Archive for the Comedy Teams Category

Sunday at Film Forum: Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man

Posted in Abbott and Costello, Comedy with tags , , on January 27, 2017 by travsd

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This Sunday (January 29) at 11am,  Film Forum will be screening that purported classic Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951). 

The title of the film in some ways promises more than it delivers. It doesn’t for example deliver Claude Rains or even his character from the original crop of Invisible Man films. The scientist in this film is one “Dr. Gray”…the uncle of the girl of a boxer who has been falsely accused of murder. It is the boxer who takes the invisibility serum and provides the familiar spectacle, sometimes rendered as a guy in bandages and sunglasses, sometimes as floating objects. Abbott and Costello play private detectives who help the boxer clear his name. Lou gets scared a lot, and Bud says things like “Why, you’re seeing things!” and “It’s all in yer head!” In too many ways to count, the original film The Invisible Man, directed by James Whale, is much funnier than this movie. But it’s highly appropriate kid fodder, innocent in spirit, and a welcome antidote to the horrors of our times.

And best of all? Our favorite Lou Costello impersonator Bob Greenberg will be on hand, along with his partner Joe Bev as Abbott, to cut up a little before the movie. Sounds like a good time to me. Tickets and info are here. 

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Tomorrow on TCM: Wheeler and Woolsey in “Cockeyed Cavaliers”

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Movies, Wheeler and Woolsey with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2017 by travsd

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Tomorrow at 7:30am (EST), Turner Classic Movies will show the Wheeler and Woolsey comedy Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934), directed by Mark Sandrich. This is rated one of the team’s best comedies, and just like their previous film Hips, Hips, Hooray it pairs them with the double whammy of Dorothy Lee and Thelma Todd. And, as in the previous film the boys are masquerading as somebody they’re not. In this case it’s the king’s physicians (they’re just a couple of country bumpkins). Oh, did we mention the Medieval setting? That’s what makes it special and the movie gets much mileage out of the history gags, which put it in a league with films like Roman Scandals, The Court Jester and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. 

For more on comedy 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 amazon.com etc etc etc

Tonight on TCM: Classic Prison Comedies

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Laurel and Hardy, Movies, Wheeler and Woolsey with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2017 by travsd

All month long, TCM is devoting Tuesday nights to prison films. Tonight (actually the wee hours of tomorrow) they’ll have these three “comedy classics” with jailhouse settings.

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2:45am (EST): Jail Busters (1955)

The Bowery Boys. Not for the first time, the boys purposefully commit a crime so they can go undercover in jail to get the goods on a gang of crooks who are in there. It is a stupid plan of course! The guy who was supposed to have arranged everything (Lyle Talbot) is crooked himself and hangs the boys out to dry. Percy Helton plays the warden!

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4:00am (EST): Pardon Us (1931)

Laurel and Hardy’s first feature length film Pardon Us (1931), directed by James Parrott. The title is a joke—it’s a prison comedy. Get it? Pardon us? Watching this film, I’d not be a bit surprised to learn it was a major influence on the Coen Brothers O Brother, Where Art the Thou? (Yes, yes, Sullivan’s Travels but also this). I think this movie is easily one of Laurel and Hardy’s best features.

The fact that the pair are incarcerated is a joint responsibility. The movie starts out with them buying ingredients for beer. It’s Ollie who gets the bright idea of selling their surplus homebrew, thus the crime is at his instigation. Later however it is Stanley who tries to sell some to a policeman (he thinks the uniform was that of a streetcar conductor).

A major theme throughout the film is Stanley’s bad tooth, which for some unnatural reason causes him to make a raspberry sound when he speaks, triggering all manner of trouble for the pair. There isn’t much of a plot, but this tooth noise, like a musical motif waves through the film and drives most of the action. This noise antagonizes guards, the warden, and the bull goose of their cell, who later respects him for it. They become involved in an escape plan; everyone gets caught right away but them/ They blend in with a bunch of black field hands on a cotton plantation by putting on blackface. Ollie even sings a minstrel song that Stan dances to. (It’s unfortunate to modern eyes, but there it is). In a scene of masterful tension, the warden’s car breaks down right where they’re standing, obligating the boys to fix the vehicle. They almost make it through the episode — until Stan’s tooth noise blows their cover. Later, back in prison, Stanley accidentally foils another prison break due to his mishaps with a tommy gun, and the boys are about to get an early release when…

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5:00am (EST) Hold ’em Jail (1932) 

Wheeler and Woolsey . In this one, one of their funnier ones, the boys get their turn at a funny football game, in a feature directed by Norman Taurog. The title is a play on the Ivy League cheer “Hold ’em, Yale!” Here, the boys are framed and sent to prison, then forced to play on the warden’s team (a possible model for The Longest Yard?) The warden is played by the omnipresent Edgar Kennedy, Rosco Ates is one of the players, their frequent foil Edna May Oliver is in it, and it contains an early performance by Betty Grable!

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 amazon.com etc etc etc

 

Films of Fields #20: International House

Posted in Burns and Allen, Comedians, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Movies, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , on December 4, 2016 by travsd

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We’ll be blogging about comedian W.C. Fields all through November and December as part of our tribute to the comedian called Fields Fest.  For a full list upcoming live Fields Fest events go here. 

The presence of W.C. Fields is one of the highlights of the terrific all-star Paramount comedy International House (1933), directed by Eddie Sutherland.

I’ve probably seen this one two dozen times, and will no doubt watch it many more. It’s essentially a revue film showcasing many musical and comedy stars, spliced together with a parody of MGM’s Grand Hotel, which had been released the previous year. It’s all set at the titular International House hotel in Wuhu, China, where VIPS from all over the globe have come to see a demonstration of a new invention called a “radioscope”, which is essentially a prototype of television.

The flustered hotel manager is of course Franklin Pangborn; the hotel doctor and nurse are George Burns and Gracie Allen. Guests include W.C. Fields as a professor/explorer/ inventor not unlike Groucho’s Captain Spalding in Animal Crackers, Peggy Hopkins Joyce (as herself), Stuart Erwin and Bela Lugosi as an evil Russian spy. The radioscope itself is the devise that enables the revue portion. As the assembled parties watch, the device tunes into various parts of the globe where it just happens to capture great variety acts, among them, Cab Calloway, Rudy Vallee, Baby Rose Marie and Stoopnagle and Budd. There’s never a dull moment in this movie; there’s never time for one.

The most unfortunate aspect of the film of course is attitude towards the Chinese, which ranges (in the typical mode of the time) from stereotype to ignoring them completely. Anyway that’s how they used to make Hollywood movies. When we emulate them today, let’s choose only the good parts.

Films of Fields #25: Six of a Kind

Posted in Burns and Allen, Comedians, Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Movies, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2016 by travsd

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We’ll be blogging about comedian W.C. Fields all through November and December as part of our tribute to the comedian called Fields Fest.  For a full list upcoming live Fields Fest events go here. 

Six of a Kind (1934), directed by Leo McCarey, captures a pivotal moment in W.C. Fields’ career; the moment just before he became a star of his own feature-length talkies. In Six of a Kind and previous Paramount sound films, he was merely a member of a comic ensemble, despite having been at the center of silents and sound shorts in the past. But then and now, the part of Six of a Kind everyone remembers is Fields’ role — despite the fact that of the titular six, his is one of the smaller parts. In the film, Charlie Ruggles plays a mild mannered bank employee who is planning a second honeymoon with his bossy wife (Mary Boland). To save expenses on their corss-country motorcar trip, the wife advertises for passengers — who turn out to be George Burns, Gracie Allen and a Great Dane. The bulk of the film concerns the misadventures of this quartet and their canine antagonist. Only towards the end do they stop off in a western town where they encounter a Sheriff named “Honest John” (Fields) and his lady consort, an innkeep (Alison Skipworth, with whom he is paired here for the third and final time). The part of the film everyone remembers is the resurrection of Fields’ pool routine, where he does everything but hit a ball while he attempts to tell an onlooker, through a long and winding story, how he came to be called “Honest John”. Along the way, there is some scintilla of a plot involving a suitcase of stolen money, but one scarcely notices that amongst all the fol de rol. It’s just an excuse to wrap the picture up with a little bang-bang, shoot-shoot, and just in the nick of time, at just over an hour’s running time.

 

Last Night’s “Marx Brothers on Broadway” Program

Posted in Broadway, Comedy, Comedy Teams, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Marx Brothers with tags , , , , on December 1, 2016 by travsd

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A good time was had by all last night at Noah Diamond’s “Marx Brothers on Broadway” talk at the Morbid Anatomy Museum, sponsored by Zelda Magazine. The capacity crowd was full of hard-core Marxian fans. The reason I know? This was far from a talk for beginners: this was about a lesser known phase of the comedy team’s career, and the crowd was fully engaged, laughed at the right parts, and asked knowledgeable questions. I always review the audience, and this one got an A grade.
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Don Spiro, publisher and editor of Zelda, introduced the program:

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Then came Noah:

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Noah’s talk knocked my socks off. Apart from the content, it may have been the best, most artful and animated Powerpoint presentation I’ve ever seen. But the talk itself was fascinating, taking us all the way from the Marx Brothers later vaudeville days when they were expanding to tab musicals (and outgrowing them), through their three Broadway smashes, I’ll Say She Is, The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. He spoke of the evolution of the team and their familiar characters and exploded many of the famous myths about them (e.g., the misrepresentation of Margaret Dumont as a clueless woman who didn’t get the Marxes’ humor, and the idea that the New York critics had never heard of the Marx Brothers until their Broadway debut). There was a humorous explication of the lyrics of “The Monkey Doodle Doo”. And, because yesterday happened to be the anniversary of Zeppo’s death, there was a moment of respectful contemplation of the much-maligned Marx, which initially provoked a guffaw, but turned out to be quite moving. He also did a purposely (and hilariously) mangled version of the usual capsule version of their history — a kind of inside joke for long time fans of the team.

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Other special treats: video of the Napoleon scene from the recent revival of I’ll Say She Is, and performances of two scenes from the Broadway shows The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers which were cut from their movie versions, with Noah as Groucho of course, Matt Roper as Chico, Matt Walters as Zeppo, with Melody Jane and Kathy Biehl. Another special treat was a recorded rendition of the Animal Crackers song “Four of the Three Musketeers”, one of the great Marxian lost treasures. This was just the top of the iceberg really. Noah Diamond works very hard.

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Greeting the fans, and (gasp!) signing autographs!

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Two hard core classic comedy buffs — funnyman Dave Konig and actor director Allan Lewis Rickman

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A beaming Biehl

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Walters with Sarah Lahue, ISSI SM.

Author and Marxfest founder Kevin Fitzpatrick with the one and only Melody Jane

Author and Marxfest founder Kevin Fitzpatrick with the one and only Melody Jane

This talk was part of a regular series at the Morbid Anatomy Museum sponsored by Zelda. The next one is December 12, and the speaker will be my humble self, and my text will be “W.C. Fields: From Dime Museums to the Jazz Age“. I hope you can attend! Stay tuned!

Thanksgiving Visions of Some Classic Comedians

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Comedy Teams, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Laurel and Hardy, Thanksgiving, Three Stooges, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , on November 24, 2016 by travsd

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