Archive | June, 2013

Looking Forward: Holiday (1938)

17 Jun

Holiday 2Holiday (on TCM Wednesday, June 19 at 8:00 p.m.) is of a breed of film that scarcely exists anymore: comedies full of characters that are intelligent and erudite yet still well-rounded weirdos about whom you care deeply. This is one of them.

I have fond memories of Holiday, but I must admit I haven’t seen it in about twenty years. So I’m just going to look forward to this right along with you.

See you back here after.

The Awful Truth (1937) & My Favorite Wife (1940)

17 Jun

my favorite wife 33I’ll have a lot more to say about Irene Dunne very soon as part of the Funny Lady Blogathon at the end of this month, so in lieu of detail let’s just say I’ll be re-watching that glorious Louisvillian in two of her finest comic performances, both of which are conveniently airing on TCM this week: The Awful Truth at 2:30 p.m. on June 17 and My Favorite Wife at noon on June 23. They’re both splendid, they both also feature Cary Grant, and they’ll both figure into my look at Dunne’s comic oeuvre on or about June 29. They’re both fine examples of screwballery and not to be missed.

Scaramouche (1952) and a note

15 Jun

(Travel and business will make my posts shorter this week. I know, I know, neither of you can live without this, but alas, there’s nothing to be done.)

scaramoucheScaramouche (on TCM Monday, June 17 at 8:00 p.m.) is based on, I say without shame, one of my favorite novels. I don’t claim it’s the best of all time; just one of my favorites. And while the necessities of running time mean this adaptation cuts out at least a third of the book’s events (the silent version covers more, but I still crave a nice six-hour BBC version, I admit), it still captures the excessive swashbucklery of Sabatini so nicely in all its Technicolor grandeur. Nina Foch as Marie Antoinette, for gods’ sakes.

I recommend this without reservations. Enjoy!

The Kid (1921)

14 Jun

Chaplin – or I should say a Chaplin film seen through modern eyes – is occasionally a little…you know…gooey with sentiment. Some are guiltier than others, but times change, and anyone who’s ever attempted to deal with the comic parts of Shakespeare can attest, comedy ages in complicated ways. The twentieth century moved faster than most.

Chaplin, Charlie (Kid, TheThe Kid (on TCM Sunday, June 16 at 12:30 am as part of the usual Silent Sundays) could be one of those movies. Should be one of those movies. For crying out loud, a pauper adopts an abandoned child (for whom the child’s suddenly wealthy mother pines) – very much the stuff of Victorian melodrama.

But by golly. It works. Considering the kind of maudlin excesses it would be easy for it to indulge in, it’s plumb restrained. Relatively, of course. But still. Watched in the right spirit, it’s both moving and funny, is in fact one of the few comedies the National Film Registry has seen fit to honor with preservation.


Surprise Looking Backward: A Slight Case of Murder (1938)

11 Jun

slightcaseI am still of the unshakeable opinion that there are too few movies based on the work of Damon Runyon. I see on a list that there are twenty. That is not half enough. But A Slight Case of Murder is a heck of a one. Like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but in a legal instead of a racial context.

These little flicks are not just for fun, you know. They provide an education. Here is an example:

Mrs. Marco (Ruth Donnelly) upbraids her husband’s employees when they do not talk genteel-like. One of them keeps saying “O.K.” Which is still, along with words like “job” and “kidding,”  low-end slang circa 1938.

Which is why it still grinds my gears when people (especially of the high-end sort) say “O.K.” in more recent period scripts and novels. The thing is called “research,” writer-types. Do some.

I know, I know; no one else is bothered by this. But as I say, it still grinds my gears.

PS – I was reassured to find that Margaret Hamilton’s character name is spelled “Cagle.” I am not equipped to think of her as “Mrs. Kegel.”

edward-brophy-02A Sonnet for Edward Brophy


Your squeaky voice spoke fluent Comic Foils

For gangsters’ pals, wisecracking bubble-bursters –

In Cover Girl your line “I don’t think poils

[spoken by Joe the barkeep] come from ersters,”

Still looms large in my brain’s repository

Of great words said by history’s great men,

And incomplete for me is any story

Without your shining pate and double chin.

Slugs, Lefty, Torso, Rollo, Joe Morelli

(Leave us neglect not  Timothy Q. Mouse)

Were made well-rounded roles by your round belly.

He who agrees not is a dirty louse.

Thank goodness Buster dragged you out of props

That you could give us years of yeggs and cops.

I thank you.

Seven Chances (1925)

11 Jun
Seven Chances (1925)

A clown in his natural habitat: solitude.

You will, I hope allow me to wax rhapsodic.

I’m always happiest with silents like Seven Chances (to be shown on TCM late, late Thursday, June 13 at 4:30 a.m.) in their dearth of intertitles. The job is done in the camera; not just the effects (ah! the dissolve with the car!), but the telling of the tale and the building of each gag. I’ve heard people speak of Keaton as a master of “composition” of shots, which is a lovely cinematic term and all, but it’s about the gag, which is, I think, vital to remember. He’s not a painter – he’s an engineer. He’s a liner-up of dominoes, then a displayer of domino configurations, and most of all, a flicker of dominoes. (I reserve that phrase for the title of my novel, by the way: A Flicker of Dominoes.)

I think it’s important not to treat Keaton as a traditional artist, but as an instinctual master. Not that he was without an unfathomable amount of craft, but that he seemed to employ it (when he talked about it) with very little traditional terminology. One more damn thing to admire him for. The utter lack of preciousness but still total commitment to his work.

The lawyer is Snitz Edwards (whom I think of as Putty Nose from The Public Enemy). The Wife and I decided that his name sounds rather like the sort of thing a mother might yell at a wayward child in lieu of “Nosey Parker” or “Pinky Lee” or the whatever your mother might have used as circumstances dictated. “Alright, there, Snitz Edwards – where’s the fire?”

While we’re talking about people who aren’t Buster…sigh. Let’s talk about the character called only The Hired Man…or, I don’t know. Maybe let’s not. We know how this is going to go; any aficionado of classic film has to deal with this sort of thing. Of Its Time, etc. It still makes me cringe, but the pleasures are worth cringing through for me. Rather than a) pretending it isn’t happening or b) reiterating needlessly, I highly recommend Black Like You by John Strausbaugh.

Somewhat more than seven

Somewhat more than seven.

I am a fan of women. My closest friends are and always have been women, my favorite relatives are women; I even married one. But I once made the mistake of walking blithely into a packed Filene’s Basement on the day when the previous season’s wedding gowns were put on sale. I felt every neck snap toward me as I entered – I’m pretty sure a few dresses were being purchased on spec – and I have to tell you…I felt what can only by described as Fear. And the famous would-be-brides chase brings that back for me. And all comedy requires a bit of Fear, no?

The bride chase, though, is something to see and love, not discuss – though it’s worth mentioning that for 7 million 1925 dollars, one can hardly blame the bridal posse for its tenacity, locust-like though it be. But let’s talk about those boulders. Man. Those boulders. I know intellectually how it was achieved. The information is out there. But it’s so…I mean, they look like papier-mâché boulders. And yet their motion is impossible, like a W.C. Fields pool shot exponentially increased in scale. It’s so beautiful.

I’m not sure if TCM shows the introductory Technicolor sequence when it airs this – it’s on the Kino blu-ray – but it’s worth seeking out if they don’t.

Looking Backward: Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

9 Jun

Well, to begin with, I was mistaken: Lorre is still in creepy mode for Stranger on the Third Floor. Not a complaint; just observing. Lorre is in fact barely in this at all, despite top billing. My understated response to this relative Lorrelessness was not dissimilar to the following:

StrangerThirdIn fairness, I was indoors.

A little 65-minute potboiler that I’m sure would’ve been a solid episode of a TV anthology fifteen years later or a radio anthology five years before, about a newspaperman who lacks any sense of irony. Also, there are murders. Some fun expressionistic noir shadow work, especially in the sudden, magnificently weird nightmare sequence that may or may not be a plot point (I’m still not sure).

It is, I have discovered, seen as one of the first true noirs, and the shadow work and date would point to that. So there is that curiosity factor, I guess. And Lorre does a fine three minutes of work in the Peter Lorre Role, though it was tough to watch without thinking of this guy…


Clear Your DVR for June 9

8 Jun

Sometimes a full day of TCM programming comes along and it’s too difficult even to try to narrow down which thing you’d watch.

And such a day is June 9.

buster-keaton-the-cameraman-1928Get this:

6:00 a.m. – Dames, with a mess of Busby Berkeley goodness;

8:00 a.m. – Thank Your Lucky Stars, another essentially plotless revue of terrific musical numbers;

10:15 a.m. – The Moon and Sixpence, Maugham’s Gauguin tale with George Sanders;

12:00 m. – Gaslight is on…or is it?;

2:00 p.m. – The Talk of the Town is the movie I set on to write about with this post because while it’s considered a classic, it’s still (despite the title) not high on the list of heavily discussed films – which is unfortunate, I think. It has a sensibility all its own considering it was made in the early 40s;

4:15 p.m. – The Seven Year Itch, one of my least favorite Billy Wilders, is still undeniably fun. And yes, the whole iconic Marilyn thing;

6:15 p.m. – Viva Las Vegas, which I’m not going to defend my love for beyond the glorious weirdo train wreck that is Ann-Margret. Its plausibility makes  Dames look like vérité;

8:00 p.m. – The Lavender Hill Mob, a long-time favorite comedy of mine starring Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway;

9:30 p.m. – A Slight Case of Murder, an Edward G. Robinson crime comedy I don’t think I’ve seen yet. We’ll find out;

11:00 p.m. – A Slight Case of Larceny which  haven’t seen either, still looks like light and cheesy fun;

12:30 a.m. –  And we wind it up with It, the silent classic starring icon Clara Bow as a killer clown who terrorizes small-town Maine, if I’m reading this right.

Seriously. I’m not off that day, but I hope you are.

Looking Forward: The Thief of Paris (1967)

8 Jun

thief of parisThe Thief of Paris (on TCM at 9:45 p.m. Saturday. June 8) is a classic European  crime comedy, a genre it seems I’m inadvertently catching up on in the last few months. Aside from the names of those involved, I know almost nothing and will just ignore anything I find. Going into a movie blind with nothing but hope and a decent recommendation is one of my favorite sensations – somewhere below a sneeze but above Peter Christian’s mustard.

Thrill of a Romance (1945), and Esther Williams

7 Jun

thrill1 estherI have fond memories (though it’s possible they’re semi-fever-based) of being home sick from middle school and watching Thrill of a Romance (which is on TCM late Thursday, June 13, part of a last minute 24 hour Esther-a-thon tribute that begins at 8:00 p.m.).

It was on AMC in the days when its name made sense and there were no commercials, only Bob Dorian (this was pre-Clooney). It’s not the best Esther Williams vehicle – in the sense that there’s precious little water in it, and no Neptune’s Daughter/Million Dollar Mermaid inherent swim-necessity – but you don’t choose the puppy by looking at it’s charts; you just make eye contact with the right one at the right time.

Thrill of a Romance, I’ll remind you (because they’re easy to jumble, except maybe Fiesta), is the one where war hero Van Johnson falls in love with Williams, who has just married this businessman who leaves yet hasn’t even managed to consummate said marriage – one of the least plausible elements in the history of her films, and that’s saying something. “I just married Esther Fah-reaking (it’s a family name) Williams, but actually I’m very busy.”

Also, the surreal elements of Lauritz Melchior, the singing bellboy,Tommy Dorsey, Helene Stanley (later a Disney princess live-action model in the 50s), et alia all meeting up for some reason at a resort (not by the sea – Esther is stuck in a tiny pool) sell it for me in the great tradition of studio system throw-it-at-the-wall vehicles. All that’s missing is Jose Iturbi. These are cultural documents, people!

1944_bathing-beauty_esther-williams-and-carlos-ramc3adrez_1_f30s-3Late last night, after our work was done, The Wife and I put in the Bathing Beauty DVD and talked about something. Within the first couple of minutes, Carlos Ramirez is singing “Magic is the Moonlight” as all up in her face as he can get considering she’s clearly a head taller, and while she was no grand actress, as she was the first to admit (I add here without shame that hers is one of few movie star memoirs I’ve read; Million Dollar Mermaid is fun, honest and incredibly trashy. We Highly Recommend), her silent responses as he sings are very different than the typical being-sung-at starlet’s: she looks not blandly model-smiley but really legitimately annoyed. “I’m trying to get to the diving board, dude, and I don’t want to get this complicated cape I’m wearing wet – If you could just –come on! I don’t even speak Spanish! What are you even singing?” Then, as she finally ascends the ladder to the board, he starts going for his money notes and she gives in at least enough to be appreciative – “Alright, that’s impressive, and kind of sweet. Thank you. Really, I have to dive now, but thank you.”

It’s a little moment in a little film, but it’s illustrative of her whole career – she was never Ethel Barrymore, but she was never dishonest. Which is a lot. Swim on, Esther.

thrill2 esther