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Quickie: Jack Carson & Andie MacDowell

22 May

So, Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) was on yesterday, and suddenly, after twenty solid minutes of Lombard and Montgomery screwballity, there he was. Jack Carson.

Jack Carson

Nope. Not funny.

I have observed in the first month of this darkling whistle solo a strict policy to follow the teachings of Thumper’s Father, and if nothing nice could be said, nothing was said at all. There’s enough of that floating around this web of ours.

But I must confess that I’ve never laughed once at Jack Carson and yet he is always presented in a context that implies I’m supposed to. The man had a string of third rate Not-Road movies with Dennis Morgan; someone thought he was funny. It has not been properly explained to me thus far.

And yet there he is in Mr. & Mrs. Smith; Destry Ride Again; Stage Door; Love Crazy; The Male Animal (the quintessential Carson role); Arsenic & Old Lace; Dangerous When Wet; The Strawberry Blonde. Movies I either love or at least like a heap in insomnia-/comfort- based viewing situations. And surrounded by the some of the finest casts casts ever assembled.

Then I remembered Andie MacDowell.

Andie MacDowell and Jack Lemmon

Andie MacDowell, somehow with Jack Lemmon

Groundhog Day; Short Cuts; Four Weddings and a Funeral; St. Elmo’s Fire; Green Card (well, maybe not Green Card).

And it hit me…

Andie MacDowell is to the 90s what Jack Carson was to the 40s: A harbinger of a terrific cast that will act as a reminder of how good the rest of that cast is.

Except mercifully no one ever gave Mac Dowell a series of third rate Not-Road movies.

I apologize profusely for this (I assure you) temporary but unavoidable detour into negativity. I will be steadfast in my attempts to avoid any such cheap shots in the future.

Monsieur Laurel & Señor Hardy

12 May

Being Funny in 4 Languages

This shall serve as your warning that a healthy pile of multilingual Laurel & Hardy is coming up on TCM Monday, May 13, starting at 6:15 a.m. with Helpmates and continuing through the double feature Les Carottiers and Los Calaveras (the combined Be Big!/Laughing Gravy in French and Spanish, repectively) that starts at 11:45 a.m.

TCM did an evening of a few these a few months ago that I happened across and they’re fascinating to watch (and hear) for reasons that are probably obvious. The Boys speak their lines phonetically while surrounded by native speaking casts, a solution to the sudden problem of the international talkie market offered by the ever-enterprising Hal Roach.

Addendum: Ball of Fire and The Doff

27 Apr

Sadly, there’s this lost gesture. I suspect it disappeared after, you know, hats. But it seems to be a reference to doffing. Of a hat.

Now surely one didn’t always have to take the whole hat off. Surely just tapping the brim with the extended tips of the index and middle finger would suffice in the hustle-bustle of midtown. Eventually it could be taken as read.

And surely the Doff could even be useful to a sass-mouthed broad who wouldn’t wear an unpinned-therefore-doffable hat if you paid her in rabbit stoles and beluga.

For when I picture a textbook Doff, I picture this one:

GIF from the voluminous and splendid archives of

Sugarpuss O’Shea says, “Hullo!’

(GIF courtesy of the voluminous and splendid archives of BelleCS.)

But if you hadn’t noticed the existence of the Doff up to now, you won’t be able to get through a handful of 20s-40s era movies without them piling up on you. Sorry. I don’t know. Make it a drinking game.

William Powell does a particularly subtle one in, I believe, My Man Godfrey. Talking to one of his old business pals, the man pays him a compliment and without breaking conversational stride, Powell offers a Doff that says, in a tick of the wrist, “That’s awfully kind of you, pal, and that’s as may be, but…” Masterfully doffed.

There’s a nice one in Shall We Dance, too, the Astaire/Rogers one (if I need to specify – nor Richard Gere nor Asian businessmen Doff). The designing ballerina Lady Tarrington gives it to Pete “Petrov” Peters as he skedaddles from her after boarding the steamer. I think she says “Bon voyage.” I’m working from memory here. But I see it pretty clearly.

Let this be my plea for the Doff’s timely return. It’s a greeting. It’s a salute. It looks great being done sarcastically off the back of a train at one’s thwarted pursuers. Pretty much all you need in a go-to gesture. Imagine I’m aiming one at you now.

Quickie: Wife vs. Secretary (1936)

26 Apr
Jean Harlow in "Wife vs. Secretary"

Secretary? Wife? Magneto? Cerebro?

We were watching Wife vs. Secretary, which we recorded the other night, and wondered…is Myrna Loy one and Jean Harlow the other, or is Harlow the only title character? Admit it: your jaw is on the floor right now. I know, I know. These raw insights don’t come without shock to me, either.

Also, Jean at one point says to Jimmy Stewart: “I can’t do that now, Dave.” 2001 would’ve been an entirely different film…