Tag Archives: alec guinness

Avuncularity: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

6 Mar

kind-hearts-and-coronetsOh, the Darkness of Kind Hearts and Coronets. I forget how darkity dark dark some of the Ealing Studios comedies are. They’re innocent little things without boobs or expletives, so they must be nothing to worry about. (I did warn the Nephews about the N-bomb at the end of this one and tried to put it in a bit of context – “to Victorian Imperialists it was racist, yes, but racism for them was just fine in a nursery rhyme, so that’s why something that for us is a MAJOR meaningful word choice happens out of nowhere here. Stay calm.”)

kind_hearts_and_coronets_01But these boys have already been introduced to the wide acting range of Ben Kenobi – that wizard is no crazy old man to them after The Ladykillers. So the whole he-plays-eight-different-mostly-murdered-D’ascoynes was a significant draw. This one was chosen by Nephew The Younger (who enjoyed it more, though I got the impression that was for the common sibling reason that if one chooses something, the other has to be at least a little bit against it) back in December, when Throne of Blood won the toss and we didn’t have time/focus for another full movie.

I spent some of the setup scenes explaining to them the short version of A History of British Class-Based Snobbery (assisted greatly by a viewing of the first episode of Fawlty Towers a couple of days later).

fawltytowersThis got them through until the killing began, which kept them both focused, and by the fight with Lionel (husband of the just awful, awful Sibella), the unjust trial (the announcement of which got “What?! No!”s from The Younger), and the gleefully inconclusive ending (more “What?! No!”), they were ensnared.

sibellaBut the payoff for this one came after, when we played a few rounds of Cineplexity with the family, which the boys had never played. The game involves an Apples To Apples sort of thing wherein two movie element cards are put down and players come up with a movie that contains both of them. (One card says “A dog or dinosaur,” another names “Cary Elwes, Cary Grant, or Kate Winslet.” Bringing Up Baby, perhaps? There are others.) Anyway, Kind Hearts was used as an answer from one of the boys in at least three different rounds, as were a couple more of our Avuncularity viewings. My work here is – not done, but going quite well, thank you.

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.