Directed by George Beck
Written by George Beck from a story by Beck and Frank Tarloff
Starring Farley Granger, Shelley Winters, William Demarest, Francis L. Sullivan, Margalo Gillmore, Lon Chaney Jr., Hans Conreid, Elisha Cook, Jr., Sheldon Leonard, Alan Jenkins, Marvin Kaplan
Character actors are the bread-and-butter of old time Hollywood, coming on for small roles and making them memorable. When I spotted the cast list for Behave Yourself, I knew I had to see it for the actors alone.
In the film, Bill Denny (Farley Granger) is desperate for an anniversary gift for his wife Kate (Shelley Winters) to prove to his mother in law (Margolo Gillmore) that he hasn’t forgotten.* A stray dog follows him home. Due to a mixup (this movie’s stock in trade), Kate thinks the dog is the gift. The problem is that the dog Archie is specially trained to deliver some sort of contraband to a couple of buyers, Shortwave Bert (Sheldon Leonard) and Max the Umbrella (Marvin Kaplan). Other criminals also want the package, including Gillie the Blade (Hans Conreid), and Pinky (Lon Cheney Jr.) and Albert Jonas (Elisha Cook Jr). Denny tries to return the dog, but after Jonas is murdered, the police, led by office O’Ryan (William Demarest) get involved.
The cast here is filled with great character actors. If the mere mention of their name doesn’t ring a bell, here’s a rundown.
- Farley Granger starred in two Hitchcock classics, Rope and Strangers on a Train. it’s odd to see him doing comedy.
- Shelly Winters won two Oscars after this and is best known today for her role in The Poseidon Adventure. In this early part of her career, she was cast as a blonde bombshell,** but she got away from it in order for people to recognize she was more than just a sex symbol.
- William Demarest was memorable in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and other Preston Sturges films, but he’s better known as Uncle Charlie in My Three Sons.
- Margolo Gillmore had a solid Hollywood career but was a major Broadway star in the 20s and 30s.
- Sheldon Leonard is best known for his small role in It’s a Wonderful Life (“Look at me. I’m making angels.”) but was even more successful as a TV producer, with shows like I Spy, Andy Griffith, Dick van Dyke, and Gomer Pyle.
- Lon Cheney, Jr. The Wolf Man,et. al.
- Elisha J. Cook, Jr. Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon, et al.
- Hans Conreid. Voice of Snidley Whiplash and many others. In this, he puts on an English accent!
- Marvin Kaplan. Longtime TV character actor and voice of Choo Choo in Top Cat.
The movie is fun, if sitcom-like. Plenty is made of the fact that Bill always shows up when someone is murdered.
This was director George Beck’s only film, though he did continue on as writer for TV and movies. The movie seems to have been successful at the box office, thought not a smash, and seems to be overlooked in lists of films of the year. It’s in the public domain now, and is available at archive.org.
*Of course, he has.
**Indeed, there are many indications in the film that Bill is frustrated by Archie because the dog prevent him from getting time alone with his wife.