Jeff Thompson (Dennis O’Keefe) is one of those guys who can’t hold onto a dollar. He hasn’t even paid off the car he owns now when he’s in the market for a new one—much to the consternation of his fiancée, Edna Brewster (Pamela Blake, billed here as “Adele Pearce”). You see, Jeff has an annoying habit of absentmindedly neglecting the payments on his present automobile, and every month, it’s a race between him and Murphy (Tom Kennedy)—the man from the finance company who lives for repossessing Jeff’s ride—as to who’s going to get to the loan office in time to square the loan. Fortunately for Thompson, Murphy is a Man With Very Little Brain…and after a few sly maneuvers Jeff soon owns his transport free and clear.
Jeff’s economic difficulties are putting the kibosh on any potential nuptials with Edna. The couple would like to tie the knot, but Edna’s father Henry (Leon Errol) isn’t convinced that her husband-to-be can support her in the manner to which she’s accustomed. He proposes a wager: when Jeff has saved $1000, Henry will match it with a grand of his own. Complication ensue, of course, when it looks as if Henry won’t be able to keep his part of the bargain!
Classic movie fans might recognize this phenomenon: we all know of one performer that we enjoy watching in a movie even if the vehicle they’re in gives off the distinct odor of Limburger cheese wrapped in an old gym sock. For me, that performer is Leon Errol; I can’t help it, the funnyman makes me laugh. Errol is perhaps best remembered for a series of two-reel comedies he appeared in for RKO from the 1930s to the early 1950s (his last short for the studio was released a few months after his passing in 1951), and while working at that same studio co-starred with Lupe Velez in a film franchise known as the Mexican Spitfire series. Leon appears in other features like The Great Man’s Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) and Abbott & Costello’s The Noose Hangs High (1948) …and was last seen in this space appearing with Shemp Howard in Strictly in the Groove (1942).
Pop Always Pays (1940) is no classic, I’ll concede that right off the bat. It’s not much more than a padded version of the kind of two-reel comedies he was involved with at RKO, and even those shorts tend to suffer from a suffocating sameness. (“Hey, this is that Leon Errol two-reeler where he has a misunderstanding with his wife!”) But I enjoy the hell out of them—I wish The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ would feature them more regularly than those Pete Smith shorts which have become wearisome with repetitiveness, and when I selected Pop Always Pays from the quickly bulging-to-capacity DISH DVR I knew it wasn’t going to be a ponderous meditation on the human spirit…it was just going to make me laugh like a hyena.
And it did. I loved the wonderful chemistry between Leon and Marjorie Gateson: she plays Leon’s wife, and she always manages to stay one step ahead of her hub without resorting to the usual movie “shrew” stereotype. The pair would appear in one additional film, Universal’s Moonlight in Hawaii (1941), but I think that if she had been available to appear in some of Leon’s RKO shorts it would have been quite refreshing. Errol also has some funny scenes with Walter Catlett, playing the sponging next-door neighbor who always seems to come out on top despite whatever mess he finds himself in, and Effie Anderson, who portrays Errol and Gateson’s long-suffering maid.
Dennis O’Keefe is not someone whose very presence brightens my very existence, but he’s very easy to take in Pop Always Pays—and his scenes with Tom Kennedy (another TDOY fave) are a highlight, particularly an Abbott & Costello-inspired bit where Den says he’ll give Tom a nickel for every quarter he can stand on end. (It might remind you of a similar exchange between Lou and wisenheimer Walter Tetley in Who Done It?) Pamela Blake is quite charming in the ingénue role, and Pop also features a great supporting cast including Robert Middlemass, Erskine Sanford, Vivien Oakland (she plays Middlemass’ wife here—but she was Leon’s spouse in many of his two-reelers), Stanley Blystone, Frank Faylen, Walter Sande, and noted Shakespearean performer Gus Schilling. Pop Always Pays was directed by comedy veteran Leslie Goodwins (who helmed a lot of the Mexican Spitfire vehicles) and scripted by Charles E. Roberts (from a story by Arthur J. Beckard), also responsible for the Lum & Abner feature Partners in Time (1946)—recently reviewed by me on the Radio Spirits blog.