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Film / You Can't Win

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You Can't Win is a 1948 short film (8 minutes) directed by Dave O'Brien, produced by Pete Smith.

It is one of the many, many "Pete Smith Specialties", short films produced by Smith for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer over decades. Here the theme is "you can't win", as illustrated by a main character who seems to be a loser at everything. The unnamed protagonist deals with a door-to-door salesman, attempts to invent a reliable cigarette lighter, tries to wash his car, and tries to relax in a hammock, only to fail disastrously every time.



  • Gone Horribly Right: The man seeks to invent a reliable cigarette lighter. What he winds up inventing is a blowtorch-like device that never goes out.
  • Murphy's Bed: The final comic set piece of the film involves the man trying to rig up a hammock in his yard, with all the stock comedy gags associated with hammocks—the hooks are too close together and he touches the ground when he gets in, or they're too far apart and he can't get in, or he keeps getting flipped out of the hammock.
  • Nameless Narrative: The hapless man (played by director Dave O'Brien) is credited only as "Harried Homeowner".
  • Narrator: As always with Pete Smith shorts, there's no dialogue, but instead Smith providing sarcastic commentary.
  • Roadside Wave: The man attempts to wash his car, which is parked on the street, only to see it persistently splashed by mud thrown up by passing cars. This happens twice, and when the third car comes, the man just goes ahead and dumps mud on his car himself, only to watch the third car pull into the driveway next door.
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  • Staircase Tumble: The man attempts to duck into a side door to avoid the infuriatingly persistent traveling salesman—but it's the door to the basement, and he falls down the stairs.
  • Time Skip: A silly gag has the crazy cigarette lighter eventually exploding, followed by a card that says "THERE WILL BE A SLIGHT PAUSE OF TWO YEARS...TO ALLOW OUR ACTOR...TO RECOVER."
  • Title Drop: The short opens with Smith saying "Here's a guy who claims that in the gamble of everyday life, you can't win."
  • Traveling Salesman: The man is bothered by a persistent insurance salesman who physically forces his way into the house.

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