Tonight on TCM: Slapstick in the ’60s

Tonight Turner Classic Movies continues its month-long salute to slapstick, with a look at the 1960s. On the menu:


8:00pm (EST): It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

This all-star comedy epic is one of my favorite movies of all time. Read my complete post about it here. 


11:15pm (EST): The Great Race (1965)

Conversely, Blake Edwards’ wanna-be comedy classic is one of my least favorite movies. My post about The Great Race is here. 


2:00am (EST): A Shot in the Dark (1964)

The first sequel in the Blake Edwards/ Peter Sellers Pink Panther series, and is often the way with film series, the first true one (i.e., the comedy tropes get established in the sequel once the collaborators take things a little further and develop some self-awareness). Ironically, this property didn’t even begin as a Pink Panther film. It was a French stage play, then a Broadway hit, neither one of which featured the character of Inspector Clouseau. It was only adapted into a Pink Panther project once Edwards and Sellers were brought aboard. In this one, Clouseau is brought in to solve the murder of George Sanders’ chauffeur, and works to clear the name of the innocent and bodacious maid, Elke Sommer. Herbert Lom is the long-suffering Chief Inspector Dreyfus, and Burt Kwouk is introduced as Clouseau’s servant and sidekick Cato, whose job is to periodically attack Clouseau to keep him on his toes. Much funnier than the original film, and much more disciplined than the sequels which began to appear 11 years later. (During the interval came the very different 1968 film Inspector Clouseau starring Alan Arkin and directed by Bud Yorkin. Because in 1968, Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers were busy making this:)


4:00am (EST): The Party (1968)

This is easily my favorite Blake Edwards comedy, although I still have plenty of quibbles with it. The biggest strike against it is that Peter Sellers is essentially doing blackface as an Indian character, a factor that makes the film harder to swallow and a bigger museum piece with every passing year. When we tie this together with some characterizations in other Blake Edwards films, such the Mickey Rooney “Japanese Man” in Breakfast at Tiffanys and Cato in the Pink Panther movies, as well as Sellers’ ethnic portrayals in too many films to count, the case for racism against them is quite damning. Sellers does make some tentative steps towards drawing a three dimensional character, but still, I do think a lot of energy is directed towards the idea of making the character funny AS an Indian. But if that’s a throwback in a bad way, the film is also a throwback in a good way, at least partially, in being one of the few American films of the sound era I can think of which is essentially a silent comedy. It is a simple story, almost completely visual and gag driven. An awkward man attends a fancy Hollywood dinner party and causes chaos. Much truer to the spirit of Laurel and Hardy than his previous The Great Race. You could turn the sound down and throw in a few intertitles and have something like a silent feature.


5:45pm (EST): Le Grand Amour (1969)

You ain’t no real hip comedy fan if you don’t know the work of Pierre Etaix, slapstick director of the French New Wave, and heir apparent to Jacques Tati. His work was unavailable in the U.S. for legal reasons, but now much of it is finally being shown here. I’ve watched several of his funny shorts on Youtube, but this is the first time I’ll be catching his 1969 feature Le Grand Amour. 

For more on slapstick film history please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc



For more on silent comedy and slapstick film history please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc

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