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The King (1930)
Might be the most un-funny Hal Roach short ever
I have seen some VERY unfunny Hal Roach shorts. In fact when you leave the Laurel and Hardy list you drop down very low indeed. But The King seems like the rock bottom. Harry Langdon was long past his prime when he made this one. He went on to work for the studio as a writer and sometimes performer. He had much better success writing gags for Stan and Babe. Nothing funny going on here. Kinda sad and tragic.
A Thousand Clowns (1965)
Gene Saks was brilliant!
Thoroughly enjoyed the film but the highlight for me was Gene Saks' performance. Seems most of the other reviewers hated him. I thought he was the best part of it all. His part was just too short!
Supremely gifted at comic timing. A total understanding of the complexity of the character. And despite what you might think he is a complex character.
The character is completely over the top, totally lacking in sensitivity, loud, insulting, and unbelievably insecure. Sachs plays him on several levels at once. He managed to make me hate him and feel sorry for him at the same time. Wildly funny in his insecurity, deeply touching in his need for an audience. His takes and wild flights of ego are constantly surprising and delightful.
Very memorable part, played by a bold and very creative actor. The best part of the whole dame thing.
The Washington Masquerade (1932)
Early Work of Cinematographer Greg Toland
The most interesting part of this film for me was watching the early work of cinematographer Greg Toland. Years later Toland would photograph Citizen Kane. It is hardly a tour de force of his talents but it does have some of his touches on display. His use of composition in the foreground and background is here. So is his use of semi-deep focus and stark black and white contrasts. Toland was clearly ahead of his time when this was made in 1932. A film as a whole has the look of classic cinema. Very unusual for 1932.
The script is very wordy and tends to advance at a snails pace but Toland's interesting compositions kept it moving along for me.
Also interesting to me is the way this film foreshadows Mr Smith Goes To Washington. In Mr Smith, a young, naive senator goes to Washington and absolutely refuses to be drawn into a world of corruption. In Washington Masquerade just the opposite happens. The hero succumbs to first sexual and then monetary corruption. In that respect, I found it a more interesting idea than Mr Smith.
Naked City (1958)
A Great Show From a Different Time...
Not every great actor gets to be recognized for great work. Most of the good actors working today have names most of us will never know. But there was a time when TV was THE place to showcase you talents as an actor. The 1950's and 1960's provided tons of actors chances to show what they could do, and many went on to become well known names. But most of them , for reasons that were not their fault, practiced their art in relative obscurity.
That's why I love watching shows like The Naked City. Yes Virginia, there was a golden time when great writing and really fine acting made TV such a pleasure to watch.
Back then producers had much more time to develop characters and situations because an hour show like The Naked City had far fewer interruptions for commercials. An hour show really was pretty close to an hour.
Every time I watch an episode of this fine program I am reminded of just how much change has not been kind to TV. Now a days it's really hard to find good writing and good acting on prime time TV. Constant interruptions for commercials and flashy graphics have distracted us from developing plot lines that people can relate to. The stories in The Naked City were about real people in situations that almost anyone could relate to.
I Just finished watching a fine episode that featured Jack Warden and Carol O'Connor. O'Connor would go on to star in All In The Family but he was doing fine dramatic work in TV and movies long before that. And sadly, Jack Warden is still a name most people draw a blank on.
I love those dramatic shows from the 50s and 60s. You just don't see those kind of lovingly crafted shows anymore. Too bad....
The Party (1968)
Edwards Love Letter to Laurel and Hardy
It was well known that Blake Edwards was an enormous Laurel and Hardy fan. You can see it in the Pink Panther films. And no where in his work is that more evident than in The Party. The L & H influences and touches are everywhere. The running gag of the drunken waiter who speaks only one or two words in the entire film. The careful building of gag upon gag, each one funnier than the one before it. The reaction shots that top all the gags. The comedy of embarrassment. (Babe Hardy would be proud!) There are some funny lines for sure but the biggest laughs come from moments that feature no dialog at all. There is very little slapstick until the end. But the humor is visual and based on character just as the best stuff in Laurel and Hardy was. In my opinion the boys invented situation comedy. Television comedy owes a big debt to Laurel and Hardy. They probably don't even know it.
Today We Live (1933)
Glossy Train Wreck
Looks like MGM threw a lot of money and big stars at this and hoped for the best, thinking that the William Faulkner book would give it a prestige flavor.
It's possible that with some major script revisions and a different cast it might have worked. But in it's current state it more resembles a train wreck that you just can't turn your head away from. With it's stars and it's director, expectations are high. Just does not deliver.
My major problem with it is that 3 actors in the lead are supposed to be British. Looks like only a half-hearted effort was made by Crawford, Tone and Young to adopt an English accent. The result is some sort of hybrid that not only sounds unauthentic but succeeds in making their dialog almost impossible to understand.
One curious thing is that through almost all of it's running time there is no background music. Then towards the end at an emotional high point the sound of a solo piano is heard. Being a high class production you would expect to hear the legendary MGM orchestra. The score for the solo piano is so wrong for this scene that it makes me wonder "what were they thinking?"
Crawford does her best over-the-top emoting from start to finish trying desperately to breath some life into this, all for naught.
Cooper gives his characteristic laconic reading. Just about right for this part.
Tone is not given much chance to show what he can do here. He fools with his pipe a lot and sort of mumbles. (Pipes are a visual cue that shows the character to be British, right?)
Young never was much of an actor and never seemed to rise above the level of acting here through the rest of his career. He is just plain wrong here.
Maybe Howard Hawks knew early on that this one was going to be a railroad disaster and just sort of punched the clock to it's finish.
Waste your time on this one if you insist but in my opinion it is NOT an undiscovered jewel.
Men of the North (1930)
Gilbert Roland is hilarious!
I can only think of one reason to watch this. I had a ball watching Gilbert Roland in the role of a Frenchman. Roland was one of the silent screen's most well known Latin lovers. He does not even TRY to sound like a French speaking character. His strong accent is pure south of the border. Pretty funny stuff. Otherwise embarrassing to all concerned. Moves at a snails pace and once it gets there it just sort of lays down and dies. Directed by Laurel and Hardy's boss Hal Roach for MGM.
Early sound effort that just keeps on talking and talking and talking. The dialog is astoundingly stupid, even for it's day. Good luck with this one.
Quick Change (1990)
A comedy gem that should have been much more widely seen
This one is absolutely chocked full of accomplished writing, unforgettably comic performances, unexpectedly clever situations, and hilarious slapstick comedy.
It only slows when the script turns to unnecessary melodrama. Otherwise it's combination of witty dialog, drool understated delivery by Murray and fast pacing keep this a fascinating wild farce that surprises in almost every scene. Check out Philip Bosco as the anal retentive bus driver, Tony Shalhoub as the whacked out cab driver who because he cant speak a word of English must communicate in wild pantomime. There are so many fine comic performances that I tend to lose track of them.
Too bad it did not do better at the box office. Maybe it was ahead of it's time. Were it released today it might have had a better chance..
Don't debate, rent it on DVD and watch it over and over!
Strictly Dishonorable (1931)
Now Available On DVD and quite funny!
It's a real treat to watch Lewis Stone, who made a career out of playing fine upstanding men, play a drunken judge. He has the lion's share of very funny lines and takes. Sidney Fox is quite good, although I had a hard time understanding her lines from time to time. But overlooking everything a surprisingly memorable performance from Paul Lukas is turned in here. Lukas was playing against type here as a genial cultured gentleman who finally meets his match with women as he falls hopelessly in love with Sidney Fox. Is it love or is it lust? He does a great turn as a man whose old world charm, courtliness, and politeness collides with his sexual desire. He makes the most out of his part and is genuinely funny. For a man who played heavies and Nazi officers most of his career he must have really enjoyed this stretch.
The humor in this film holds up surprisingly well to this day. It was made at a time when sound technology was still finding it's way, I found myself laughing out loud. Wonderful writing by Preston Sturges!
Now available on DVD.
Dance Hall (1929)
Insight into sync problems...
Despite what is written in the trivia section, this film was not post dubbed. Picture and sound were recorded at the same time. Here is my theory on the reason for the out of sync sound and picture.
It was made at RKO which used the photophone system. Sync should not ordinarily be a problem. It probably was released in two versions: sound on film, and sound on disk. It was common practice at this time to do that because not every theater had sound on film projectors. The first system to be used was sound on disc. All of the Warner Bros releases until about 1930 to 1931 were made available to theaters on sound on disc first and latter on sound on film. My guess is that the print used for this video transfer was one that had no sound recorded on the film. The sound was probably only available on disc. Somehow during the transfer the disc and picture got out of sync. Or a disc may have been made from the original sound on film print. That process could have been very tricky in the early days of sound.
The recorded sound track was recorded very badly anyway. It is almost completely unintelligible. THis was also common at the time. The sync problems can be corrected by anyone with some editing software on a computer, but it is such a terrible film that I can't imagine anyone wanting to do the job!
The Rains Came (1939)
Way ahead of it's time, beautiful cinematography
Much of what I have to say about this film has already been said, so I will not repeat it. Here are some (I think) original thoughts.
If this film were released a year before or a year after 1939 I am guessing it would have swept the Oscars. Being released the same year as "Gone With The Wind" kept that from happening. The one Oscar it won (for best special effects) was richly deserved. In fact, the effects in GWTW during the burning of Atlanta are no where near as good. Way ahead of it's time.
In fact, I think the entire film was ahead of it's time by at least 20 years. The black and white cinematography made a major contribution to the overall emotional impact. Very creative use of lighting, and each frame is like a painting. It should have gotten the Oscar for that.
The direction and the acting was subtle and very layered. I was especially impressed by the staging of the Myrna Loy's character's death. Most of the Hollywood death scenes at that time involve the character closing his eyes and turning his head. Very heavy handed and not very realistic. I will not spoil it for you but watch how understated it is. Occasionally the acting is over the top, but as a whole it is restrained and totally right for the material.
Music is used sparingly unlike GWTW where it is wall to wall. Don't get me wrong, I love the music in that film and it is just right for it. But in The Rains Came a lighter touch is called for. And it gets it.
It seemed that everyone involved in this was aware that it would be released the same year as GWTW and knew that this film had to be on a par with it. GWTW was pretty much of it's time but The Rains Came was a preview of how great films would be made in the 1950's and 1960's.
The only thing that did not ring true for me was the casting of Tyrone Power as an Indian native. Even with the dark make-up he is just plain wrong. Add to that that he does not even attempt an accent! Everyone else seems just right. Newcomer Brenda Joyce is particularly good and stunningly beautiful as well.
The idea of casting a love story (2 love stories really) against significant events in history was not original even in 1939, but I can think of only a few films that did it better. One of those was A Passage to India, a film that echos the style and setting of The Rains Came.
I wish someone would do a remake of this. I think the material begs for it.
A very unusual production for it's time and well worth a look. I could even see it as being made in say 1963. Very modern and polished.
Dirty Work (1933)
Gravity has seldom been funnier-one of their best!
You have a pretty good idea early on that the laws of gravity will be having their way with Ollie. On the roof cleaning a chimney? You bet.
After a number of falls Ollie does a big one landing on a glass greenhouse and lies on his back with rubble covering his body. It is shot from Stan's point of view on the roof. Rather than be angry and admonishing Stan for causing his fall, Ollie looks up from the rubble and calmly asks Stan "Would you mind going to the front door and letting me in?" This is the kind of character driven comedy you just do not see anymore. No one has been able to even equal them. They really were the inventors of situation comedy.
This is one of their best. Treat yourself to the originators of screen comedy.
The Chimp (1932)
A guy in a gorilla suit CAN be funny
Admittedly there are some slow spots in this one, but overall it is one of my favs.
Some have said this is one of their weaker shorts. Comedy is always very subjective so I respect their opinions. But I don't agree.
The central joke here is that Ethel The Human Chimpanzee is just that: Human! Finn says in the introduction that she reads, dances, plays cards and milks a cow! About the only thing she can't do is speak. A perfect foil for the two of the screens most adroit physical comedians. Of course she is a guy in a gorilla suit. It is a farce. It's not supposed to be logical or realistic. We are all in on the joke and that is what makes it so funny.
The gorilla gets her share of laughs here sharing the spotlight with Stan and Ollie. The boys and Ethel finally settle down and try to go to sleep. Ollie turns out the light, and Ethel turns it back on. The big ape is apparently afraid of the dark! At one point, after witnessing the boys non-stop ineptitude, Ethel displays a dismissive hand gesture that says: "you guys are hopeless".
You just have to suspend belief to get the most out of The Chimp.
Everyone is funny in one of the pair's very best shorts
I have seen all the films of L & H sometimes over and over. There are some weak shorts, but this is the one I keep coming back to to watch repeatedly. It is, in MHO, one of a handful of the best of their work in shorts.
It is brilliantly planned, masterfully timed, perfectly acted, and expertly edited. I often tell folks who are not familiar with the boys to watch this one as their introduction to the boys. It is THAT funny.
One of my favorite things about it is watching perpetually drunk Arthur Houseman utter what appear to be ad-libs that almost crack up Stan and Babe.
The boys have stood up Arthur and are going through his pockets trying to find the key to his house. He has a lot of pockets to go through. After a moment he tells Ollie, "Someday I'm gonna have all my pockets indexed." Cracks me up every time.
Vivian Okland is unforgettable as the judge's wife.
It was a sign of the boys generosity as actors that allows supporting players to get as many laughs as they get. They are the stars but not the only funny people in this.
It Happened in Hollywood (1937)
A Realistic Slice of Life
I have to say that I have always been interested in the period this film is set in: Hollywood 1928. Hollywood's transition to sound (1927-1932) has been a source of fascination with me. I have done a lot of research on the period and seen a pretty good number of films from that time.
I say this because from my research this film is done very accurately and gives you a real feel for what it must have been like while American films where having a nervous breakdown adjusting to sound movies.
It Happened In Hollywood is just chocked full of inside jokes, authentic early sound technical objects, and realistic dialog. It really does not have the look and feel of any other film made in the 1937 time period. One clue might be that a young Sam Fuller is one of the writers.
It is reasonable to assume that many of the folks who were around in the late 20's and early 30's remembered that period and were able to imbue the production with a realism that would not be possible years later.
If you watch closely you will see the original early sound microphones that were about the size of an artillery shell. We also see the famous "iceboxes" that enclosed the early sound cameras and their operators to keep the camera noise from being recorded. Later on we see one of the early home-made blimps that were hastily designed for the same purpose for shooting outdoors. Early sound films were clunky to say the least.
Franklin Pangborn is very funny as the elocution expert imported from the New York stage to teach actors how to "speak" for the movies. This actually happened all over Hollywood during that time.
RIchard Dix's career was beginning to wane at the time this was made. And he played a cowboy a number of times. He managed to make the transition from silents to sound and had some popularity during the thirties, but his parts had begun to get smaller and smaller. Today hardly anyone knows the name. Talk about life imitating art! Very interesting and worth your time, even if you are not a student of early sound films.
Checking Out (1989)
Dark, cynical, and insanely funny!
I have seen too many films to count in my 63 years. This one is on my list of top 10. Cynical, absurd, wise, full of unforgettable characters and situations. It may not be everyone's kind of funny, but certainly is mine. Not everyone appreciates dark comedy and this one is dark. I seldom laugh out loud at films, but this one kept me in surgical stitches all the way through.
Absolutely chocked full of amazing performances. Check out Jo Harvey Allen in a scene with Jeff Daniels in the front seat of his car. Classic! Michael Tucker does a great turn as Jeff Daniel's Boss. Stephen Tobolowsky is unforgettable as a whacked out pharmacist. All of the actors are given some great material to work with. It must have been a joy for all of them.
Keep your eye peeled for David Byrne in a small role as a bar tender. Producer George Harrison (yes that one) also has a small role as a cleaner in heaven. Which is where he currently resides. He is wearing an orange jump suit pushing a broom!
I think I will sign off now and go check my blood pressure.
Daydream Nation (2010)
Complex, mature, well crafted classic
This one just happened to appear on Showtime today. I started to watch it and about 15 minutes in I said "ok I will record this and watch it later." I kept watching and at about 30 minutes in I was still watching. I kept watching more and more of it and saying I would watch it later. Pretty soon the whole 1 and 3/4 hours went by and I found myself unable to tear myself away. It was impossible to stop. I was hypnotized.
I usually don't find much to like about movies these days. They are violent, loud, juvenile, predictable and boring. Finally one that has real characters, in real situations, with real thoughts and feelings. The characters are mature and well drawn with depth and the kind of complexity that says volumes about the observational skills of the writer. It was sensitively directed and acted. And you know what the best thing about it was? At any moment in the film I had no idea where it was going. I have seen thousands of films and I can spot a cliché a mile away. This one was like no other film I have ever seen. Totally unpredictable.
Do whatever you have to do to see it. Treat yourself to something different then you can go back to films with drugs, car crashes, guns, and urban horror stories. Just give yourself one chance to see a really well crafted and mature work of art.
Uninterestiang, boring, poorly executed small budget film
I have to take issue with both reviewers that preceded me. This film misses the mark. It has the mark of amateurism all over it. Don't get me wrong I have seen a lot of amateur films that were made better because they have a fresh point of view. It was a great idea but in this case it did not work.
The primary problem in my view is the script. Did the writers have to hurry the writing process too much? Did they not consider the actor's strong points? Does it fail because of an inexperienced director? Could be all of these.
The actors appear to be fully capable of crafting a good performance but the words they are given to say just do not fit with their characters. A comedy is a hard thing to make successful. Maybe the makers can be forgiven for failing so badly.
With the write script and some better situations and stronger characterizations this could have been very funny. To me, at least, this film is just plain boring. About 3/4 of the way through I just gave up. I have seen thousands of films and almost never failed to finish one. The Locksmith just asked too much of me.
If you want to see a successful quirky comedy check out "Smiley Face".
But in the case of The Locksmith quirky just does not work. Sorry to be the skunk at the picnic!
In a class by itself
This is a character driven comedy, drama, crime, mystery that defies definition.
Back in the 70's some really fine films were made, and there were some really terrible ones too. But the movie studios were in the mood to make so many films that in the process some totally unique ones that just happened to be good were made. I don't know why this film never got the attention it deserved. When I first saw it in 1973 I have to admit I was under the influence of herbal substances. It was a favorite pastime back then to get a buzz on and see a movie. I thought it was very funny at the time. Seeing it for the second time last night I was delighted to find out that even without mood altering contraband it was every bit as funny as the first time. Now that's saying something.
If you love really great character performances this one is full of em. Sally Kellerman appeared to be having the time of her life. It must have been a character actor's wet dream. It does not hurt to have a great script either. Slither had it in spades.
This films will keep you guessing the entire time. I don't care how many films you have seen, you will not be able to predict the outcome of this one. But along the way be prepared for some incredibly dark humor that carries you along till the very end.
I will make you a bet. There is a bit of an introductory plot outline that shows up before the opening credits. If you can stay with it till then, you will not be able to turn it off. I bet you a big black van that you will finish it.
"who are those guys anyway?" The fun of finding out is a real pleasure trip.
Laughing Gravy (1930)
Not Their Best Work
The last 10 minutes of this film, which were discovered in the 1980s, was a work print. It has been inserted into Laughing Gravy in most video releases available these days. It was never the intention of Stan to have it included in the American release. After watching it, it is clear why. It just is not funny, and it slows the pace of the ending. It just does not belong there. Stan and his collaborators where smart film makers who had one criteria that each film was based on: "Is it funny?" As a life long lover of Stan and Babe, I found the missing reel interesting but not funny. I have seen everything that they did together and Laughing Gravy IMHO is not one of their best. But they turned out so many really great (funny) films that it is easy to forgive them.
If you really want to see them at their creative best check out Scram!, The Music Box, Them Thar Hills, Helpmates, Below Zero, The Chimp, Men O'War, Blotto, Towed In A Hole, Beau Hunks. Parts of Pardon Us, Pack Up Your Troubles are also very good, but the very best example of the comic chemistry between them can be found in Sons Of The Desert. If they could be remembered for one film, my vote is for this one.
What! No Beer? (1933)
Train Wreck on Film
I love Keaton, but there is nothing here that resembles Buster Keaton. That any could find this a good film is totally beyond me. It is sad and painful to watch.
It is hard to imagine a worst partner for Buster then Jimmy Durante. Durante spends most of the movie yelling and waving his arms frantically. All poor Buster can do is stand around displaying his deadpan face. The attempts to inject physical humor into this are about as artless and unfunny as it gets.
If you like watching train wrecks, go for it. For me I will watch The General again. I would much prefer to remember him in that.
Screen Directors Playhouse (1955)
The Silent Partner - Buster Keaton
Stan Laurel was still alive when this aired in 1955. I bet he saw it. The director, George Marshall, was the cameraman on a number of Laurel and Hardy films, and Bert Jordan, who was Stan's favorite editor edited this made-for-TV episode of Screen Director's Playhouse. And of course all the episodes of the series including this one were filmed at The Hal Roach studios. So it must have been a homecoming of sorts for George Marshall and Bert Jordan.
After his problems with MGM in the early 30s Keaton was almost hired by Hal Roach to star in his own series of short comedies. Too bad. Buster Keaton's life might have been different had he worked for a studio that understood comedy. MGM sure did not. Keaton's MGM films were just awful. I am sure that if Keaton were still alive he would agree!
This Land Is Mine (1943)
Great American Film, Outstanding performances.
About half way through this film I became aware that I was in the presence of greatness. It may not be perfect but it is about as good films got during the war. Many films at the time were made that painted the Nazi occupation as a black and white issue. You will know after seeing this that that is wrong. All the characters here are in shades of gray. That is the films power. This should be a classic. Why it is not available on DVD in region 1 is a mystery to me.
The lead actors are all extremely good here, and of course a stand out performance by Charles Laughton. I have seen quite a few of Laughton's films and I am always amazed by his range of roles. He goes from heavy to hero and everything in between. He was, in my opinion, one of the very few really great actors of his time. I have seen him in some bad films but I have never seen him give a bad performance!
Speaking of heavies, did you notice that all the male leads have successfully played heavies? They all give very nuanced interpretations here that go way beyond black and white. Go see it.
The Young Lovers (1964)
Well intentioned, but silly romantic drama
There are lots of memorable/silly lines in this one. One of the best is: "I didn't come to college to cop-out". How about when the kids get together for a party? One of the guys says: "Hey, let's have a hootenanny"! A girl wisely tells him: "Get Lost".
THE YOUNG LOVERS is loaded with laugh out loud lines like this that betray the writers total lack of knowledge about how college students talked. It appears to have been written by someone trying to be hip but old enough to have remembered the films of the 30s and 40s.
The script is the real problem here. Although the idea is a good one. I just wish it had been executed more competently.
Made and released in 1964 it sells itself as a contemporary drama about a serious issue at the time: Unplanned pregnancy in college. It was a timely subject. Roe V Wade had made abortions legal only the previous year. The movie attempts to make a very good point about it's subject but gets tangled in silly, unbelievable dialog, stereotyped characters and bad casting.
Peter Fonda is totally out of his depth with this one. In fact you could make a case that Fonda was a terrible actor. But strangely it does not seem to have hurt his career. He continued to get other parts in films and still remains a working actor. In later years his laconic acting style would lend itself primarily to roles that fit that character. A good example is EASY RIDER. In the beginning I guess the producers or this film wanted an actor with the same last name as Henry Fonda to bring audiences to see it. Too bad that Peter's inherited qualities did not include his father's skill as an actor.
Five years later, a much better film was made about first loves in college. THE STERILE CUCKOO. Pass up THE YOUNG LOVERS and go see THE STERILE CUCKOO.
The Gamma People (1956)
DId they intentionally try to make this funny?
It is pretty evident that this one was made pretty quickly to cash in on the drive-in horror flixs popular at the time. So many of these types of films made during the 50s had very small budgets but took themselves VERY seriously. That is why many of them turned out as high camp.
I am guessing the producers of this film must have taken a look at the budget and the script and the actors and decided that it was gonna be a hard sell to audiences as just another mid 50s low-budget "horror" pic. The basic outline of the plot has so many European stereotyped characters and so many plot clichés that no one would ever go to see it.
So I bet they did some minor changes to the dialog, replaced some of the standard scary background music with a lighter score and told the actors to play it for laughs with tongue in check. If you judge it as a sort of send-up of it's genre it fares a lot better then if you try to take it seriously. A lot of the jokes fall flat and the actors seem to do their best with it but as a "scary" movie it fails miserably. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and five stars for the effort.