Li'l Abner (1940)

Li’l Abner (1940) is a low budget, adaptation of Al Capp’s famous comic strips, which follows a lumbering man-child whose only concern is to remain single and to keep up his daily intake of pork chops.

If the premise of this film seems hard to swallow, think of how Capp must have felt. A quick search on the web suggests that  Capp’s comic strips were meant to comment on society, contrasting the simple lives of  villagers with the machinations of urban crooks. This film, however,  dwells only on the innocent and rural part without much contrast and without satire. However, the tone of the 1959 musical version, which was adapted from the Broadway play,  remains closer to its source material in  examining  corrupt people through  guileless eyes.

Li’l Abner Yokum (Granville Owen aka Jeff York) lives in the small town of Dog Patch with his mother and father (Mona Ray and Johnnie Morris).One hilarious scene in the film  involves the tiny woman giving her husband a spring cleaning (read: bath) with a pig. The parents are the highlight of the film, but they get very little screen time after about  20 minutes.

The pair encourage their son to marry the girl next door, Daisy Mae Scraggs (Martha O‘Driscoll), but Abner would have none it.

Abner’s feminine friend gets some competition pretty soon when the swarthy vixen, Delightful (Billie Seward), comes to town.  The man-hungry brunette makes a move on Abner, but she’s quickly sent packing and we never see her again. The film is full of disjointed vignettes like this which serve to give every popular Dog Patch character some face time.

Through a series of ridiculous events Abner believes he’s going to die by the next day and so proposes both to Daisy Mae and to Wendy Wildcat (Kay Sutton), a second brunette who comes late into the picture. Great fun! Dog Patch Style!

Who will end up with the willing bigamist? Who cares? I’ll leave Daisy Mae to fight it out with Linda Darnell’s doppelganger.

This movie is dreck, but it has a very catchy theme song written by Ben Oakland, Milton Drake and Milton Berle. My favorite lyrics (because they are so fun to roll around in your mouth) are these:

He’s so handsome an’ so dashin’
That the gals can’t stop their mashin’
But when  you ask him 

What’s his secret passion
Li’l Abner says “pork chops.”

You have to open and close your mouth so much on those lines that it’s almost as if you’re chewing a tough piece of pig. I’m easily entertained.

Li’l Abner  is the kind of film that does not take itself seriously, which is good since a search for the title will bring up its more complicated, pedigreed successor. Li’l Abner (1940) fell into public domain some years ago and can be found at the Internet Archive.


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