The Yellow Cab Man (1950)

Article #1586 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-18-2005
Posting Date: 12-15-2005
Directed by Jack Donohue
Featuring Red Skelton, Gloria DeHaven, Walter Slezak

An accident-prone inventor tries to demonstrate his new unbreakable elastiglass to a cab company, but finds himself beset by industrial spies who want the formula for themselves.

Red Skelton is often referred to as a great clown, and I have no trouble with this assessment as long as the word “clown” is understood to refer to a practitioner of a very specific type of comic discipline. Red Skelton’s use of comic pratfalls and expressions is very much the stuff of clowns, but I find clowns only mildly amusing, and as a result, despite the fact that I have a certain nostalgia for him (his TV show was a mainstay in my house when I was young), I don’t quite put him in the front row of the great comedians as I would W. C. Fields. Still, I really liked this movie a lot, largely because it aspires to a certain type of Fieldsian lunacy and surrealism at time, and also because Skelton shares the screen with a number of truly enjoyable character actors. James Gleason, Jay C. Flippen, Edward Arnold and Walter Slezak are all on hand here, and they all have wonderful parts and great moments. At least one sequence is truly great; an attempt by novice cabbie Skelton to pick up his first cab fare results in a twisted series of events that leads to perceptions of both a bomb scare and a kidnapping. And some of the dream sequences are really strange; in one he finds himself at the North Pole talking to Walter Slezak in a walrus costume, and in another he has nightmare visions of all sorts of motor vehicles and pedestrians warped out of proportion (thanks to trick photography). In fact, the set pieces show a real inventiveness throughout this movie, and this adds a lot to the proceedings. I haven’t seen a lot of Skelton’s cinematic work so far, but from what I’ve seen so far, this is the best.

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