Production company: Cinesound Productions
Budget: c. £22,000 (Oxford) (In his autobiography, Hall suggests that less was spent because Dad Rudd M.P. was the most expensive budget of any film he made at £22,000)
Locations: Sydney showgrounds for carnival exteriors, Cinesound's Bondi Junction studios for interiors
Filmed: filming completed by September 1939 (comedian Will Mahoney and wife Evie Hayes then took off in a specially fitted out truck to tour North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef).
Australian distributor: B.E.F.
Australian release: premiered Strand Theatre, Hobart, 3rd November 1939. After disappointing results, Ken Hall retitled the movie Ants in the Pants, and added a comic song to explain the new title. This version was launched at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney immediately after Christmas.
Rating: For general exhibition
35mm black and white
Running time: 77 mins (Oxford), 65 mins UK
Off air VHS time: 59'45"
Box office: while the box office returns from the initial launch in November 1939 were disappointing, the re-jigged film performed much better, and like all Cinesound titles it ended up in the black (with Strike Me Lucky the slowest to get there).
It also sold to the U.K. in a shortened form where it was released under its original title late in 1940.
A copy from a tape source circulates amongst collectors on DVD, perhaps derived from an off-air recording. Picture and sound are below average VHS, and some 17 minutes of the Oxford's timing have gone missing, but some copies do come with a Will Mahoney short "She's My Lilly" (I'm Her Willie"), which features a Mahoney comedy tap routine, and is a tidy bonus.
The script was written by William Freshman - with the help of his wife - from a story devised by John Addison Chandler, a pseudonym used by Ken Hall.
According to Hall's autobiography Directed by Ken G. Hall, Freshman had been head hunted by Gordon Ellis, then in charge of sales at Greater Union:
Late in 1938, Gordon Ellis, leaving on an overseas trip had, with Norman Rydge's approval, been asked to seek an English script-writer who might be developed as a director so that we could eventually get to that most desirable situation: two production units, one preparing, one shooting, using the same crew, keeping the place going continuously and thus reducing the overhead on each feature film.
Ellis found a man named William Freshman who came from London with his wife Lydia Hayward by flying-boat in early 1939. Freshman was an up-and-coming writer, it was said. His wife was very experienced and her credits in British film-play writing were excellent. They put the script together as a combination from the original story line, which the main title credited to 'John Addison Chandler'. This was a pseudonym I had used over the years, beginning when I wrote paperback Movie Classics in the early twenties. (I used the Chandler pen-name again on Smithy because I did not wish to appear to be hogging the credits).
Lydia Hayward was not given a credit in the film.
2. The director William Freshman:
This was the only Cinesound feature film not directed by Ken Hall - by then the company had produced some 17 feature films (not to mention many short feature films, an ongoing newsreel, and a studio and facilities operation).
In his autobiography, Ken Hall confessed to being bone-weary and mentally tired by the end of 1938:
I'd organised, helped script, produced and directed six feature films in less than two years. More than that, I'd supervised every foot of editing and carried on right through the to he musical scoring of all of them.
It was a remarkable feat, so he left Freshman to direct the show, so that he could go on with pre-production for the studio's next film Dad Rudd, M.P. - an important franchise - and continue with his plans for a re-make of Robbery Under Arms (a project that did not eventuate, along with others on the slate such as Overland Telegraph and Eureka Stockade).
Although born in Australia, Freshman had headed off to Britain at the age of eight, and starred in numerous films as a romantic lead, most notably in the silent period with films like Eileen of the Trees (1928) and A Broken Romance (1929). He claimed 23 writing credits and 17 as associate producer for British International Pictures Pty. Ltd., with additional experience in Holland, Vienna and Berlin. With the second world war intervening and Cinesound being shut down, Come Up Smiling would become his only feature in Australia. Freshman and his wife returned to London shortly after filming was completed "while it was still possible to get there".
Hall in his autobiography was ambivalent about Freshman's contribution:
Freshman, when he came on the scene, seemed to lack the vital comedy sense we needed, but he was a good constructor in a general way of screenplay writing. The boxing ring sequence was, I think, one of the funniest things we did at Cinesound.
That said, Freshman's contribution to the production is relatively anonymous, and it says a lot for Hall's supervision and control of the studio's production that reviewers found it typical of Cinesound's output.
Hall also took a hands-on approach by recalling the film, giving it a new title - Ants in his Pants - and inserting a musical number into it to spice up its box-office appeal after a brief initial test run suggested it might do soft business.
A more likely reason - than Freshman's direction - for the film's initial lacklustre box office performance is the predicable nature of the plot, the decision to use American vaudeville stars in the leading roles at a time when vaudeville was a fading force, and the unfortunate timing which saw it the film the cutting rooms in August 1939, a month before war was declared. It wasn't the happiest moment for the release of a comedy.
3. Will Mahoney:
Mahoney was an American vaudeville comedian who toured Australian in 1938 with wife Evie Hayes and manager/co-performer Bob Geraghty. In January 1939, Hall signed all three of them to work on the film:
Will Mahoney was a talented, cheeky, very likeable little man, with a marvellous sense of fun who'd been a top star in vaudeville and revue on Broadway since the twenties. I was tremendously impressed with his skill in handling an audience, his communication with it, his great dancing and comedy talent. He used to climax his act by dancing on a xylophone - and getting fast temp and completely understandable music out of the instrument by means of tap-hammers fixed to his dancing shoes. It was a shoe stopper.
Which reminds me of the cliche, 'Such is fame' and of a mayor in a small town in western Queensland on a war-loan bond-selling tour I took with him. Mahoney may have been a big name on Broadway and in London, and indeed in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, but His Worship had never heard of him. The mayor was up there on the stage to introduce the little man who would, hopefully, rip thousands off the locals for the war loan. Badly briefed, the mayor took off on a flight of rhetoric.
'An' now ladees and gents,' he said, 'I introdooce to yer a man who's the greatest in his business. We got no one in this town to touch him. He's marvellous and he's known all over the world an' his name is ... ah ... is' (very audible aside to wife standing beside him) 'What's his name? Quick. Ah yes, Marney. Bill Marney. Well he's going to do a bit of a jig on a box.'
Which is one way of describing the quite fantastic performance on top of a xylophone by Mahoney, who of course pronounced his name in the Irish-American way, M'ho-ney, with the accent on the o.
Evie Hayes played Kitti Katkin, who helps the hero train for his fight, while Geraghty turns up in the smaller role of a press man.
Given Hall's love of Mahoney's skill as a tap dancer, it was inevitable the film would include several song and dance routines for him, and when it disappointed in the initial release, Hall's solution was to add another number for Mahoney.
Thereafter the Mahoneys used Australia as a base for operations, while still touring the rapidly shrinking world of vaudeville.
Soprano triller Jean Hatton, then 16, and another of Hall's star finds, managed to fall down two flights of stairs at the Cinesound studio at Bondi Junction on the 1st July 1939, injuring her leg and bruising her face severely, adding to delays in the shooting - at an estimated £300 a day.
It was Hatton's second film for Cinesound - she remained a Hall favourite after her debut in Mr. Chedworth Steps Out.
The film was in production for some five months, a rare lapse for Cinesound, which had become skilled in turning around productions quickly to ensure that there would be box office cash flow available to finance their next production.
The producers claimed that some 16,000 Sydney-siders had appeared in the show as extras, used in the Sydney showground carnival scenes, and in the huge stadium constructed at Cinesound's Bondi Junction studio for the final boxing match.
Hall persisted with Shirley Ann Richards as the romantic lead, though she frequently attracted bad notices from the critics, pairing her in this outing with John Fleeting, who had also done Gone to the Dogs for Cinesound.
Radio star Owen Weingott and all-rounder Charles 'Bud' Tingwell were amongst the uncredited extras, with Alec Kellaway scoring them bit parts in the film. 'Chips' Rafferty was also a face in the crowd, who would go on a bit part in Dad Rudd, M.P., before making it big in Chauvel's Forty Thousand Horsemen.