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Hal Roach's Streamliners

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Title: Hal Roach's Streamliners  
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Subject: Hal Roach, Johnny Downs, Curley (film), Who Killed Doc Robbin, Featurette, Donald Hough, A Chump at Oxford, Streamline, William Tracy, Come Clean (film)
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Hal Roach's Streamliners

Hal Roach's Streamliners were a series of featurette comedy films created by Hal Roach that were longer than a short subject and less than a feature film not exceeding 50 minutes in length.[1] Twenty of the twenty-nine features that Roach produced for United Artists were in the streamliner format.[1] They usually consisted of five 10 minute reels.[2]


Roach's studio initially produced comedy short subjects but by 1935 sensed that short subjects were on the way out.[3] As the double feature format for cinemas was then popular, when Roach began producing films for United Artists he came up with the idea of a short length film he called streamliners after the public's infatuation with the then modern and fast streamliner trains. The short length gave more room for part of a double feature program.

The price of a streamliner was set at $110,000; with four streamliners being able to produced for the cost of one feature film, yet profits would bring an estimated 50 to 75% more than a single feature.[4]

Wartime Streamliners

  • Tanks a Million was the first official streamliner, 50 minutes in length, released September 12, 1941, the first of seven military comedies starring a recruit William Tracy and his sergeant Joe Sawyer.
  • Niagara Falls, 43 minutes, October 17, 1941, starring ZaSu Pitts and Slim Summerville
  • All-American Co-Ed, 53 minutes, October 31, a musical comedy starring Frances Langford
  • Miss Polly, 45 minutes, November 14, the second and final Pitts & Summerville teaming
  • the Technicolor musical-comedy streamliner Fiesta, set in Mexico City, 45 minutes, released November 28
  • Hay Foot, 48 minutes, January 2, 1942, a Tracy and Sawyer military comedy
  • Brooklyn Orchid, 50 minutes, January 31, a taxi-themed comedy starring William Bendix and Joe Sawyer, directed by Kurt Neumann
  • Dudes are Pretty People, 43 minutes, March 13, the first of three Western streamliners
  • About Face, 43 minutes, April 16, a Tracy and Sawyer military comedy directed by Kurt Neumann
  • Flying with Music, 46 minutes, May 22, a musical comedy nominated for two Academy Awards
  • The Devil with Hitler, 44 minutes, October 22, an anti-Nazi comedy
  • Two Mugs from Brooklyn, 45 minutes, December 31, the second taxi comedy starring William Bendix and Joe Sawyer, directed by Kurt Neumann
  • Calaboose, 45 minutes, January 29, 1943, the second of three Western streamliners
  • Fall In, 45 minutes, March 5, a Tracy and Sawyer military comedy directed by Kurt Neumann
  • Taxi, Mister, 46 minutes, April 16, the third taxi comedy starring William Bendix and Joe Sawyer, directed by Kurt Neumann
  • Prairie Chickens, 48 minutes, May 21, the third of three Western streamliners
  • Yanks Ahoy, 60 minutes, June 29, another Tracy and Sawyer military comedy directed by Kurt Neumann
  • Nazty Nuisance, 43 minutes, August 6, an anti-Nazi comedy

Note that Roach's Laurel and Hardy film A Chump at Oxford was released in the United States at 42 minutes, but was not produced as a "streamliner" per se. Extra scenes were shot for an overseas release of 63 minutes.[5]

World War II interrupted Roach's Hollywood film production, with Hal Roach Studios used for training films ("Camp Roach").

Postwar Streamliners

  • Curley, 53 minutes, released August 23, 1947, an attempt to re-formulate an Our Gang kid-comedy format. Roach resumed film production with the streamliners in Cinecolor, giving Roach the distinction of being the only film studio to have an all-color schedule. (Roach had made a Cinecolor short, Daily Beauty Rituals with Constance Bennett in 1937.)
  • The Fabulous Joe, 59 minutes, August 29, starring Walter Abel
  • Sadie and Sally, 30 minutes, reportedly released 1948 but perhaps never finished
  • Here Comes Trouble, 55 minutes, March 15, 1948, following the Tracy and Sawyer team into civilian life
  • Who Killed Doc Robbin, 55 minutes, April 9, 1948, a sequel to Curley

In 1947 Roach created Hal Roach's Comedy Carnival as a feature by compiling two (dissimilar) streamliners, Curley and The Fabulous Joe. Another attempt at a compiled feature was Lafftime, combining Here Comes Trouble and Who Killed Doc Robbin?. Likewise, but with more continuity, in 1948 Roach and director Kurt Neumann re-cut the feature-length Two Knights from Brooklyn out of Two Mugs from Brooklyn and Taxi, Mister.

The Tracy and Sawyer team would reappear in two films produced by Hal Roach Jr., back in the army in the midst of the Korean War: As You Were (1951) and Mr. Walkie Talkie (1952), released by Lippert Pictures.

The visionary but financially ailing Roach soon turned his studios over to television show production in 1949 beginning with Fireside Theater.


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