Archive | July, 2013

Looking Forward: Two-Faced Woman (1941)

24 Jul

Garbo Two Faced Woman 3

Somehow I’ve never seen Two-Faced Woman (airing on TCM Thursday, July 25 at 9:30 a.m. as part of a daylong block of “twin” movies), despite its Garbo and Melvyn Douglas pedigree. It always gets such lukewarm reviews when compared with the incomparable Ninotchka that it hardly seems fair.

See you here sometime after it airs (assuming I survive this blasted production of The Pirates of Penzance that has so eaten into my viewing schedule…).

DVR Alert: Mel Brooks Night on TCM, 7/24

24 Jul

Mel-Brooks-mel-brooks-127540_300_379

One of the prime comic Voices In My Head, along with Phil Silvers, Jack Benny Groucho Marx and Spike Milligan (among a select few others) is that of Mel Brooks. There are lines spoken by/written by Mel Brooks that simply are not funny if the wrong people say them. But in the right hands, or larynges, or whatever, Golden Magic. Many will be said tonight.

Tonight (July 24)  at 8:00 p.m., TCM will broadcast the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award/ Salute to Mel Brooks (and again at 12:30 a.m.), as well as a few of the high points of his career, including the underappreciated The Twelve Chairs at 9:30 p.m., the can-never-be-appreciated-enough Young Frankenstein at 2:00 a.m., and the already-appreciated-on-this-site The Producers at 4:00 a.m.

In amongst those glories, TCM  has peppered the evening with pleasant little surprises like a Carson interview at 11:15 p.m. (promoting To Be or Not To Be, I think, if the date is any hint), a documentary on the 2000-Year-Old Man recordings with Personal Hero Carl Reiner at 11:30 p.m. (a picture of these two hangs in my studio, near a pair of pictures of Bert Lahr that are better explained at another time), and an hour-long Dick Cavett interview at 5:30 a.m.

Looking Backward: Larceny, Inc. (1942)

21 Jul

larcenyincLike Rififi, except with all the bleakness and ennui replaced with Wacky, Larceny, Inc. was a fun little fluffball. But plot machinations are no fun to recapitulate, so let’s talk abot

The Warner Brothers character actor bench was bottomless, wasn’t it?* And in the studio system’s glory days, one week’s major supporting role was next week’s glorified walk-on.

Exempla gratis: the fellow Robinson buys the luggage shop, who summarily disappears, are Harry Davenport (to me, Merle Oberon’s gleefully wicked uncle in The Cowboy and the Lady, but also a director of early silents, Dr. Meade in Gone With the Wind, Mr. Dr.Barnes in Little Women (1949) and a plethora of Judges (Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer) and Grandpas (Meet Me in St. Louis).

The minor role of nearby merchant Sam Bacharach went to John Qualen, already playing an old man before he had even had a chance to talk in an extravagant Swedish accent in random Westerns, sea adventures, and of course His Girl Friday, The Grapes of Wrath, The Seventh Seal and Casablanca. Reasonable pedigree for a man who never was nor shall be a household name.

There’s even a tiny turn by a young Jackie Gleason doing a modified early version of a Joe the Bartender/Poor Soul amalgam. Young Jane Wyman. Young Anthony Quinn as a convict. Broderick Crawford as a lunkhead whose head keeps getting lunked. It’s packed, for a forgotten little bit of silliness.

And did I mention Edward Brophy?

edward-brophy-1-sizedOn another front, I don’t want to ruin something lovely by mentioning it in a way that will make it evident instead of seamless, but watch Edward G. Robinson’s, anytime but especially in comedy. The gestures are simultaneously a little clichéd and perfect. It’s also entirely possible that they only seem cliché because so many actors looked to Robinson for inspiration. The man is inarguably awfully good at his job.

Again, a relaxing fluffball, but one packed with quality people who did their jobs with clarity and precision. And also Jack Carson.

 

 

 

*Unless you count Jack Carson as the bottom. I’d hear that argument.

Looking Backward: Hired Wife (1940)

20 Jul

hired-wife2Rosalind Russell made Hired Wife the same year she made His Girl Friday, 1940. It’s solid, but it suffers when you think of it in those terms. Brian Aherne is grand but is not Cary Grant. And I just found myself pondering the sentence “Virginia Bruce is no Ralph Bellamy,” but it confused me, so I set it aside until I find another context in which to use it. Surely that will come down the pike soon enough.

The “Oopsie!” mishandled-paperwork annulment device is more effectively used in Mr. and Mrs. Smith – still a contrivance there, but it’s a premise instead of a Gordian-knot-slicer.

But as I say, I’m being unduly high in my expectations. It was fun while it lasted. Russell never does less than splendid work in any comic role, and watching her make the screenplay plausible with some of her always precise eyework. (I’m not kidding. Follow the gaze of Rosalind Russell – she’s doing simultaneous windows-to-the-soul and a the-director-wants-your-focus-THERE work all the time, and it’s a skill lacking in a lot of film actors, with the added benefit for her that your own eyes refuse to look away from her lest they miss something.)

I also quite enjoyed the Vaguely Latin Gigolo that was Jose of the Erik Rhodes school.

And there’s Benchley, an ode to whom I leave you with.

benchley

To Robert Benchley

O Robert Benchley, Worchester’s favorite son,

You left the Table Round for LA’s smog

And taught us all just How It Should Be Done

(To sleep, detect, behave, to train a dog).

You served to us (in more than just a dollop)

Ivy-beleaguerment, befuddledly

Relating tales like The Sex Life of the Polyp,

Narrating links for Flesh and Fantasy;

But back to that Round Table you were summoned:

Sir Rhosis you were dubbed – you overwined

And so you were unmanned. (Also unwomaned,

Since Gertrude, your dear spouse lived on behind.)

But Life was not the same once you moved on.

(In fact, you AND the magazine are gone.)

Mon Oncle (1958) and other beloveds

19 Jul

Mon-Oncle-5Mon Oncle (airing on TCM Sunday, July 21 at 8:00 p.m. as part of Bill Hader’s thrillingly well-curated Essentials, Jr.) is my favorite Tati film.

It’s not the best one – that’s clearly Play Time, an architecture only lessened by dancing about it, beyond saying that even the mention of it makes me want to stop typing, call in sick to my rehearsal and watch it; and even Les Vacances de M. Hulot is technically “better,” I suppose – but it remains my favorite.

Is it because I’m naturally avuncular in all things, and was long before the nieces and nephews came along? Is it because my not-so-secret ideal birthday gift would be a LEGO set of the Villa Arpel (and yard)? Is it because it’s a sweet, delicate painted eggshell of a comedy that bears up under as many viewings as you’re willing to give it, and yet isn’t a, you know, Black Turtleneck-y Art Film, despite the French subtitles (which, if you’re dealing with children watching this, you should know are almost entirely unnecessary)?

I think it’s because its so very, very funny, but not in a merely entertaining way, which is to say it asks you not to lean back and laugh passively but to lean forward and pay attention and smile broadly.

Mon onclemon-oncle2

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know a smile sounds like less than a laugh. It is not. Laughter is wonderful, but a Tati-bred smile is a smile that affects the rest of your week. The world around you becomes the film you just watched, and even its ugliness, its sharp-metal fish fountains and its traffic and its dirty streets and its dull jobs take on a beauty. So much knowledge and so much innocence hand in hand, distracting the Grown-Ups (different than adults) so they’ll walk into poles.

a-nous-la-liberteModern Times (1936)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revel in the beauty of Mon Oncle, and when you’re done, enjoy the brilliant and entirely intertwined block that follows: Tati’s clear inspiration, Chaplin’s Modern Times at 10:00 p.m. and Chaplin’s clear inspiration, René Clair’s À Nous La Liberté at 2:00 a.m. (with Mickey starring Mabel Normand sneaking in at midnight and Clair’s Le Million closing things down at 3:45 a.m.) Seriously – when am I supposed to sleep?

DVR Alert: Preston Sturges and more on 7/18

18 Jul

July 18 is another one of THOSE days on TCM, folks. Clear off those old Lawrence Welks; you’re going to need the room:

Larceny, Inc. (1942)
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Shown from left: Barbara Jo Allen, Broderick Crawford, Edward Brophy, Edward G. Robinson, Jack Carson, Jane Wyman

10:30 a.m. – Larceny, Inc. (1942) – another Edward G. Robinson gangster comedy. Edward Brophy, people.

Then the Preston Sturges block begins – and just keeps going…

Preston-Sturges-0512:15 p.m. – Child of Manhattan (1933) – a melodrama based on a Sturges play;

1:30 p.m. – Christmas in July (1940) – a fun, oft-ignored early Sturges;

2:45 p.m. – Sullivan’s Travels (1941) – no introduction;

4:30 p.m. – Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) – the movie that made me fall in love with Sturges and a more-or-less spiritual sequel to Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, but far more subversive, in my opinion…;

6:15 p.m. – The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947) – aka Mad Wednesday, this late Harold Lloyd vehicle by Sturges was hacked to ribbons and is much maligned, but were I running a series of Second Looks, this would be on the list;

8:00 p.m. – The Palm Beach Story (1942) – about which I’ve already written, is the day’s last Sturges and the first of Frank Rich’s guest programmer picks. The second is;

manchurianflower-clubcig3209:45 p.m. – The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – the famed glorious political thriller that’s somehow more up-to-the-minute than the remake from a couple of years ago, and featuring the garden club ladies who can easily ruin The Andy Griffith Show for you;

Rules_of_the_Game_SS_CurrentMidnight – The Rules of the Game (1939) – Jean Renoir’s sort-of-romantic- comedy satire that’s also always prominently featured atop  lots and lots of Best Movie Ever lists;

 

2:00 a.m. – Petulia (1968) – of which I know nothing beyond that it stars Julie Christie and George C. Scott, is directed by Richard Lester, and looks like this…PETULIA-6which means I’ll give it a shot;

And last but not least,

alicetoklas.105f4:00 a.m. – I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968) one of those grand slices of late-60s wacky, with Peter Sellers. When I was young, it was dated. Now it’s a period piece. The sine wave of comedy’s aging process is sometimes tough to track. Regardless, I love it.

Enjoy! That should keep anyone busy for a while. Hide from the ozone in the best way possible.

DVR Alert: Boy’s Night Out (1962)

17 Jul

boBoy’s Night Out (tonight on TCM at 1:30 a.m.) is by far one of, is not the finest, certainly my favorite in the long history of Bachelor Pad Movies. For set design alone, you need seek no other. Zowie.

Not a success at the time of its release, its comedy dates much better than most in the 1960s sex comedy genre -  I think it’s because while the men start out entertaining this weird, kinky, someone-read-a-Playboy-short-story mistress-sharing adultery fantasy, they’re fundamentally decent sorts who are just indulging in some faux-manly chest-thumping at each other that gets out of hand. This makes their 60s Guyness a lot easier to take. They aren’t 60s Guys but have been sold the idea of 60s Guys in the same way as, say, my Swingers-era generation. That they technically live in the 1960s just makes it more intriguing.

I’m not sure contemporary audiences laughed at what I laugh at in Boy’s Night Out (beyond the undying laugh of Tee Many Martoonis), but I’m sure all time periods can agree, if paying attention, on the glories of Howard Morris.

Morris, with whom I share a birthday, is my favorite part of anything he’s in (almost; Kim Novak is the star here, and I am a mere mortal) – cf. the Your Show of Shows sketch (from the Carl Reiner post) in which he plays the manic Uncle Goopy. His Howard here is relatively subdued compared to that or Ernest T. Bass, but his scenes with Novak are my favorites.

So enjoy this, a perfect 1:30 a.m. film if ever there was one.

Boys Night Out 2

Looking Backward: The Gazebo (1959) & Carl Reiner.

10 Jul

Gazebo_3While his noir work is pitch-perfect, I admit that I’ve never been sold on Glenn Ford in comedy. I think something like The Gazebo might’ve dated less with a) more of a comedy whiz-bang in the lead, someone who can comically unravel instead of just being twitchy and b) a more stylish directorial hand – Alfred Hitchcock is, from the phone anyway, a character in the film. Some visuals that conjure up suspense films could’ve made strength’s of The Gazebo’s implausibilities.

 

As a fan, and with half a century of hindsight, I suppose it’s useless to wonder whether Carl Reiner, who’s right there in the room, could’ve done either/both.

I should probably note here that Carl Reiner has been a personal hero of sorts since my first youthful viewing of Ten From Your Show of Shows, particularly the “This is Your Story” sketch, in which he’s the straight man among a crowd of madcaps. I assume the genetic coding that makes me a Straight Man was at least partially responsible.

“This is Your Story”, Al Dunsey”

 

For those who don’t use performance terminology regularly, I’m not referring to sexuality – though this is maybe a good place to mention that The Gazebo features what may be, historically speaking, the most gratuitous of all Debbie Reynolds production numbers, and the crew-cut guys in the TRON outfits are a prime reason the gay community was absolutely justified in the bloodless coup that gave it leadership of the musical theater – but to the Straight, the Feed, the Abbot to Costello, the Alice-if-you’re-Ralph, the Ralph-if-you’re-Norton. Or, to me, the Carl Reiner, since he was the first person who made me notice how this worked.

This is an athletic skill and a Zen mastery. The guys who dunk get the endorsement deals; frequently ignored is the guy who makes sure he gets the ball. In comedy there are people with an anything-for-a-laugh energy and while an audience thinks that’s what they want, Comics are potentially exhausting. The Straight Man is sometimes the balance pulling the routine back to center, sometimes the force of rigidity giving the Comic something to bounce off of, sometimes the blank night sky between the stars that allows you to notice that the stars are even there. Most comedy pairings toss this back and forth – it’s not a pure thing and hasn’t been since at least Burns and Allen – but generally you can still tell who’s the Authority and who’s the Nut.

BioPhotoCarlReinerIt wasn’t long after “This is Your Story” that I first saw The Dick Van Dyke Show, and not terribly long after that that I bought a 2000-Year-Old Man LP (at a record show at a Holiday Inn – it was 2013, the one with Reiner and Brooks sitting like two monoliths (or one stereolith) on the cover.) Sometime just before that I saw him interviewed by Steve Allen alongside Milton Berle and a young Billy Crystal circa 1983/4 (I still have the videotape).  I never looked back. I even went bald in his honor. Or such is my reasoning.

So what I’m saying is: any opportunity to watch Carl Reiner work, even in a minor supporting role like this, is an opportunity I’ll take…though all it does is make me want to retroactively increase his involvement. Unrealistic, perhaps, but it keeps me off the streets.

DVR Alert: The Spanish Main (1945)

9 Jul

The Spanish Main is a seafaring, swashbuckling classic being shown late late Tuesday, July 9 (at 4:15 a.m.) as part of TCM’s monthlong Paul Henreid celebration. And I celebrate him. Really, I do.

But I celebrate Maureen O’Hara more.

the-spanish-main-maureen-o-hara-1945

For reasons that I do not feel the need to explain.

Also, Pirates. Which usually means Walter Slezak. And in this case Binnie Barnes as the one and only Anne Bonney!

This one is really a lot of fun – by the 1950s, the swashbucklers were, with a few exceptions, starting to fray at the cuffs, but at this point, they were still pretty lush. And I don’t just mean because of Maureen O’Hara. There are ships and costumes and battles. But, yes, also because of Maureen O’Hara.

For example, compare this one to 1953’s The Siren of Baghdad next week (Tuesday, July 16 at 10:15 p.m.). With the exception of Henreid’s charm and of course, OF COURSE, Hans Conreid as Ben Ali, it’s a little shady. Still fun, yes, but not nearly as much. Maybe if you replaced the dancing slave girls with Maureen o’Hara.

Looking Forward: This Week

9 Jul

I’m busily rehearsing this month, and when I’ll get to watch all of these will be dictated by the kindness of Gilbert & Sullivan, but these are some noteworthy unseen-by-me’s (with accompanying Reasons Why) coming up on TCM in these next few days:

gazeboThe Gazebo (1960) – A Glenn Ford/Debbie Reynolds domestic murder comedy. Carl Reiner’s in it. Sold. Airs Tuesday, July 9 at 6:15 p.m.

bardelys_the_magnificentBardelys the Magnificent (1926)/ The Show (1927) – Parts of a daylong salute to John Gilbert on Wednesday, July 10. The former is a Sabatini adaptation (airs at 6:30 a.m.), the latter a sideshow story (airs at 8:15 a.m.). Check and check.

trade-windsTrade Winds (1938) Frederic March, Joan Bennett & Ralph Bellamy in another mystery comedy in which Bellamy will, I’ll wager, not get the girl. Airs Wednesday, July 10 at 9:30 p.m.

shootthepianoplayer2Another Francois Truffaut Friday Night Spotlight on July 12,starting at 8:00 p.m. Though I’m still looking for time to watch all of last week’s.

stmartinsSt. Martin’s Lane (1938 aka London After Dark) stars Charles Laughton and Vivien Leigh as London street buskers. Almost too easy. Of course I want to see that. Airs Saturday, July 13 at 6:00 a.m.

Hired-WifeHired Wife (1940) – Rosalind Russell marries Brian Aherne for business reasons; Robert Benchley looks on. Duh. Airs Saturday, July 13 at 10:30 p.m.

7yearsAnd finally there’s Sunday night, July 14. The “Seven Up” lineup begins at 8:00 p.m. and is full of goodness (including The Magnificent Seven (Bill Hader’s Essentials Jr.), Seven Angry Men (Raymond Massey perfectly cast as John Brown), Buster’s classic Seven Chances, and Seven Samurai, but my particular interest is in the Max Linder silent Seven Years Bad Luck, which airs at midnight.

That should just about cover me. Come mid-August, my eyes are going to be wiped out from playing catch-up. But in a happy way.