Title: The Joe McDoakes Collection
Silent or Talkie: Talkie
Warner Archive has released a six-disc set of Joe McDoakes shorts, bringing all 63 live-action comedies to DVD for the first time. These shorts, also known as the Behind the Eight Ball series, ran from 1942 to 1956 and featured George O’Hanlon as the quirky McDoakes. The entire series was produced and directed by Richard Bare (also known for producing the famous Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man”). Though the shorts were co-written by Bare and O’Hanlon, Bare usually received sole writing credit.
Bare began the series with a short titled So You Want to Give Up Smoking as a way of teaching his students at USC the basics of filmmaking. Only one more short, titled So You Think You Need Glasses, was filmed before production was halted for WWII. Following the war, the series resumed with So You Think You’re Allergic, in which McDoakes searches for a cure to his many allergies. These first three shorts were filmed silent, with narration added in post-production, in the manner of the popular Pete Smith shorts, made at MGM from 1931 to 1955. The McDoakes series, like the Pete Smith series, also addressed everyday problems in an instructional but entertaining way. Warner enlisted one of their contract players, Jane Harker, to play Joe’s wife, Alice, in eight episodes. Harker’s roles prior to the McDoakes series were largely uncredited, with the exception of 1947’s That Way With Women and Love and Learn. She’d only make one more film, The Unfaithful, alongside Ann Sheridan, Lew Ayres, Zachary Scott, and Eve Arden. Phyllis Coates (who also married and later divorced director Richard Bare) took over as Alice in 1948. She dropped the role to play Lois Lane in the first season of the Adventures of Superman, at which time the part of Alice was played by former singing star Jane Frazee. Coates returned as Alice the following year and remained until the series ended. The different women who portrayed Joe’s wife were never billed; and, unless Joe was specifically “married” in the episode, he’d return to bachelorhood, leaving holes in the continuity of the series.
The series hit its stride in the late 1940s, gaining three consecutive Academy Award nominations in the category of Short Subjects, one-reel for So You Want to Be in Pictures, So You Want to Be on the Radio, and So You Think You’re Not Guilty for 1947, 1948, and 1949 respectively. The series ran until 1956, when the demise of the studio system brought an end to the production of short subjects by Warner Bros. and the other Hollywood studios.
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