Archive for the 'comedy' Category

18
Mar
14

On Harold Lloyd

h lloydeAfter watching Harold Lloyd in Safety Last, I became curious about what the newspapers of the day said about him. So I went to my library’s website and searched for him and the years 1922 – 1923 (when this film was made and was released in the Chicago Tribune archives.

I was struck by the tone of the paper – very casual. The movie Gal Friday seem realistic. One article I found was “The Real Inside Dope on the Movie Stars: Yes, Hard Knocks Made Harold Lloyd What He Is Today.” I chuckle at the “The Read Inside Dope” phrase. The article begins:

Harold Lloyd is one of those intrepid, joyous young persons who would attempt to dig a transcontinental canal with his fingernails if he thought the effort would benefit anybody. His character has been battered into shape by hard knocks — into such shape as he is spoken of as “the finest chap in Hollywood.”

The article goes on to explain how he isn’t conceited like Conway Tearle, whoever he was, nor a “rounder.” He exemplified the rags to riches archetype as he started work at age 11 selling popcorn at train stations. Later he sold newspapers, was a waiter, and an amateur boxer. As a teen he had the savvy to enlarge his paper route and then hire other boys to deliver segments of it.

Lloyd’s father owned a restaurant, which failed. The family was in dire straits and Lloyd wanted them to move to New York so he could work on the stage. The father thought Los Angeles and movies would be better. The father decided to flip a coin to determine where they’d go. I can’t imagine flipping a coin for such a decision. The coin decided they’d go to L.A.

Getting a foot in the door was tricky. Lloyd couldn’t get past the guards. He figured out that if he put on his grease paint and walked in with the extras returning from lunch, he could breeze by the “fish-eyed guards.” That trick worked and eventually Lloyd was hired for $3.50/day. Opportunities came his way after than and he rose from extra to star. He got the idea for his signature glasses from a comic he saw. His were specially designed so his expressive eyebrows could be seen.

How did he lose his thumb and index finger, I wondered. Seems he was posing for a still ad. The concept required that he be holding a bomb. It was supposed to be fake but wasn’t. Lloyd had a cigarette at the time and BOOM! He was blinded for 4 days and lost his fingers. If you’ve seen him scaling the walls in Safety Last, you can see he didn’t let that stop him.

Next I read the Chicago Tribune’s review of Safety First. I didn’t realize that movies would be shown at Orchestra Hall, a rather posh site. Then again those were posh-er times than ours and the era of the movie palace. The reviewer, Inez Cunningham admitted to not watching the half hour of the film when Lloyd has to scale the building because she was afraid of such exploits and didn’t see why anyone would like them. I’m wondering how such a stick in the mud got a job as a movie critic in the era of Lloyd, Keaton and Chaplin. Upfront she writes that she doesn’t generally like Lloyd, but admits that on this film he was on his best behavior and left out his usual vulgarities and “blythe.” I suppose I’ll have to watch some of his earlier films to see these vulgarities.

Works Cited

Cunningham, Inez. “Harold Must Be Good: Even Critic Laughs.” Chicago Tribune. 28 May 1923: Print.

Harpman, Julia. “The Real Inside Dope on the Movie Stars: Yes, Hard Knocks Made Harold Lloyd What He Is Today.” Chicago Tribune. 3 Aug. 1924: Print.

16
Mar
14

Safety Last

h lloyd1923′s Safety Last

If it weren’t for my New Year’s resolution to watch more old movies, I’d probably never have made time for this national treasure: Safety Last by Harold Lloyd.

Just as I don’t much like coffee or milk, but do like coffee with milk (in the form of a cappuccino), I’m not one for silent movies nor am I one to watch movies with the commentary track playing — but together they’re great. At least for the Criterion Collection Safety Last, they were. In Safety Last, Harold Lloyd plays a hapless sales clerk who’s in love and hopes to make enough money in the city to marry his sweetheart. When he writes her, he suggests that he’s got a high level job and is making great money. In fact, he’s barely able to make his rent. kick me Her mother tells the girl to go visit Harold now that he’s doing so well. That’s when things really get out of control. It’s such genius how Lloyd and his cast pack so many laughs into a scene. What I really enjoyed was the commentary by Leonard Maltin and Lloyd’s archivist, Richard Correll. Though the film’s great, I think I wouldn’t have enjoyed it without all the tidbits and background. Some facts of interest:

  • Lloyd got the idea from watching a dare devil scale a building. That man, a welder, is in the movie and in spite of having broken his leg, does a lot of the stunts and plays Lloyd’s friend, Limpy Bill.
  • Lloyd lost his thumb and index finger a few years prior to this movie, but still does all kinds of climbing wearing a glove with the missing digits.
  • Much of the filming shows Culver City as it was in 1922. They’d shoot with normal traffic going through the street.
  • Lloyd wound up marrying his co-star, Mildred Davis.

Safety Last is still funny, in a way that movies just aren’t and can’t be anymore. Just a delight.

25
Feb
14

An American in Paris

Milo and Jerry

Milo and Jerry

I thoroughly enjoyed Gene Kelly and company in An American in Paris. I’d never seen it before and loved the dancing and singing. It’s the story of Jerry, a surprisingly urbane U.S. G.I. who stays in Paris after WWII to try to become a painter. As the film opens Jerry’s a starving artist, who meets a rich woman, Milo who wants to be his patron. Despite being a bit leery of her, Jerry goes along with Milo who treats him like a pet project. Jerry wants to retain his independence, but he also wants to further his career. We do like him because he can sing, dance and smile. At a restaurant he spots a young French girl and becomes immediately smitten. He arranges to meet Lise, the French girl, who’s engaged to marry an acquaintance of Jerry’s. She hides this fact, as Jerry hides his interest in Lise from Milo his patroness.

An American in Paris 2

Oscar Levant plays Jerry’s wise cracking friend and really adds to the film. The Gershwin songs like “Our Love is Here to Stay,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “S’Wonderful” make the movie. The story itself is predictable and rather fluffy. The audience isn’t supposed to think too much about that Jerry’s either naive or manipulative to think he can take money from Milo and romance Lise with no blow ups. Likewise that Lise would juggle a fiance and Jerry is at odds with her being so innocent. Given the quality of the music and dancing, I overlooked the story and characters’ flaws.

I did think the end was odd. There’s a long dance sequence just when Lise’s fiance discovers she’s meeting Jerry behind his back. It wasn’t plausible that the problem would be resolved as we’re shown. Still MGM musicals have a way of eliciting audience’s forgiveness for such things.

25
Jan
14

Sherlock, Jr.

1sherlock_jr702

This week’s old movie* is Sherlock, Jr. with Buster Keaton. Though I’d heard Keaton’s name, I’ve never seen any of his films. The story is simple, Keaton plays a shy, awkward man. As the movie opens, the hero is proposing to his sweetheart. It’s all very proper. The funniest part is when she needs a magnifying glass to see the diamond. Soon this woe-begone fellow is overshadowed by a slick guy who drops by and wants Keaton’s girl. This guy frames Keaton making it seem like he’s stolen the girl’s father’s watch to buy the ring.

Later at work as a movie projectionist, the hero starts daydreaming as he watches the film he’s showing about a couple having trouble with their relationship. The story is simple and it’s a silent film so the strength is Keaton’s physical humor. There were several preposterous, hilarious scenes that are timeless. It’s a short film that still entertains.

18
Jan
14

I Was a Male War Bride

I Was A Male War Bride 1

The “old” movie I watched this week as part of my 2014 New Year’s resolution was I Was a Male War Bride starring Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan. Grant plays Henri, a French army officer, who must go on a mission with Catherine, an American officer. In true 1940s romantic comedy fashion, neither wants to go with the other and as they travel to find a German lens maker in a small town, they bicker continually, yet wittily, while encountering one mishap after another. In time they admit that their conflict is simply pent up sexual chemistry with a healthy dash of love, they decide to marry.

In occupied Germany after WWII, the newly married couple face a series of wacky bureaucratic problems when they set off for America on army transport. Theirs was a horrible and comical wedding night and honeymoon.

The film was rather dated and contrived. The actors did what could be done with the stilted story and I guess they were assigned by the studio to do this so so movie in a pre-TV era when new content had to be cranked out.

19
Dec
13

The Miracle of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

This 15 minute documentary tells how the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas came to be. Each element seems so perfect. It’s hard to believe how jumbled and rushed the creation process was.

09
Nov
13

Sleepwalk with Me

sleepwalk-with-me03

I’ve had this DVD for a while and just haven’t gotten around to watching it. It looked quirky and it is, but Sleepwalk with Me, a story of struggling, neurotic, sleepwalking comic just missed the mark. I liked the hero, Mike Birbilgia,  fairly well, but there wasn’t enough story here. While it’s new to watch a comedian who’s got a real sleep disorder and the cast was strong, the story was weak. It’s like having great milk and sugar, but really bad coffee. What is the point?

Birbilgia not only sleepwalks, he sleepshowers, sleepjumps, sleepwhatevers. He’s in a relationship with a lovely woman, who should leave him because he won’t commit, but she sticks around for years waiting and hoping. He isn’t a bad guy, just one with Peter Pan syndrome. The whole “I’m not sure about commitment” syndrome seems passe or should be. Making another movie about it is just another walk down a well-worn path. I do hope we move beyond this hesitancy as a society.

31
Oct
13

The Goldbergs

the-goldbergs

When Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Jeff Garlin announced he was doing a sitcom that was an improv 1980′s version of The Wonder Years, I was excited. However having watched the premier, I’m disappointed. The show doesn’t live up to the promise.

With a grouchy dad, jaded older sister, an annoying brother and a bright likeable middle school boy, family structure is like The Wonder Years. However, other than the nostalgic voice over and the family structure, The Goldbergs doesn’t compare to The Wonder Years, which isn’t a surprise because the 80′s doesn’t compare well to the 60′s. No Vietnam, no hippies, no Haight Ashbury, no Woodstock. If you’re going to dramatize the ’80′s, you need to make the characters less ordinary. This comedy seemed so canned and predictable. It’s jokes were tired and the story was weak. I felt a bit sorry for the actors, but then I remembered they’re paid a fortune and I’m not.

Also, it seems the writers just don’t understand new comedy. They’re need to watch Outnumbered, and watch it repeatedly so they see what’s possible. Studying Curb Your Enthusiasm or The Simpson’s wouldn’t hurt either. I suppose if a friend mentioned that the show really improves and the pilot’s an anomaly, I’d give this another try.

24
Aug
13

From Second City

I love this take on The Giving Tree because I have always seen that story as encouraging people to be doormats. One sided love does not need to be promoted to the young.

What do you think?

02
Aug
13

The Office – A Long Goodbye

the-office-season-9

I just saw the finale of The Office, a show that was one of my favorites until a couple years ago. I’d hoped that the episode would feature the kind of writing that made me love the show, but it didn’t.

Early in the season someone commented that “watching The Office had become like seeing a good friend on life support. You felt sad and wished for the end.” Very true, I thought. Also, very sad.

The finale follows the cast a year after the documentary has aired. Dwight’s going to marry Angela, whose little boy has not aged at all since the previous episode, though a year has gone by. (Wake up writers. The child should not have been in the episode. He wasn’t crucial.)

PBS was holding a panel for the documentary in Scranton so Toby, who’s given up his steady job and moved to New York to write a novel. Who’d buy that? Why move to the most expensive city in the country just to write? Stanley who’s retired, and Darrell who’s with the successful marketing company that Jim quit, all return to Dunder Mifflin. Even Michael Scott, albeit without Holly, which just seemed unreal and cheap on the part of the producers, was back.

the-office-season-3

Better days

The PBS documentary became a big part of the second half of this final season. I think that was a big mistake because while the insights from the individual worked well in the show, giving more attention to the doc made me think about it more. That makes the wheels come off the wagon as it would cost millions to staff such a project for 9 years. At most it would be a 9 hour program and just would not fill an auditorium a year after it’s aired. Downton Abbey could a documentary won’t. Besides a PBS documentary would criticize as well as praise its subjects. It would leave viewers thinking that some of these people aren’t worthy of respect and that incompetence is rewarded if you’re surrounded by nice people. PBS’ Frontier House and other similar documentaries showed some people to be noble and others far from it.

Towards the episode’s end, various characters opine about how great their time at Dunder Mifflin was and ponder the obvious Hallmark versions of carpe diem. The problem I have is that Americans, who watch PBS, aren’t be so banal that they’d sit through 9 hours of a documentary (or over 100 hours of a sitcom, I hope) just to hear that it’s important to value the “good times.”

There was little from the interactions between the staff or the audience at the panel to show that anyone felt they got a raw deal. Hard to believe. Someone would have, there’d be some villains because unlike sitcom writers documentarians don’t need you to laugh or feel warm and fuzzy. These reality shows aren’t hagiographies. As time went on many of these characters became more and more neurotic or in the case of Dwight, quite possibly psychotic.

The finale of the British The Office was sadder and more true to life.

Things I didn’t buy this season:

    • That it wasn’t malicious for Oscar to lie and steal Angela’s husband, that no one at the office caught wind of it and turned on Oscar. Someone should have learned of this and rightly turned on Oscar.
    • That Angela married a state senator was far fetched – a minor complaint.
    • That after leaving the senator, Angela, a shrewd accountant, would be destitute and have no where to live other than Oscar’s place. (So contrived.)
    • That Angela’s baby would be talking at about one year old.
    • That Creed, who’s got a regular paycheck, would live in the Dunder Mifflin men’s room and no one would know. I figured out a professor was living in his office in a far shorter time.
    • That Jim and Pam’s marital problems weren’t contrived for the sake of the plot. His taking the job in Philly and her insisting on staying in Scranton never rang true. Her selling the house without his knowledge even though she reminded him that he bought the house without asking her. It’s all so out of character.
    • That Andy’d be and remain the manager even after leaving for months at a time. His character was always bizarre in a pathetic, yet scary way. Actually, it’s hard to believe he was chosen as manager. It made sense that Michael was. He was a great salesperson and the Peter Principle is based in reality.
    • That Ryan would return (with a baby!) and then run off with Kelly, who was a head case, which he knew.
    • That Jan didn’t show up. She’d have had a bone to pick with the documentary.
    • That many of these people function and
      That during the country’s biggest recession in generations no one of consequence was let go. America was cheated on that count.

I felt the writers ran out of ideas and talent. They may be new to the show and inexperienced as they relied so much on psychosis and obvious, contrivances to further each week’s stories.




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