Dusty Fletcher stars in the short film Open the Door, Richard (1945), a comedy routine that started out on vaudeville's chitlin circuit & reached the Apollo Theater in 1935. It became one of the most famous comedy bits of its era, & was captured on film ten years later.
Dusty plays a guy tossed out into the street & begins this film laying on the floor doing his drunkard humor. "I'm gonna drink to everyone's health until I ruin my own." An extremely humorous performer, he lends an almost poetic & balletic layer to his routine.
The centerpiece of the performance is when he tries to go home & is pounding on the wall shouting up at his roommate, "Open the door, Richard!" When Richard fails to answer, Dusty tells another po' folk joke.
He gets a ladder to try to climb up to the (imaginary) window. The balance of verbal & physical comedy is pure genius. Dusty's tumbles down the ladder are simultaneously scary & funny.
In an equally short musical sequel, titled Answer to "Open the Door Richard" (1945), we learn why it was Richard never came to the door. The jazz number is "Lazy Richard (Can't Get Him Up)."
In between choruses of the song we get what appears to be an awfully stereotyped Lazy Negro rhyming rap performance by Stepin Fetchit nee Lincoln Perry.
Perry was a brilliant comic who specialized in the "lazy darkie" character that would later in his life cause him to be shunted aside as an embarrassment.
Denied his due as the first African American comic to become a millionaire by the sweat of his entertainment skills, he has much more recently begun to be reclaimed as the comic genius he was.
The original comedy routine by Dusty had more levels of possibility than mere drunken stereotype, but Stepin Fetchit's portrayal of Richard's stubburness about not getting up to answer the door is not as complex a piece of comedy.
Sweet Mary tries to sweet-talk him into opening the door. The real appeal of this soundie is that it even bothers to reply to a comedy routine, & the jazz performance that goes with it is first-rate. Although the band is uncredited, it's none other than the incomparable Louis Jordan & his Tympany Five.
Dusty Fletcher's comedy routine's popularity led to a hit song for Louis Jordan in 1947, not the "Lazy Richard" version on this film however.
The year before, Jack McVea put music to the famous vaudeville routine & recorded it as by Jack McVea & His All Stars This was followed within a few months with hit versions by Louis Jordan, the Count Basie Orchestra, & eventually a good dozen others.
The continuous radio play caused the catch phrase "Open the door, Richard" to spill out of the Black community & cross the whole country. Due to American GI's during the war, it even caught on in England.
The winning version was by Jordan, who turned it into a first-rate jump-jazz number, & added the call & reply component that is credited with having started a veritable fad for call-&-reply songs. Jordan's version, not the same as performed on this film, had his bandmates answering his query:
"He was what?" "He was abnoxicated." "He was what?" "He was inebriated." "He was what?" "He was just plain drunk." "Well, all right then." This piece is also considered one of the key songs for the call & reply tradition in rhythm & blues then in roots of rock 'n' roll's
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