Archive for November, 2014

W.C. Fields in “It’s a Gift”

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , on November 30, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the W.C. Fields comedy It’s a Gift (1934), which is today one of the best known and loved films from Fields’s Paramount period. Based on several stage sketches from Field’s Broadway years (strung together into a slim modicum of a plot), the film casts him as Harold Bissonette, a long-suffering husband, father and grocer who decides to pull up stakes and start a California orange grove. Many of the film’s most famous scenes revolve around the theme of Fields the Martyr. In one, he (unsuccessfully) tries to prevent the blind man Mr. Muckle (Charles Sellon) from destroying his shop. In another he tries to sleep on his back porch and is constantly being awakened and interrupted,a bit he’d also used in the silent It’s the Old Army Game. Of course Baby Leroy is present to add to his torture, as is Kathleen Howard, playing one of a long line of Fields’s shrewish wives. Norman McLeod directed.

Here it is, a comedy scene I’ve loved since I was a teenager:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see 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

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To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Harold Lloyd in “Captain Kidd’s Kids”

Posted in Comedy, Harold Lloyd, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on November 30, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Harold Lloyd comedy Captain Kidd’s Kids (1919).

Around this period, many of Lloyd’s films seem very much influenced by Douglas Fairbanks, and this one is a good example. In this one, Harold plays a young man who wakes up hungover from the wild bachelor party (his own) the night before. His butler (Snub Pollard) locates him sleeping in a bureau drawer and attempts to wake Haolrd with an alarm clock, which Harold keeps mistaking for a phone. After several more sordid mishaps, his mother-in-law-to-be (Helen Gilmore) calls off the wedding and decides to take her daughter (Bebe Danielson a cruise to the Canary Islands.

Harold and Snub get on the same ship. Harold falls asleep on deck and wakens to learn that the ship has been taken over by pirates. Later, an all-girl pirate ship arrives and rescues Harold and Snub only to force them to work in the galley. (Look for future Lloyd director Fred Newmeyer as the cook Ah Ling). Of course, in the end, it all proves to have been a dream — the fact that Harold went to sleep was the tip-off. That’s always the tip-off!

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see 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

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To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Century of Slapstick #58: Leading Lizzie Astray

Posted in Century of Slapstick, Comedy, Fatty Arbuckle, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on November 30, 2014 by travsd

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Today marks the 100th anniversary of the release date of the Keystone comedy Leading Lizzie Astray.

Minta Durfee plays the titular Lizzie, a farmer’s daughter. Roscoe “Fatty Arbuckle” (her real life husband, who also directed) is her sweetheart, a hand on her father’s farm. Into their life rides trouble in the form of a rich city slicker (Ed Brady). He and his chauffeur (Edgar Kennedy) are driving past the farm when they get a flat tire. As Kennedy changes it, the city slicker flirts with the girl. Fatty too becomes occupied with the car, bringing his superhuman strength to bear, lifting the car so the chauffeur can take off the old tire, and blowing up the tire with his own breath. (Fatty exhibited this comical trait in several films. He should have done a lot more of it, it would have helped define his screen character),

Later, Lizzie sneaks away with city the slicker. He brings her to a café, where everything is fast and little bit scary. (Among the patrons at this unruly establishment are Mack Swain,Phyllis Allen, Al St. John, and Charles Parrott, i.e. Charly Chase as a cowboy).  Lizzie doesn’t like it here and wants to leave bar, but the guy wont let her. Meanwhile Fatty, much saddened by Lizzie’s departure has been in pursuit. Recognizing the car parked out front, he enters, beats everyone up, throws several of them through a wayy, and then throws the piano, just for good measure. He is reunited with Lizzie. They kiss.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see 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

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To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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W.C. Fields in “The Bank Dick”

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , on November 29, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of  W.C. Fields‘ second-to-last starring film from his brilliant late period at Universal: The Bank Dick (1940), directed by Eddie Cline.

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Fields as Egbert Sousé (accent grave over the E) does his damnedest to stall bank examiner Mr. Snoopington (Franklin Pangborn)

One of Fields’ most subversive and hilarious films (undoubtedly because he was old and sick and no longer gave a damn) Fields lays into small town hypocrisies and even (as he would do with even more force in his last film Never Give a Sucker an Even Break) Hollywood itself. Fields gets away with murder in this film, naming his favorite watering hole The Black Pussy, and telling young Og Ogilvy (Grady Sutton) that his name “Sounds like a bubble in a bathtub” — what can he be referring to but a fart? Somehow this stuff got past the censors, as did Fields’ much more dangerous example as a human being — getting the bank examiner (hilariously played by Franklin Pangborn) drunk so he won’t notice the money Fields (the bank’s security guard) embezzled so that he can invest in the Beefsteak Mines. The terrific ensemble includes Shemp Howard (who really sacrificed a decent solo career when he stepped in to bail out the Stooges–see here), Jack Norton and Una Merkel, among many others. A couple of nods to Mack Sennett here too.

Here’s one of my favorite recurring gags from the film, indeed, one of my favorite gags of all time, the “hearty handclasp”:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see 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

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To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Laurel and Hardy in “Another Fine Mess”

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Laurel and Hardy, Movies with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release of the Laurel and Hardy comedy Another Fine Mess (1930), directed by James Parrott. The film is essentially a sound remake of the team’s earlier silent short Duck Soup.  In this version, the pair (wanted for vagrancy) escape from cops and fortuitously jump into mansion just as the people who live there are leaving (the owner, Jimmy Finlayson is going on an extended trip on safari.) Hardy masquerades as the the owner of the house and Laurel, as both the butler and the maid. They are forced into this subterfuge when visitors arrive to rent the house themselves. In the end, Finlayson return, they get found out and escape on a tandem bicycle covered in a bearskin, one of the more memorable images in all their films.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see 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

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Forgotten Shows of My Nonage #86: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Posted in Comedy, Forgotten Shows of My Nonage, Sit Coms, Television, Women with tags , , on November 28, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of television and film actress Hope Lange (1933-2003). Already I hear you saying, “Good God, man, have you gone insane? How does television and film actress Hope Lange rate a post on this excellent blog?!” Well, first she already has. She was in the Elvis movie Wild in the Country, which we blogged about here.  Plus, her father was Flo Ziegfeld’s musical director! But secondly. as the title indicates, she starred in the short-lived tv sit-com, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1968-1970).

The show was based on the eponymous 1947 film which had starred Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison and was in turn based on a 1945 novel by R.A. Dick. The show is interesting in being a sort gender reversal of the usual magic fantasy formula we associate with Bewitched, I Dream of Jeanie and Nanny and the Professor. Much like Doris Day in her sit-com (which launched the same year) Lange played a widow and mother…only this one is haunted by a 19th century Maine sea captain (Edward Mulhare). As in the other magical shows, there is some romantic tension of a sort, with the family-friendly time-space barrier preventing any consummation…at least in this world. To properly update this series I’m afraid the producers of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir would have to go here. 

But they didn’t. And despite two Emmy awards for Lange (and the presence of Charles Nelson Reilly), the series didn’t click with audiences. NBC cancelled it after its first season. ABC picked it up and then cancelled it again after its second season. And then, much like the ghost of Captain Gregg, it lived on…in re-runs, which is how I first saw it a few years later.

Filler

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Indie Theatre with tags , , , on November 28, 2014 by travsd

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Three chances left to see Filler, the intriguing play by writer/director William Goulet at the 64E4 mainstage through November 30. I caught the show about a week ago and found myself much impressed with the meticulousness of the whole affair: scripts, casting, direction, acting, set design…

Gabriele Schafer plays the frustrated, somewhat domineering wife a man (Ross Pivic) who seems to be suffering from both agoraphobia and infantilism.  He hasn’t strayed more than a foot or two from his sofa in twelve years and now it’s time (per some sort of agreement with the Mrs.) for him to brave the world. Fortunately a pair of mysterious men (Kyle Minshew, Adam Hyland) conveniently drop in and offer do some repair work, bringing with them mystery and menace (whether real or merely perceived I’ll leave it to you to experience).

Goulet’s writing owes a debt to Pinter, stubbornly withholding just enough information to keep us on the hook the entire time, and I’ll tell you right now some of it never gets answered and that’s o.k. by me. There is a spare poetry to the dialogue, and just a hint of formal stylization which makes the speech sound almost like a translation from another language, with its precise, sometimes unusual word choice. And there is a beautiful structure to it, as the two hander folds out into a four hander. The arrival of the workmen felt a lot to me like the arrival of Pozzo and Lucky in Godot, and as in that play, the second pair reinforces the themes suggested by the first (in this case, an unsettling dynamic of submission and domination).

Schafer and Pivic are equally impressive in the ground they must cover in their roles, not just emotionally, but in terms of status. I mentioned casting in my litany of positive elements above. One doesn’t usually do that, but Goulet has chosen the perfect FACES for these roles, with the apparent care that a painter might use in selecting objects for a still life. Even if these guys couldn’t act (and they’re all quite good), they LOOK perfect.

The play needs more work, I think. I’m not quite certain how the third section relates to the events that spring out of the middle bit. My take-away impression was “This is one terrific play with the parasitic twin of another terrific play growing out of its side.” I feel like it still needs honing. But it’s a soufflé, if a trifle underdone, which is far better than the potato chips one usually encounters.

For more information go to: http://fillertheplay.com/

 

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