Pot O’ Gold (DVD)

Pot Boiler.

In late February 1941, when Jimmy Stewart won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1940s The Philadelphia Story, he had just completed shooting on the second of three quickie films that he worked on pending acceptance for military service in World War II. The item in question was Pot O’ Gold, a film Stewart made on loan-out from MGM to independent producer James Roosevelt and eventually released through United Artists.

Pot O’ Gold has long been in the public domain and I had never seen a really acceptable version of it. No great loss, for from what I could see, it was no great film. Then I heard that Image was releasing the title on DVD. Maybe if it was finally given decent treatment, Pot O’ Gold might turn out to have been really a nugget in disguise all these years?

Jimmy Haskell is asked by his uncle C.J. Haskell to join him in the family health food business. When Jimmy’s own business — a small music store — folds, he reluctantly agrees. Meanwhile, C.J.’s business is located next to a boardinghouse that is currently home to Horace Heidt and his band. Their constant practicing on the boardinghouse roof, right next to C.J.’s office building, drives C.J. crazy as he hates music (or at least Horace Heidt’s music). The boardinghouse is run by Ma McCorkle, whose daughter Molly sings in the band.

When Jimmy arrives in town to join his uncle’s company and stumbles into this situation, he takes Molly’s side and soon finds himself first in jail for accidentally hitting his uncle in the face with a rotten tomato, then contrives to try and make his uncle think himself crazy, and finally takes over his uncle’s radio show. All these difficulties result from Jimmy trying to keep his relationship to his uncle a secret from Molly. But she learns the truth during the radio show, and angrily pledges on the air that the show will in future give away $1000 each time it’s on.

Jimmy is left to sort out the whole mess: a furious uncle C.J., an angry ex-girlfriend Molly; and most importantly, how to give away the money — the pot o’ gold — without breaking any government regulations concerning lotteries, raffles or contests.

The idea for Pot O’ Gold came directly from the radio program of the same name. The program, which first aired on NBC in September 1939, indeed did give $1000 to a randomly selected winner each week. It continued on the air for two years and then returned for one season in 1946 on ABC. The same band that appears in the film — Horace Heidt and His Musical Knights — was featured on the radio program.

The producer was James Roosevelt (actually the eldest son of President Franklin Roosevelt) who had worked as a vice-president with Samuel Goldwyn Productions for two years before leaving to form his own company. Pot O’ Gold was his first effort, and last, as he was subsequently called to active military duty. After the war, he didn’t return to film production as his interests by that time were elsewhere.

A good-looking DVD (which I’ll get to later) of Pot O’ Gold does little to hide the fact that this just isn’t much of a film. The story line is slight and seems more designed to boost the fortunes of Horace Heidt and his band than anything else. James Stewart, as Jimmy, has little to do and he seems vaguely bored with the whole endeavour. In fact, Pot O’ Gold is the only film that he has apparently been quoted as calling his “worst.” Co-starring with Paulette Goddard (as Molly) didn’t help much either. Stewart had little in common with her and there was no on-screen chemistry evident. If he could have been free of her at the end of each shooting day, it would probably have been best, but she was going with and would eventually marry Burgess Meredith. Meredith and Stewart shared a house in Brentwood at the time and so Goddard was often an overnight guest there.

Technically, there’s little wrong with the film, with efficient direction by veteran George Marshall. The song and dance numbers are professionally mounted but have no lasting impact; the fact that neither Stewart nor Goddard are song and dance people doesn’t exactly help, however. There is a nice cast of familiar supporting faces including Mary Gordon as Ma McCorkle, Charles Winninger as C.J. Haskell, and James Burke as Lt. Grady.

There’s little wrong with Image’s DVD version either. Image is at pains to point out in a bright yellow box on the back of DVD case that Pot O’ Gold is a public domain title and that if you want to see it at its best, their DVD is the way to do so as its source material was the original 35mm nitrate fine grain film. The resulting DVD version (with 12 chapter selections) is certainly the best video version of the film available. The image is perhaps a little light, lacking really deep blacks, but there is an excellent gray scale in evidence with fine shadow detail throughout. Little age-related speckling occurs. The sound is in fine shape, clear and distortion free.

This is the usual bare-bones Image presentation. That is to say, you sure better have enjoyed the film, for there’s nothing else, period. Of course, you can find the title at about $14.00 if you shop around. When you can get a rewarding title without extras at that price, it’s one thing, but Pot O’ Gold is not such a title.

I think it’s reasonable to call Pot O’ Gold an amiable time passer. There’s no particular reason to see it for it’s all pretty predictable with little spark from the main players to pull it out of the ordinary. On the other hand, if you’re a Jimmy Stewart completist, Image’s version is the painless way to go. The fine quality of the image and sound will be no distraction to the proceedings whatsoever.

THE VERDICT

Pot O’ Gold is no nugget after all and is convicted of an almost impossible deed, making Jimmy Stewart look tired and uninteresting. Co-conspirator Image is freed on parole to pursue better fare for future release. Court is adjourned.

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