4th Stretching-the-Meaning-of-“Annual” One Woman Film Festival

2 Nov

keaton-sherlock_opt…since clearly the 3rd Annual took place a week before.

Regardless, that Sunday there we were, around 9:30am this time until, say, 10:00pm? (We all had an early Monday ahead of us). The slate, formed over the course of the day, was:

The Lady Eve (1941);

Sherlock, Jr. (1924);

Citizen Kane (1940);

La Belle et la Bête (1946);

Twentieth Century (1934);

and This is Spinal Tap (1984).

Some heavy hitters here, obviously, a couple of them by request, as we asked our friend if there were any omissions in her previous viewing career that she regretted. She said Citizen Kane almost immediately. The other, This is Spinal Tap, we knew from the conversation that led to her being invited for this event in the first place.

The other selections made the list because we knew of her love of romantic comedy. She isn’t one of those “I’ve never seen an old movie” people by any means, but again, we all have voids in our movie lives. (My own are numerous and daunting.) This gave us somewhere to begin – Sturges provides some of the first really intelligent American romantic comedy, “Beauty and the Beast” is the archetype on which almost all of them are based (being one of the few fairy tales wherein getting to know each other is even part of the plot), and Twentieth Century is kind of unjustly neglected. Sherlock, Jr. is in there because there’s just going to be some Keaton, Lloyd or Chaplin at all of these.

Most of these are well-documented, at this blog or elsewhere, so again, a few little thoughts, and then some surprising connections we noticed.

LITTLE THOUGHTS

ladyeve2The Lady Eve:

-Such a thing of beauty, yet no matter how many times I see it, I just sort of forget the second half. Not in a bad way – it’s just that shorthand for this movie in my head is “them on the ship” and the rest is still fresh and surprising as I watch. Again;

-It’s Stanwyck’s movie in many ways (though my love for Charles Coburn grows as I age) but Henry Fonda is funny. Who knew, right? Again, still always surprising;

“Tell him to go peel an eel!” The eel that won for Yeel?

keaton sherlock5Sherlock, Jr.:

-Previous post here;

-Our friend’s reaction to her first Keaton was characterized by a general sort of repeated, amazed, “I really like this!” as if a world had been opened. We’ll pressure her into more, I’m sure.

sscitizenkane7Citizen Kane:

-Poor Susan. That shot from her terrified, heavily made up face being barked at by her voice teacher through the stagehands in the flies and their nose-pinching review is so painful, no less so when Welles shows half of it again!;

-Like Coburn, my love for Cotton’s performance as Elderly Jed (“Sloppy Joe’s?”) continues to intensify with age. It’s so broad on one hand and so how-that-guy-would-be-around-strangers-years-later on the other. Brilliant;

-Is the second half of Kane’s life an attempt to recapture the night he met Susan (which is also the night his mother’s death was made real by all her belongings showing up in town)? She sang for him, he almost told her the Rosebud story – you can see it – things were good again for a couple of hours. He tries to make her keep singing, as if to prolong it in some weird public way, or to share that feeling with the world if you’re feeling more generously disposed toward his motives. She shouts “You never gave me anything that belongs to you, anything you care about!” He finds the snow globe after she leaves. I like to think he spends much of the rest of his Xanadu-doddering life digging through the uninventoried boxes looking for that damn Rosebud thing…

la belle et la bête<br /><br /><br />
1945<br /><br /><br />
réal : Jean Cocteau<br /><br /><br />
Josette Day</p><br /><br />
<p>collection christophelLa Belle et la Bête:

-What a thing of beauty. Unnecessary to write about, because it’s so clear and has such depth, yet so little explanation of anything, even basic geography or physics, that people frequently seem to demand (foolishly, I’d argue) in their storytelling. “None of that is the point! Just pay attention!” “Why does he even keep the horse if he could use the gloves?” “You are asking the wrong questions!”

-Josette Day. My Word. La Belle.

1934-twentieth-century-lombard-barrymore-2Twentieth Century:

Immediately another Beauty and the Beast story, except with two beasts, whose coupling at least saves other people from them;

-I haven’t threatened to close the iron door on nearly enough people lately;

-Also, Barrymore’s hair in this is one of the few things that make me regret baldness.

Spinal TapThis is Spinal Tap:

-This is one of those generational things I suppose, but I’ve seen this so many times that I scarcely need to watch it anymore, and yet, like Young Frankenstein. for example, it’s one of the rare comedies that doesn’t dry up once you know its jokes – the execution is so perfect that it becomes like rewatching some perfect double play but one that unfolds for ninety minutes;

-It was late in the game that I tracked the drummer names alongside the names of replacement Three Stooges. There are always more jokes here than you think.

And, of course…

UNEXPECTED CONNECTIONS

Annex - Welles, Orson (Citizen Kane)_03What the hell, beyond the aforementioned “Beauty and the Beast” threads, do the above have in common? Well, for starters:

Swindlers, misdirection and stage magic pervade (The Lady Eve, Sherlock Jr., Citizen Kane, La Belle et la Bête) along with differently failed attempts at same (Twentieth Century, This is Spinal Tap – particularly “Rock & Roll Creation, I think);

Doubles, twins and reflections abound, from the obvious (The Lady Eve, Sherlock Jr., La Belle et la Bête) to the less so (the mirrors of Citizen Kane, the “none more black” album cover in This is Spinal Tap);

Bursting Spheres, from Kane’s snow globe to Buster’s 13 ball to Eve’s metaphorical social-sphere-busting from class to class. An argument could even be made for a certain green globule of a former drummer;

High-dollar checks are torn (or apparently torn) to bits (The Lady Eve, Citizen Kane, Twentieth Century), a gesture sort of lost in this debit card/PayPal era. Angelica Houston has the good sense to hang on to her Stonehenge payment;

Major plot unfoldings on a train (The Lady Eve, Twentieth Century) could just  be chalked up to the period, but were still unplanned by the programmers;

Ushers apparently once brought the flowers down to the stage apron on opening night (Citizen Kane, Twentieth Century) – you get nice treatment when you don’t have armadillos in your trousers;

Mysterious castles with huge fireplaces, long hallways and broken skylights bumped nicely together in our Citizen Kane/La Belle et la Bête double feature (we’ll throw This is Spinal Tap in there for hallways as well – under the Xanadu (!!!) Star Theater – “Hello, Cleveland!”);

Women used to ride sidesaddle (The Lady Eve, La Belle et la Bête);

and Sticky papers make good comedy (Sherlock Jr., Twentieth Century).

belle-et-la-bete-1946-28-g

And for the record, the menu involved our guest’s homemade pumpkin bread, some sort of fancy coffee (I don’t know – I’m a tea drinker), butternut squash chowder, and again with the Chinese takeout. No Manhattans this week – the cocktail turned out to be, thanks to the acquisition of some green chartreuse, the festival-appropriate Bijou, which I highly recommend.

There probably won’t be another of these festivals for a while – I’m involved in a show this month and starting a long process on two others throughout December-February. This blog may slow a bit, but it will not stop, so the five people who read this thing need not fear.

twentieth-century_Repent

3rd Annual (or whenever) One Woman Film Festival report…

25 Oct

Probably this is not a festival you’re familiar with. It’s kind of exclusive. To wit:

redcarpetThe Wife and I invite a friend over to hang out in pyjamas all day one Sunday and watch movies. Said movies are curated in that a) it’s a trendy word and b) we put together a loose list that acts as kind of a mood-flexible flowchart (e.g., Stage Door can lead to Sunday in New York (young woman in the city) which in this case it did, but also potentially to The Great Garrick (backstage tales made in the 1930s), Baby Face (a very different sort of young woman in the city tale) or Vivacious Lady (more Ginger Rogers) which in this case it did not. Because we all liked the sound of Sunday in New York this time.

We’ve only done this twice before. Once was a double feature and was in no way organized. Next came another friend who watched three, maybe four with us in a semi-organized fashion. Then, this past Sunday, shit, as they say, got real.

A dear friend is moving to a fancy NYC job very soon. So we had her over at last for her One Woman Film Festival.

(Gender Note: there is no particular reason for excluding men from being invited. The proportion of our friends who would even want to do this are just overwhelmingly female.)

11am-2am. Fifteen hours. The slate, as it turned out:

The More the Merrier (1943);

Stage Door (1937);

Sunday in New York (1963);

The Apartment (1960);

From Hand to Mouth (1919);

His Girl Friday (1940);

and Theodora Goes Wild (1936).

I think the themes are clear. Rather than summarize these, follow the links for synopses or previous posts if they are by chance unfamiliar. I’m going to focus on the accidental connections that showed up, and then share a few group thoughts on each offering in the context of this festive day.

LITTLE THOUGHTS

The-More-The-Merrier-1943-3The More the Merrier:

Surprisingly erotic, this one, considering the presence of Charles Coburn, not usually a diapered cupid;

-This is one I should be throwing out more often in future Comedy vs. Drama arguments, because the craft on display here all around is at the highest possible level;

A really good Doff in this one by the man from the newspaper;

-This may also feature the most plausible floor show in classic film.

stage-Door)_01-788209Stage Door:

-Previous Post here;

I love the pace of this style, and yet fascinated by how Hepburn work in the middle, in-but-not-of the style;

-The fallacy of personal-tragedy-equals-Acting! bugs me as much as the equivalent buffoon-becomes-comic-genius trope – Almost Never True!;

-This is where the day’s conversations about women from pre-WWII into the mid-60s, dealing with the workforce changes of that era. We don’t jut sit around eating lentil soup and giggling, you know. We’re pretty high-toned.

sunday in nySunday in New York:

-Previous post here;

-Peter Nero is no Chico Marx, nor is he Henry Mancini – it can be tough to deal with a sex farce when it has a Charlie Brown score;

apart1The Apartment:

-This has been one of my favorite movies since I first saw it in, I suppose, high school, but it’s even more so with age and life experience. The Robinson Crusoe speech brought a few tears this time, because I have become a total sap;

-No one blinks in unwilling disbelief like Shirley Maclaine;

-I think this movie is why I take my hat off in elevators, but not why I wear a hat;

-Santa Otis Campbell IS the face of urban decadence.

from hand to mouth lloydFrom Hand to Mouth:

-Oh, for the days when bikes and cars differed little in speed;

-This was a lucky one – it’s an early Lloyd and the sort of slapsticky thing that doesn’t always work for guests, but ours enjoyed it so she’ll surely like the really good later ones;

-Next to Keaton’s Cops, one the better uses of a silent comic hero’s tendency to be a police magnet.

his girl fridHis Girl Friday;

Besides the connections below, there was much talk about the careers of John Qualen and Cliff Edwards. I beg of you: ponder them.

theodoraTheodora Goes Wild:

-Previous Irene Dunne post here;

-This one just sort of washed over us all, exhausted, film-weary, and all with some experience with small town New England – simple pleasure, though there are always social depths to dive into another time.

 

And now the fun part…

UNEXPECTED CONNECTIONS

apatmentI mean, clearly, yes, young woman comes from small town (New York believes all other places are small towns) to find housing, work, and human connection. This hovers around all of the above-named movies.

But the ways in which political machinations get in the way of people’s lives (Theodora Goes Wild, The More the Merrier, His Girl Friday) was unexpected. As were the mores of boys  and girls being left alone in apartments (pretty much all of them bring this up except the Harold Lloyd). These are odd, but not shocking.

But there were many surprising little synchronicities, like:

two consecutive unexpected appearances by Grady Sutton (The More the Merrier, Stage Door);

two rakish bowler hat (Snub Pollard and Jack Lemmon);

something we called “Sleazeball Gets a Shoeshine” (Menjou in Stage Door, Macmurray in The Apartment);

Lady Buys a $12 Hat (Arthur in The More the Merrier, Russell in His Girl Friday, and Theodora bought a LOT of hats, so surely one of them);

Take Off Those Wet Clothes, Mister (Sunday in New York, His Girl Friday);

Counterfeit money (From Hand to Mouth, His Girl Friday);

Apartment 2B (The More the Merrier and Dr. & Mrs. Dreyfus in The Aparment);

people just had spare toothbrushes and bathrobes around in the 60s (The Apartment, Sunday in New York);

Albany Sucks + a failed fiancée refuses a civil drink (His Girl Friday, Sunday in New York);

Women jumping out of windows (His Girl Friday, Stage Door, and brought up in The Apartment);

and, strangely, the literal pratfall, which is to say a very specific slip-on-wet-surface-and-slide-onto-keister in at least four, though my notes are unclear. There were, naturally, Manhattans.

Dilatory Avuncularity: A Night at the Opera (1935)

19 Oct

Annex - Marx Brothers (A Night at the Opera)_01Yes, yes it has been almost a month. I’ve been building a show, doing some Big Life Decision deciding, and cutting Hamlet down to ninety minutes. So I have plenty of excuses.

I’ve also been daunted by the DVR – while TCM has been showing some terrific stuff, much of it silent and/or foreign, thanks to the otherwise-not-my-cuppa that is The Story of Film: An Odyssey, I’ve been exhausted into a comforting-and-stupid stupor to the point that it’s been difficult to muster up the focus required to engage with such high art. And we finished all the Torchy Blanes.

But I realized that I failed to report on one last entry in the Avuncularity Excursion – The Nephews’ viewing of A Night at the Opera.

The enjoyed themselves, though they weren’t as frantically, viscerally excited as I was back in the days of my first Marx viewings. Or theirs.

A year ago or so, I showed them Duck Soup in conjunction with The Blues Brothers (I got parental dispensation; they’ve heard worse from their grandmother) – they noticed connections between the two I had never thought to attend to: not just all the “hi-de-hos,” but the pilings-of-furniture-to-block-doors and the endless cavalry approaches of the climax (though the authorities are after the Blueses and aiding the Marxes), to the point where we all left the evening fairly certain that the creators of one had spent a good amount of time watching the creations of the other.

But Opera has an important element (that I never minded) that clearly registers differently with different people – opera. Clearly there was much focus to be regained after Allan Jones and Kitty Carlisle did the things they do, which are resoundingly (you should pardon) Not the Funny Part.

Fortunately there is a stateroom to pack, some remarkably false beards to dampen, an apartment to rotate (for the record, they laughed harder here than at the stateroom), an orchestra to destroy (they both play in the school band now, so this particular bit of Marxian Decorum Arson resonated) and some Keaton gags to recycle marvelously in the wings and flies of a performance of Il Trovatore, so the movie-style high-culture didn’t get in our way too much.

Also a surprise hit: the very fact of the visual of Groucho and Ruman in each other’s suits. And they’re right. It’s funny.

gottlieb night at the opera

NB: Watch this space in the coming weeks as I a) return to semi-regular blogging and b) report on a pair of One-Woman Film Festivals to be hosted by The Wife and I for a couple of friends of ours. What does that mean? The next post will make it clearer, no doubt…

Avuncularity: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

26 Sep

Maltese FalconFurther dispatches from the nephew visit: Monday night was a night of unhealthy processed food, too often cheese-based, and The Maltese Falcon, which they chose for reasons I’m not clear on but which may be related to the fact that their aunt and I are in possession of one of those movie prop replica black birds that belonged to their grandfather. (Do not burn our house down, Templars. We do not possess the real Falcon.)

As a performer I have a preference for comic roles, partially because I grok their ways and enjoy them, but partially because of that moment-to-moment sense of whether it’s working. Laughs and snorts are clear and evident and one knows immediately whether it landed or whether it did not.

Similar issues arise when watching a non-comedy with the boys. Are they enjoying this? Usually deep sighs are the surest negative – at this age, even wandering off isn’t a sign, since a) they’re used to watching things from which one can easily wander and b) Food & Soda are the primary objective. Always.

So I took their relative lack of fidgets and their spate of questions as we approached the end as good signs.

maltese wilmerWatching a movie you’ve seen time and again is always better with virgin eyes in the room. I know these boys well enough that when Spade disarms Wilmer (Elisha Cook, Jr. long having been one of my favorite parts of this movie) I should be looking at them and not him that I may revel in vicarious response. Were I a parent, I would also fully expect one of them to try the coat-around-the-elbows move as soon as it gets cold.

maltese cairoI’m also intrigued at how this lets me reevaluate my own youthful movie-watching in certain ways. The Maltese Falcon is, for example, a plot teeming with sex- Brigid and Spade’s burgeoning and manipulative relationship, Ida and Spade’s dwindling affair, Archer’s lechery, Cairo’s obvious homosexuality if one is used to period codes (or read the book), the etymology of the word “gunsel” – which was entirely lost to me at that age and yet is vital to understanding what even the hell is going on. The boys got that Spade was having an affair with his dead partner’s wife, but that’s about it. Which is probably what I got at 11 or 12.

Also worth mentioning is a habit that the younger nephew, 11, has, seemingly a spontaneous reaction each time. He has a visceral need to say aloud that a thing didn’t really happen – this from a boy who enjoyed the Transformer movies. You’re right, 11, Wilmer’s kick to Spade’s head is not the best bit of staged combat in film history (“that was fake – he didn’t really kick him”). My seemingly spontaneous reaction each time has therefore inevitably become “It’s all fake; those aren’t even their real names.”

As to their real names, the boys seemed intrigued by our incidental knowledge of the names and careers of seemingly every single actor in the movie, all of whom have faces familiar to anyone who’s seen an average of about seven of your basic pre-1968 classics, but one forgets what a childhood of watching these (and Remington Steele) will leave stuck in your head.

On that front, Walter Huston’s cameo (which is a surprise to me every single time; it just doesn’t stay in my brain) made me bring up The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which piqued their greedy little interests. So we add another to the slate for Christmas… 

maltese_falcon_walter_huston

Rhythm on the River (1940)

23 Sep

Kraft-Mac-and-CheeseThe other comfort food movie to which I knit upon our arrival in this Place of Calm was Rhythm on the River, a surprisingly solid little romantic musical comedy with what are frequently called “winning” performances from Bing Crosby and Mary Martin, as well as the narcissism-addled non-songwriting Basil Rathbone, scene-stealing Charley Grapewin (with whom Crosby has evident fun) and Oscar Levant, oddly cast in the Oscar Levant role.

levant_crosbyFor years I had this movie on VHS, recorded in the late lamented Dorian-hosted glory days of AMC, in LP mode so I’d have room for The Mouse That Roared. I found it in a cheap DVD double-feature release (with the inferior-but-fun Rhythm on the Range from 1936) some years ago and made my wife watch it. Her love for This Sort of Thing has allowed it to be added it to the standard I-feel-like-crap/-am-stressed-and-or-exhausted pantheon.

A song is whistled by Bing Crosby, Whistler of Songs in Movies (it becomes “That’s For Me” once it gets lyrics) and the whistling (with attendant floor-thumping) happens around our house with confusing frequency. But before he whistles the actual melody, he pre-noodles it on an elevator with Mary Martin in a way that – personal bugaboo alert – convincingly replicates the actual way one noodles and settles on a tune. It’s really something to watch, that oft-noted Crosby brand of naturalism; argue all you want about the benefit of range in an actor, there’s much to be said for this thing he had, difficult to manufacture.

There’s so much charm in this silly little trifle, so much high-era Crosby Casual, some surprisingly effective comedy from Rathbone in particular. (And I’m convinced that Cherry Lane, the music publishers, was named for Martin’s character here.) I’m surprised that it’s not a more familiar title, not because I think it’s a sleeper work of genius, but because this is precisely the type of movie that people who like the Comfort of An Old Movie love. I think of it as an un-Christmas movie, in that I find myself watching it at least once a year and filled with the same general inner warmth. I don’t guarantee results for everyone, but it’s always worked for me.

It also introduced me to Wingy Manone, the great one-armed jazz trumpet player, whose Just Digging of things as one of Crosby pal Harry Barris’s band makes me consistently happy.

wingymanoneOne of the unfortunate side effects of having a soft spot for movies like this is the way in which parts of it enter your personal lexicon every bit as much as lines from Casablanca or The Godfather or what have you without the benefit of anyone else knowing what the hell you’re talking about when you say “I just dug it” or “Kelso’s Cucumber Cream” or even the period rallying cry “Peace! It’s wonderful,” not specific to this flicker but still not something one runs across every day, sadly.

 

rhythmriverAnyway, highly recommended for those nights or sick-day mornings when you know you need This Sort of Thing. You know the times.

Wonder Man (1945)

22 Sep

Kraft-Mac-and-CheeseAs is obvious to all, you’ve got your Citizen Kanes, your Vertigos, your Lawrences of Arabia, and then you’ve got your insomnia/stomach virus/summer vacation/knit while it’s on/saw this with grandma movies. I can’t provide an easy list of these in the manner of the inarguable classics listed first because it would be so highly personal as to be meaningless, untranslatable from person to person, or at least household to household.

Having arrived in a geographical place of calm for a much-needed rest in the midst of what has been and shall continue to be a stressful year and encountered a spindle of movies I left behind on an earlier visit, and further having a knit hat that needed finishing, the first discs that came into my hand were two of profound comfort: Wonder Man (1945), with Danny Kaye,Vera-Ellen, and Virginia Mayo, and another movie that will get a separate post.

Again, quality is not the issue here, but comfort. Shepherd’s pies, not mignons.

Wonder Man, sword in the tombstoneI’ll begin with the worst of the two, Wonder Man, which I saw on AMC sometime in the 1980s at my grandmother’s apartment. Doubtless there were Planter’s Cheez Balls and Coca-Cola in the vicinity, as well as a quilted satin-esque comforter with this monofilament-strength quilting thread that had pulled loose in spots and caught around one’s toes on occasion, which is probably why it had been relegated to the sofa.

It’s the one where Danny Kaye is twins, a nebbish and a recently murdered nightclub performer. A gangster is to be testified against, a brother’s body is to be possessed, and wackiness is to ensue. It’s not very good, but as I have said, one sometimes picks the puppy not for its pedigree but because it ran to the cage-front. This is Kaye in his (frequent) desperate tummler mode, manic in a way that, while still only one-tenth as cloying as Jerry Lewis, can be difficult to bear if not exposed to it in youth. Danny Kaye is like chicken pox in that respect. I’m lucky enough to be immune to the downsides, though in no way ignorant of them.

wondermanThe revelation of this viewing was my certainty that Gene Wilder loved it as a 12-year-old. The movie’s climactic set piece, if you’re in it for plot for some reason, occurs when nebbish-twin is forced to hide from gangsters on an opera stage and sing clues to the D.A. in loud mock-Italian. (The sentence “Chu Chu LaVerne is Minnie Smith” still rattles around musically in my head after all these years, ditto “tutti, tutti, whole tutti, nothing but the tutti,”)

The highlight of Wilder’s uneven-but-still-way-underrated The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’s Smarter Brother is different but clearly found inspiration in Wonder Man.

And at the end of the Wonder Man (if you consider this a spoiler, I weep for you) when nebbish-twin, honeymooning with Virginia Mayo, says he’ll always have a bit of his brother’s spirit with him and is immediately irritated by his ghost (“I’m a li’l devil, ain’t I?”), it’s difficult not to think of Teri Garr’s reprise of “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.” If anyone sees Mr. Wilder around and can get confirmation of this, well, send him my way.

It’s also worth it (to me) to not that Wonder Man was certainly my first look at some actors whose faces are as familiar and comforting to me as relatives – S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Allen Jenkins, Edward Brophy, and the most formative of all of these, Virginia Mayo, about whom I’ll keep my musings private.

virginia-mayo-ca-early-1950s-everett

Avuncularity: A Shot in the Dark (1964) & The Ladykillers (1955)

22 Sep

LADYKILLERS2We’re currently visiting my wife’s hometown, in which there are two previously mentioned nephews – we’ll call them 11 and 13, at least until next year. They’ve been indoctrinated already (they’ve requested The Maltese Falcon on their own, to be watched later this week) and taken remarkably well to a wide array of boy-based selections like Duck Soup, The Blues Brothers, The Court Jester, Yojimbo, Hidden Fortress (sold on the Star Wars angle), The Public Enemy, The General, Safety Last! and of course the entire deathless Planet of the Apes saga. We have to throw everything at the wall for any sticking to ensue. So far the batting average is high.

Tonight was our first evening with them this trip (my wife and her sister, our hostess were in for this evening as well) and I told them what was in my Magic Traveling DVD Wallet of Wonders, from which they chose A Shot in the Dark and The Ladykillers.

They chose these, it should be further noted, with no knowledge of the significant cast overlap. They’re good at this kind of serendipity – watch Duck Soup and The Blues Brothers back to back sometime and you’ll see what I mean. I give you the keywords “hi-de-ho,” “blocking doors with nearby furniture,” “excessive footage of approaching military” to begin with.

ShotInTheDark02QuoteWe began with Clouseau. There’s always trepidation with an old comedy, because it doesn’t always translate directly across lines of time and generation. The pace of a Blake Edwards Pink Panther movie is, believe it or not, feels relatively slow compared to a modern comedy. Not the bad kind of slow, but when I think of how frenetic they felt in my youth, it’s strange to notice.

Watching the nephews respond is a delight – 11 laughs at Bits (the cigar guillotine, the hand-in-the-globe, the shielded nudity bit snagged by his beloved Austin Powers) while 13 is obviously moved more by the Builds (the “license?”/paddy wagon running gag, the descent of Dreyfus, the repeated briefings with Graham Stark as Clouseau’s assistant Hercule), but they responded with uniform glee to the extended set scenes, right from the silent opening door farce sequence on through the living room suspect roundup, with special mention for that lovely scene (maybe my favorite) in the Sûreté hallway in which Hercule and Maria (Elke Sommer) enter Clouseau’s office without his awareness. And, of course, every appearance of Kato.

shotdarkkatoI have no doubt that Kato will cause some trouble for these two lads at some point. But that is in no way my responsibility. This is one of the prime benefits of being an uncle: one is seldom around to see how things play out. Just wind ‘em up, let ‘em go and wave bye-bye. If a bathtub breaks, I disavow all knowledge.

Also, we had a brief chat about who the hell George Sanders is, or at least that a) he was the voice of Shere Khan in Disney’s The Jungle Book and b) Peter Sellers was ruining the billiard table of a man he had been doing a semi-impression of for years as Hercules Grytpype-Thynne on the BBC’s Goon Show, something I love dearly but I’m not quite sure I’ll be forcing on them just yet. Though 11, who’s building some sort of steampunk costume for Hallowe’en, has decided Admiral Hercules Grytpype-Thynne will be a great name for him. Again, my work here is done.

LADYKILLERS3Next they chose The Ladykillers, and again I was surprised and thrilled by how well they took to it – it has a darkness about it that clearly appealed to them, as well as the general madness of Alec Guinness in comic mode, something they don’t know they’ll be getting more of…

It was a bit of a jump to go from a movie in which the plot was just an excuse for various farce machines and slapstickery to one in which the unwinding situation is the real meat. Just before Mrs. Wilberforce’s lady friends come over (to me one of the most genuinely horrifying and nerve-shattering scenes in film history, but I have a lot of older female relatives), 13 said, “How much longer is this movie?” I was about to commence worrying, until he shouted, “…because I have no idea where it’s going from here!” in excited confusion. Which is what you want.

The-Ladykillers-007There was post-movie discussion about what would happen if their grandmother, my mother-in-law, was in such a situation. Their call was that it would end pretty much the same, but with more profanity and probably a violent hand of Rummy. I respectfully refrain from any personal statement at this time.

There will be further reports this week; I have no idea where it leads or how many nights we’ll have them. But the slow process of ruining their social lives is well in hand, never you fear.

THE-LADYKILLERS-1955_portrait_w858I should note here that Alec Guinness also inspired the evening’s accidental battle cry – when Guinness’s Prof. Marcus starts to develop the Dreyfus Twitch towards the end and rambles on about how many men it would take to off the redoubtable old Mrs. Lopsided…let’s just say the phrase “The Wilberforce will be with you…always” will probably get them some blank stares at some point if they try to take it outside the home.

I’ve Got Your Number (1934), technology, & working girls

17 Sep

ivegotyournumber1Despite my about-to-be-made-evident pleasure in watching I’ve Got Your Number (another DVR leftover from TCM’s Glenda Farrell day in late August), I will make no claims to its greatness or breaking of ground; only to its non-murderous hard-boiled Warner Brothers glories and its unwitting tribute to a now non-existent segment of what is still a giant industry.

The last time I had my telephone repaired, a teenager in a polo shirt and ill-fitting khakis took money from me after I handed him a now useless piece of wastefully-constructed and fragile plastic and he handed me an identical but at least temporarily useful piece of otherwise identical plastic. He then reminded me to go to the online survey mentioned on my receipt, which would help “them” (still not sure who “them” is) make my experience better.

Sidestepping the nonsense of that statement, I should here note that at no point in that or any exchange in that kid’s day(s) as a telecommunications expert was a millionaire saved from electrocution by a lineman played by Pat O’Brien. Nor was fraudulent medium Glenda Farrell exposed via a telephone repair call, then taken out to a nightclub by Allen Jenkins. Nor did a gang of gangster swindlers use switchboard operator Joan Blondell to…do anything, because a switchboard operator? A lineman? There are precious few.

ivegotyournumber2My father has a big box of conical glass insulators from telephone poles (as seen above) in the basement, next to the spittoon and the four-sided stovetop toaster. Pretty sure those oddly beautiful little functional items are no longer standard issue.

And without insulting the importance of this by understating, I should just say that keener historians than I have written much on the subject of the place of the switchboard operator in the history of women’s employment. It was a huge job opportunity – huge – underpaid and as strict as a chain gang, but neither a schoolroom nor a kitchen. Obviously its restrictions had either loosened up a bit by the 1930s or the sauciness of your Warner Brothers dames was just not constrainable by any natural force. But clearly a gal had to keep an eye on the hotel switchboard and not get distracted by some friendly pan with pomaded hair or her time among the employed was in for a wow finish. Or words to that effect.

(There are also elevator operators in this, with the clicky-thing they used as a signal. That’s long gone. We watched The Thomas Crown Affair recently, about which more soon, and there was one there too, so they lasted at least until 1968 Boston. There are pay phones in that one, too.)

I don’t bemoan all technologies when they pass – probably it’s better that cell phones provide little opportunity to electrocute (though too many buffoons use them at gas pumps). I don’t even entirely bemoan the loss of some human jobs, supporting as I do a Buckminster Fuller/ Vonnegutian “fart around” worldview.

But I do regret that we’re rapidly losing the collective memory of how this technology affects and affected the daily lives of those who used it. And I don’t mean BuzzFeed posts about what video game controllers looked like when I was a kid. I mean things like this.

ivegotyournumber3(It’s also worth noting that we once lived in a world where Pat O’Brien could be a successful romantic lead. Ponder that.)

DVR Alert: Keaton, Chaplin & Lloyd on TCM primetime 9/9

9 Sep

chaplin-portadaIn conjunction with the second episode of The Story of Film: an Odyssey,  TCM has loaded it’s schedule 8:00 p.m. into the wee hours with much of the best of the Holy Silent Clown Trinity, beginning with Keaton (One Week, Three Ages & The General), then Chaplin (City Lights & The Kid) and winding up with Lloyd (Never Weaken & Safety Last!).

I hope this bodes well for the loss of the sense of dour gravity that the first episode emphasized. While striving to maintain my Thumper’s Father policy, I have to say that there was an overall sense of debunking rather than one of enlightening. Even when the information is the same, the attitude makes a difference.

And more importantly, I hope we’ll spend some time appreciating Comedy Itself this week. This sort of thing generally leans into glorifying the Epic/Emotional more than the serious business of laughter.

Birthday and Sherlock, Jr. (1924)

5 Sep

And what does one do when one is me, it was one’s birthday, and one had the morning free until about 3:00 p.m.?

After some quality time with the morning’s musical instrument of choice, it turns out one watches the Kino blu-ray of Sherlock, Jr., once without the commentary and once with.

I can’t decide which image felt more like Forty Years Old to me – this one:

Keaton. Sherlock Jr. bike sit frontor this one:

sherlock-jr-5…but it’s in there somewhere.

These discs are just beautiful, and I’ve been digesting them slowly as I’ve had the time. I hesitate to write a whole megillah about Sherlock, Jr. because we’ll be visiting the nephews, 11 and 13, later this month and they’ve decided independently (in a proud avuncular moment) that they really want to see some movies that feature some combination of the following: detectives; murder; black & white, in particular The Maltese Falcon.

Now clearly something comic has to be in there somewhere, so I’m bringing A Shot in the Dark (which, based on the success of The Great Race should do nicely) and this one (which, based on the success of The General and various shorts, should do even better).

(For the record, later in the evening, the Torchy Blaneity continued with The Adventurous Blonde. I would have watched Playtime, the movie that reminds me how glorious it is to be alive, but there were dinner plans, and it is better to be with people. It was a happy birthday.)

Off to roll the bottoms of my trousers.