|Always Leave Them Laughing|
|Directed by||Roy Del Ruth|
|Screenplay by||Melville Shavelson|
"Fountain Pen Sketch" from Make Mine Manhattan:
|Story by||Max Shulman|
|Produced by||Jerry Wald|
|Edited by||Clarence Kolster|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|November 26, 1949|
|Box office||$1.4 million|
Always Leave Them Laughing is a 1949 musical comedy-drama film directed by Roy Del Ruth and starring Milton Berle and Virginia Mayo.
Unoriginal comic Kip Cooper meets aspiring showgirl Fay Washburn at a second rate hotel in Asbury Park, New Jersey where he does his act for room and board. Kip gets a job as an emcee in a tough New York joint and he fails again. Kip takes a small part in the chorus of another show, but tells Kay and her ex-vaudevillian parents that he was hired as the lead. The Washburns attend on opening night and Kip does an impromptu gag that gets him fired.
Fay joins the chorus of big-time comedian Eddie Eagen's touring show. When Eagen is sidelined by a heart attack, Kip is hired to temporarily replace him since he knows Eagen's routines by heart. Kip is a hit in the out of town tryouts but also takes a bit too much interest in Eddie's beautiful and much younger wife, Nancy, who co-stars in the revue. Eagen recovers and is scheduled to headline the show when it opens in New York. On his last night as the lead, Kip encourages Eagen to join him on stage for a song and dance routine. Eagen collapses and dies. Nancy offers Kip the chance to step in completely, but he rejects her and re-examines his life and career. Kip becomes a big TV star, but what he wants most is for Fay to take him back.
This film, whose working title was "The Thief of Broadway", was originally intended for Danny Kaye. Berle, the most popular performer on television at the time, signed for $75,000 and a percentage of the profits. Berle had a reputation for stealing jokes, although he told the New York Times that it was he who started the rumor during a feud with comedian Richie Craig Jr. that was designed "to keep their names in the newspapers." Production began on July 18, 1949, when Berle's TV show was on hiatus. Audrey Meadows was tested for a lead role. Two sketches — "The Tank," where a fountain pen is demonstrated under water, and "Noises on the Street" — were purchased from the 1948 Broadway revue "Make Mine Manhattan" for the film. The film wrapped in mid-September and prepared for a mid-November released.
The Hollywood Reporter called the film "the comedy riot of year," and said Berle's "slapstick is superb, and the serious moments show fine acting style." Variety thought the "laugh sequences all click with the exception of the fountain pen sketch." However, Bosley Crowther of the New York Times complained that the producers have "latched onto a comic who, for all his bow-wow on TV, was never regarded or displayed as a screen performer of class. Nor even of charm, for that matter." Crowther thought that the film "shows no more originality than one of Mr. Berle's adopted gags. The people who wrote the screenplay must have subjected their brains to the lowest rate of taxation that has been put upon brains in years." Crowther summed up, "television (and Mr. Berle) should be left to homes and bars." Newsweek said that Bert Lahr, "even in his relatively small part...succeeds in pointing out the difference between comic genius of the old school and Berle's ubiquitous but largely imitative talent."