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Articles on this Page
- 11/18/18--09:52: _Rediscovered Comedy...
- 11/18/18--10:01: _The Plot of "Skirts...
- 11/18/18--10:11: _A Mad Plastic Surge...
- 11/18/18--10:48: _Film Recommendation...
- 11/18/18--11:06: _Film Recommendation...
- 11/18/18--11:39: _How to Murder Your ...
- 11/18/18--12:13: _Film Recommendation...
- 11/18/18--12:46: _Laurel and Hardy: C...
- 11/18/18--13:09: _Film Recommendation...
- 11/18/18--16:33: _Film Recommendation...
- 11/18/18--17:09: _The Durable Humor o...
- 11/18/18--17:20: _The Foolish Protago...
- 11/19/18--07:11: _Tidbits for Novembe...
- 11/19/18--08:59: _Spotlight on Benoît...
- 11/19/18--10:13: _"C’était vraiment d...
- 11/20/18--18:05: _The Films of Pierre...
- 11/20/18--18:34: _Louis de Funès Doub...
- 11/20/18--18:49: _The Glue Anointment
- 11/20/18--19:14: _The Unheroic French...
- 11/20/18--19:24: _Odd Couples, Odd Co...
- 11/20/18--19:45: _A Criminally Bad Co...
- 11/21/18--10:04: _Charles Ray: A Role...
- 11/21/18--11:55: _Early Baseball Films
- 11/21/18--13:05: _A Silent Film Rule:...
- 11/21/18--16:31: _Is There No Comedy ...
- 11/18/18--09:52: Rediscovered Comedy: Kick Me Again (1925)
- 11/18/18--10:01: The Plot of "Skirts" Revealed
- 11/18/18--10:11: A Mad Plastic Surgeon's Circus Freak Show
- 11/18/18--10:48: Film Recommendation: La Grande Vadrouille (1966)
- 11/18/18--11:06: Film Recommendation: Alle for Tre (2017)
- 11/18/18--11:39: How to Murder Your Mother-in-Law
- 11/18/18--12:13: Film Recommendation: A Place on Earth (2013)
- 11/18/18--12:46: Laurel and Hardy: Comedy Angels
- 11/18/18--13:09: Film Recommendation: The Student and Mr. Henri (2015)
- 11/18/18--16:33: Film Recommendation: Two Worlds (2007)
- 11/18/18--17:09: The Durable Humor of The Bear
- 11/18/18--17:20: The Foolish Protagonist of "The Third Man" (1949)
- 11/19/18--07:11: Tidbits for November, 2018
- 11/19/18--08:59: Spotlight on Benoît Poelvoorde
- 11/19/18--10:13: "C’était vraiment drôle" is French for "It was Really Funny"
- 11/20/18--18:05: The Films of Pierre Richard
- 11/20/18--18:49: The Glue Anointment
- 11/20/18--19:24: Odd Couples, Odd Conflicts
- 11/21/18--10:04: Charles Ray: A Role Model of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd
- 11/21/18--11:55: Early Baseball Films
- 11/21/18--13:05: A Silent Film Rule: Pies Go Splat But Damsels Never Do
- 11/21/18--16:31: Is There No Comedy in Likeable?
In 2012, the National Film Preservation Foundation and Universal Studios funded the preservation of a 1925 Universal short comedy Kick Me Again. The preservation efforts were conducted at the Academy Film Archive from a 35mm nitrate print found at the New Zealand Film Archive. You can enjoy the film at the following link.
The star of the film is Charles Puffy, who starred in a series of Universal comedies from 1925 to 1928. Before he was put under contract by Universal, Puffy worked for more than a decade making films in Germany under the name Károly Huszár. The actor's nickname at the time was "Pufi," which means "Fatty" in his homeland Hungary. It made sense to the actor to modify his nickname for his new stage name in Hollywood.
A jealous husband (Bud Jamison) suspects his wife (Mildred June) is having an affair with her dance instructor (Puffy).
At the school, Jamison sees the outline of a couple obscured behind an office door window. He become gleeful assuming, mistakenly, that the couple's dance moves are lovemaking moves.
The husband is shocked to find that the couple is his wife and her dance instructor.
Jamison is perfect as the jealous husband.
June is so cute and charming that it's no wonder that Jamison is worried about other men getting near her.
Puffy is able to escape Jamison by dressing in a ballerina costume.
A police officer looks warily at this large man in a tutu.
Puffy ends up in the man's bedroom by mistake.
But he is able to make a quick escape out of the window.
Puffy recreates an old Roscoe Arbuckle gag in which Arbuckle, in an act of modesty, motions for the cameraman to move off him while he changes his clothes.
At one point, Universal made plans to develop feature films for Puffy. The following news item was published in The Film Daily:
Charles Puffy will be starred in a series of feature comedies to be written by H. C. Witwer for Universal.But the feature series never happened.
Puffy worked as a character actor in feature-length dramas during the run of his comedy series.
When Hollywood shifted to making sound films, he continued his career in Germany.
Story by John Baldwin
A Fox – Sunshine Comedies production, starring CLYDE COOK.
They were short, very short, the skirts with which MR. PETER ROCKS [Harry Booker] dealt, they were skirts for bathing suits, but since MR. ROCKS sold them at expensive prices, he managed to gather a big fortune in this curious business, which led him to forget his own age and become elegant, with an exaggerated chic, as a full-fledged dandy.
This was not all. Once he had money and elegance the old ROCKS became a dirty old man, also forgetting his home and his wife whom he abandoned many years before, and forgetting to take care of the legal provisions of a divorce as well.
In a pool of a club, MR. ROCKS meets a beautiful young woman [Alta Allen] whom he examines through his large monocle. The young woman smiles with mockery, but her mother, an ambitious and authoritarian old woman [Laura LaVarnie], considers that the businessman's fortune is perfectly ideal to hide her wrinkles, so she orders her gallant daughter to be kind and accept marriage proposal that - she thinks - SR. ROCKS will not take long to request.
The young woman does not think about him, because all her affections already belong to a handsome marine officer [Harry Gribbon], whose only flaw is being economically poor. But, she obeys the old woman who forces her to be accompanied by the prosperous business man on a horseback ride.
It happens that the girl's rein breaks and her horse carries her in a gallop so vertiginous that it seems that she is in inescapable mortal danger. But the brave marine, galloping with strength on his mare, reaches his beloved girl and saves her.
Later, seeing that she lost consciousness, the officer runs to look for water in a nearby well. MR. ROCKS takes advantage of that opportunity to approach the beautiful girl and take her in his arms. Waking up and seeing only the small merchant at her side, the girl judges that it had to be him who saved her and, full of enthusiasm and gratitude, immediately agrees to marry him.
But the forgetfulness of MR. ROCKS could not be without consequences. His wife is still alive and, since she didn't know a way to earn a living, with false hair became a "bearded woman" in a big circus, where she also managed to have her son employed, the young and naive PETE [Clyde Cook], useful for all services. . . until one day in a newspaper the news of her husband's marriage with MISS X appears. At last she has found the fugitive! She calls PETE and handing him the marriage certificate orders him to go and find his father in order to claim his rights.
But things get complicated. PETE loves the daughter of the owner of the circus, the beautiful MARY [Ethel Teare] who also loves him with passion, but who is desired by the circus HERCULES [Edgar Kennedy], a suggestive brute, who, having heard the words of MRS. ROCKS soon builds a sinister plan. Taking advantage of the confusion caused by a thunderstorm, which falls upon the circus, he steals the document from PETE's pocket and shows up at the merchant's house posing as the boy.
MR. ROCKS, however, realizing that it will be difficult for him to recognize the son that he has not seen since he was six months old, and wishing to know him before accepting him, hides in an armor and sends the servant to receive the presumed son, to whom he gives a letter that MR. ROCKS wrote. In the letter the old man asks the presumed son, since he needs to be absent for a month, to take over the business until his return. Imagine! A business for women's swimwear! A house full of models each more attractive!
HERCULES loses his head and begins to do nonsense of such caliber, that the old man is satisfied when PETE appears at the end and verifies that the first visitor is an imposter.
But, realizing that he lost a fortune, HERCULES wants compensation and for that reason he kidnaps the daughter of the circus' owner, MARY, that loves PETE. Fortunately, PETE lost no time during his stay in the circus: he became an expert acrobat. Thus, he rents an airplane and with a lot of audacity, he manages to "catch" his girlfriend from the roof of a train with which HERCULES intended to take her to the other end of the world.
Circus of Horrors, a British horror film from 1960, has the creepiest of plots. A deranged plastic surgeon, Dr. Rossiter (Anton Diffring), is on the run from the police for surgical misdeeds. He befriends a circus owner (Donald Pleasence) and manipulates the man into letting him run his circus.
Rossiter is attracted to disfigured women, who is able to transform through his talents as a surgeon and put on display in a popular circus attraction called "Temple of Beauty."
He becomes obsessed with controlling these women, believing that they are his own personal creations, and he takes delight in pressuring the women to satisfy his perverse sexual desires.
Cavett Bunion of AllMovie wrote, "[I]t's not long before the ladies' gratitude begins to wear thin, and they begin to plan their escape. . . only to meet horrible ends in carefully-orchestrated catastrophes while performing."
La Grande Vadrouille (1966) opens with a Royal Air Force bomber being intercepted by the Luftwaffe over German-occupied France. The air battle ends with the bomber being shot down and three crew members parachuting out over Paris. Once on the ground, the airmen receive assistance from a variety of French citizens to escape to the free zone. The film is, in a way, odd combination of To Be or Not to Be (1942) and The Great Escape (1963).
Big laughs are earned early on with a rendezvous at a Turkish bath and a cartoonish scheme to steal clothes for the airmen. In the latter scene, an airman disguised as a streetwalker lures unsuspecting men to an open manhole, inside of which his accomplices are eagerly waiting to strip off the men's clothing.
Louis de Funès is featured in the film as an opera conductor who assists the airmen.
The comic actor's usual bad temper is on display in the film.
Marie Dubois lends a pretty face to the proceedings. As many French ingénues, the actress has an ethereal beauty.
La Grande Vadrouille was understandably popular in France. The film is a valentine to the indomitable spirit of the French people, who remained brave and defiant throughout the German occupation. Every French man and woman that the film's airmen encounter are willing to risk their lives to get the men to safety. They express their absolute gratitude to the Brits, who are risking their own lives to liberate France.
Terry-Thomas, one of England's greatest comic actors, plays a surprisingly straight role in the film. The comedy is left to de Funès and André Bourvil, who had developed a special rapport working together the previous year in Le Corniaud.
The duo go through many dangerous situations in the World War II comedy.
Gérard Oury, the director of Le Corniaud and La Grande Vadrouille, had prepared a third project for Funès and Bourvil, but Bourvil was unable to work due to the onset of bone marrow cancer. His role was recast with Yves Montand.
Bourvil died at the age of 53 on September 23, 1970.
The 2017 Danish comedy Alle for Tre (All for Three in English) joins two prior films, Alle for én (All for One) and Alle for to (All for Two), in portraying the petty criminal activities of dim-witted brothers Timo (Rasmus Bjerg) and Ralf (Mick Øgendahl).
It is revealed in the opening scene that Timo is in trouble for back child support. He promises his ex-wife that he will pay off his debt with money he expects to receive from his recently deceased father's will.
Timo sits anxiously with Ralf as he listens to the reading of the will. The executor explains that their father's only worldly possession was a rare vintage motorbike, which he left to his firstborn child. Timo is pleased to hear this. He resolves to sell the motorbike for maximum profit to a collector. But he isn't, as he thought, his father's firstborn. The brothers have an older half-sister their father never told them about. Timo is enraged by the news. He arranges with Ralf to travel to their half-sister's home in Tuscany to steal the motorbike, which he insists is his rightful property.
Their half-sister, Kim (Sonja Richter), turns out to be an eccentric anti-fur activist whose life is devoted to setting off paint bombs in fur stores. Ralf secretly follows Kim into a fur store only to get caught in the blast of her latest paint bomb.
Ralf later tries on his new inflatable suit, unaware that Kim is nearby planting a bomb at a fur plant. When the bomb ignites, Ralf does his best to get away.
It's a silly little film, but it's alright for a comedy to be silly. The Danish Film Institute reported that Alle for Tre was the most successful Danish film of 2017.
Alle for Tre has been marketed in some territories under the title Three Heists and a Hamster.
A 1911 Pathé comedy Jobard a tué sa belle-mère opens with Jobard (Lucien Cazalis) trying to have a quiet cup of tea while his mother-in-law sit across from him complaining bitterly about the hardness of her chair.
Jobard's wife bring her mother a pillow to sit on, but the mother can see Jobard grimacing over her hysterics and she throws the pillow at his head.
Jobard thinks it would fun to frighten the pesky old woman by dressing up as a ghost. But the woman becomes so upset by prank that she passes out. When he fails to revive her, Jobard panics thinking that he has killed the woman.
This is similar to a situation that Harold Lloyd encountered years later in Hot Water (1924). But, this time, the sheet is on the other head. Harold plans to get his nagging mother-in-law (Josephine Crowell) out of the way for the evening by sprinkling her dinner napkin with chloroform. But his mother-in-law has a strong reaction to the chloroform and she passes out on the spot.
Harold desperately tries to revive the woman, but his best efforts fail.
Harold overhears part of a conversation between his wife and brother-in-law and mistakenly concludes that his mother-in-law has died. Later, when his mother-in-law sleepwalks through the house, Harold believes that she is a ghost that has come back from the dead to haunt him.
One last scare happens in the final moments of the film.
A love story is rendered tenderly and poignantly in the 2013 French-Belgian drama Une place sur la Terre (released in English-speaking countries as A Place on Earth). Antoine (Benoît Poelvoorde), a disillusioned photographer, becomes mesmerized listening to a neighbor play a piano sonata. The neighbor is a beautiful, enigmatic archaeology student named Elena (Ariane Labed).
Antoine becomes obsessed with Elena and secretly photographs her in her apartment. One night, he sees Elena up on the roof of her building. She walks spryly along the edge as if she is playing a game. Then, suddenly, she jumps. Antoine rushes to her side and calls for an ambulance. His quick actions get the young woman the prompt medical attention needed to save her life.
Antoine commits to caring for Elena during her recovery. The two become intimate with one another and eventually fall in love.
At lunch, Elena asks Antoine how he keeps up his spirits. He says:
I start the day off at very, very low. Never knowing how I will make it to the next day. I wait it out. Something always happens, and it's already tomorrow. I don't project much, but I always have the secret hope something will pull me out of my humdrum. Something exceptional, like having lunch with you.Poelvoorde brings power to this simple speech, infusing it with varied nuances of emotion. The actor fully embodies his character. Antoine is a man who has struggled for years with anguish and depression and he wants so much to impress his coping skills upon this young woman.
Poelvoorde started out in France playing broad comedy roles, which makes his deeply moving performance in the film all the more special.
Elena renews Antoine's passion for photography. Elena talks about her own passion to become an archaeologist so that she can help with the ongoing excavation of a sunken city in Egypt. Antoine encourages her to finish her thesis, which will qualify her to join the excavation team.
Unfortunately, a number of issues come between the couple and threaten their relationship.
This is beautifully quiet and patient storytelling. The characters are introspective, yet we can understand their thoughts and feelings without them having to say much.
My early fascination with film comedy was roused by very specific moments in classic films. Take for instance the gas lamp scene in Easy Street (1917). . .
. . . or the pipe maze scene in A Plumbing We Will Go (1940).
These are bold and imaginative scenes. But I remember being enchanted by a simple scene in Sons of the Desert (1933). Stan is confused, as he usually is, and he manages to lock himself out of his home. His best friend and neighbor, Ollie, comes to his friend's aide only to become locked out of his own home. It is in no way a showy scene. It is quiet and slow. Ollie becomes exasperated, but he never shouts or fails his arms. The two manage to make the scene funny just by repeatedly ringing doorbells to summon help. Ollie's wife (Mae Busch) finally answers the door, annoyed by the doorbell ringing. She snaps, "What do you think this is? Halloween?"
I found something magical about Laurel and Hardy in this scene. I cannot explain it. You will not find a comedy scene more beautifully timed or as well-acted. But there's more to it than that. It felt as if I was looking at angels. I understand if you chose to dismiss that last statement as hyperbole or sentimentality. But, I assure you, that's exactly how I remember it. Laurel and Hardy were in my eyes, at that moment, angels.
The 2015 French comedy-drama L'étudiante et Monsieur Henri (translation: The Student and Mr. Henri) centers on a college student, Constance (Noémie Schmidt), who is having trouble figuring out what she wants to do with her life. She is failing at school because she panics whenever she has to take an exam. She wants to be studying music, but her father has pressured her to pursue a business degree.
Constance needs to find a place to live and sees an ad for a room to rent in a conveniently located apartment building. Paul (Guillaume de Tonquédec), who placed the ad, explains to Constance that his elderly father Henri (Claude Brasseur) presently lives alone in the apartment. He is concerned that his father can no longer care for himself and he is willing to let Constance live in the apartment for a low fee if she can help to look after the old man. The problem is that Henri prefers to live on his own. When Constance turns up to see the room, he demands that she go away and slams the door in her face.
But Constance is persistent and wears down Henri's resistance. Henri allows the young woman inside the apartment to see the room. But he still has a few tricks up his sleeves to scare off his prospective tenant. At one point, he informs her that the apartment has no hot water. Constance quickly sees through the lie. She turns on the water in the bathroom sink and confirms that the water is hot.
In the end, the surly man consents to let Constance have the room on the condition that she follows his many house rules ("A community requires rules," he says). But then, after she breaks one of the rules, he tells her that he can longer trust her and she has to leave.
She pleads with him. "I can help you out a lot," she says. He thinks about it and comes up with a solution. He can see that Constance is exceptionally attractive and imagines it would be very easy for her to turn a man's head. If she can get her son's interest, he thinks, his son might be willing to leave his wife, who Henri regards as an insufferable idiot. Constance is shocked by the proposal. The following discussion of the matter ensues:
CONSTANCE: I'm not a whore.The seduction plot, though important to story, never dominates the film, and it never gets sordid (Paul is truly a gentleman).
HENRI: It's not that! Just show my son new horizons.
CONSTANCE: I can't break up a marriage.
HENRI: It's a sort of test. Set his head spinning a little. Either he gently rejects you, proving his marriage is solid, or. . . It's best if it ends fast.
CONSTANCE: A man can sleep with me and keep his wife.
HENRI: A normal man, yes. But my son is extremely inhibited. He's had no other women apart from Valerie. He thinks he can't do better than her. The thing is, if a pretty girl like you finds him attractive. . .
CONSTANCE: What if it goes wrong?
HENRI: My son has many ﬂaws, but he's a gentleman.
The film is really about the ways that the insecure young lady and the grumpy old man make each other better people. In the end, she becomes more self-assured and he becomes more humane.
The film is carried along gracefully by the charming performances of its leads. Schmidt's performance as Constance earned her a nomination for the César Award for Most Promising Actress, and won her the Prix Premiers Rendez-vous (Best Newcomer) at the 2016 Cabourg Film Festival. The actress can currently be seen in the television series Versailles.
Brasseur has been acting in films since 1960, when he played an inspector in Eyes Without a Face. Here is a photo of the actor in the 1975 revenge thriller L'Agression.
Les deux mondes (English: Two Worlds), a 2007 French film, has a plot that mixes elements of comedy, fantasy, romance and drama. Rémy Bassano (Benoit Poelvoorde), a man under the stress of a pending divorce, suddenly finds himself slipping back and forth between his own world, where his life lies in ruins, and an alternate dimension, where a primitive tribe enslaved by a warlord calls upon him to lead their men in a revolt.
The film is similar to my novel "Slaughterhouse Frome," where a man under the stress of his wife's pregnancy suddenly finds himself slipping back and forth between his own time and a far-flung future in outer space. The man ends up in a similar situation as Remy when he is thrust into battle with an intergalactic overlord.
In both stories, the man finds strength in himself in the alternate universe and he is able to use that strength to address the problems he has in his regular life.
|Super Troopers 2 (2018)|
Other comedies involve a panic created by a man dressed in a bear costume. Take, for instance, Billy the Bear Tamer (1915).
The earliest-known comedy with an actual bear is the 1911 Lux comedy Patouillard et l'ours policier (loosely translated as Policeman Patouillard and His Bear)
Mack Sennett exploited the comic potential of the bear in a number of films, starting with The Brave Hunter (1912, Biograph). A trained bear could always find work with Sennett.
Modern comedy is still drawn to the big furry beast. Take, for instance, Action Point (2018). . .
. . . and Super Troopers 2 (2018).
Bear comedy is discussed at length in my book "The Funny Parts."
It has never ceased to amaze me how radically my perception of a film can change over time. But it really shouldn't amaze me. We have many experiences in our lifetime. If we honestly and rigorously process those experiences, we are bound to undergo major changes and find ourselves with more deeply developed ideas of the world. Something that seemed right to us twenty years ago may seem totally wrong to us today. The motivations and actions in a film will weigh differently in our mind. A plot glitch that we were once willing to accept (if we even noticed it) may now be too glaring to get past.
I first saw The Third Man (1949) when I was twelve-years-old. The film had much to hold my attention - stylish direction, clever dialogue, intriguing characters, moody (Chiaroscuro) lighting, and a twisty mystery plot. I have gone on to see the film many more times in the last five decades. As I get older, I find that I have less and less affection and respect for Joseph Cotton's protagonist, Holly Martins. The last time that I watched The Third Man, I saw Martins in a worse way than I have ever seen him before. I now saw a breathtaking conceit and infuriating stupidity in the man that made it impossible for me to feel anything but contempt for him. "Wait," I thought to myself, "this guy's an idiot!"
I think that, even as a twelve-year-old boy, I saw foolishness in Martins. But I was still at a time of life when my own judgment was far from perfect. I could identify with Martins and accept his missteps. I shouldn't have. Unlike me, Martins was not a twelve-year-old boy. He was an adult man who should have known better.
Nothing about Martins suggests maturity. We know that Martins is not a stable, self-sufficient adult because he admits in an early scene that he is broke and has no prospects. Martins has arrived in Vienna to accept a job offered to him by his childhood friend, Harry Lime, but he learns that Lime died after being struck by a speeding truck. The police regard the death of Lime, a notorious racketeer, as suspicious. Martins, determined to learn more about his friend's abrupt demise, blunders around with the unrestrained arrogance that you'd expect from a bratty little boy. The police have been unable to solve this mystery, but he is sure that he'll be able to accomplish what the police can't accomplish. That's fantasy. Even Martins' work as a writer of pulp Western novels betrays his childish imaginings.
I found others online who agreed with me. Rob White of BFI Online wrote:
Holly Martins is, at the start, a figure of fun, a writer of pulp Western novels with an erratic temper, a bit of a fool, liable to fall in love with a woman at the slightest provocation. The running joke in the film (and in Graham Greene's novella) is that Holly mistakes reality for one of his novels: he sees cheap plots and conspiracies everywhere and, in so doing, misses the point entirely. He takes a dislike to Major Calloway (Trevor Howard), suspecting him of smearing Harry's reputation when in fact Calloway's sparing Holly the worst details. Referring to one of his novels, The Lone Rider of Santa Fé, Holly says, with typical bravado: "The lone rider has his best friend shot unlawfully by a sheriff. The story is how this lone rider hunted the sheriff down." In his mind he's the lone rider and Calloway the sheriff.He learns that a kindly old porter (Paul Hoerbiger) witnessed his friend's death. The porter understands that he will put his life in danger if he becomes involved, but Martins demands with a self-righteous furor that the man tell him what he saw. This recklessness on Martins' part gets the porter killed. The porter's neighbors had seen Martins visit the porter earlier and they suspect that it was he who murdered him. Martins is surrounded by the neighbors, who openly accuse him of the crime. And the crowd is right. The fact is that, indirectly, Martins was the murderer, just as guilty if he had put his hands on the man himself. He flees as the crowd converges on him.
Martins eventually learns that Harry was stealing penicillin from military hospitals and selling the drug in diluted form on the black market. His scheme caused sick people in dire need of penicillin to die. It ends up that Harry faked his own death to avoid prison. Martins helps the police to lure out Harry, who ends up being shot to death as he attempts to escape.
Anna (Alida Valli), Harry's girlfriend, remains dedicated to [Harry], dead or alive, whereas Holly in the end is Harry's executioner. The shooting takes place off-screen and it's chilling: no matter that Harry is a murderous racketeer it seems wrong that his best friend should so completely turn on him.For the record, I still think that The Third Man is a great film. I just don't like Martins too much.
When Anna, at the end of the film, ignores Holly and walks away from him, there's a sense of justice. She punishes him for his betrayal. His good intentions and naivety count for nothing. His wild flights of fancy and his sentimentality, which might be harmless traits in other circumstances, end up seeming like grave moral lapses.
Rob White, "Holly Martins," BFI Screen Online. http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/592117/index.html
The Dawn Patrol (1938), an excellent precursor to MASH, happened to be filmed at the same film ranch as MASH.
Errol Flynn and David Niven are the film's Hawkeye and Trapper John, countering the relentless stream of death with drunkenness and clowning.
Like Hawkeye and Trapper John, Flynn and Niven are anti-authority.
Giancarlo Giannini and Laura Antonelli are terrific together in the 1973 Italian anthology comedy Sessomatto (released in the United States as How Funny Can Sex Be?).
Billy Curtis outdid former silent comedy star Bud Duncan for the role of Little Tut in 20th Century Fox's Princess of the Nile (1954).
Here we have the old comedy trope of adults dressing children.
As of now, the most popular article on this website examines the Ouija board in film. The latest film to make use of the Ouija board is Ouija House (2018).
Cows stampede through the streets in Halal Daddy (2017). . .
. . . much like cows once stampeded through the streets in Buster Keaton's Go West (1925).
La valise (1973) (English title: Man in the Trunk) is an early comedy by Francis Veber. The plot is, as expected from Veber, the height of absurdity. An Israeli agent (Jean-Pierre Marielle) whose cover was blown during a mission in Libya is smuggled out of the country in a trunk by a French agent (Michel Constantin).
The film is reminiscent of a 1917 short comedy called Excess Baggage. Here is the plot summary provided by the Internet Movie Database:
Susie's fed up with her no-account husband who fancies himself a writer. She intends on running away, but he decides to go with her, hiding in her steamer trunk. Arriving in "The Big City", (Wilkes-Barre, Penna.!) at a big hotel, she meets some lounge lizards that might do her some good. Her dimwit spouse, after being knocked about in the trunk, starts a fire by lighting his pipe inside it, causing panic.
The old plot in which a man and woman switch bodies gets a few new twists in L'un dans l'autre (2017).
Luke Stangel posted an interesting article, "Jackie Gleason's Spaceship-Like Party House in the Woods Is Listed for $12M," at realtor.com.
In the early 1950s, high-flying TV comedian Jackie Gleason embarked on a project to build a one-of-a-kind party house in the woods north of New York City. Drawing on his lifelong fascination with UFOs, the home and its adjacent cottage are round inside and out — down to the curved floorboards, windows, cabinets, bars, and furniture.
He called the twin buildings “The Spaceship” and “The Mothership.”
The current homeowner, a retired orthodontist, had picked up the 8.5-acre property in Cortlandt Manor, NY, in 1976 for just $150,000 — roughly equivalent to $660,000 today. The property was listed this month for $12 million.
George Grossmith and Edmund Payne were a popular comedy team at London's Gaiety Theatre from 1902 to 1912. They were featured in a number of musical comedies, including "The Toreador" (1902), "The Orchid" (1903), "The Spring Chicken" (1905), "The New Aladdin" (1906), "The Girls of Gottenberg" (1907), "Our Miss Gibbs" (1909), and "The Sunshine Girl" (1912). Here is the duo in a 1911 film, The Two Obadiahs.
I recently come across two clips of Italian comedian Renato Pozzetto on YouTube. The first clip is from an unidentified film.
The second clip is from a buddy cop comedy called Piedipiatti (1991).
Let's put the plot of Monsieur Grenouille (2016) into the category of odd comic premises. As the following clip shows, a teacher finds himself unwillingly transforming into a frog at the most inopportune moments.
Joe E. Brown uses his extraordinary comic holler to get inside a home in Fit For A King (1937).
Peter Potamus uses his highly unique Hippo Hurricane Holler to get inside a home.
"Let's Play Post Office!"
Mireille Darc was a film star in France in the 1960s and 1970s. Stephanie Eckardt of W Magazine wrote, "[H]er influence, like that of the rest of fellow iconic French girls like Brigitte Bardot, whom she was often compared to, will no doubt linger for decades. . ."
Stephanie Eckardt, "A Look Back at the Late Mireille Darc, One of the Great Blonde French Sex Icons," W Magazine (August 28, 2017). https://www.wmagazine.com/gallery/mireille-darc-dead-dies-french-actress-photos/all.
In the last few years, film historians have shed a light on the troubled career of forgotten film actress Alice White.
The YouTube channel BlondeCrazyDame features a video tribute of the actress.
Here are rare images of early film comedy star John Cumpson.
Huntz Hall finds that oysters will not abide to being cooked in Jungle Gents (1954).
A magician performs sleight of hand with a series of eggs in an early film, Le prestidigiteur (1896).
A dream vacation goes wrong in the French comedy Good Guys Go to Heaven, Bad Guys Go to Pattaya (2016).
Boris Karloff investigates strange doings in Voodoo Island (1957).
Oil's Well (1923), a fast-paced comedy from Federated Film Exchange, finds Monty Banks searching for oil in a volatile (and fictional) South American country.
Of course, no spoof of South America is complete without a firing squad scene.
Pokes and Jabbs create laughs in a hat shop.
Jack hides from his girlfriend's irate father on a window ledge in the early high and dizzy comedy The Tale of a Hat (1915, Kalem).
Romantic rivalry is the focus of the 1915 Kalem comedy Flirtatious Lizzie. Three men vying for the same woman, Lizzie (Ethel Teare), agree to play horseshoes to decide who the woman will marry.
Ham and Bud attend a séance in The Spook Raisers (1915).
Ham and Bud are part of a vaudeville troupe in Raskey's Road Show (1915).
Marceline, the World Renowned Clown of the N Y Hippodrome (1907)
Luke Stangel, "Jackie Gleason's Spaceship-Like Party House in the Woods Is Listed for $12M," Realtor (August 6, 2018).
|Leo Gorcey in Jungle Gents (1954)|
In the last few months, I have come to appreciate the versatile talents of Belgian actor Benoît Poelvoorde. For more than a quarter of a century, Poelvoorde has turned in strong performances in a wide range of roles. He has played a vicious hit man, a bungling cop, a coarse carpenter, a dispirited photographer, a shy chocolate maker, a lonely millionaire, and a creepy veterinarian. Oh, I almost forgot, he played God in one film.
Here is a select list of the actor's films:
Le vélo de Ghislain Lambert (2001)
Cult Films provided the following plot summary:
In this pitch black comedy the rivalry between two neighbors escalates into an all out war. Through a maintenance error on a tractor they both end up, paralyzed, in a wheelchair. It seems they are doomed to stay together. They no longer focus their rage on each other but on the manufacturer of the tractor, in Helsinki. So get ready for a hilarious wheelchair road movie.
More information about this film is provided here.
My review of this film can be found here.
|Max Linder visits a ski resort in Love Unconquerable (1912).|
Ernesto Vaser wreaks havoc with his new wide-brimmed hat in the 1912 short comedy La moda vuole l'ala larga (released in the United States as Wide Brimmed Hats Are Fashionable). The hat is large enough to provide two lovely ladies with cover during a rainstorm.
At one point, the hat catches a breeze, which sends Vaser airborne much like a cornette later allowed Sally Field to take flight in The Flying Nun. Vaser, known to fans as "Fricot," was Italy's first film comedy star. The film comes from the collection of EYE Film. You can click here to view the full film.
The Internet Movie Database provides the following plot summary for Onésime et l'étudiante (1912): "In his pursuit of a young female student, Onésime [Ernest Bourbon] finds himself at a university hospital receiving the unwelcome attentions of overenthusiastic dentists and surgeons."
Zigoto plombier d'occasion (1911) is proof that comic plumbers were destroying homes long before The Three Stooges' A Plumbing We Will Go (1940).
The plumber comedy was a strict standard in silent films. William Wolbert mistakenly connects electrical wires to plumbing pipes in Desperate Dud, The Plumber (1915).
Hose comedy was common in early film. Here is an example from Two Naughty Boys (1909).
Ernest Bourbon and Gaston Modot (in drag) play a bickering couple in Non! Tu ne sortiras pas sans moi! (1911). The film is a spoof of domestic squabbles. Bob Lipton of The Internet Movie Database wrote, "[S]he wants to go shopping alone and he doesn't want that to happen. So they fight." The couple engage in a running battle of wills that escalates to outrageous proportions. You can click here to view the full film.
At the start of Max's Vacation (1914), Max Linder is strangely unnerved by an invitation from his wealthy uncle to visit him in the country for the weekend. But we soon learn the problem. Max hasn't told his uncle that he has gotten married and he doesn't know how his uncle will react to him showing up suddenly with his happy new bride. My guess, from having seen similar films of the period, is that Max's old bachelor uncle might not approve of his nephew's sudden marital entanglement and take immediate action to disinherit him. But Max's wife doesn't care what her new in-law will think of her. She simply cannot bear to be parted from Max and insists on coming along with him. As it turns out, Max takes desperate (and comical) measures to hide his wife from his uncle for the weekend.
I can never get enough of Mr. Linder. I have written extensively before about Max Takes a Bath (1910), which is one of my favorite Linder films. Here is a few screen captures.
Another favorite of mine is Max pédicure (1914).
Max challenges a romantic rival to a duel in Entente cordiale (1912).
Love Unconquerable (1912) involves Max's efforts to win over his girlfriend's father during a ski trip.
Clément Mégé peddles an electrifying new lightning rod in Calino courtier en paratonnerres (1912).
Ernest Bourbon is presumed dead after he abandons his nagging wife in the 1913 Gaumont comedy La disparition d'Onésime (English translation: The Disappearance of Onésime). The widow finally catches up to her "deceased" spouse partying with sultry ladies in a cabaret.
One of the early lion comedies is a 1911 Gaumont film called Calino et ses pensionnaires (released in the United States as Calino and His Boarder). Calino doesn't realize when he accepts a lion tamer as a boarder that the man intends to keep his lions in trunks inside his room. Soon, the brood of lions break out of the trunks and overun Calino's normally quiet abode.
In Calino se marie (1910), a bride and groom fall down an open manhole and find themselves trapped in the sewer.
I hope you enjoyed today's post.
In my latest book, I compare and contrast Richard Pryor's performance in The Toy (1982) with Pierre Richard's performance in La Juet (1976), the French comedy that inspired The Toy. Taking a close look at Richard's delightfully clever performance increased my long-standing appreciation of the actor.
In France, the 84-year-old Richard continues to be showcased in feature films. The public regard him as a national treasure.
Following is a roll call of select Richard films:
Les malheurs d'Alfred (1972) (English title: The Troubles of Alfred)
Les vieux fourneaux (2018) (English title: Tricky Old Dogs)
A cause des filles ..? (2019)
I enjoyed a Louis de Funès double feature recently.
The first film was Pouic-Pouic (1963). The plot was perfectly suited to Funès. Léonard Monestier (Funès) gets the idea to unload his ditsy wife's bad investment in a South American oil concession on a rich and gullible acquaintance, Antoine Brévin. He knows that Brévin is interested in his pretty daughter and figures he can use his daughter to lure Brévin to his home for the weekend.
The daughter wants no part of this plan and enlists a man delivering a car to her home to pretend to be her new husband.
The deceptions continue to pile up as the indefatigable Monestier tries to convince the doubting Brévin that the oil concession is an ideal investment.
This situation turns into a game that Monestier refuses to lose.
The second film was The Big Restaurant (1966). This time, Funès plays Septime, the owner of a posh Paris restaurant.
When the president of a Latin American country is kidnapped at the restaurant, Septime is desperate to protect the reputation of his restaurant and agrees to act as a police decoy in a dangerous plot to draw out the kidnappers.
The film climaxes with a wild car chase at a ski resort.
Funès was an unusual comic actor in that he mostly played men in positions of authority. These are men who are accustomed to being in control and are more than willing to maintain control by bullying the people around them. Funès is no clumsy, ineffectual plebe like the typical comic hero, but instead the boss who happily browbeats clumsy, ineffectual plebes. His films are often about a sudden crisis that destroys his sense of control and drives him into a state of emotional turmoil. Much of the comedy in his films comes from watching the hyperactive comedian be thrust wildly back and forth between peaks of rage and panic. Funès is delightfully expressive in his explosive outbursts, which was the reason he was nicknamed "the man with the forty faces per minute."
James Travers of Films de France wrote, "Far from being a simple caricature, de Funès' portrayal of such odious characters is intensely complex and well-developed. . . De Funès was as much a first rate character actor as he was a natural born comedian, and this is what brings the essential quality of truth to his performances."
I recently wrote about another Funès film, La Grande Vadrouille (1966). You can click here for that article.
Here are images from a few other film starring the actor.
James Travers, "Pouic-Pouic (1963)," Films de France (2007) http://www.filmsdefrance.com/review/pouic-pouic-1963.html.
Vidarbha Agarwal has made a number of posts on Facebook looking for a specific film comedy routine. Here is one post:
I've been trying to track down the Chaplin film where naughty boys sever a man's coat-tail at a dance party. Chaplin then tears the rest of the coat-tail and starts dancing & thus creates a fashion. When people see him dancing like this, they follow suit and soon everyone rips off their coat-tail and start dancing like Chaplin.A later message that Argarwal posted to Facebook put the matter into a clearer perspective. She wrote:
I want to find out the name of the film and the date of its production and possibly where I can buy it from (online link would be helpful). I've been on the trail for this over 12 years.
i am writing on behalf of His Holiness Mukunda Goswami to request if anyone might have seen or know of anyone who might have seen the comedy movie clip that Srila Prabhupada narrated to the devotees who were leaving for London to start the movement. . . [I]f we can somehow dig out this piece of our history that would be a wonderful offering to Srila Prabhupada on this 50th year. Our request is if we can share this message on your fb pages that might help us reach a much wider group of people who might be able to give us any lead.Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna Movement, used the glue story as a parable to inspire his followers to spread their religious faith.
Ms. Agarwal contacted me to help her find this important scene that, in her words, "started a world wide spiritual movement teaching yoga, meditation and holistic living." Here is the description of the scene as Agarwal described it to me:
[An] actor sits on a bench and some boys put glue on it so his coat gets stuck. When he gets up there is a rip and then when he is dancing with a ripped coat tail. He starts to dance with a lot of gusto and enthusiasm that everybody thinks it is a new fashion and they also go and rip their own coat tails and start dancing. In this way he starts a new trend.This plot has the same essential elements as the plot of Max sets the fashion (1912). But Max sets the fashion has Max Linder starting a new fashion trend when his dress shoes get ruined and he has to show up at a party with clunky work boots. Could it be, I suggested, that this is film that Agarwal really wants? Memory is unreliable and details can get confused. Agarwal rejected my speculation. She insisted that the scene exists exactly the way she described it. She said, "four more people have reported seeing this clip. so it is definitely there."
My focus remained on Linder, who was known to refashion premises that had worked well for him in the past. But, despite a thorough investigation of Linder's filmography, I could not find the torn coat tails plot.
I wrote about glue routines in my book "The Funny Parts," but none of the routines described in my book match up with Agarwal's routine. I decided to dig further and see what I could turn up.
Let's start with Georges Méliès' 1907 short Good Glue Sticks (released in the United States as La colle universelle). The film opens with a street vendor hawking glue to passing crowds. A pair of police officers come along and abruptly shut down the vendor. As revenge, the vendor sneaks up on police officers as they nap on a park bench and coats them with glue to make them stick together. The popularity of this film inspired other sticky comedies, including The Leaking Glue Pot (1908, Théophile Pathé Cinématograph), Glue (1908, Gaumont), It Sticks Everything - Even Iron (1908, Pathé Frères), Father's Glue (1909, Lubin), The Patent Glue (1909, Walturdaw) and The Schoolboy's Revenge (1909, Pathé Frères).
The Leaking Glue Pot involves a carpenter apprentice walking around town with the titular leaking glue pot. The Moving Picture World reported:
At a saloon a glass is caused to become inseparably attached to the table; at the baker shop the baker is obliged to leave his shoes as if riveted to the floor, and in a park a young couple seat themselves on a bench from which they cannot arise, and must leave their outer garments behind and go home in a carriage.Usually, these films featured naughty boys playing pranks with a fast-drying glue. The Moving Picture World reported of Father's Glue:
[Two boys] first spread the glue on the bench in the park, which bench is soon occupied by a young couple. When the lover tries the rise he finds he is stuck to the bench. He's pulled away at the great damage to his trousers. The mischievous boys play many more tricks on men and women who all take up the chase. The boys spread the glue over the sidewalk and then run. They are pursued by a crowd who all lose their shoes while running over the glue. At last the boys are caught in their own trap. They are glued to the fence and given a good trouncing.In 1905 Pathé Frères comedy La perruque (released in America as The Wig), a boy gets an idea for a prank when he sees his uncle donning a wig for a date. The boy quickly gets to work lining the inside of his uncle's top hat with glue. When the uncle removes the hat to greet his date, the wig comes off with it and the lady faints.
The Wildman (1912) proves yet again that a person in a silent comedy film needs to watch where they are sitting. Out in the woods, Billy (Smilin' Billy Mason) pours a bottle of glue on a log expecting his rival Charles (Charles Hitchcock) to use this convenient length of trunk as a seat. Instead, it is Billy's accomplice Barnabee (Howard Missimer) who sits on the log and gets stuck.
The same silly business shows up again in Mr. Jarr and Gertrude's Beaux (1915, Vitagraph). The Moving Picture World noted:
Gertrude, the Jarr servant, is invited by her three beaux, Claude, the fireman, Gus, saloonkeeper, and Hogan, to go on an excursion. She accepts them all, and the rendezvous for the three is the park bench at seven. Willie and Emma Jarr steal a bottle of glue from the carpenter and put a thick layer of the sticky stuff on the park bench seat. The three swains arrive and take their seats on the treacherous bench. They get into an argument, try to rise and find they cannot.Jack Duffy becomes glued to a chair in a 1920 Larry Semon comedy, School Days.
In The Paper Hangers (1921), a customer in a wallpaper shop sits down on a chair without realizing that someone has spilled glue on it. He tears off the seat of his pants while straining to pull himself free. The shop's proprietors (Al St. John and Cliff Bowes) cut out a square of decorative wallpaper, which they delicately use to patch the tear (or, as a title card says, "cover his embarrassment").
In The Mechanic (1924), Jimmy Aubrey accidentally overturns a pail of glue on the floor and his boss gets stuck in the glue while walking past.
Dorothy Devore and Babe London perform a unique glue routine during a basketball match in Rah! Rah! Rah! (1928). Here is a description of the scene from my book "Eighteen Comedians of Silent Film":
A spectator, unhappy that a ball knocked him off the bleachers, doctors the ball with glue before tossing it back to Dorothy. Dorothy finds the ball sticking to her uniform and nothing she can do will remove it. Babe grabs the ball in an effort to make a basket, but Dorothy remains attached to the ball as Babe dribbles it across the court and finally hurls it at the hoop. At this moment, Dorothy wakes to find that she was only dreaming.Newlyweds' Pest (1929) features yet another mischievous little boy, Snookums (Sunny Jim McKeen). At his father's office, Snookums sneaks into a board of directors meeting and pours glue into a man's hat.
Our Gang's A Tough Winter (1930) offers a variation of an old glue gag when it has a little boy gets stuck in the gang's homemade taffy.
In The Outlaws is Coming (1965), the Three Stooges sneak into the hideout of an outlaw gang and manage while the gang is sleeping to glue their firearms to their holsters.
Peter Sellers becomes glued to a chair in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975).
Unfortunately, I was never able to find the routine that Agarwal sought. I wish her luck.
You will find out about further glue antics in my book "The Funny Parts."
Army of Shadows (1969) is a stylish film by Jean-Pierre Melville about a group of French Resistance fighters. As always, Melville proves to be a meticulous and self-assured director. As always, he shows a mastery at building tension in scenes. But I was never fully engaged in the film. I just didn't get it. One would imagine a film about the French Resistance featuring a group of heroic characters embroiled in a campaign to blow up a bridge along a German supply route. But Army of Shadows is more like a gangster film about rival criminals involved in bloody intrigue to eliminate (or "rub out") one another. Melville normally directed gangster films. The film's star, Lino Ventura, normally played gangsters. It was business as usual for them. The Resistance simply represents a different sort of underworld.
The film would have been more compelling if it centered on the preparation of a mission to be enacted at the film's climax. But, instead, the Resistance fighters are stuck in a pointless loop of capture, escape, betrayal, retribution, and execution. The Gestapo's main goal whenever they apprehend a Resistance fighter is to get the person to give up the names of other Resistance fighters. They are very effective at this. They will torture the person relentlessly or they will threaten to torture a loved one of the person. The captive will either break eventually or die. The Resistance fighter's cohorts have to act quickly to free the person or kill them before they talk. One by one, the resistance fighters are executed by the Gestapo or (worse) by their own people, and the filmmaker never bothers to show these men and women ever accomplishing something to make all of the death and mayhem worthwhile. Can't they just blow up one little bridge? The film is, in the end, grim and hopeless. Melville didn't mind that people like me didn't understand his films. He said, "I'd like viewers to come away from my films unsure whether they've understood them."
Similar matters are depicted in a more clear-cut and conventional manner in a recent film, The Resistance Banker (2018), which involves the efforts of the Dutch Resistance during World War II. Melville's odder film is ultimately unsatisfying, but it does manages to be more gripping than The Resistance Banker in its best scenes.
Early in the film, Ventura and another man are taken to the Gestapo's Paris headquarters for questioning. They are guarded by a skinny, youthful soldier who looks like he'd much rather be doing anything other than marching around with a gun or watching over war prisoners. The soldier never looks at his prisoners. He never says a word. Suddenly, the brutish, sullen Ventura springs out out of his chair, grabs a knife from the soldier's belt, and stabs the young man in the neck. The innocent-looking soldier with the baby face is far more sympathetic as he lays bleeding to death on the floor than the thuggish Resistance fighter who is miraculously making his getaway in the hail of machine-gun fire. Does Melville want the audience to sympathize with Ventura? It doesn't seem that way.
Melville might not have had a great love for the French Resistance as his older brother Jacques, who dedicated himself to the Resistance, was murdered by his own cohorts while guiding a convoy of refugees to England. His murderer was put on trial after the war. Adrien Bosc of Tablet wrote:
At the Ariège courthouse, he explained that he had acted so as not to endanger the rest of the convoy. Overcome with exhaustion, Jacques Grumbach had to be left behind, and he could have betrayed his companions. "I acted on orders, I killed M. Grumbach to save the others," said the passeur. However, he was unable to explain the disappearance of 7,000 francs from the knapsack Jacques Grumbach was carrying, though he claimed without proof that the money was subsequently given to his bosses. The corpse robber was acquitted by the Ariège Court, the jury considering that it was impossible to judge his actions with certainty.
A similar type of murder occurs in Melville's Un Flic (1972). A bank robbery goes wrong when a cashier suddenly pulls out a gun and shoots one of the robbers, Albouis (André Pousse). The robbers kill the cashier and flee with their gravely injured accomplice.
It is decided that, to avoid detection, they need to deposit Albouis at a private medical clinic. Albouis remains a concern for the gang leader, Simon (Richard Crenna). Rather than take a chance that the police will find Albois, Simon has his girlfriend Cathy (Catherine Deneuve) sneak into the clinic dressed as a nurse and murder the helpless man in his bed.
The murder of his brother Jacques no doubt haunted Melville. The brother had a genetic heart condition, which made the convoy's trek too strenuous for him. Melville suffered from the same condition and knew it would eventually kill him. Sharing a deadly genetic condition with a sibling has to bring a person closer to that sibling. Melville died of a heart attack at the age of 55 less than a year after he completed Un Flic.
A detective is called to a murder scene in Melville's Un Flic(1972). He becomes mesmerized by the corpse, which reminds him of his own mortality.
There are men in trench coats and hats and loosened ties, men bunched into cars on the way to or from a job gazing blankly straight ahead, men in nightclubs, their professionally bored expressions unaffected or even petrified more intensely by the drink, the cigarettes and the sexy dancers up on stage grinding through some quaintly choreographed routine. . . It often creates an almost Beckettian severity and sparseness.Melville, a fatalistic filmmaker, didn't believe his characters controlled their fate. Their struggles are, according to Alan K. Rode, "ultimately futile." A film with unknowable characters involved in pointless plots is not something that most audiences find interesting. Nonetheless, Melville has his fans, who are able to get swept up in the style and mood of his films. Taylor Hackford does not think it matters if his films have a message. He insisted, "They're just delightful to look at." Kelly Reichardt spoke for many fans when she said, "He's a completely elegant filmmaker."
Adrien Bosc, "Double Exposure: Jean-Pierre Melville," Tablet (October 20, 2017). https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/247256/jean-pierre-melville-100
Peter Bradshaw, "Jean-Pierre Melville: cinematic poet of the lowlife and criminal," The Guardian (August 8, 2017). https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2017/aug/08/jean-pierre-melville-cinematic-poet-of-the-lowlife-and-criminal.
|Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant in Il Sorpasso (1962).|
Filmmakers tend to put together characters who are opposites because opposites create contrast and conflict. A story is more stimulating if two characters with diametrically opposed personalities need to get along and possibly need to work together to acheive a mutual goal. The Odd Couple, whether in stage, film or television form, emphasized the tidiness of one character in contrast to the messiness of the other. In a broader sense, this is the common opposition of the disciplined and the undisciplined. It is, too, the opposition of the introvert and the extrovert. Fiona MacDonald, a journalist and zoologist, wrote:
Research has found thicker prefrontal cortices in introverts as compared to extroverts, which is associated with deeper thought and planning - suggesting that introverts are less impulsive than extroverts.It is inevitable that impulsivity brings about undisciplined behavior.
A prolific effort has been driven forth by filmmakers to join together an introvert and extrovert for the sole purpose of highlighting the inevitable conflict the two will create. These relationships tend to be chaotic, but writers love to see the whirling winds of chaos spin loose various detritus of drama and comedy. But to what extent do these relationships reflect reality?
Linda and Charlie Bloom wrote in Psychology Today:
Opposites, or perhaps more accurately, "complements" do attract. Introverts and extroverts, morning people and night people, impulsives and planners, steady plodders and adrenaline junkies, adventure-grabbers and security-seekers. . . [T]here's no denying the idea that something in us is drawn to people who counter some of our dominant inclinations with complementary tendencies. And while this can create some interesting challenges for most couples, these differences are actually the source of what is considered by many to be the source of the most important aspect of any successful relationship: chemistry.My Worst Nightmare (2011) is a romantic comedy that shows an introvert and an extrovert bringing balance to each other's lives. The cold and distant introvert, Agathe Novic (Isabelle Huppert), does not know how to have fun or reach out to other people, which causes her to lose her husband to another woman, while the wild and impulsive extrovert, Patrick Demeuleu (Benoît Poelvoorde), only knows how to have fun and lacks the control and determination needed to fulfill his goals and achieve success. Patrick draws out Agathe, making her a warmer and happier person, and Agathe teaches Patrick to focus and be a more responsible and efficient person.
I certainly disagree with the Blooms. Reasonable people are not attracted to chaotic relationships. They do not see chaos as something good. People like the Blooms believe that chaos is dynamic and that a dynamic relationship drives out passion and creativity, from which both people can thrive. Sameness is, in their estimation, boring for both parties and creates stagnation in a relationship. Mistress America (2015), which I wrote about at length in a 2015 article, did a good job of pushing against this foolish notion. The compatibility of like-minded people advances ideas and gets things done. We succeed through steady consensus, not ceaseless conflict. Consider the fact that the Blooms are in the same profession and share many of the same ideas. Is that sort of sameness boring to them?
I have now seen Il Sorpasso (1962), which manages even better than Mistress America to destroy the idea that extroverts and introverts can thrive together. Il Sorpasso's extrovert, Bruno Cortona (Vittorio Gassman), is unpredictable in his freewheeling ways. The introvert that becomes involved with Bruno is a studious law student, Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Roberto is alternately thrilled and appalled by Bruno's actions. He normally leads a cautious and controlled life, which suits him even though his life can be dull and prohibitive at times. But Bruno's life is entirely different. The man is so random in his behavior that it is impossible to tell what will happen with him from one minute to the next. Sometimes, he does something impulsive that turns out well and sometimes he does something impulsive that turns out bad. His life is in the hands of fate. He, himself, has little control of his life. His impromptu situations can turn on a dime, which makes playing with Bruno as dangerous as playing a round of Russian roulette.
I talked in the Mistress America article about my relationship with my uncle. My uncle died in January. Much conflict existed between us because of our personality differences: he stood out as the ultimate extrovert while I stood out as the ultimate introvert. I saw my uncle and I in Bruno and Roberto. Bruno was similar to my late uncle in many ways. At one point, Bruno's obnoxious behavior provokes a physical battle with two men in a restaurant. I was in situations like that with my uncle, who was always annoying people with his careless actions. It gave the film a high degree of reality and meaning to me.
Rest in peace, Uncle Sonny. I love you despite our differences.
Linda and Charlie Bloom, "The Real Reason That Opposites Attract," Psychology Today (January 2, 2014). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/stronger-the-broken-places/201401/the-real-reason-opposites-attract.
Fiona MacDonald, "The Science of Introverts vs Extroverts," Science Alert (October 27, 2016). https://www.sciencealert.com/the-science-of-introverts-vs-extroverts.
It took me a long time to catch on to the charms of Doris Day. As a child, I found Day to be a befuddling figure. It made no sense to me that a woman in her forties was being marketed with a squeaky clean image usually reserved for virginal adolescent girls. But, presumably, we needed an actress to serve as America's Sweetheart and Day was the best candidate for the role at the time. As it turned out, I was on this spinning globe for nearly six decades before I finally got around to seeing The Pajama Game (1957) and came to appreciate the enormous talent that Day had to offer.
My newfound love affair with Day hit a rough patch a short time ago when I witnessed the perky actress set adrift in a dreadfully distasteful 1958 sex farce called The Tunnel of Love. Day is no doubt valiant in her effort to rise above the bad material. And, to a degree, she succeeds. The actress, encased in her own personal charm bubble, floats over the bloody and mutilated corpses strewn far and wide across the charred and pock-marked landscape of this woefully misbegotten project. Blame her leading man, Richard Widmark. Blame her director, Gene Kelly. But you can't blame the ever-radiant, ever-smiling Day.
The Tunnel of Love was shunned by Day's fans upon its release and remains a disreputable work today. TCM recently followed a broadcast of the film with a host explaining the widespread dislike for the film. It was as if they had just shown you the film so you could see for yourself how bad it was. Tom Santopietro, author of "Considering Doris Day,' wrote, "One key question remains at the end of the film: Why did anyone involved want to make this movie? Doris Day, Richard Widmark, and Gene Kelly, were all at the height of their powers in 1958 and surely had their pick of dozens of possible properties."
The film was based on a 1949 novel by Peter De Vries. In the novel, Augie and Isolde Poole want to have a child, but their efforts to get Isolde pregnant have failed. In desperation, the couple turn to the Rock-a-Bye adoption agency for a baby. In the meantime, Augie has an affair with Cornelia Bly, who ends up getting pregnant. Bly doesn't want to keep the baby, which is good news to Augie. He urges the woman to bring the baby to Rock-a-Bye, which will give him and his wife the opportunity to apply for the baby's adoption. This way, he can take his own child into his home without having to tell his wife about his affair. His scheme goes as planned and the couple take the baby home. But the baby possesses a conspicuous resemblance to Augie. Isolde, who is already mistrustful of her sneaky husband, grows suspicious of the baby's heredity.
The book is narrated by Augie's best friend, Dick. Dick does his best to downplay Augie's adultery. He says:
Well, if he hadn’t sinned on the scale he did the chances are he wouldn’t have reformed on the scale he did. Think of Augie —this will help — as a kind of Everyman, combining the good and bad in us. Remember that if it weren’t for babies born illegitimately there wouldn’t be any for the salt of the earth to adopt. Augie was just his own source of supply.Isolde throws Augie out when she learns of his infidelity, but she reconciles with him weeks later when she finds out that she's pregnant. Dick explains:
As everyone knows, childless women often become pregnant after adopting an infant. The experience of maternity itself supposedly thaws out the fears and self-doubts that had previously thwarted its accomplishment. That had happened to Isolde, in only the few months’ time in which she had been a practicing mother. She had always wanted a child at the same time that she’d feared it, and naturally the swell of emotion released by the realization of her long-hungered-for condition swept her back into a tide of feeling for her husband. She had suspected her condition for a couple of weeks, but only today had medical reports proved it beyond a doubt. I don’t know what reconciliation scene was enacted in the Poole home that night. I can only imagine it — the tears, laughter, protestations, embraces.
The book was followed up by a stage adaptation written by De Vries and Joseph Fields. The play merges Augie's domineering mistress, Cornelia Bly, with a second character from the book, Rock-a-Bye caseworker Mrs. Mash. So, now, Augie has an affair with the same woman whose job it is to approve him and his wife for adoption. That, I suppose, was meant to make the farce more farcical. The preamble of the play provides the following plot summary:
In the play, Estelle seduces Augie intentionally in order to get pregnant so that she might experience firsthand the plight of unwed mothers, the topic of her PhD thesis.Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote:
Then along comes a lady from the adoption agency who seems to be able to inspire a good deal more philoprogenitiveness in the husband than is inspired by his wife. And the first thing he knows, it looks likely that they are going to get their wish — from the adoption agency, that is. One guess whose baby it's likely to be. It is on this point of hot confusion that most of this verbal romp turns. . .The story is certainly centered around Augie's adultery, but Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wanted to eliminate the adultery from their film adaptation. The scriptwriter, Joseph Fields, made sure that the studio got what it wanted. Augie never has sex with Estelle in the film. A series of plot contrivances conspire to retain the farcical complications while creating an adultery-free, but somewhat ungainly film. The changes in the story caused the entire mess to collapse in a smutty heap. Leaving the adultery out of The Tunnel of Love would be like leaving the Mafia out of The Godfather.
Neither of the book characters that inspired the Estelle character had been attractive. This is the way that De Vries describes the caseworker in the novel:
Mrs. Mash was a tall woman with a mouth like a mail slot and eyes the color of soy sauce.This is his description of Cornelia:
Cornelia Bly was on the short side, shorter than I had remembered her, with her hair done — or I should say left undone—in one of those tossed salad sort of close crops. . . She wore no make-up and her finger-ends were square.Augie tells Dick, "She doesn’t have your obvious kind of attractiveness. A woman like that totally escapes your callow romanticist. They wouldn’t look at her twice."
But this is Hollywood. So, the caseworker is now played by stunning beauty Gia Scala, who has the power to turn the head of any mere mortal suburban husband.
So, how exactly did Fields get rid of the adultery? In the film, Augie is so nervous about his interview with the adoption agency's investigator that he accepts Dick's advice to take a tranquilizer. While driving into town with Estelle, he becomes drowsy from the pill. Estelle checks him into a motel so that he can sleep off the pill's effect. Wikipedia reports, "The next morning, Augie is mortified to find himself in the motel and, finding a note from Estelle thanking him for his kindness, believes he has been unfaithful to Isolde."
The problem is that Fields didn't bother to rewrite the play's interview scene, which was fraught with sexual tension. We clearly see the couple flirting and boozing it up together. We clearly see them heading off together for a romantic evening together. Nothing about the couple's lustful glances, promising smiles or suggestive remarks amount to an innocent misunderstanding. This was a man and woman bound and determined to climb into bed together, which is exactly what would have happened if Augie hadn't passed out cold in the middle of their date. But we are later expected to forget about this. It is suggested that Estelle was just the woman being friendly and Augie was just a man too drugged up to know what he was doing. So, Estelle seems to be seducing Augie when she really isn't and Augie believes he had sex with Estelle when he really didn't.
The film still has to have a baby and there was no way Fields could explain the baby's existence through immaculate conception. It turns out that Estelle has a boyfriend and he is the man responsible for the baby bump that shows up later.
Other elements of the play that should have been rendered useless in the new conception of the story are presented inexplicably in the film. When Augie first learns that Estelle is pregnant, he quickly pays her a thousand dollars to buy her silence. We later learn from Estelle that she took the money without question because she saw the money as a friendly loan. It's as if any man you have known for an hour would give you a thousand-dollar loan with no motive and no discussion. So, in the sanitized film, a seduction is no longer a seduction and a payoff is no longer a payoff. Much of the plot turns on Widmark grinning stupidly as he makes one asinine assumption after another.
Augie is no longer the father of the baby, but the baby still bears a striking resemblance to him. Wikipedia reports:
Thrilled, Augie and Isolde welcome the infant baby boy to their home days later, and soon everyone notices the baby's similarity to Augie. Weeks afterward, as the physical similarity grows, Isolde becomes suspicious. When Isolde has Augie's baby picture blown up and Alice mistakes it for the baby, Isolde furiously accuses Augie of infidelity and declares she is leaving him.
Crowther described Widmark "sweating as the husband" and Day "bubbling cheerily as the unsuspecting wife." He wrote:
Is the husband to be made the legal father, by adoption, of his own illegitimate child? And will his wife discover the deception? Quite a situation, what? Well, it isn't quite as shocking as it is made to sound and appear. Indeed, it boils down at the finish to a wholesome and virtuous little tale. After flirting around the edges of that seemingly scandalous affair and giving everybody opportunity to drop shocking innuendoes, it turns out that the agency lady is secretly married all the time, the baby she has is her own husband's and the wife of our hero is finally blessed. Nothing untoward has happened and all fits neatly into the frame of the Production Code.Unbelievably, the mess of a script is not the most terrible thing about the film. The film depends heavily on its leading man, Widmark, to be funny. Widmark demonstrates, with every twist and turn of his performance, that he does not have a single microorganism of funny in his entire body.
Kelly admitted that Widmark was a big reason for the film's failure. But he still defended his leading man. He said:
This is no criticism of Richard Widmark, who is one of the finest film actors we have and who actually started his stage career playing light comedic parts. It's simply that the public fixes an impression of an actor, they accept him in a certain guise and they don't like him to stray too far from it. Widmark had established himself in serious material and they weren't prepared to accept him in this light, sexy part. The public creates type-casting, not the actors - unfortunately.No, Widmark is the most awful part of this awful film.
Caption: Widmark's talent for comedy?
Fortunately, it wasn't long after I saw this film that I happened to see Miss Day again in a delightful romantic comedy, It Happened to Jane (1959). This film was the perfect tonic for the nausea induced by The Tunnel of Love.
Bosley Crowther, "Tunnel of Love; Widmark, Doris Day Star in Roxy Film," The New York Times (November 22, 1958).
Charles Ray was a popular leading man at Paramount Pictures from 1915 to 1920. He usually portrayed a country bumpkin whose courage and perseverance brought about his success in endeavors as varied as a football game, a Civil War battle, and an automobile race.
In the past, I presumed that Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton's lamb-to-lion stories were largely influenced by Douglas Fairbanks' early films, including The Lamb (1915), Reggie Mixes In (1916), His Picture in the Papers (1916), Wild and Woolly (1917) and The Mollycoddle (1920). But I now see that Ray's films were a big influence as well. Renowned film historian Kevin Brownlow is confident that Lloyd and Keaton were both inspired by Ray's hayseed-to-hero parables. He points to similarities between Ray's The Coward (1915) and Keaton's The General (1926) as well similarities between Ray's The Pinch Hitter (1917) and Lloyd's The Freshman (1925). Let us now look at a few of those similarities.
The plot of The Pinch Hitter will no doubt sound familiar to fans of The Freshman. The film introduces country boy Joel Parker, who has been sent to college at the insistence of his father. At first, he has a hard time adjusting. Here is how film historian Janiss Garza describes his experiences:
[Joel's] immediately pegged as a chump and is constantly victimized by the other students, headed by Jimmie Slater (Jerome Storm). Only Abbie Nettleton (Sylvia Bremer), who works at the campus bakery, has any sympathy for him. Joel does become mascot of the baseball team, but only because Coach Nolan (Louis Durham) believes that such a nincompoop will bring the team luck.The film climaxes with a big game. The game is rough on the players. It is the last of the ninth inning. The player who is next in the lineup to bat has injured his hand, which leaves the coach no choice but to put Joel into the game as a pinch hitter.
The ending is easily guessed - that's right, Joel winds up being thrown into the big game at the last minute, hits a homer, and wins both the game and the girl.Others who see the film now find the ending easily guessed. Rob Edelman, author of "Great Baseball Films: From Right Off the Bat to a League of Their Own," similarly wrote:
[T]he Williamson pitcher injures his hand and is unable to come to bat in the ninth inning. Wouldn't you know that the Williamson bench is depleted? Wouldn't you know that the tying run leads off third base? Wouldn't you know that Parker is ordered to grab a bat? Wouldn't you know that, incredibly, he wallops the game-winning homer? Joel Parker, campus fool, is now Joel Parker, campus hero.Certainly, this premise has become tired in the last hundred years, but audiences did not find the premise tired in 1915. At the time, the sports film was in its infancy and the people who saw The Pinch Hitter in a theatre for the first time became excited when Parker walloped the game-winning homer. The Pinch Hitter was, in fact, a big hit in 1915.
Lloyd followed the plot of The Pinch Hitter closely.
Other students pretend to be friendly to him on his arrival to the school.
A young lady boosts his confidence.
He has a hard time at the team try-outs.
The Pinch Hitter
The film climaxes with a tense big game.
Now, let's compare The Coward and The General.
In The General, Keaton plays train conductor Johnnie Gray. After the first shots of the Civil War are fired, Johnnie hurries to the local enlistment office in Marietta to apply for military service. An officer, who believes Johnnie can better serve the military by continuing as a train conductor, instructs the recruiter to turn down his application. Strangely, the recruiter never bothers to tell Johnnie the reason for his rejection. It is left to Johnnie to assume that he was rejected as he failed to meet the physical standards. Others, including his girlfriend Annabelle, assume that Johnnie was too cowardly to enlist.
The situation in The Coward is far simpler. Here is the way that Variety described it:
The Civil War breaks out and the son is a physical coward, fearing to enlist. The colonel [the young man's father] takes his revolver and literally drives the boy to join the Confederate army. The first night he is a soldier the youth is assigned to picket duty and deserts.Keaton sets up an elaborate situation in which Johnnie is mistakenly assumed to be a coward. Charles Ray's character, Frank Winslow, is an outright coward.
The hero's feeling of disgrace is profound.
Like Johnnie, Frank is mostly upset that he has been diminished in the eyes of his girlfriend.
Frank's father is so embarrassed that he turns over his son's framed portrait.
Annabelle's father, in a more comic gesture, flings Johnnie's portrait across the room.
We never see Johnnie's parents in the film. In contrast, the reaction of Frank's parents is crucial to The Coward.
The two films have a constant stream of similarities.
A romance is at the center of the story.
A key scene involves the leading man visiting an enlistment center.
A troop marches through town.
While hiding under a table, Frank overhears Union officers making battle plans and rushes to the Confederate camp to pass this vital information to a general.
Keaton included the same scene in The General. Our comic hero has ended up under the table after climbing into a window in search of food. He overhears Union officers' plan for a surprise attack and rushes to a Confederate camp to warn of the attack.
But, to be frank, no one is funnier under a table than the caddish Max Linder.
Our hero attacks a Union soldier in the dark of night to steal his uniform.
The story climaxes with a big battle.
The hero's reputation is restored in the end.
Ray returned to the premise of The Coward in later films. The Internet Movie Database provides the following plot description of the Ray vehicle The Sheriff's Son (1919): "Sheriff's son Royal Beaudry is thought a coward, even by the young woman he has his heart set on. But he disproves cowardice when he rescues his father's friend from kidnappers."
Janiss Garza, "The Pinch Hitter (1917)," AllMovie.
The Pinch Hitter (1915) was discussed at length in the last article. The film was significant in the development of the sports film. Baseball-themed films made around the time of The Pinch Hitter usually kept the crucial drama off the field. The ballplayers contended with family issues (One Touch of Nature, 1917), or romantic complications (Baseball's Peerless Leader, 1913), or the threats of criminal gamblers (His Last Game, 1909; Right Off the Bat, 1915; Somewhere in Georgia, 1917; Life's Greatest Game, 1924; and Hit and Run, 1924).
Filmmakers didn't see the footage of a ballgame as being exciting enough to entertain their audience. It was not a view without reason. A baseball game is something live, not pre-recorded. It is something thundering, not silent. It is something that should unfold spontaneously and noisily before our naked eyes. As we will soon discuss, a Lubin filmmaker found it necessary to employ trick photography to make a ballgame look more interesting. Animals were added to the game for their own unique entertainment value. A critic for The Film Daily advised exhibitors of Hit and Run (1924), "Just show them a trailer of the prairie field game with the outfielder chasing the ball on horse." A Motion Picture News critic emphasized that the ballplayer at the center of You Know Me, Al (1915) "has a dog, whose antipathy to umpires is ferocious."
A goal was to find a more glamorous setting for the cast. The climax of Battling Orioles (1924) involves a chase through an exclusive club. George T. Pardy of Exhibitors' Trade Review wrote of Hit and Run (1924), "One of the big situations is that staged in the cabaret, where Swat is attacked by a thug who is paid to break the player's trusty right arm." The Pinch Hitter did much to establish the big game as a sports film's only real big situation.
Also, filmmakers were worried that not everyone liked baseball. Mabel Condon of Motography wrote, "While the story of Little Sunset  has to do with baseball it is not a baseball story, in that, to be understood and enjoy, it is not necessary that the spectators know who, what or why is first base, nor how many strikes put one out. So it is a play for everybody, and one that undoubtedly will find general favor."
This "general favor" principle was applied by a Photoplay critic to Life's Greatest Game. Though he believed that "the baseball atmosphere has its interest," the critic saw that the main selling point of the film was the fact that its story was "[f]ull of hokum melodrama" (a vicious gangster, an ocean liner sinking, a missing son).
It became obvious after awhile that a sizable audience did exist for baseball action. In advising exhibitors about Hit and Run, a critic wrote, "Get your baseball fans interested. Tell them Hoot Gibson makes Babe Ruth look like a bushleaguer."
The baseball dramas of this era were matched by the baseball comedies, which include Baseball and Bloomers (1911), Hearts and Diamonds (1914), National Nuts (1916) and Over the Fence (1917). We will periodically discuss those films through the course of this article.
The earliest known narrative baseball film was a 40-second comedy called Casey at the Bat; or, The Fate of a "Rotten" Umpire (1899, Edison). Rob Edelman, author of "Great Baseball Films: From Right Off the Bat to a League of Their Own," wrote, "The [film] was shot on the lawn of Thomas Edison's estate in West Orange, New Jersey, and opens with a batter swinging wildly at a pitch and striking out. He and the other players and umpires brawl, with a jumble of bodies piling up at home plate." The Edison Catalog went into more detail on the action. Their summary was as follows:
The umpire makes a decision that Casey doesn't like, and an argument follows, during which Casey deftly trips him up, and continues the argument on the ground. The other players run from the bench and join in the rumpus. The fielders come running in and the pile on the home plate looks like a foot ball scrimmage. A solemn warning to all rotten umpires.That's a lot of action for 40 seconds.
The film was essentially remade by Biograph in 1906. Edelman wrote of the 1906 Biograph film Play Ball on the Beach, "[In this] typical early story-oriented baseball film, a bunch of ballplayers become angered at an umpire's call."
Back at Edison, Edwin Porter directed a funny baseball film called How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game (1906). Here is the description of the film provided by Charles Musser in his book "Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company:"
In a small office, the lady stenographer writes a note for the office boy that reads "Dear Teddy: Come home at once. Grandma is dead." The boss accepts the excuse and the office boy has a free afternoon to see the game. The young lady stenographer faints in disbelief when the boss falls for the explanation. The bookkeeper is told to escort her home. Left alone, the broker also decides to take the afternoon off and see the game. The remainder of the film intercuts Teddy on a telephone pole looking through a spyglass with masked point-of-view shots of the game—including a view of the boss discovering the stenographer and bookkeeper in the stands.
Lubin followed up Edison's How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game with How Brown Saw the Baseball Game (1907). Hal Erickson wrote in his excellent book "Baseball in the movies: a comprehensive reference, 1915-1991":
Before heading out to a baseball game at a nearby ballpark, sports fan Mr. Brown drinks several highball cocktails. He arrives at the ballpark to watch the game, but has become so inebriated that the game appears to him in reverse, with the players running the bases backwards and the baseball flying back into the pitcher's hand.The rabid baseball fan was at the center of many films during this era. The Baseball Fan (1908, Essanay) involves the efforts of a Chicago White Sox fan to see a game at Comiskey Park without paying for a ticket. He starts out peeking through a knothole in a fence, but is quickly chased away by a police officer. He then climbs a telegraph pole much like Teddy did in How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1910, Essanay) involves, according to Edelman, "a baseball nut who manages to forget his wife at the ballpark." The Moving Picture World provided a lengthy description of the plot:
Our friend Blink is a baseball bug and a devotee of the sport. One day he finds he will have time in the afternoon to visit the ball park, and from that moment until noon he is in an excited fever, refusing to talk anything but baseball to the business men who call on him. When the clock strikes twelve Blink seizes his hat, slams down his desk and tells his stenographer that he is gone for the day.The disagreement with the conductor gets physical, but it is soon resolved and the couple are driven to the ball park.
Blink hurries home and gets his wife busy with the dinner. She is curious to know why he is in such a hurry and finally, between bites, he tells her he is going to the ball game. Fanny expresses her desire to go also, and insists on her husband waiting for her to dress.
Minutes crawl by like hours to Blink as his wife arrays herself for the game, and when she finally appears, leading Jack, the bull pup, he seizes her by the arm and drags her out of the house. They board a car, but the conductor objects to the dog.
The Moving Picture World continued:
Blink goes to get the tickets. When he comes back with the necessary paper he is in such a hurry and so happily excited as to grab the arm of another woman, a large, fat, colored "mammy," and does not discover his mistake until they are inside.The Moving Picture World assessed the film as follows:
Now he has to buy another ticket, and after he has located Fanny and the dog they hurry into the gate and into the bleachers.
The game is an exciting one, but not for Fanny. She sees nothing in it at all, and finally dozes off to sleep with her head resting on a fat man's shoulder. Jack, the pup, becomes excited or angered at a rather shady decision by the umpire and freeing himself from his chain chases the luckless referee all over the diamond.
The home team wins, of course, which makes Blink so happy that he goes off, forgetting Fanny. He follows the band and the players on their triumphal procession downtown and arrives at his home before he thinks of his missing spouse.
In the meantime Fanny has slept peacefully through the game, and is deserted by her fat man. She is finally the only one left on the bleachers, but is soon awakened by a ball park guard.
She meets Blink halfway home, and there is the usual family row, which ends peacefully, however, at the close of the film.
A lively travesty on the passion for baseball which actuates so many devotees of the sport now. Not always, however, will a man become so excited that he forgets to take his wife home, leaving her on the bleachers to find her way home as best she can. Probably the innovation of having bull pups chase umpires all over the grounds will not become popular, particularly with the luckless umpires, but in this instance it adds another feature of fun to a film already overflowing with it. Then comes the finale, which starts with a family row but ends in peace and happiness at home. Blinks is undoubtedly benefited by his outing, though it must be confessed that his nervous condition borders on collapse at a number of stages in the progress of the story.In Baseball, That's All! 1910, Méliès), yet another office worker lies to his boss to attend a game. Film Index described the opening as follows:
He's a regular "fan" and studies the baseball news as carefully as some people do their Bibles. He comes to breakfast with his dear little wife and finds his morning paper as usual at his plate. "By Jove!" he shouts, as he glances at the news, "a game this afternoon." Then he begins to wax eloquent about the strikes, flies, home runs and base hits, putting his hand in the hominy, knocking the coffee pot from the table and winding up his exposition by pulling the table-cloth off and everything else with it. He has gone the limit and wifey can humor his craze no longer. She swoops down upon him with an umbrella and gets in some "swats" that nearly knock the cover from his dome. He makes a run for the office with a deep laid plan to go to the ball game by pretending he has a toothache. The plan succeeds and he starts for the grounds. Just after he has worked the toothache excuse the boss picks up the newspaper and the first thing he strikes is the baseball announcement. "Ah," says the boss, "it's me for the ball park," and off he goes to see the sport.The clerk gets into a scrap with another baseball fan on his way to the game. He is immediately brought before a judge to answer for the altercation. The judge, also a baseball fan, identifies with the clerk's passion for the game. He releases the clerk and adjourns court to take in the game himself.
At the game, the clerk is too enthusiastic for others around him. Film Index continued:
[H]e is told to sit down, shut up, hire a hall and do several other things. . . [He] loses control of himself, waves his hat, falls over on the judge and his boss, who has not recognized him until now. The old man fires him from his employ and the judge threatens to arrest him.The Baseball Bug (1911, Thanhouser) received a great deal of press attention for featuring four stars of the champion Philadelphia Athletics. A clerk is convinced that he is, according to The Moving Picture World, "a wonder of the baseball diamond." His wife, who is desperate for her husband to stop his nutty obsession with baseball and return his attention to his dull office job, elicits the support of Philadelphia Athletics players to take the conceit out of the man. The New York Dramatic Mirror noted, "A message is faked up from Connie Mack to Percy, telling him that his fame has reached Philadelphia, and that Coombs, Bender, Morgan, and Oldring will visit him to learn pointers on the game. . . [T]he pitchers pitch for him while he tries to show them how to hit. Needless to say, he fans the air until he is sick of baseball, and is a cured man to the joy of his wife."
All in all, hat busted, clothes torn and hair disheveled, the young enthusiast gets home and crawls into bed. Sleep cannot subdue his ardor. In his dreams he raves, roots and rants about the boys at the bat. Not until his wife enters the room and empties a pitcher of water on him does he wake and his fever cool. Then, and not until then, does he reckon the cost of one day's game of baseball. With an aching brow and conscience he vows "never again," falling into the arms of his forgiving wifey.
The Moving Picture News was enthusiastic in their remarks, as you can see:
Bender! Coombs! Morgan! Oldring! They're picture players! Now let the hearts of all fans rejoice, for the four stars of the star Philadelphia Athletics will be with them once more, though the season is over. And it will be a diversion to see them as actors - to see if they face the cameras confidently as they did Mathewson. In advance, let it be said that they did. They enacted their roles at the Thanhouser studio with the precision of veteran photoplayers, and they even played a 'stage' game of ball with all the enthusiasm that they manifested in their battles on the genuine diamond.Baseball, a Grand Old Game, a short comedy produced by Biograph in 1914, is set into motion when a man (described by The Moving Picture World as a "simp") tells his boss that his mother-in-law was killed in a train wreck so that he can spend the day at a ballpark. The Motion Picture News reported, "The many opportunities which the national game has afforded for burlesque, especially of the dyed-in-the-wool baseball crank, are taken advantage of in the picture."
Baseball and Trouble was a short comedy produced by Lubin in 1915. Jack Potts (William W. Cohill) calls in sick to work so that he can see a ballgame. He underestimates his boss' concern and fails to anticipate that the man will visit his home to see how he is doing. Potts' wife (Lila Leslie) has to come up with a plan quickly. She wraps up a tramp in bandages to make him unrecognizable and then has him lie in bed pretending to be her husband. Motography reported, "[She] tells the boss that [he's husband] tried to go the office, but was run over by an automobile." The tramp panics when the boss insists on summoning an ambulance to rush him to the hospital.
In Baseball and Bloomers (1911), the athletes of Miss Street's Seminary for Young Girls set aside their usual exertions in tennis and basketball to organize a baseball club.
The Ball Player and the Bandit (1912) is short drama from Broncho Film Company. Erik Lundegaard wrote of the film:
Harry Burns (Harold Lockwood) is a good pitcher with a university team whose uncle comes into a bad way financially and can no longer send him to school. He suggests Harry go west to find work. . . [He's] trusted enough to pick up the payroll in town. . . Even as she's quickly revealed by Harry, the bandit appears, dressed in black, gun drawn, and grabs the payroll. Then he feels in Harry's pockets to remove him of his guns. Except there are none. He only finds a baseball, which Harry's old coach had just sent to him. Laughing, he drops it and leaves. At which point Harry picks up the baseball and beans the bandit in the back of the head. He and the girl truss him up, bring him back, Harry's the hero.Vitagraph produced a film version of Ernest L. Thayer's classic 1888 poem "Casey at the Bat" in 1913. The Moving Picture World provided an unusually extensive plot description for the brief (ten-minute) film:
The Mudville B.B. Club has one sure winner, Casey [Harry T. Morey], the idol of the fans and the admiration of the ladies. Kitty, a housemaid, and Mary, a cook, can see nothing but Casey. Grady, a mere policeman, is his rival for Kitty's love. Mudville and Hicksville Clubs are to play their final game for the championship. Casey's first hit is a home run. Mudville cheers him to the echo. In the last half of the ninth inning, Mudville is at the bat, two men on bases and two out. "Casey at the bat," shouts the crowd. He takes his place with all the confidence of a hero. With a cheering salute to the Mudville rooters, "Watch me boys!" he strikes out. The game is over, the score is, Hicksville 9, and Mudville, 7. Casey is a fallen idol. He makes a lone sneak to Kitty's home. She has already heard of his overthrow. He peeks through the window as the rain descends in torrents and beholds Grady, his rival, being feted and petted by Kitty and the cook.
John Bunny takes to the field to make a good impression on the wealthy Miss Whipple in the 1914 Vitagraph comedy Hearts and Diamonds.
Billy ("Smiling Billy") Mason starred as a baseball pitcher in a twelve-part series called "Letters from Bugs to Gus," which debuted in 1915 with You Know Me, Al. The series was written by Ring Lardner and produced by World Film Corporation. Motion Picture News reported, "There are real baseball scenes, with real players plus the comedy element, and the quaintness of Ring Lardner's stories is absolutely rendered on the screen." Mason moved to Universal to play essentially the same role in a trio of films: Baseball Bill (1916), Flirting with Marriage (1916) and Baseball Madness (1917). Bill is out of work at the start of the second film. The bulk of the film involves Bill dressing as a woman to get a job as a waitress. Later, he manages to go to a ballgame. The Moving Picture Weekly noted, "The home team is playing badly, and Bill can hardly stand it. The pitcher is being hit all over the lot. . . Bill can stand it no longer. He makes a break for the bench, and is recognized with joy, and rushed into a uniform. He pitches perfect ball and wins the game."
Harold Lloyd heads to the ballpark in Spit-Ball Sadie (1915, Pathé). Internet Movie Database reports, "A young man promises his girl that he will get Spitball Sadie, a renowned female pitcher, for her all-girl baseball team. When he is unable to get Sadie to come, he dresses up as her and takes her place on the team."
Little Sunset was released with much fanfare by Paramount Pictures in 1915. TCM website provided the following description of the film's plot:
Hobart Bosworth plays [The Apaches'] star player Gus Bergstrom, known to fans as "The Terrible Swede." "Little Sunset" is the red-haired, fiery-tempered son of a minor league baseball player named Jones. The boy worships. . . Bergstrom. . . and is overjoyed to learn one day that his father has been signed to the "Terrible Swede's" team. Following the death of Little Sunset's mother, the boy accompanies his father on the road as the team's mascot. He and Gus become great friends, and when Little Sunset falls ill, the "Terrible Swede" plays miserably. At an important game, Gus makes a serious mistake, and the manager angrily upbraids him. Weary of baseball after fifteen years as a player, Gus takes the opportunity to quit the team and return home to tend to his business affairs. Hearing that the team is in trouble, however, he rejoins the Apaches and leads them to a pennant victory. Little Sunset, who had been outraged when Gus deserted the team, finally decides to forgive his pal.The success of Charles Ray's The Pinch Hitter in 1915 is likely to have had an influence on the baseball films that immediately followed it.
DeWolf Hopper Sr., an acclaimed stage actor best known for reciting the "Casey at the Bat" poem for almost four decades in films, on stage, records and radio, starred in a Fine Arts adaptation of Casey at the Bat (1916). Mudville's baseball champ Casey becomes so distracted by the ill health of his niece that he strikes out during an important game. The Moving Picture World said of the film: "[It] gives Mr. Hopper opportunity for one of those humanizing performances which seem to fit him almost as well as he fits them, and that is saying a great deal. . . [E]very movement he makes on the field is filled with that subtlety of performance which only such capable active seem to understand." Motography opined, "It is rather thin material to build a five-reel story on, but here it has been done quite well. There is a lot of baseball in the story and it may consequently be termed a play with the national spirit."
National Nuts (1916) is a Vogue comedy that stars Ben Turpin as a recruit pitcher named Jeff. Motography reported, "Jeff takes his sweetheart, Rena [Rena Rogers], to the ball park and there she becomes interested in [Strikeout] Murphy [Paddy McQuire], the sensational pitcher of the big league, and her love for Jeff wanes." Lord Rawsberry (Arthur Moon), a bogus nobleman, also has an interest in Rena and seeks to bring about Murphy's downfall to end Rena's interest in him. Motion Picture News reported, "In an important game Rawsberry put arsenic on the ball, and Murphy's pitching becomes less and less effective as he uses his famous spit-ball and gets the arsenic in his mouth. Jeff is sent to the mound and by his marvelous benders baffles the opposing batsman." According to Motography, "Jeff exposes the umpire and Rawsberry and Murphy again becomes a hero and later marries Reno, while Jeff becomes a mascot in one of the Bush Leagues."
Motography had reported on the film's production earlier. Their article noted in part:
The comedy was filmed during the opening season of the Coast League and the game was between Los Angeles and Salt Lake. Turpin will be seen as Peerless Frank Chance's greatest twirler. When he appeared on the field eighteen thousand fans wondered, but the next moment it dawned on them that a picture company was at work, and all eyes were focused on Turpin, who, dressed in a suit large enough for a played three times his size, "wound up" and delivered in his own unique expression of baseball comedy.A group of boys are devoted to their team, The Greenpoint Giants, in Shut Out in the 9th (1917, Edison).
Sidney Drew introduces his wife to the joys of baseball in Her First Game (1917, Metro). The film was shot at New York's Polo Grounds.
The star of Somewhere in Georgia (1917) is real-life baseball star Ty Cobb, who starts out in the film as a a humble bank clerk. Because he isn't discouraged in his dream to be a baseball player like The Baseball Bug's clerk, he goes on to become a game-winning baseball slugger. Unfortunately, game-winning baseball players attract the unwanted attention of gamblers. Cobb is kidnapped by gamblers at a pivot point in the story. But the film, maybe influenced by The Pinch Hitter, did have its climax on a ballfield. Internet Movie Database reports, "Breaking loose from his bonds, Cobb beats up each and every one of his captors and shows up at the ballfield just in time to win the game for the home team." Mark Vance of Variety noted, "[T]he usual excitement attends the baseball game in which Cobb caps the climax with his playing and wins the girl in the end. There's a deep-dyed villain and the subsequent denouement at the finale, with Cobb stealing a kiss from his prospective wife behind a baseball glove."
Harold Lloyd returned to baseball in Over the Fence (1917). Lloyd is unable to get into a ballgame with his date, Bebe Daniels, because his romantic rival (Snub Pollard) rummaged through his coat earlier and swiped his tickets. Fritzi Kramer wrote, "Unable to enter through the front, Harold dashes in through the players' entrance and is mistaken for an out-of-town champion player. He is sent out to pitch at once. . . After some comical warmup moves, Harold gets down to business — and he's fabulous!"
Charles Ray starred in a second baseball film, The Busher, in 1919.
Headin' Home (1920) was promoted as the "true story" of baseball great Babe Ruth. The film, which stars Ruth, includes brief footage of legendary slugger playing baseball.
Rob Edelman, "Baseball Film to 1920, Part 1," Our Game (May 22, 2012). https://ourgame.mlblogs.com/baseball-film-to-1920-45a5491e669f
Rob Edelman, "Baseball Film to 1920, Part 3," Our Game (May 24, 2012).
Fritzi Kramer, "Over the Fence (1917) A Silent Film Review," Movies Silently (May 16, 2017). http://moviessilently.com/2017/05/16/over-the-fence-1917-a-silent-film-review/.
Erik Lundegaard, "The Ball Player and the Bandit (1912)." http://eriklundegaard.com/reviews/1912/sports/the-ball-player-and-the-bandit.php.
There is a Santa Claus. I feel the need to reassure you of this fact before I undertake today's terrible task, which could potentially ruin two long-cherished myths of film fans.
First, Sandi Toksvig wanted to make it clear on a recent episode of QI that silent film melodramas did not feature villains tying darling young ladies to railroad tracks. Her specific words were:
That image that we have in our heads of the damsel being tied to the tracks and then rescued by a handsome man never, ever was part of silent movies. It did not exist. There are no known examples of this particular scenario in mainstream silent drama. Only in the comedy spoofs of it.
But, wait, we can swoop in and rescue this film trope damsel from imminent death.
|Helen Holmes in The Death Train (1915).|
Silent films became known for the railroad track scene at an early time. In 1923, Elsie McCormick of Shadowland magazine describes inhabitants of China "prepared to spend a pleasant evening watching beautiful American ladies tied to railroad tracks by dark-browed gentlemen."
Bad guys knock a young woman unconscious and lay her across railroad tracks in Edwin S. Porter's 1905 melodrama The Train Wreckers. Stuart Holmes ties Irene Boyle to railroad tracks in a 1913 Kalem thriller, The Open Switch. Lionel Barrymore ties William Russell to railroad tracks in Biograph's 1914 film version of Under the Gaslight. Florence Gray comes to the rescue when Jim Norton is tied to railroad tracks in Thanhouser's 1914 Million Dollar Mystery serial. Rex Downs ties Helen Holmes to a rail line that spans across a lofty trestle in The Death Train (1915). In The Dynamite Train (1915), Helen Gibson stops a runaway train before it strikes a man who was beaten by criminals and left lying unconscious on the tracks. Helen Holmes unfastens Leo D. Maloney from railroad tracks in A Lass of the Lumberlands (1916). The Moving Picture World described the opening of the eighteenth chapter of Universal's 1918 serial The Bull's Eye ("The Runaway") as follows:
Cody (Eddie Polo), tied to the tracks, struggles at his bonds and as the train reaches him kicks out the board over the culvert and drops down between the ties. The train passes over him, cutting over his bonds.Villainous lady Mae Busch ties Claire Windsor to railroad tracks in Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model (1924). The Film Daily reported, "It wasn't considerate of the Capitol audience to laugh when Claire was tied to the 'L' tracks and the express train came within an inch of decapitating her pretty blonde head. But they seemed to enjoy the thrill of this and other bits, nevertheless." A gang of robbers tie the hero (Lefty Flynn) to railroad tracks in The No-Gun Man (1924). A reviewer with Exhibitors' Herald reassured exhibitors, "He is saved by [a] girl in the nick of time."
|A Lass of the Lumberlands (1916)|
. . . and Teddy at the Throttle (1917).
This is the scene from The Train Wreckers.
Not all examples of this scene have been identified. A director, William F. Haddock, described working on a "railroad story" in which a dummy was tied to a train track. In 1915, Vitagraph star Maurice Costello told Motion Picture News, "I think the worst thirty seconds I ever spent in my life was when I was doing a scene where I was supposed to be tied to a railroad track and just get free in time to escape. Deon [?] was supposed to be the engineer, while the real engineer was hiding in the engine cab. In my pretended struggle to loosen my bonds, I really tangled them, and the director, seeing that something was wrong, called to Deon to stop the engine. He had forgotten how!"
Toksvig declared it a feminist victory that the stage melodramas from which this trope originated featured a woman rescuing a man from railroad tracks rather than a man rescuing a woman. Because, evidently, this proves that women are better than men. . . or something.
The serial queens of silent films were always getting into trouble on trains. Take a look at Helen Holmes in her Hazards of Helen serial.
Here's Holmes again in the 1915 episode "A Test of Courage."
But, for all of her derring-do, she could not avoid getting tied to railroad tracks.
But, as previously noted, men also had a problem in this area. Here is photographic proof.
|Million Dollar Mystery (1914)|
|The Dynamite Train (1915)|
Film historian Lea Stans pointed out in a recent Facebook post that, over the years, writers have greatly exaggerated the frequency of pies being thrown in Mack Sennett's Keystone comedies.
Without question, critics of the period claimed to have seen many pies thrown in Keystone comedies. A writer with The Moving Picture World spoke emphatically of the Keystone comedians'"strenuous custard pie days." Gene Fowler devoted a vague and rambling chapter just to the pie gag in his 1934 Sennett biography "Father Goose." He wrote, "As in golf, a man must keep his eye on the pie. As in baseball, you must play the pie; don't let the pie play you. As in boxing, you must lead with the pie." Fowler thought that the greatest compliment that he could pay to Keystone star Roscoe Arbuckle was to call him "master pie-thrower." The subject of pies often came up in discussion of Keystone leading lady Mabel Normand. Mary Pickford said, "[A]s for dodging Keystone pies, there was no one ever on the screen who could do it more gracefully and with as much poise as Mabel." Sennett said, "A million laughs hung on [Normand's] aim as the custard wobbled in a true curve and splashed with a dull explosion." One journalist wrote, "Anna Luther hasn't missed a thing since she has been with the Keystone Company at Edendale. She says that she is ready at any time to make an affidavit that she has stopped every pie and egg that has come her way — with her face." One critic spoke highly of Charlie Chaplin's The Cure (1917) simply because it did not feature Chaplin throwing a pie. He noted that Chaplin, who is "[usually] the one to do the pie-throwing and other mischievous pranks," changed his ways to be more sympathetic to the audience. We know Chaplin did a lot more than throw pies in the films that preceded The Cure.
Film historians are only aware of the pie gag appearing in the following Keystone films:
That Rag Time Band (May 1, 1913)Sennett authority Brent Walker wrote in "Mack Sennett's Fun Factory,""In truth, the 'pie in the face' itself was relatively a rare occurrence in Keystone and Sennett films, used more frequently in homages to Sennett's work than in the films themselves."
A Noise from the Deep (July 17, 1913)
A Quiet Little Wedding (October 23, 1913)
A Muddy Romance (November 13, 1913)
Fatty Joins the Force (November 24, 1913)
A Fatal Flirtation (May 25, 1914)
His Trysting Place (November 9, 1914)
Gussle's Day of Rest (March 29 1915)
Take a look at this food fight from La disparition d'Onésime (1913).
A wide variety of objects were thrown about in a slapstick comedy. One journalist wrote that they often heard an "audience roar with laughter. . . while viewing a Keystone egg, pie or brick-throwing contest." Peter Milne of Picture-Play Magazine acknowledged that slapstick comedies featured "[t]he hurling of a custard pie, a cream puff, a brick, a dish of ice cream [and] a piece of dough." But most others just expected a simple reference to a pie fight to say everything they had to say about the messy and uninhibited violence in a slapstick film. It was all pretty much the same. In Shoulder Arms (1918), Chaplin handles a wedge of limburger cheese much like a pie when he rears back with it and throws it into the German trenches. The cheese splats no differently than a pie when it strikes a German officer in the face. But, rather than list the cream puff, the ice cream, the dough, etc., it was easier to refer to the most spectacular and most effective comic missile as single representative of all the rest. A writer could simply denounce slapstick by asking, "Is it really funny to drench an old man from a firehose or throw a soft mince pie in a pretty face?" A reference to a pie fight served as useful shorthand for all slapstick business.
These messy battles existed in the British music hall before the first pie fight. The British called this "slosh comedy." But neither food nor slosh is needed in these scenes. This pillow fight from I Love Lucy resembles a pie fight.
In most instances, only one or two pies were thrown in a scene. But we know of several films in which a large number of pies were launched. A Quiet Little Wedding reportedly includes a massive pie fight among wedding guests. Lloyd Hamilton leads a pie free-for-all at a lunch counter in Rushing the Lunch Counter (1915). Chaplin bombards a theatre stage with pies in A Night in the Show (1915). Chaplin and Eric Campbell engage in a merciless pie war at a movie studio in Behind the Screen (1916). Charles Dudley starts a pie fight at a lunch counter in A Job for Life (1917). A group of sunbathers engage in a pie fight on a beach in Surf Scandal (1917).
Chaplin certainly knew how to stage a pie fight.
One last point needs to made on this subject. The trade journal writers did a poor job of logging the incidents of pie battery in their summaries of the Keystone comedies. The information that we have comes, for the most part, from the careful study of museum prints and collector prints. No prints are known to survive for many of the Keystone films. Film historians could never determine how many pie assaults were enacted in those missing films.
Chaplin's actions in Behind the Screen's great pie fight are more than a little similar to Lloyd Hamilton's actions in a grand food fight that was staged months earlier for The Great Detective (1916). Like Chaplin, Hamilton approaches the battle with the attitude of a general carrying out a military campaign. Like Chaplin, he crouches behind an overturned table to remain shielded while he throws food at his opponents. I remember (but could be mistaken) that, like Chaplin, Hamilton uses binoculars to survey the scene. Hamilton's opponents take refuge behind their own overturned table and take swift and decisive action to return fire. Hamilton pushes his table forward to advance on his opponents. His opponents maneuver forward with their own table. The tables are soon moving around the food-strewn room like two tanks on a battlefield.
The trade periodical writers also suggested that it was Keystone that started the "pie in the face" trend in films. The fact is, though, that this gag was firmly established in films before Sennett opened the Keystone studio in 1912.
In the 1909 Méliès comedy A Tumultuous Elopement, a hungry tramp breaks into the Darling home for food. The tramp is leaving with a pie and jug of cider when the homeowner, Mr. Darling, comes upon him and chases after him. The tramp responds by throwing the pie into Mr. Darling's face, which is forceful enough to knock the homeowner off his feet.
Rudolph Dirks and Harold H. Kerr's comic strip brats, The Katzenjammer Kids's Hans and Fritz, brought their usual pranks to a series of comedies produced by Selig. The notoriously mischievous boys demonstrated a fine appreciation of the pie-in-the-face prank in the 1912 comedy They Go Tobogganing. Moving Picture World reported, "The kids greet their father with well-aimed throws of the pies baked for the occasion, and they are rewarded with the usual spanking."
|Edgar Kennedy in Lemon Meringue (1931)|
I provide other examples of early pie mischief and pie violence in my book "The Funny Parts."
The pie-in-the-face gag was passé by 1922. Peter Milne wrote in his 1922 book "Motion Picture Directing: The Fact and Theories of The Newest Art": "[P]ies are seldom used in a comedy studio these days, except in the dining room for purposes of conventional consumption."
|Shivering Shakespeare (1930)|
This article was wholly inspired by Lea Stans' Facebook post. Ms. Stans has been doing great work examining silent films on her Silentology website. Her research skills are exceptional. I thank the great Steve Rydzewski for contributing information on A Tumultuous Elopement and They Go Tobogganing.
"The Screening of a Snake," Film Fun (April, 1916).
"Spit-Reel Notes for Theater Men," Motography (December 23, 1916).
Elsie McCormick, "On the Watermelon Seed Circuit," Shadowland (June, 1923).
Peter Milne, "Sure-Fire Stuff," Picture-Play Magazine (October, 1919).
Phillip Rosenthal, the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, said, "There's no comedy in likeable." He made the point that Basil Fawlty and Louie DePalma weren't likable. He said that the characters in his series Everybody Loves Raymond were not likable He insisted that characters need to be believable to be funny and they can't be believable unless they have flaws.
Fans of Everybody Loves Raymond would disagree heartily with Rosenthal that the series' Barone family was unlikable. The most suitable candidate for Rosenthal's unlikability theory is Marie Barone, played by Doris Roberts. Ken Levine, who directed three episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond, wrote a tribute to Roberts the day after her death. His remarks addressed this likeability issue very well. He wrote:
[T]he truth is, her performance required hard work. To play a character who at times could be the antagonist and yet still be lovable is a major acting feat.Marie is overprotective of her children. In her role as mother, she is nosy, interfering, controlling, manipulative and disparaging. But, when all is said and done, Roberts makes it clear in her performance that Marie acts out of loves for her family. In the end, she wants what's best for them. Of course, her "mother knows best" philosophy has an element of narcissism to it. But does anyone regard her as a great villain?
The key was that she played Marie Barone (and every character) "real." Never an exaggeration, never a "sketch"– you loved Marie because you identified with her. That was your mother. Or your mother-in-law. Or you (although you'd never admit it).
And not only did she avoid playing Marie too broad; she also avoided playing her too soft. Many actors fear being viewed as unlikable so they balk at having to play unsympathetic in any way. Doris went for the truth of the character in all situations, regardless. And you loved her even more for that.
Levine brought up another very flawed character, Cheers' Diane Chambers. He wrote:
I have always contended that without Shelley Long playing [Diane Chambers] the series dies after thirteen weeks. She made a potentially unlikable character funny and adorable and real while still keeping Diane's infuriating qualities. That's not just hard to do. It's next to impossible.So, if we are to believe Levine, the flawed Chambers was adorable, which is even better than likeable. Monica Collins of USA Today called Diane a "snitty, selfish snob." Steve Silverman of Screen Junkies was critical of the character for being "too needy and insecure." The character was definitely flawed yet, at the same time, definitely likable. Here is our conclusion: there's a difference between being flawed and being unlikable. Everyone has flaws, but not everyone is unlikable.
Let us move on next to the anti-hero. The original anti-hero was not a bad guy. He was simply a protagonist that had a quality or qualities that we did not normally associate with a hero. For instance, he might not approach danger with unshakeable courage. But who does? Philip Martin McCaulay touched on this subject in regards to William Wellman's Battleground (1949) in his book "World War II Movies." He noted: "The film is notable for portraying American soldiers as vulnerable and human. While they remain steadfast and courageous, each soldier has at least one moment in the film when he seriously considers running away, schemes to get sent back from the front line, slacks off, or complains about the situation he is in." It is unlikely you will find a war film with a more lovable group of soldiers.
A hero is defined by his great strength, ability and morality. An anti-hero is defined by his flaws. This doesn't mean that the traditional hero doesn't have flaws. Let's take as an example Hercules. Few heroes in film and literature possess the unwavering valor and wisdom of Hercules, but even this muscle-bound half human/half god has his share of flaws. To start, he is severely vain. This is from the website BookRags:
Hercules thinks of himself as equal with the gods. He also thinks that he can beat anything that he fights. Hercules even opposes and challenges the gods. . . Hercules is more than ready to fight Apollo, and Zeus has to intervene.Second, Hercules is prone to violent outbursts. As a boy, he becomes frustrated with his music teacher and beats the man to death with a lyre. When a priestess refuses to provide her services to him, he flies into a rage and tears apart her temple. The Goddess Hera exploits Hercules' rage by crafting an illusion that makes the warrior believe his wife and two sons are actually family members of his enemy Eurystheus. Hercules is quickly stirred to violence, managing to slay his wife and children with arrows before the illusion can be exposed.
Third, Hercules was a drunk. Josho Brouwers, a Mediterranean archaeologist, wrote, "Statues depicting a drunken Hercules urinating were fairly common in the Roman period and are, unsurprisingly, referred to as Hercules mingens (‘Hercules pees')."
I recently came across a Facebook thread in which people were asked the following question:
How important is it to you that the films or tv shows you watch have likable characters?Many people said that it is more important that a character be interesting and relatable than be likable. But don't you like a character with whom you can relate? Early on, people listed Sam Spade and Vito Corleone as examples of unlikable characters that have served as effective protagonists. Film historian Jordan Young wrote, "As Elisha Cook said to me about THE MALTESE FALCON, 'Everyone was a shitheel in it. There wasn't one decent person in the whole picture, and look what a film it was.'" But I have to disagree with Mr. Cook. Most fans of The Maltese Falcon and The Godfather would disagree that either of the films' protagonists, Spade or Corleone, was unlikable. Spade is shrewd, tough, and has a strong sense of duty. He is focused on finding out who killed his partner and, in the end, denies his own personal feelings for a woman to expose her as the killer. He is forlorn as he turns her over to the police. Corleone is a dedicated family man who inspires intense love and devotion from his wife and children.
Rosenthal mentioned Louie DePalma from the 1978-1982 television series Taxi. Taxi didn't need for Louie to be sympathetic as the series had many other characters to engage the audience's sympathy. Louie, as the mean boss, normally served as a prime antagonist to the other characters. The few times that an episode focused on Louie, the character was made sympathetic. Watch "High School Reunion,""Louie and the Nice Girl,""Louie Meets the Folks," "Louie's Mother," "Louie's Revenge,""Zena's Honeymoon" and "Louie and The Blind Girl." Now tell me if you think Louie is unlikable. Louie was presented at his worst in "Louie Goes Too Far," but even in this episode the character elicits sympathy.
Louie is often struggling to be a better person. On occasion, he looks for advice from veteran driver Alex Reiger, who he regards as a moral person. What more can be asked of a man if he's trying as hard as he might to be decent? This issue is addressed in a first season episode called "Louie Sees The Light."
The series did have a double standard in that the characters winced when Louie made a sexually suggestive remark, but those same characters were amused when Jeff Conaway's charming and handsome Bobby Wheeler made a sexually suggestive remark. Was it really Louie's looks that made him bad?
Levine said that it was hard to write for the character Fay on Wings. He wrote, "The actress, Rebecca Schull was wonderful, but the character of Fay was so 'nice.' It's always harder to write characters who were basically 'good.' Daphne on FRASIER was difficult at times and Father Mulcahy on MASH was often a challenge." Levine made a point to put the words "nice" and "good" in quotes because, presumably, he regards the notion of "nice" and "good" to be unbelievable. It is only a person of perfectly favorable character who earns these designations and, to those with a cynical view of mankind, no person of that sort exists in the real world. Levine believes, like Rosenthal, that real people are always in some way flawed. While it could be vigorously debated whether nice and good people exist, most people would agree that a flawed person makes a more interesting character in a story.
The line between flawed and evil has gotten thinner and thinner in the last twenty years. For now, people still, for the most part, want the main character in a story to be likable. Levine wrote, "[I]t's important that you care about characters for a show to work. If you don't give a shit what happens to them you're not going to invest your time." But, then, why is interest occasionally drawn to an unlikable protagonist? Levine's answer is simple: "Because they're interesting." Flawed people are interesting, as we have said, but people with big, serious flaws are a different category of interesting. They're interesting in bold, caps or italics.
Evil characters create drama and suspense. They stir up the pot. They surprise us. They make choices that we wouldn't make. They say things we'd like to say. They cut through the bullshit (or create their over own). Their worldview is different. It's fun to watch them operate. Sometimes you actually root for them, and other times you can't wait for them to get theirs. And on certain rare occasions you do both. Seriously, who holds your interest more – Anna from DOWNTON ABBEY or Claire from HOUSE OF CARDS?The problem is that the fictional characters are inspirational. Virtuous characters make us more virtuous by their example. Rotten characters, especially when those characters dominate the media, are bound to make us more rotten.
In 1931, censors were critical of The Public Enemy for making its lead character Tom, a violent gangster, sympathetic and at times admirable. But obviously the disclaimer issued to satisfy the censors did not influence young viewers as much as the action in the film.
Al Capone, the most infamous of gang bosses, understood this. He said, "[T]hese gang movies are making a lot of kids want to be tough guys. . ."
What had the filmmakers done to make audiences respond so favorably to this character?
First, the filmmakers introduce Tom as a child. We feel protective of a child. We do not expect a child to act morally at all times because he might not yet know better. That protectiveness, once established, carries on through the remainder of the story.
Tom's parents are unable to instill proper values into their stubborn, feisty son to stop him from heading down the wrong path. We are shown his police officer dad (Purnell Pratt) whipping the boy with a leather razor strop. The father's motives may be good, but seeing this violence inflicted on a child only makes viewers feel more sympathetic of Tom.
The father's discipline fails. A Filmsite writer noted: "[B]oth boys [Tom and his best friend Matt] turn to petty thievery and shoplifting to escape the drudgery of lower class life. . . They fence stolen items (watches) at a so-called boys' club, the Red Oaks Club (a glorified pool hall) through sinister, Fagin-like, piano-playing "Putty-Nose" (Murray Kinnell) - their mentor in the ways of crime."
Second, cast a charismatic actor in the role. You don't get any more charismatic than Jimmy Cagney.
Cagney said in 1986:
The Public Enemy was the film that really launched my career. I played a mean, mixed-up hood, a tough kid who tried to throw his weight around and ended up dead. It was a good part. I don't think I took anything away from it. . . It was one of the first of many chances I had to portray that kind of person, the fist-swinging gangster who becomes ruthless in order to succeed. There were many tough guys to play in the scripts that Warner kept assigning me. Each of my subsequent roles in the hoodlum genre offered me the opportunity to inject something new, which I always tried to do. One could be funny, and the next one flat. A few roles among them were mean, and others were meaner. A few roles among them were actually sympathetic and kind-hearted, and I preferred them, but I generally did not get to do many of those parts until much later in my career, for the public seemed to prefer me as a bad guy. . . I don't understand why the public never tired of those awful hoodlums.
Third, surround the character with people we can care about. We care about Tom's doting mother, his brother Mike, and his best friend's sister Molly. These are a good people who see something good in Tom and believe he can find redemption. We can believe in Tom because these good people believe in Tom.
A problem is that Tom kills a police officer early in the film. There's no coming back from cold-blooded murder.
It would be wrong to turn a blind eye towards this terrible event in the story. It is generally accepted that Tom has to be punished in the end.
Hollywood is not as careful today in depiction of gangsters as it once was. A society is rotten when people can do better job quoting Scarface's Tony Montana than quoting Jesus Christ. Here are a few of Montana most popular quotes:
"In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women."Mr. Montana is right about one thing. Hollywood pretends to be pointing a finger at the bad guys and exposing their evil ways. But it really likes them and conflates their audience with them. It tells us that we are just as bad as these people and we shouldn't bother to deny it. It makes the bad guys our role models. It makes the bad guys our teachers. Montana is very persuasive when he tells us that our world is "a great big pussy just waiting to get fucked." Hollywood is the home to many people who think like that. Tony Montana is an evangelist for the film industry's cynics and hedonists, who warmly embrace the druglord's immoral philosophy.
"I always tell the truth. Even when I lie."
"I'm Tony Montana! You fuck with me, you fuckin' with the best!"
"The only thing in this world that gives orders is balls."
"Every day above ground is a good day."
"You a communist? Huh? How'd you like it, man? They tell you all the time what to do, what to think, what to feel. Do you wanna be like a sheep? Like all those other people? Baah! Baah!"
"I never fucked anybody over in my life didn't have it coming to them. You got that? All I have in this world is my balls and my word and I don't break them for no one. Do you understand? That piece of shit up there, I never liked him, I never trusted him. For all I know he had me set up and had my friend Angel Fernandez killed. But that's history. I'm here, he's not. Do you wanna go on with me, you say it. You don't, then you make a move."
"You wanna waste my time? Okay. I call my lawyer. He's the best lawyer in Miami. He's such a good lawyer, that by tomorrow morning, you gonna be working in Alaska. So dress warm."
"You got nothing to do with your life, man. Why don't you get a job? Do something, be a nurse. Work with blind kids, lepers, that kind of thing. Anything beats you waiting around all day, waiting for me to fuck you, I'll tell you that."
"You think you can take me? You need a fucking army if you gonna take me!"
"I didn't come to the United States to break my fucking back."
"You know what capitalism is? Getting fucked!"
"This is paradise, I'm tellin' ya. This town like a great big pussy just waiting to get fucked."
"What you lookin' at? You all a bunch of fuckin' assholes. You know why? You don't have the guts to be what you wanna be? You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin' fingers and say, "That's the bad guy." So… what that make you? Good? You're not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don't have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There's a bad guy comin' through! Better get outta his way!"
Today, we need more good people in our stories if we hope to be better people. We need to sort out the good and the bad in our fiction as a way to distinguish the two and this could benefit us in chosing between good and evil in our real life. We need to like characters in a story if we are to like others and like ourselves.
"Hercules' Personality," BookRags (2018).
Josho Brouwers, "Hercules the drunk," Ancient History (May 14, 2015). https://www.karwansaraypublishers.com/ahblog/hercules-the-drunk/
Monica Collins, "Three `Cheers'! It's Diane's last call," USA Today (May 8, 1987).
Lloyd Kramer (director). (2011). "The Misfit." Lloyd Kramer (executive producer), America in Primetime. New York, NY: PBS.
Ken Levine. "RIP Doris Roberts," . . . by Ken Levine (April 19, 2016).
Philip Martin McCaulay, "World War II Movies," Lulu, 2010 (North Carolina: Raleigh).
Gregory Speck, "Public Enemy turned patriotic icon: James Cagney on his legacy in film," Interview Magazine (May 5, 2018).