusing. And Zasu Pitts is in her best form as vague and flustered Julia.
Our movie, Uncle Joe, should be a classic with three such talented comedy actors. But it’s not. Oh, it is amusing and entertaining and filled to the brim with sweetness and wholesomeness but there just is not enough story or enough time (the movie is only 50 minutes long) to make this a truly memorable film. Instead, Uncle Joe is more of a nice relaxing way to spend some time with your family.
Can Uncle Joe, Clare, and the boys come up with a limerick to win the contest?
Will Clare’s artist boyfriend manage to keep her affections?
Will Uncle Joe ever get together with his sweetheart, Julia?
Sit down, relax, and watch Uncle Joe to find out.
Uncle Joe is in the Public Domain and is FREE to watch at the Internet Archive. The audio and video quality is fine although the film is a bit dark and fuzzy as is typical for many old films.