Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Schilling and Lane:Forgotten Comedy Heroes

The success of the Three Stooges at Columbia prompted the studio to try out other teams from their roster trying to capture the magic of the Stooges. The best of these concocted teams was that of Gus Schilling and Richard Lane. Both actors were old comedy pros with lots of experience in show biz. Gus Schilling (1908-57) was born in New York City, had been a stage and burlesque performer and had many years of movie character parts before teaming with Lane. Richard Lane (1899-1982) was born in Wisconsin. He worked from circuses to vaudeville and finally to films. He was a versatile character actor and fans of Columbia's Boston Blackie series will remember him as Inspector Farraday.

Many of the manufactured teams were talented, but had no chemistry. Gus and Dick were a perfect team. Schiling, the jittery, rubber-faced fall guy and Lane, the fast-talking Bud Abbott prototype. Both comics were very adept at the Columbia slapstick style and benefitted from that great stock cast and crew of writer/directors. Although many of their films were remakes of Stooge and other Columbia comedies, the boys managed to breathe new energy into these "old favorites."

The first short in the series was High Blood Pressure (1945). This is a top-notch entry with Dick posing as a doctor to avoid a speeding ticket. He has to "bluff" his way thru an operation on Gus. At the hospital many tried and true gags are revived, but S&L put their own manic spin on things.

Their best short is Two Nuts in a Rut (1948). Dick plays an overworked movie director with Gus as his goofy assistant. When Dick heads to Palm Springs for a needed rest, the boys get involved in a typical Columbia domestic triangle comedy. The lovely, all-purpose Columbia leading lady, Christine McIntyre, is the wife of a wrestler (Dick Wessell). Of course Dick's wife thinks he's got something going on. Claire Carleton, a cute blonde and talented comedienne, is a hoot as a would-be actress after a job from Lane. The wonderful Emil Sitka (a Columbia stalwart) has a funny cameo as a screwy chiropodist. Schilling and Lane's fast dialog and easy rapport with slapstick make this one of the better Columbia comedies.

A real curio in the series is Pardon my Terror (1946). Originally planned as a 3 Stooges short it was reworked for S&L when Curly Howard suffered a stroke. Gus and Dick play hapless detectives hired by a beautiful damsel-in-distress (our girl Christine) to find her missing uncle (Vernon Dent). The boys arrive at the family estate and go thru their paces as a gang of crooks (Kenneth McDonald, Lynne Lyons and Dick Wessell) try to eliminate them.The usual scare gags abound, but S&L do a great job with the Stooge material. (The short was remade by the Stooges in 1949 as Who Done It? with Shemp).

Stooge fans will also enjoy Training for Trouble (1947). This is a scene-by-scene remake of a Stooge classic A Pain in the Pullman (1936). Gus and Dick play the hammy vaudevillians who along with their pet monkey, reign havoc on a train carrying the show's cast. Sid Fields of Abbott and Costello fame plays the foil, Paul Paine. The Columbia veteran, Monte Collins, is the harried company manager, Johnson! (Remember Bud Jamison in the original?) The boys do a great job with the familiar material and Columbia even uses the closing gag from the original film. (Paine is added to match up with the Stooges). Columbia always saved every bit of film.

The series ended in 1950. Gus wound up in an Andy Clyde comedy in 1953, but died four years later of a heart attack. Dick had a long career in California TV including longtime announcing duties at roller derbies and wrestling matches. Both men will be remembered as talented, hard working comics in a great if not original series at the Columbia fun factory.

My VHS copies of the films were obtained from private collections. Hopefully with the advent of DVD, someone will take an interest in the series and issue some of the best shorts.

Till our next comedy post...keep laughing.

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