Today is the birthday of director Norman Taurog (1899-1981). This may tee some people off, but based on what I’ve seen — and I’ve seen a lot of Norman Taurog movies — I’m astounded that anyone would ever have anything good to say about him.
Granted, most of what I know of him come from the beginning and the end of his career. His silent comedies of the 20s with the likes of Larry Semon and Lloyd Hamilton strike me as near complete gobbledy-gook, just strings of gags (most more outrageous than funny) with almost no attention paid to story or character. His last two decades are distinguished by 8 boring films with Martin & Lewis (and Lewis solo), 9 awful films with Elvis Presley, and the film that gets my vote for the worst comedy ever made (certainly the most irritating) Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965). Of the years in between? Strike Me Pink (1936) strikes ME as one of Eddie Cantor’s weaker vehicles. I saw Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1934) years ago but I dont remember much about it.
Now: it just may be I simply haven’t seen his good stuff. He won the 1931 best director Oscar for Skippy. He was nominated for his 1938 film Boys Town. I’m interested in seeing the former but haven’t been able to get my hands on it. The latter sounds like a whopping bore! In fact, I have a strong suspicion that I’ve already seen it and it didn’t stick to my ribs. And there’s other stuff in his body of work, mostly from the 30s, that I’d love to check out: early talkies with Benny Rubin, Clark & McCullough, and Willy, West & McGinty; adaptations of Tom Sawyer and Hucklberry Finn; and George M. Cohan’s only feature film The Phantom President (1932). And some musicals that I’m mildly curious about.
But, really, I think I’m being really big about this. I have seen literally dozens of this man’s films, ranging from the wrongheaded to the soporific to the incompetent. How good can these other ones be?
For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.