Here I sit like a good egg given up for Lent. After having spent much of the week leading up to Ash Wednesday—a period celebrated as Karneval in my native Germany—entertaining two old (make that “longtime”) friends eager to get away from those festivities. The guests gone and my better half away in London, I now have the place pretty much to myself (the pleasant company of Montague excepting). Heavenly days? Not quite; but I did get to watch the movie. Heavenly Days, that is, a 1944 comedy based on the characters created by Don Quinn for his hugely popular US radio series Fibber McGee and Molly (many episodes of which are available online at the Internet Archive).
My web journal tells me that I recorded this film way back in November 2005, during a visit to New York City, my former home. So, it has taken me a while to catch up with Fibber McGee and Molly in their last major movie outing. It takes a day like this to do so without impunity, that is, without having to importune someone else who, despite having humored me by sitting through Look Who’s Laughing and much else besides, cannot be expected to share my enthusiasm for radio stars on celluloid. Who would?
That said, I have never been a friend of Fibber McGee and Molly; I much prefer the urbane wit of the aforementioned Halls of Ivy, a situation comedy conceived by the same writer, over the middle-America average-Joeness I have neither experienced nor longed for during my fifteen years in the United States. That did not stop me from picking up a copy of Charles Stumpf and Tim Price’s Heavenly Days at the Museum of Television and Radio while visiting Gotham in August 2006.
Messrs. Stumpf and Price point out that Heavenly Days, unlike the comedy team’s previous Look Who’s Laughing and its follow-up Here We Go Again, was not a commercial success. Yet whereas those earlier movies were rambling and largely inconsequential, Heavenly Days attempts to be earnest and socially relevant. Like the radio series, it is in the service of wartime propaganda, sending Fibber and his wife on an educational trip to Washington, from which they return with an awareness of their importance to the nation.
Heavenly Days is at once rebellious and (pardon the anachronism) politically correct. It seems determined to infuse the final months of the Second World War—a period in which fear and fervor made way for indifference and impatience—with the spirit of the New Deal, which, by 1944, was rather old hat. According to the peculiar logic of the sentimental comedy into which he is thrust, Fibber has to learn what it means to be “average,” a label all of the citizen he encounters vehemently reject; that it is neither a shame nor a statistical sham, but an honor and an obligation, considering that being average makes him a representative of the people who declare and elect him to be just that.
Of course, Fibber long had the vote of the people who, by tuning in to his weekly radio program, kept him in the office that was a prominent slot on the air—that realm of statistical averages and mediocrity. After the less than favorable reception of his Heavenly Capraescapades, that slot must have seemed a good place to come home to . . .