Plot: A horse ranch has fallen on hard times, but some good luck is about to arrive, as Peter (Donald O’Connor) and his best friend Francis are on the scene. As Francis is a special mule that can talk, he can relay concerns from the race horses to Peter, which proves to be invaluable. At first, Peter uses the information to let the ranch hands know what ails the horses, but soon a more important skill is revealed. Francis can get the inside scoop on the horses before the races and armed with that information, Peter can predict winners with ease. Of course, the ranch workers think he is nuts when he claims that Francis shares the information with him, but the consistent winning picks are too much to ignore. But when Peter and Francis get mixed up with gangsters, will their luck hold up?
Entertainment Value: I wasn’t much of a fan of the original Francis the Talking Mule movie, but I wanted to keep going in the series and as it turns out, this sequel is more fun than the first picture. The narrative is light and almost feels like one you’d find on a sitcom, so it is light, but does covers the basics. I appreciated that the humor is more consistent in this sequel, as I thought the original movie was more uneven and had some cringe moments to boot. Francis Goes to the Races might not be hilarious, but it offers a good flow of laughs and while it isn’t overly memorable, it is a brisk watch and drops some of the mean spirited touches of the first movie. I especially liked the scene where two men get into a fight when Francis riles them up, hokey but fun. To be fair however, the general opinion of these movies is the opposite, with the original getting more praise, so as always, results may vary. But if you’re looking for a light, harmless comedy with a talking mule, this is a passable watch.
The performances here also fall in with the almost sitcom style, though certain kinds of comedy often lean on the hokier, over the top methods. This isn’t always a plus of course, but in the case of this kind of light, fluff material, the hokey performances make sense and are in line with the script. I think it helps really, as some not so effective lines can be punched up a bit by humorous turns from the cast. So expect kind of broad, theatrical level work from most of the cast, but you’re likely here for laughs, so I doubt it will be a bad thing for most viewers. Donald O’Connor is back and he plays things up to drum up more laughs, giving us the hapless good guy role in fine fashion, as well as some broad reaction work. I was pleased to see Piper Laurie as well, as she provides what has to be the best performance of the cast, though her role is a supporting one, so she isn’t around all the time. The cast also includes Jesse White, Cecil Kellaway, Barry Kelley, and Hayden Rorke.