Charley's Aunt Archie Mayo

A decades-old British stage hit becomes a so-so American movie in this cross-dressing comedy from 1941. Jack Benny is a Victorian-era Oxford student (that’ll be the day) who’s playing a female part in a student production; he’s in hot water with the dean when his friends convince him to don his costume to impersonate the rich aunt who’s supposed to be chaperoning their dates. But the gag goes too far and soon Benny is trapped in his skirt while fending off advances from various parties (including his father). Making matters worse: the real aunt shows up. One watches the movie knowing full well how it could have been funny but the wildness of the set-up needs the counterpoint of dry British reserve to make it sing. We want to see dignified, upper crust Brits delicately approaching ribald goings-on, meaning that the broad and boisterous American approach cancels out everything that makes the premise work. Benny, of course, does not in any way suggest someone on his way to the House of Lords and his affable American-ness further damages the film’s credibility. He does his best under the circumstances but he’s miscast in a way that proves fatal to the film. The rest of the cast seems apathetically selected and the whole thing comes across like a contractual obligation rather than the big fun being suggested. The extras begin with a commentary by film historian Randy Skretvedt, who launches into such a recounting of the life and career of Benny that he forgets to link it back into the movie. Also, there’s a promotional featurette with Benny, Tyrone Power and Randolph Scott that proves to be an interesting curio, as well as much funnier than the film. Two picture galleries and an envelope full of lobby cards round things out. (Fox)