Sunday, November 15, 2009

Everything Hunky Dunky: "Cuddles" Sakall is the Underrated Performer of the Week!

Carl, the head waiter in Casablanca. Restaurant owner and master chef Felix in Christmas in Connecticut. Music store owner Otto Oberkugen in In the Good Old Summertime. S.Z. Sakall amassed an impressive resume of supporting roles during his brief 15-year stint in Hollywood.

He was born Eugene Gero Szakall in Budapest in 1884. When he went into acting, he took the stage name Szoke Szakall and starred in a string successful Eurpean musicals and comedies. He left for the U.S. at the outbreak of World War II. All three of his sisters died in Nazi concentration camps.

He made his Hollywood debut as S.Z. Sakall in the Deanna Durbin-Kay Francis musical It's a Date. He quickly gained attention for his supporting roles in The Devil and Miss Jones (as Charles Coburn's butler), Ball of Fire (as one Gary Cooper's fellow scholars), and Yankee Doodle Dandy (as the naive backer of one of George M. Cohen shows). He was 59 when he played Carl in Casablanca, a role he almost turned down.

In The Film Encyclopedia, Ephraim Katz wrote of Sakall: "Fractured English, flabby jowls, and an excitable personality were his stock-in-trade in a long list of endearing portrayals." That endearing quality earned him the nickname "Cuddles" and, by 1945, he was sometimes billed on screen as S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall.

Sakall appeared in three films with Errol Flynn: the Westerns San Antonio and Montana and the comedy Never Say Goodbye (one of my favorites among his films). He played three characters named Felix (Christmas in Connecticut, My Dream Is Yours, and Painting the Clouds with Sunshine). For me, his finest hour was as Barbara Stanwyck's befuddled friend and "ghost cook" in Christmas in Connecticut, who announces "catatroph!" when things are bad and "everything hunky dunky" when they're good.

S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall's last film was an adaptation of the operetta The Student Prince in 1954. He died of a heart attack the following year.

8 comments:

Paul 2 said...

Rick , he was also very good in The Shop Around The Corner remake In The Good Old Summertime, with Judy, and Van Johnson.

sarkoffagus said...

Rick, I'm not very familiar with Cuddles, but he's appropriately named, as he certainly looks cuddly. Thanks for the great write-up!

ClassicBecky said...

Perfect choice, Rick. I love that little guy. He added so much to the films in which he appeared, often for only a few minutes of screen time. How horrible to lose 3 sisters in concentration camps. What a testament to his ability to go on.

veejay said...

rick, he truly was a character that could make me laugh, and yet, he also had a way of making the other, sometimes tough appearing co-stars more human.

toto2 said...

I love Cuddles! I cannot remember which film, probably either "Christmas in Connecticut" or "Never Say Goodbye," but I can see Cuddles putting his hands on his cheeks and saying "Sheesh!" So much personality! Delightful fellow! Excellent entry, Rick!

Gilby37 said...

I love Cuddles too! Casablanca & Christmas in Connecticut would not have been the same with him! Great choice Rick!

Dawn said...

Iam a huge fan of S.Z. Sakall. Loved all his musical/comedies.. A couple of my favorites films that he did with Doris Day: ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS(1948), TEA FOR TWO (1950) and MY DREAM IS YOURS (1949).

Grand Old Movies said...

Always love Sakall's bit in Casablanca when he runs into the pickpocket and then hastily checks his own clothes and pockets - he always could bring a delightful touch like that to his films. Thanks for your post!