RSS
 

Archive for the ‘Slapstick Comedy’ Category

Seven Chances, The Balloonatic, Neighbors

12 Oct

Seven Chances, The Balloonatic, Neighbors – directed by Buster Keaton. Color and Black And White, 1920 and before.

★★★★★

The Story: A young man will inherit seven million dollars if he gets married by 7 that day.

~

Do you want to owe a debt of gratitude? Do you want to thank God on your deathbed that you used your time well, in one respect at least? Do you want to be the happiest you’ve ever been at a movie?

Buster Keaton is Circle du Soleil all rolled up into one. He was, he remains, the greatest humorist ever to appear in motion pictures. He is the paramount physical comedian to have appeared before the public. He is the muscularly strongest person ever to have acted before cameras.

You will see feats that will astonish you. You will not be able to believe your eyes. You will certainly not believe that one person could do all this without stand-ins, stunt men, or special effects. You will laugh yourself sane.

Keaton understood the wit inherent in the two-dimensionality of film, how what comes on from the left goes off from the right, and in between these two events takes place farce. The going, the action, the leaving constitute farce. The thousand deaths of farce are hilarious. For the flatness is death. And it deserves and wins our triumphant laughter at his triumphs.

We face the flat surface of the screen. This is a comedy which is funny because it reflects that part of life which is without dimension. This is comedy without depth. That is its depth. You do not reach into it. It reaches out at you at all times. If you want depth, wait, at some point or other you will see into Buster Keaton’s eyes.

Here he must run around and find a bride before dark. He asks seven. Then seven hundred ask him. What more does one need to tell of such a merriment?

Attached to this full length film are two two-reelers, The Balloonatic in which he goes up on the top of one. And Neighbors all shot on two sides of a tenement backyard fence that splits the screen.

And who will benefit from your watching these gems? Your entire family will. You will. You will be happy and you will die happy for having been so. And I?

It is to me you will owe the debt of gratitude, along with Buster Keaton, for having participated in your dying of laughter.

 

A Dirty Shame

16 Nov

A Dirty Shame – directed by John Waters. Farce. The prudes against the profligates in a war of the sexing. 89 minutes. Color 2004.

★★

And so it is!

For if you are not, as I am not, familiar with the works of John Waters on film (I much admire his writings and his interviews), you would have to scratch your head in dumb wonderment as to how this galumfrey might have issued from his rare mind.

What it looks like is a beautifully paced picture with no consistency of style, which is all right, but its also shows no consistency in the quality of the performing of it.

The main thrust is camp. Or supposed camp – camp being the mockery of emotion by the person to whom it is at that moment happening. Chris Isaak as the priapan Pan does well with the style, as do Selma Blair and Johnny Knoxville.

However, Susan Shepherd and Mink Stole, as raging, raving puritans, play in a vein of positive realism, and are a little bit better at it than are the others are at camp – camp, which takes the physical finesse of a Betty Grable. So that’s two styles.

The third style is that of Tracey Ullman, who is the focal figure of this farce, but who seems to be playing in the vein of silent film gesticulation. She throws herself around. She is never as a loss for a grimace. At this she is not very good. She never seems lodged in either her prude or her profligate. She mugs like a chimpanzee but, oh, I wish she were as funny as a chimpanzee. It’s a case of an actor dancing Swan Lake on one roller skate. It’s too outlandish at bottom to be enjoyable. Your sense of humor is swallowed by your pity for the performer and terror at her failing of invention.

We do have in this piece a custard pie in the face for SAA and other sexual recovery groups. We do have everyone in town running around screwing, but no sense that anyone actually does screw. It is as though the entire film, in its desire to deride and overthrow priggishness, is more sexually repressed than the icecap. To laugh at sex addiction as a treatable condition is, after all, a sacrilege against the robust sexual health 12 Step Sexual Recovery Programs strive for.

One senses a certain monkishness in the director, no?

For the corollary of sex for everyone is sex for no one. Sex meaning in these frames the same as going to the bathroom in any toilet you find. As though sexual need were impartial. If it is, it is therefore zero.

 

 

Red Skelton: America’s Clown Prince

17 Feb

Red Skelton: American’s Clown Prince. TV Shows. Low Comedy. 5 hours Black and White 1961.
★★★★★
I would see that cheese-eating smile, surrounded by the destructive exclamation marks of his sycophantic dimples, I would see his sappy visage of a deranged choirboy, his body swaying constantly as though he needed to go to the bathroom, I would see that fidgeting left hand of his extended at the wrist like a male ballet dancer making a running exit – and I would make a running exit.

He repelled me.

He revolted me.

For I was never taken by the sort of comedian so popular in America of which he was a type: the schlemiel. Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope, Lou Costello, Danny Kaye – I was drawn to them only insofar as they evinced quick wit. But as dummies, they bored me. I was pitiless.

So I never saw Red Skelton. He made a movie with Fred Astaire, but I didn’t pay any attention to him. I found him profoundly unfunny, grating even, a suck-up.

Since I am sometimes interested in challenging my biases, I took this out of the library, and immediately rolled on the floor laughing. For me, now, he is a very funny man. I was mistaken. No, not mistaken about his cheese-eating persona, but about walking away so soon all those years ago. Once he goes into his act, he is titanic.

I never saw him on Television, and these are 10 shows from his TV shows. I don’t know which volume I have here, for there are many and they are not properly numbered, but it is the one with the show in which he, as Freddie The Freeloader and Ed Wynn, adopt a squalling baby. Even funnier is a skit with Jane Russell as a dance-hall hostess-cum-Belle Starr. And funnier still is the one with Marilyn Maxwell where he simply sits on a soldering iron, and we watch his face screw into madnesses of agony.

For as a performer he has a genius with props. And he has a genius with witty sets, grace á the imaginations of his designers. He is a good mime. And his characters work well because they are greedy, mean, overbearing, dumb, and in all ways drolly human.

Red Skelton is a tonic. I love low humor. Sometimes. And sometimes I have to question those “sometimes” and go back and check them out. As here. Thanks, Red Skelton. Sorry. And welcome.

 
Comments Off on Red Skelton: America’s Clown Prince

Posted in Ed Wynn, Jane Russell, Low Comedy, Marilyn Maxwell, Red Skelton, Slapstick Comedy, TV COMEDY SERIES

 

Twentieth Century

06 Nov

Twentieth Century — Directed by Howard Hawks. Slapstick Screwball Comedy. A theatre director divo spellbinds an actress until she can take no more. 91 minutes Black and White 1934.

* * *

Certain qualities can make an actor popular and even lovable, without their ever being a good actor. Such certainly was the case with Gary Cooper, and such was also the case with Carole Lombard. She was pretty, she had a good figure, and she was spirited, but it is only the last of these qualities which cinched her stardom. Watching her playing Lily Garland, the “discovery” of the manic Broadway Director Oscar Jaffe (based on Jed Harris and others), the most obvious defect of her technique is vocal. Even in repose, she always seems to be screaming, always in her upper passagio. She was Howard Hawks’ first discovery as the Hawksian woman who could stand up to men and compete in their world. He would find it later in Ann Sheridan, Rosalind Russell, and Lauren Bacall – but all of them had low, well-placed voices, and if they had not he would send them into a back room for a couple of weeks and train them to replace them with lower ones, but  Hawks hadn’t gotten around to it yet with Lombard. As it is, Lombard’s inability to modulate her voice and her spirit ends up being almost as annoying as John Barrymore’s inability to modulate his own performance into making at least a few local stops into reality. (Carole Lombard’s recently divorced husband, William, Powell, would have been better in the part.) For is Barrymore a ham playing a ham, or is he an actor playing a ham, or is he an actor who has become a ham playing a ham? If you have to ask the question, you already know the answer. Barrymore also had one of those badly placed voices, a high grating tenor. And the film is such a mélange of frenzy in the dog-and-cat fight of its episodes, that it becomes monotonous in its yowling and in its pace that breaks the neck of any audience. Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht wrote it from a hit play of their own, and there are lots of funny lines. Most them are delivered by Roscoe Karns as the drunken press agent. (These were the days when alcoholism was considered droll.) And the movie is worth seeing just to witness the wit style of the era of which Macarthur and Hecht were the masters. But the film as whole I found trying. It feels labored and forced. It demonstrates a complete failure of directorial tone. The famed cameraman Joe August shot it, and I think not well, especially in the theatre scenes, all of which were taken first in the shoot. As per Hawks films, there are almost no close-ups, so that when Lombard appears in one it’s a stylistic shock. If you want to see if Barrymore could act, don’t listen to his Hamlet, see Don Juan or see William Wyler’s Counselor At Law of the year before. And if you want Lombard at her best, see her in the last film she made, Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not Be. Twentieth Century started her off in Screwball Comedy. It was not a successful film at the time. It still isn’t.

 

 

Suds

21 Sep

Suds – Directed by John Francis Dillon. Comic Melodrama. A scrubgirl rides a magic horse to true love and salvation. 65 minutes Black And White Silent 1920.

* * *

Pickford’s Amanda Afflick is a reprise of a character from Stella Maris, but without the deformed shoulder. The face is a grimace, the mouth flattened, the eyebrows thickened. You would not recognize her as Amanda until the princess scenes, where she appears as the Mary Pickford we know. The real difference, however, is in the interior of the Stella Maris character which is another person entirely from Stella Maris herself. Here, in Suds, the actress instead gives herself over to large gestures and cartoon faces, even broader in the princess scenes, which is strange because Pickford was renowned for inventing screen acting as we know it today, a craft of interior and subtle registration. She also miscalculates the performance by crying, weeping, bawling, wailing at every slight and abuse. She leaves no room for us to participate in her situation. (See Judy Garland make the same mistake in A Star Is Born.) What does work is her execution of the physical comedy, which is imaginative and robust. The Extras include the three endings the film had, and a documentary on Pickford’s immense film career.

[ad#300×250]

 

 

 

 

 

Go West! & The Big Store

30 Mar

Go West & The Big Store – directed by Edward Buzzell/Charles Riesner. Slapstick Comedy. The Marx Brothers go West, and then wreak havoc in a department store. 1940 black and white.

* * * * *

Jolly good entertainment. The Marx brothers gad about in their usual madcap fashion and it is a treat to watch them. They are a tonic. We have the beauteous Virginia Grey in one with Tony Martin and the robust John Carroll, who certainly can sing and jump off horses on the other. Margaret Dumont is missing from Go West, but that is because there is no society element in corrals, is there? Otherwise The Big Store gives her full play, all hail to her!

[ad#300×250]

 

The Twelve Chairs

15 Mar

The Twelve Chairs — Directed by Mel Brooks —— Slapstick Comedy. The jewels of a Russian duchess sewn into the seat of one of twelve dining room chairs are the focus of a madcap treasure hunt. 93 minutes Color 1970.

* * * * *

Frank Langella comes before us fully equipped as that rare creature, a classic romantic actor. Which means he has a big, beautiful voice, is gorgeous, and has the speed, economy, and inner-power-to-spare for the big gesture. The instrument both physically and internally is dark velvet moved by the breeze of circumstance. Here he is young, 32, and quite at home in himself. He seems to know what he is and is not fooled by it. Other actors looking at him, or any audience for that matter, might sense that the parts he plays when young do not either inspire or require his full power, and that he is never operating to the limit of his capacity. But that was not so important as that, still, we know we are getting our money’s worth; he was easily sufficient. The older he has gotten the better he has gotten. The more he has lost his rich thick, glossy black hair the closer he has come to the great actor inherent in him. I remember seeing him at Williamstown in the summer with Blythe Danner and Mildred Dunnock in Anouilh’s Ring Around The Moon, and thinking, “That young man has a great ass; I wonder if he will ever get beyond the prerogatives it grants him.” He has. It would be interesting to see him perform now the great roles in Sophocles or Euripides. Why he has, to my knowledge, never done Oedipus, gives me hope that one day I shall see him play it. Or Coriolanus. Here, as the Russian mountebank, he is delightful, fluid, kind, direct, and smart. And quite impenitent about everything that must be done to secure the fortune. Mel Brooks is hilarious as the peasant servant and Dom DeLuise is amazingly and admirably entertaining as the priest also after the jewels. Ron Moody fares less well because the role wants variety. He is always Drooling Greed. That’s the way it’s written and that’s also the way it’s directed. It’s a part Brooks must have written for himself, so it offers nothing for us to revel in but but the idea that consistent vulgarity of imagination is funny.  The other actors have more scope offered to them, and they seize it, and play it out with silent film frenzy and panache. It makes me want to see all of Brooks’ films. After Blazing Saddles I wanted to see none of them. After Young Frankenstein I wanted to see all of them. Now I shall.

[ad#300×250]

 

Auntie Mame

08 Mar

Auntie Mame.  Directed by Morton Da Costa — Low Comedy — A rich bohemian woman with a flair for life takes in her orphaned nephew. 143 minutes Color 1958.

* * * *

Oh dear. This was much funnier on the stage, wasn’t it? What it gave us was the generosity of spirit of its star Rosalind Russell. She is so full of fun that she is oblivious of the mess around her, and this is part of her fun. The film however, destroys much of this with the vulgarization of its setting. Beekman Place never looked like this; it still doesn’t. But worse still, the script has been tortured into being cruel to the objects of its derision — and this does not work one bit. Her bigoted, class-conscious, to-be in-laws are put through physical torment with mechanical furniture that humiliates them, and that is no more funny than a thumbscrew. Coral Browne is excellent as Mame’s actress friend, and Peggy Cass repeats her stage role as Gooch, the unwary secretary who is taken in by a fraudulent Welsh writer. However, despite all this, the film is still a super vehicle for Rosalind Russell. We get to see her fantastic timing, her droll eyes, her multifarious takes, her way with a cigarette holder, her drive, her wonderful face always ready to break into a naughty merry smile, her comic haughtiness, and the fabulous velocity of her delivery, her quickness of wit, the lightness of her touch, and her forgiving spirit. These are great artistic qualities for a comedienne or a human. And here we have them in banquet array. Don’t starve yourself. Dig in.

[ad#300×250]

 
 
Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button