Joe McDoakes was a hapless working stiff who tickled the funny bone of film fans from 1942 and 1956. In a long-running series of one-reel short films, George O’Hanlon (as McDoakes) helped pioneer today’s prototypical sitcom leading man, stumbling from one incompetently performed task to another. These sixty-three shorts, each running approximately ten minutes, have been made available on DVD by Warner Archive as a six-disc set entitled The Joe McDoakes Collection.
Each story features McDoakes trying his hardest, usually with very limited positive results, to accomplish an endless variety of goals. Film buffs may know the series by another name: So You Want…, due to each title beginning with a variation on that theme. Individual episodes include titles such as, “So You Want To Give Up Smoking” and “So You Want To Know Your Relatives.” The films were written and directed by Richard L. Bare. This Oscar-nominated series remains entertaining to this day, thanks to the sharp satirical edge of many of the films.
George O’Hanlon is arguably best remembered as the voice of George Jetson, but for fourteen years he personified exasperation as the perpetually frustrated Joe McDoakes. The earlier shorts feature a narrator, as the stories are presented more as ‘how to’ instructional films. As the series continued, the stories more and more approximated the structure of modern-day sitcoms, albeit at half the length. They are very chaste, given the era in which they were produced. McDoake’s wife is pregnant in “So You’re Going To Be a Father,” though there is never any visible baby bump. Mr. and Mrs. McDoakes have separate twin beds. Interestingly, there was no apparent issue in showing two grown men sharing a bed in “So You Want an Apartment,” so long as the underlying reason is poverty rather than anything that may have been considered distasteful.
With nearly eleven hours of material, there is quite a bit to keep viewers busy with this set. The set is available exclusively at Warner Archive which is a very novel way of getting previously unavailable films on DVD in fully authorized editions. Warner has opened up its vault to essentially press on-demand DVD-Rs of films they have never released on DVD. This way the limited demand for a title such as The Joe McDoakes Collection can be met without producing a normal production run of DVDs. Be advised that Warner Archive DVD releases are copy protected and are designed for “play only” dvd players. In other words, they may not play back in DVD recorders or PC disc drives.
These black-and-white short films vary in video quality somewhat, but all sixty-three are very watchable considering their age. In fact, most were transferred from very good source prints. The Joe McDoakes Collection is a fun way to revisit comedy from a bygone era.