Killer Diller (1948) is to great extent a film to highlight the comedy talents of Dusty Fletcher, best known for his routine caught on film as Open the Door Richard (1945). We also get a bit of the delightful baby-voiced Butterfly McQueen as the variety show's secretary, not nearly enough of her if you ask me.
Dusty plays a comic, tapdancer, and bad magician. While practicing his routine for that evening's variety show, he accidentally disappears Lolo (Nellie Hill) the girlfriend show's manager Baltimore Dumdone (George Wiltshire). She was wearing a thousand-dollar string of pearls, & it seems most likely that criminality is afoot.
Dusty's slapstick antics take up a large portion of the film's first act, with some Keystone cop type schtick thrown in when four police officers (Fredie Robinson, william Campbell, Edgar Martin & sidney Easton) begin chasing Dusty in & out of his disappearance-cabinet.
When it's time for the variety show to begin, the headliners are damned impressive. The Variety Show becomes the dominant element of the remainder of the film, & we get a fine array of great African American entertainers one after another.
Ray Abrams & Gator Green play the two-sax number "Gator Serenade" written by Green, supported by the rest of the Andy Kirk Orchestra, who represent the hot jazz sound of Kansas City. Andy Kirk was a 1991 inductee in the Big Band Hall of Fame, but he was a bit senile at the time, so had to wait rather too long for the honor, dying the following year.
Beverly White sings the racy jazz tune "I Don't Want to Get Married." She's a fabulous pop singer & I can't guess why she thought she also had to be funny, but for humor or for musical excellence, she does score pretty darned high on lyrics like:
"I don't want to get married / For when you're single you have so much fun/ I don't want to get married/ 'Cause two don't live as happily as one/ Now I might want to stay out late some times all the way next day/ And I don't want to be worried about what my husband's going' to say."
Her second song "Ain't Nobody's Business What I Do" is likewise racy, about the joy of carousing & cheating: "If I feel like going out & have some fun/ With some young cat who looks like he could be my son/ That ain't nobody's business what I do." A hoot!
The act of "Patterson & Jackson" were portly stand-up comics, dancers, & very funny singers with enough talent that they could've been serious jazz singers had they chosen.
They're Warren Patterson & Al Jackson, first rate entertainers who can also be seen in Boy, What a Girl! (1947) & in the soundie I Wanna Make Rhythm (1943).
They sing Jule Kyne & Sammy Kahn's "I Believe," Warren leading off & Al doing his part as a Louis Armstrong impersonation, good music in spite of all the comedy mugging.
Then Al sings Fats Waller classic "Ain't Misbehavin" so charmingly as Warren tapdances up a storm, mighty graceful despite his size, still dancing like crazy when Al adds "Wonderful One" to his medley.
Lastly they impersonate the Ink Spots though there's only two of them to recreate "If I Didn't Care," Warren duplicating the tenor lead very nicely until he intentionally goes comical while Al does the spoken bridge with new silly words. It's a spectacular performance, funny & fun to listen to.
Jackie "Moms" Mabley comes out & does some comedy shtick in her rough masculine voice. She was always an odd but spectacular talent. She sings the comic song "Don't Sit on My Bed." She & Dusty can also be seen together in Boarding House Blues (1948).
The Clark Brothers tapdance with gentlemanly sweetness 210 in elegance only by the Nicholas Brothers.
Unlike a lot of tappers, they knew how to work the arms & hands as well as their legs & feet. Cute as devils, those Clarks, they kept performing until nearly the end of the millenium.
The King Cole Trio's up next, & how cool are they. Nat at piano sings "Oo, Kickerooni" a bit of hip fun which Nat himself composed.
This is followed by the Don Wolf & Alan Brandt composition "Now He Tells Me," another humorous bit of cool jazz, & The Trio closes with "Breezy & the Base" written by Nat & Johnny "Breezy" Miller, a number which of course puts bass player Miller to the fore.
An act called the Four Congaroos are two couples, fine jitterbug artist who put on a wild performance while Andy Kirk's orchestra plays "Basie's Boogie."
the Congaroos were put together by Frankie Manning formerly of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, so of course they're great. Frankie is dancing with Ann Johnson. The other couple are Russell Williams & Willamae Ricker.
Both women would later on be replaced, but here we see the original Cangaroos. The dance act stayed around until 1955.
In the two numbers they dance to here, the gals toss the guys over their heads slightly less often than do the boys flip the girls, but their shouts & fiery performance really looks like equal opportunity powerfulness for guys & gals alike.
Meanwhile Dusty is still pursued through back rooms & to the roof & on ladders of the theater, the cops certain he's some kind of thief, though he's completely innocent of intentional mischief. He misses his curtain call, so his pal Moms Mabley has to cover for him.
As she enterains the audience, the cops chase Dusty along the back of the stage. Eventually he gets to do his magic act which of course goes hysterically awry, but the missing Lola at least comes back.
In the end, the fellow billed as "The Great Voodoo" (Ken Renard) shows up with the stolen pearls & is arrested, & Dusty's brush with the law concludes in his favor. Whew.
The "Varietettes Dancing Girls" are the least consequential of the extraordinary array of talents we've experienced, & surprising they're not more exciting since they're from the Katharine Dunham School of Dance (you can see Katharine herself in a remarkable jazz-dance number in Stormy Weather 1943). The Varietettes close the show with Andy Kirk & His Orchestra backing them with "Apollo Groove."
There will be a small coda, very winning, when Dusty starts yelling for Richard to open the door. Corny it may all be, but I love this film, the concentrated talent is astonishing.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl