Smiley Bugs Me

May 14, 2008

Courtesy of Les Adams

You know the old theorem that given an infinite amount of time that an infinite amount of monkeys banging away on an infinite amount of typewriters will eventually write Shakespeare?

It turns out there is a corollary to this. Given over 200 film and television roles and allowed to clown in front of the camera in all of them, Smiley Burnette will eventually say or do something funny.

The miracle occurs in “Trail of the Rustlers.” Smiley has been kidnapped by rustlers, and is being led, blindfolded, to his death. Smiley: “Aw fellas, a joke is a joke.”

On second thought, it’s not all that funny.

Smiley bugs me for a couple of reasons. First of all, his comedy is always so obvious. I mean, he will always make the most obvious choice. If he’s going to dance, he’ll put his finger on the top of his head and pirouette. If he’s riding a horse, he pretends to almost fall off. If he’s peering through a magnifying glass, he’ll get too close to something and bonk his head.

Secondly, he’s smug. He’s got this look most of the time like “every one of my moves is like the purest symphony of comedy.” This sure fits with the oft-told story about Charley and Smiley’s first exchange when the honchos at Columbia decided to add Smiley to Charley’s act. Smiley apparently said, “I’m here to save your ass.”

Third, he’s not accomplished at his clowning. Any half-way-decent physical comedian can do amazing things with their body, and has an array of other skills and talents to draw on. Smiley is clod. His singing is a joke (and not a very funny one.) The frog voice sounds like a lame sound effect (I’m not convinced it isn’t.) He spends the entirety of “South Of Death Valley” exploring the comic potential of a lasso — any kid with a piece of string could have done better.

And finally, there is a certain laziness on top of all this. Just watch him half-heartedly snap his fingers, you’ll know what I mean.

It’s getting harder and harder to watch these films. And Smiley is to blame!

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One Response to “Smiley Bugs Me”

  1. Mike Newton said

    Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion and while Smiley’s buffoonish comedy may not appeal to you, he was definitely popular with Western movie audiences of the Forties and Fifties. Even after leaving movies, he took his act on the road to state fairs where people still remembered him and then of course to Petticoat Junction. He wrote countless songs, was able to play a number of instruments and his bug-eyed look and gravelly voice always found an audience. Unfortunately, by the time he came to Columbia, I think he was pretty much going through the motions. He was at Republic where they put him in with a newcomer named Sunset Carson. Republic execs figured that audiences would come to see “Frog” regardless of who the hero was. That’s why he was given top billing. He was probably given the impression by Columbia that he was there to boost the appeal of Starrett’s movies. Regardless of how Starrett felt, his films had taken on a sameness to them even before the Durango series started and stock footage was exceedly used.

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