#39) Lambchops (1929)
OR “Say Hello, Gracie”
Directed by Murray Roth
Written by George Burns and Al Boasberg
Class of 1999
The Plot: George Burns & Gracie Allen make their film debut in a Vitaphone Varieties short, recreating their successful vaudeville routine. They tell jokes -George is already the bemused straight man to Gracie’s “illogical logic” – and they even sing and dance together.
Why It Matters: The NFR acknowledges that while “Lambchops” was not a hit in its day, it was the start of Burns and Allen’s film career, which would help prepare them for their successful radio and TV programs. An essay by Vitaphone expert Ron Hutchinson is mostly an essay on Vitaphone Varieties, and a shout-out to a very outdated fansite.
But Does It Really?: I give this one a pass, mainly as a representation of Burns & Allen, and mainly because even that early in their careers, you cannot beat that timing.
Everybody Gets One: George Burns and Gracie Allen had been performing together for seven years (and had been married for three) by the time “Lambchops” came along. The film is a combination of their “Lambchops” and “Dizzy” routines. A few years of shorts led to a film career in the ‘30s, followed by 16 years on radio, and eight seasons of a successful TV program. Following Gracie’s death in 1964, George reinvented himself as a one-liner machine and returned to films, winning an Oscar for “The Sunshine Boys” playing, what else, a former vaudevillian.
Wow, That’s Dated: The word “aeroplane”, the phrase “I give it up” as opposed to “I give up”, and because it’s a vaudeville routine, mother-in-law jokes.
Title Track: Spoilers – “lambchops” is a punchline.
- George never takes his hat off because his toupee was still in his luggage. That’s all well and good, but why is it titled towards the camera? You can’t see his face half the time.
- Both George and Gracie actually sing in this short, which is amazing because anyone who ever heard George “sing” in his later career knows that’s not always the case.
- During my research for this post, I learned that according to several sources, including George himself, Gracie never actually said “Goodnight, Gracie” in their act. Rowan & Martin did a similar routine in the ‘60s and most people just assumed they were stealing it from Burns & Allen. The foundation of my comedy education is crumbling around me!
- A selection from the works of Burns & Allen:
- Burns & Allen tap-dancing with Fred Astaire in 1937’s “A Damsel in Distress”
- Gracie Allen’s 1940 presidential campaign;
- An episode from their radio program;
- The one episode of their television series filmed in color!
- And James L. Brooks’ production company is named after Gracie.
Further Viewing: In a 1976 TV special, George Burns recreates a Burns & Allen routine with the one living woman who could do Gracie Allen justice; Madeline Kahn.