Films of Emil Sitka: JITTER BUGHOUSE (1948)
by Saxon E. Sitka
Twenty-six of Emil's first twenty-nine film roles were for Columbia Pictures' Short Subjects Department, and once again he was playing an "eccentric old man." This time he plays "William Lark," a lunatic that gets cured by listening to music.
JITTER BUGHOUSE stars Joe De Rita ten years before he joined The Three Stooges as Curly-Joe, and it's very interesting to see the youthful De Rita sporting thick dark hair and dancing energetically to the film's several musical numbers.
The story has De Rita leading an unusual three-piece band whose music is designed to help heal people of "mental disorders." When his girlfriend Myrtle asks, "What's psychology got to do with music?", De Rita explains, "A lot. I'm going to combine the two. You know, 'music hath charms to soothe the savage beast' - - well, I'm going to use music to cure mental disorders. If a guy's got a screw loose, we just play music 'til he tightens it up."
When De Rita discovers that his girlfriend's employer is a lunatic, he makes arrangements to try out the healing powers of his band's music. Played by popular Three Stooges supporting actress Christine McIntyre, Myrtle agrees to bring De Rita and the musicians to the house of Mr. Lark, her lunatic employer, played by Emil.
Arriving with Myrtle, De Rita becomes the victim of several odd pranks played on him by the crazy Mr. Lark, one of which dumps him into a barrel of plaster, leaving him looking like a ghost. All of this demonstrates just how "crazy" Mr. Lark really is.
The band shows up and Mr. Lark is persuaded to come out of hiding and listen while they play one of their zany tunes. Soon, Mr. Lark is tapping his toes and thoroughly enjoying the music. By the time the band is done, he is miraculously cured of his mental illness and all ends well.
Let's look at Emil's diary entry for Friday, December 19, 1947:
My acting chore in the Joe De Rita comedy here at Darmour Studio was very satisfying both to me and the producer Jules White. And the featured trio "Noveleetes" thought me a very capable "character actor.'
Also some nice compliments came my way again from Hugh McCollum and Shemp Howard and some visitors to the set.
Playing lunatics, Emil once said in an interview, was easier and more interesting than doing straight roles.
Note that Emil misspelled the musical trio's name in his diary entry. The "Nov-Elites" was a musical comedy team composed of Joe Mayer, Art Terry, and Frankie Carr, three talented yet funny musicians with legitimate instrumental and vocal skills. A large portion of the running time of this film is devoted to several of their humorous musical numbers. Despite their genuine musical talent, though, the tunes they play seem more likely to cause mental disorders than cure them!
One of their funniest performances occurs at the beginning of JITTER BUGHOUSE and is a take-off of a commercial for a laundry detergent popular in the 1940's called "Fuz." In this excerpt from the script, De Rita introduces the tune this way:
Ladies and Gentlemen -- on the radio these days one hears many commercials, most of them in musical patter. One of these is very well known to all of you, and the boys would like to play it for you.
(The band begins to play a straight version of the commercial)
Now the boys would like to give you their nonsensical impression of how various famous radio stars might do the same commercial.
then sing the same commercial over again several times, each time imitating a different famous singing group. According to the script, they do imitations of the Fred Waring Trio
, then the Ink Spots
, and finally the Guy Lombardo Trio
, although one of the impressions sounds much more like Al Jolson, complete with a "Mammy!" at the end. Even for someone who isn't familiar with the original bands, these musical impressions are very funny. In fact, most of the comedy in JITTER BUGHOUSE is attributable to The Nov-Elites
Written by Felix Adler, JITTER BUGHOUSE was produced and directed by Jules White. Also in the cast was Patsy Moran, playing the part of De Rita's impatient landlord trying to collect the rent. Moran was a veteran actress who appeared in films that featured many big stars, including Laurel and Hardy, W. C. Fields, Gale Storm, William Bendix, Claudette Colbert, Lana Turner, Robert Young, Walter Brennan and Lucille Ball. She appeared in several Columbia shorts including BILLIE GETS HER MAN, Emil's very next film role. But as you'll see in that film's section, Emil's experience working with her wasn't entirely pleasant.
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JITTER BUGHOUSE (1948)