The working title for 1944’s black and white film That’s My Baby! was Anything for a Laugh. And anything for a laugh is exactly what this comedy with songs does, literally. R.P. Moody (played by Minor Watson) owns a successful comics publishing company but he is the most dour, unhappy man in the city. He has not laughed in twenty years. Moody’s daughter Betty (Ellen Drew) becomes worried that her father’s deep depression could shorten his life. Betty and boyfriend Tim (Richard Arlen), who works for Moody, come up with a plan to cure Moody’s melancholy by getting him to laugh. They replace all the servant’s at the Moody mansion with a variety of entertainers then parade even more vaudeville comedians and musical novelty acts before him on the pretext that they need to choose some entertainment for his company’s anniversary party.
It is a wide variety of talent that parades through this movie, all were popular in their time but most are largely forgotten now. They range from silly to scintillating to spectacular to stale. In the stale category, we have the comedy duo, Frank Mitchell and Lyle Latell, that opens the movie with their skit about a comic idea. Lots of pratfalls but I just did not find it very funny. Also rather stale is handsome singer Bob Roberts who sings “Crying”. He has a nice deep voice but the song is way too slow and just plain “blah”. Among the silliness is Al Mardo and His Dog. Al just loves his dog and boasts about the huge number of tricks the dog has mastered except really the dog can do absolutely nothing. Also silly is Bob Roberts’ back up band which is really Mike Riley and His Musical Maniacs. They morph the solemn song “Crying” into an over-the-top comedy routine involving Mike in big glasses that spew “tears” while he is “crying”. They have a second, and what I thought was a much better, appearance in the film that features a trumpeter using a monkey hand puppet to help him blow his horn. Also silly but at the same time kind of fascinating is the act featuring Doris Duane and Alphonse Bergé. Doris casually walks out in her underwear (or maybe a swimsuit) while Alphonse swirls swaths of fabric around her and creates clever and pretty outfits. But the act would have been much better if Alphonse did not spend so much time standing directly in front of poor Doris.
Among the scintillating acts is Isabelita (Lita Baron) and the Guadalajara Boys who perform a trio of Spanish songs. Lita is lovely and she can really belt out a song. Also scintillating were Peppy and Peanuts. Peppy is a tall gangly fellow and Peanuts is a short blond bombshell and together they do a delightfully goofy jitterbug dance. I really would have liked to have seen more of them. Russian singer Adia Kuznetzoff was also kind of weirdly scintillating. He has a nice voice and does a thrilling performance but there was just something about him, maybe his deer-in-the-headlights expression, that seemed just a bit … weird.
My two favorite spectacular acts were Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham and Gene Rodgers the Boogie Woogie Piano Player. “Pigmeat” is Moody’s butler but he joins the entertainment crowd with a fantastic dance that starts out as a soft-shoe and morphs into a sort of breakdance before there were such things as breakdances. Too bad he did not get a chance to do a second dance. Even more spectacular is pianist Gene Rodgers. He starts out with a classical piano piece but then surges into a really rocking boogie woogie tune. Gene is an excellent pianist but what gives his act that something extra is his expressions. He goes from serious to seriously joyful as he really gives his piano a workout. Spectacular. There are a couple of other acts but these were the standouts.
After all the entertainers have tried and failed to make Moody laugh, Betty and Tim decide to take a different approach. They look into her father’s past and discover that he stopped smiling when he and her mother separated. So they hop across town and meet mom Hettie (played by Madeline Grey) who has lived only a stone’s throw away but has never bothered to check in on her husband or daughter in twenty years. She is obviously feather-brained (sort of like a very weak impersonation of one of my favorite comedians, Gracie Allen) so maybe she just forgot her family existed. But she also apparently crushed her husband’s spirit when she did not like his long ago artistic brainchild. So the three of them go in search of Moody’s original drawing and bring it to life in a short animated segment done by Dave Fleischer formerly of Fleischer Studios. But will their efforts be enough to bring a smile to Moody’s dreary features? Well, you will just have to watch That’s My Baby! to find out.
That’s My Baby! premiered on September 14, 1944 and runs just 68 minutes. It is in black and white and the film is showing its age. There is a variety damage from scratched lines to spots and even a white flash. It is not enough to distract from the entertainment but it is noticeable in places. The audio quality is excellent. One last fun tidbit: filmed during World War II, there were very few young men not off fighting on the battlefield. That’s My Baby! demonstrates this in a couple of ways, the best of which is the opening sequence which shows all the artists at Moody’s comic company are women. All those pretty young starlets were actually former girlfriends of Howard Hughes. They got a contract and a bit part after spending time with the billionaire. That’s My Baby! is in the Public Domain. and the Internet Archive has a copy of That’s My Baby! that you can watch online or download FREE. Just click the link, sit back, and enjoy a good laugh!