L'il Abner: The Movie

By | Tuesday, January 09, 2007 Leave a Comment
I just sat through and watched the original, 1940 Li'l Abner movie, starring Jeff York (creditted as Granville Owen) in the title role. It also featured Buster Keaton (shown here) as Lonesome Polecat.

I've never actually read more than a handful of Li'l Abner comic strips, only just enough to recognize the style and the characters really. So I was coming to the movie with only a vague notion of what it might be about and who the various characters are.

What I liked was that the characters in the movie were instantly recognizable. Even with my limited knowledge of the strip, I could readily identify many of the characters on sight. I was also surprised that much of the dialogue flowed surprisingly naturally given the forced dialect and stilted hillbilly-isms. Often, this is exceedingly difficult to get to work well in the translation from paper to screen -- I give a lot of credit to the actors for (generally) pulling it off.

Of course, the movie itself doesn't fare so well overall. The plot is... I don't want to say non-existent, but it certainly seemed as if what I was watching had been severely editted. I had more than a few "Wait, did I miss something" moments. I don't know how directly this was adapted from the strips, but it felt as if I were reading a year's worth of daily strps and someone had pulled one out every couple of weeks. Some of the characters rationalizations didn't quite seem to work either, but that may have been for the above reason. The movie only runs 78 minutes, according to IMDB, so it's possible that things had been trimmed down or footage had been lost. To be perfectly fair, I downloaded a copy off the Internet (the movie is in the public domain, evidently) so maybe I snagged a particularly bad copy.

I'd recommend this film to only two types of people: extremely devoted fans of Buster Keaton (and they'd have to be extremely devoted, given his limited screen time) and extremely devoted fans of Li'l Abner.
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