Free and Easy

Free and Easy with Buster Keaton is a talkie with lots of physical humor. Keaton plan Elmer Butts, a nerdy sap, escorts local beauty queen winner Elvira and her overbearing mother to Hollywood. Of course, everything goes awry from the moment they start their journey. Every mix up is blamed on Elmer, some rightly so. 

On the train to California, while Elmer is stuck at the back of the train, Elvira and her mother meet a dashing movie star. Elvira is smitten with this flirtatious actor. 

A series of mishaps befall Elmer. He just doesn’t fit into the Hollywood scene and he knows it. However, he has a chance to play the hero, when he’s mistakenly given a chauffeur uniform and a car and sees Larry canoodling in the back of the car as he took innocent Elvira back to his mansion without a chaperone, he springs into action.

I watched this film almost accidentally. I’d checked out a three film DVD set from the library. The DVD I wanted to watch didn’t work, but the one with Free and Easy did. It’s a comic film and has Keaton’s famed pratfalls and his woebegone demeanor, but it was awfully hokey for a talkie. The story and characters were rather thin. It wasn’t awful, but unless you wind up with a disc that doesn’t work and one that does, I don’t see the need to see this film.

I’ll add that there’s a special feature, So Funny it Hurts, in which an old friend of Keaton’s explains Keaton’s troubled relationship with MGM. 

The Bank Dick

With one of the best car chases I’ve ever seen, W.C. Fields’ The Bank Dick was a nice change after watching Russian drama. Fields plays Egbert Sousé, the head of the house full of women who constantly complain. He’s no angel, but you sympathize with him because his family treats him awfully. As the name without the accent grave suggests, Sousé drinks a lot and is a layabout. By accident, he thwarts a bank robbery and is hailed as a hero. As a reward, the bank president makes Sousé is given a job as the bank detective. Soon he gets his daughter’s boyfriend into financial trouble through a hare-brained scheme to buy bonds. As he’s basically a decent fellow, he tries then to save his future son-in-law, but everything goes wrong.

The film was at times clever and at times corny in a way that delights. Not only did I smile, but I learned a host of new words like adscititious and several others (below). The characters are stock and the humor often just plain silly, but The Bank Dick is fun and entertaining. I hadn’t seen a W.C. Fields’ film in years and will look for more.

Cat’s Paw

Harold Lloyd’s talking Cat’s Paw (1934) satirizes dirty politics. (You can watch the whole film on YouTube by clicking above.) Lloyd plays Ezekiel Cobb, the son of a missionary who grew up in rural China. Cobb comes to California to find a wife. He’s supposed to stay with a minister, who for years has run for mayor against a corrupt machine politician. The minister is a puppet who doesn’t realize he’s simply used   to make it look like there’s democracy in this town.

When the minister suddenly dies, his corrupt campaign manager needs a chump to run in his stead. He decides this naive newbie Cobb is just the man for the job.

Cobb’s an endearing character. He’s a fish out of water in America. Though he looks like he belongs here, China is his home. So he’s constantly bowing and has no idea what our slang means. He’s often mistaken for a “native” and this often gets him into all kinds of scraps. He lacks the street smarts and skepticism frequently found in corrupt cities.

Yet while the film never directly says as much, God helps the innocents and through a hilarious series of mishaps, Cobb is photographed punching the corrupt mayor and becomes a sensation. He’s swept into office. He’s as upset as anyone. He wants to return to China where everyone understands his references to the revered Ling Po, who’s wisdom he frequently imparts.

Cobb accepts his office and brings his innocent honesty into practice. He outfoxes the foxes and it’s a delight to see.

Lloyd is delightful. It offers satire with a clever story that still entertains. There are times when supporting characters use words like “Chink” which are derogatory and wouldn’t be used in a film today, but the characters who use such terms are portraying prejudiced people in contrast to the hero who respects and understands Chinese culture.

Cobb does search for a wife and looks for an idealistically innocent, poised woman. Pet Pratt, a woman in his boarding house is a worldly woman who tricks him by taking him to a nightclub with 1930s adult entertainment. She’s just the woman to help Cobb govern. It’s an added twist to the film, especially since Harold Lloyd films usually feature American sweethearts. Pet Pratt does not fit that mold and is fun to watch.

I was amazed by Cobb’s plan to clean up the city. He wasn’t the goody-two-shoes he seemed at the start.

Cat’s Paw was a fun film, which shows 1930s views of China.

The Kid Brother

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I’ve added a new film to my collection of absolute favorites. It’s The Kid Brother (1927) by Harold Lloyd, which Criterion collection has just released on a 2-DVD set with plenty of extras like expert commentary and interviews of Lloyd and Lloyd’s granddaughter.

Poor Harold Hickory. His big brothers, and they are big, outshine him at home. His father the sheriff views Harold as too young and weak to participate in town meetings or fight for good when the community needs strong men. Harold reveres his father and these slights hit him hard. No one sees how ingenious, loyal and hard working young Harold is.

When a group of charlatans arrive in town, the same day as Harold’s dad is entrusted with the town’s money to pay for a new dam (so quite a sum), Harold gets duped into letting them put on a medicine show. Dad never would sign off on such a deal, but the Kid Brother was fooled. Harold soon realizes his error and what a disaster it will be.

Catastrophes come one after another and the gags are inspired. I laughed out loud and was amazed at the film’s charm. In one minute, you get more humor than in 5 minutes in any other comedy.

Not only is the film placed with comedy, there’s also romance. Jobyna Ralson, who starred in The Freshman, appears as an orphan girl, who’s linked to the medicine show conmen and she soon captures the hearts of Harold and his brothers. Their meeting and relationship is sure to make you smile.

The Kid Brother qualifies as a must-see film for all ages. I enjoyed watching with the commentary on to get all the background on Lloyd and the making of this four star classic. This is an amazing mood-lifter.

 

Small Change (1976)

François Truffaut’s Small Change (1976) was the first foreign language film I can recall seeing. I distinctly remember some neighbors raving about it and I was astonished by the idea of seeing a film in another language. A think our parents thought Small Change would be edifying so we were piled into a car and a group from the neighborhood all went. I remember being delighted by the scene when a toddler’s left alone and falls out of his apartment window, but remains unscathed. “Gregory go boom!” the boy exclaims to the petrified crowd.

The film still delighted though I did wish for more plot. Truffaut is wonderful with children and understands their lot better than most. The mischief of kids making a mess whenever the adults get caught up in their own lives, the innocence of looking for love, and the loneliness of hiding your family’s poverty or abuse are all present in this brightly colored panorama. Childhood’s changed in many ways with helicopter parents and high tech developments, but some of comedy and even the tragedies still remain.

The teacher’s monologue at the end struck me to the core in 1976 and again in 2018. I’ll share it below, but it’s a spoiler so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Hospitalité

Hospitalité is a one of a kind movie — or perhaps an odd movie is more like it. The main characters are Mikio, a middle aged man who’s taken over his family’s small printing shop, Natuski, his new, young wife, Eriko, his daughter from his first marriage and his sister who’s divorced. The daughter and the sister are sort of like prompts in that they appear when the plot needs a nudge. Otherwise, I didn’t think they seemed all that real.

The family’s pet parakeet goes missing and the young wife and daughter put up a notice in the neighborhood for it. A strange neighbor presents himself to help find the bird. Before they know it this odd ball Kagawa has been hired and then moves into their small home. A couple days later Kagawa brings his blonde wife to live there. The wife is a liar telling some she’s from Brazil and others that she’s from Bosnia. Chaos ensues. It reminded me of the Cat in the Hat but with the parents remaining home and allowing a nutcase teak over and never clean up.

Kagawa quickly discovers secrets both the husband and wife have and blackmailing them to get his way. By the end of the film the couple have completely lost control of their home as Kagawa practically turns the place like a youth hostel.

I found the film very different and unpredictable, but shortly after it ended I saw loads of holes in the story.

Parenting Tip Gold

I can’t believe I never heard of Jeanne Robertson, a super perceptive comedienne whom I just discovered on YouTube. Her humor centers on her home life and old and young can watch, even in the same room.

This story of how she and her husband handled an errant son is priceless.

The Awful Truth

Taking a break from drama on the level of Human Condition, I watched Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth. The Awful Truth is a 1930s romantic comedy about a married couple that races into divorce court after a misunderstanding. Each side has gotten the “wrong end of the stick.”

While they have 90 days between the court date and the divorce finalizing, Lucy, the wife, meets an Oklahoma tycoon who woos her, making Jerry, her soon-to-be ex-husband painfully jealous. Jerry no sooner gives up than Lucy realizes she wants him back.

In a nutshell: Lots of slapstick, lots of wit, lots of style and lots of fun.

Unfaithfully Yours

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In Unfaithfully Yours, Rex Harrison plays conductor Alfred de Carter, a pompous egotist. (Doesn’t Harrison play a lot of this sort?) De Carter’s clueless brother-in-law Augustus misunderstood his request to “look after my wife while I’m gone and as a result Augustus has Daphne, the wife, followed by a detective.

At first Alfred wants to give his wife the benefit of the doubt, but other people want to tell him that his wife was found leaving his secretary’s hotel room in a negligee in the middle of the night. Soon Alfred’s high minded ethos are out the window and while he’s conducting a symphony concert, he’s plague by different scenarios involving confronting Daphne about this affair.

Each variation is more comical than the last. Directed by Preston Sturges, Unfaithfully Yours is a madcap comedy with a perspicacious take on jealousy. I particularly liked how well music was worked into the story and how each piece fit Alfred’s mood to a T.

The psychology of jealousy is explored to the limit. Harrison offers a superb performance of slap stick humor in a scene towards the end when he tries to trick his wife. Unfaithfully Yours moves at a clip and in spite of a few corny jokes stands up to the test of time. In the 1980s, they did a remake of Unfaithfully Yours starring Dudley Moore. I doubt it could match this clever film.

The Criterion Collection version includes a bonus feature with Terry Jones of Monty Python fame describing how he discovered Preston Sturges and his thoughts on the film.