DVD Review: So This Is New York

STUDIO: Olive Films | DIRECTOR: Richard Fleischer | CAST: Henry Morgan, Virginia Grey, Dona Drake, Rudy Vallee, Leo Gorcey, Hugh Herbert, Jerome Cowan RELEASE DATE: 7/1/14 | PRICE: DVD $24.95, Blu-ray $29.95
BONUSES:
none
SPECS: NR | 78 min. | Comedy | 1:37 fullscreen | mono

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

 

Although B-features were theoretically “made to order” (i.e. to fill out half of a double bill), their directors and scripters often inserted impressive, quirky things into them. Case in point: So This Is New York, a charming low-key 1948 vehicle for radio great Henry Morgan.

The picture has a rather standard country-folks-in the-city premise, bolstered by the playfulness of its fledgling director (Richard Fleischer, Conan the Destroyer), first-time producer (Stanley Kramer, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) and grade-A source material (Ring Lardner’s novel The Big Town). Adopting Lardner were scripters Carl Foreman (High Noon) and Herbert Baker (co-scripter of The Girl Can’t Help It).

The plot involves an Indiana couple (Morgan and Virginia Grey) who inherit money and travel to New York City to marry off the wife’s sister (Dona Drake). Like every “out of towner” scenario, the end can be predicted from the first sequence onward, but the true joys to be gotten from the film come from Morgan’s voiceover narration, in which he exercises his trademark sarcasm (for years Morgan was the crankiest wit on radio, exceeded only by his hero, Fred Allen).

So This Is New York movie scene

Rudy Vallee (l.), Dona Drake, Henry Morgan and Virginia Grey in So This Is New York.

The film failed in its initial release, as United Artists chose to premiere it in the Midwest, where it was critically and popularly drubbed, and thus it never wound up playing Manhattan at all. As often happens, though, this “abandoned” B-picture was rediscovered by later generations of film buffs who have trumpeted its charms — the most famous fan being Martin Scorsese.

Martin Scorsese (Hugo) programmed the film into the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival and has noted in interviews that Fleischer’s playful use of modernist editing techniques influenced his work. At various points Morgan’s narration is underscored by the use of slow-motion, subtitles (used to “translate” a NY cabbie) and freeze-frames.

This last technique, which appears whenever Morgan introduces a new character, will seem very familiar to modern movie buffs. This is because Scorsese utilized it in the bar scene near the opening of Goodfellas when Ray Liotta introduces his mob acquaintances. Scorsese has openly professed his debt to Fleischer and So This is New York for this scene in interviews.

Unfortunately the film is often slowed down by the same element that afflicted vehicles for Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers — the emphasis on romantic relationships that don’t concern our main comic hero. When Morgan is center stage the film is a delight; each time we follow the exploits of his sister-in-law and her suitors, the laughs disappear very quickly.

Thankfully, the film’s B-budget status means it has a relatively painless 78-minute running time. Also, the comedy “romance” sequences feature the talents of a number of great character people, from Jerome Cowan and Hugh Herbert to Leo Gorcey and Rudy Vallee. As is customary with Olive titles, there are no extras in this release. One wishes the company had obtained a few words from Scorsese about the film or had unearthed the original trailer.

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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”