Comedy Tonight: A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (United Artists 1966)


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Director Richard Lester made the jump from The Beatles to Broadway in filming A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, but it wasn’t that far a leap. In adapting the Tony-winning musical comedy to the screen, Lester energizes the film with his unmistakably 60’s cinematic style, resulting in one of the decade’s best comedies, aided and abetted by a cast of pros including Zero Mostel , Phil Silvers, Jack Gilford, and the great Buster Keaton in his final film performance.

The credits roll to the tune of Stephen Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight”, which may be my favorite song from any musical, as Zero introduces us to the main players. He’s Psuedolus, a slave owned by young Hero (Michael Crawford), son of unhappily married Senex (Michael Hordern) and his shrewish (not Jewish) wife Domina (Patricia Jessel, who’s a riot!). Hero has fallen in love with Philia (Annette Andre), the…

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Drive-In Saturday Night 2: BIKINI BEACH (AIP 1964) & PAJAMA PARTY (AIP 1964)


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Welcome back to Drive-In Saturday Night! Summer’s here, and the time is right for a double dose of American-International teen flicks, so pull in, pull up a speaker to hang on your car window, and enjoy our first feature, 1964’s BIKINI BEACH, starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello:

BIKINI BEACH is the third of AIP’s ‘Beach Party’ movies, and this one’s a typical hodgepodge of music, comedy, and the usual teenage shenanigans. The gang’s all here, heading to the beach on spring break for surfing and swinging. This time around, there’s a newcomer on the sand, British rock star The Potato Bug, with Frankie playing a dual role. Potato Bug is an obvious spoof of the big Beatlemania fever sweeping the country, with all the beach chicks (or “birds”, as he calls ’em) screaming whenever PB starts singing one of his songs, complete with Lennon/McCartney-esque “Wooos” and “Yeah, yeah, yeahs”…

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New Recipe: HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI (AIP 1965)


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HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI, the sixth entry in American-International’s “Beach Party” series, attempts to breathe new life into the tried-and-true  formula of sun, sand, surf, songs, and corny jokes. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are still around as Frankie and Dee Dee, but in this go-round they’re separated; he’s in the Navy stationed on the tropical island of Goona-Goona, while Annette has to contend with the romantic enticements of Dwayne Hickman .

Frankie’s part amounts to a cameo, enlisting local witch doctor Buster Keaton (!!) to keep those girl-hungry beach bums away from Dee Dee (while he frolics unfettered with lovely Irene Tsu !). Keaton’s magic ain’t what it used to be, so he has his daughter conjure up a knockout named Cassandra, who first appears on the beach as an animated bikini. All the boys go ga-ga for Cassandra, including a go-go ad man named Peachy Keane…

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Tears of A Clown: Charles Chaplin’s LIMELIGHT (United Artists 1952)


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Charlie Chaplin was unquestionably one of the true geniuses of cinema. His iconic character ‘The Little Tramp’ has been entertaining audiences for over 100 years, enchanting both children and adults alike with his winning blend of humor and pathos. But by 1952, the 63-year-old Chaplin had been buffeted about by charges of immoral behavior and the taint of Communism during the HUAC years, and filmgoers were turning against him. It is at this juncture in his life and career he choose to make LIMELIGHT, a personal, reflective piece on the fickleness of fame, mortality, despair, and most prominently, hope. It could be considered Chaplin’s valedictory message to the medium he helped establish, even though there would be two more films yet to come.

“The story of a ballerina and a clown…” It’s 1914 London, and the once-great Music Hall clown Calvero arrives home from a drunken bender. Fumbling with the…

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Fun in the Sun: BEACH BLANKET BINGO (AIP 1965)


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You’d think by the fourth entry in American-International’s ‘Beach Party’ series, 1965’s BEACH BLANKET BINGO, the formula would be wearing a bit thin. Frankie and Annette are still trying to make each other jealous, Eric Von Zipper and his Rats are still comic menaces, and the gang’s into yet another new kick (skydiving this time around). But thanks to a top-notch supporting cast of characters, a sweet subplot involving a mermaid, and the genius of comedy legend Buster Keaton , BEACH BLANKET BINGO is loads of fun!

Aspiring singer Sugar Kane skydives from a plan into the middle of the ocean and is “rescued” by surfer Frankie. But not really… it’s all been a publicity stunt by her PR agent ‘Bullets’. Sugar is played by lovely Linda Evans, right before she landed on TV’s THE BIG VALLEY, and ‘Bullets’ is none other than the fantastically sarcastic Paul Lynde. But wait… Eric Von Zipper…

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Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee and It’s Damn Important: The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (dir by Charles Reisner)


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Last night, I really needed a break from thinking about this stupid, asinine presidential election that we have coming up here in the U.S.  Fortunately, TCM provided me with one by showing The Hollywood Revue of 1929!

The Hollywood Revue of 1929 is probably one of the most obscure film to ever be nominated for best picture.  It’s a plotless collection of songs and comedy bits, all performed by actors who were under contract to MGM.  In fact, the movie might be best described as a two-hour commercial for MGM.  The message of the film seems to be: “Now that movies have sound, look what MGM can do!”

With the exception of Greta Garbo and Lon Chaney, every MGM star makes an appearance in Hollywood Revue.  Everyone sings a song and does a dance, even if some of them are better singers and dancers than others.  The revue is hosted by Conrad Nagel (who looks very dapper in a tux but still seems to be strangely uncomfortable with his hosting duties) and Jack Benny (who plays his violin and gets annoyed every time he’s interrupted by an MGM stock player).  Joan Crawford (who Nagal describes as being “one of my favorites”) sings, “Got A Feeling For You,” and she may be off-key but you can’t help but appreciate the fact that she’s doing her best.  Buster Keaton does a dance.  Laurel and Hardy perform a magic act that doesn’t go very well.  Marion Davies does a tribute to the military and I’m sure that, somewhere, William Randolph Hearst was smiling.  Chorus girls sit in the background and smile at the camera and, as someone who knows what it’s like to be in the chorus, I enjoyed watching as a few of the smarter and braver ones attempted to steal the audience’s attention away from the headliners.

At one point, Jack Benny reached into his suit jacket and revealed that a miniature version of actress Bessie Love was apparently living in the pocket.  He held Bessie in the palm of his hand and proceeded to have a conversation with her and all I could think about was the end of Mulholland Drive, when that tiny old couple cornered Naomi Watts in her apartment.  When Benny placed Bessie on the ground, she grew to normal height and sang a song.

During the second half of the film, silent screen star John Gilbert plays the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, opposite Norma Shearer.  First he does it in Shakespeare’s words and then he does it again in 1929 language.  Lionel Barrymore directs them.  Interestingly enough, Shearer (who was married to The Hollywood Revue‘s producer, Irving Thalberg) would later play Juliet in 1936’s Romeo and Juliet.  Barrymore, though best remembered as Mr. Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life, actually was a prominent film director in 1929 and would even invent the boom mic.  As for Gilbert, legend has it that the Hollywood Revue was the first time that audiences actually heard him speak and they were so unimpressed with his voice that his career ended.  Having now seen Gilbert speak — well, he didn’t have the greatest or sexiest voice but he still sounded better than Jean Hagen did in Singin’ In The Rain.

Speaking of Singin’ In the Rain, that song was specifically written for Hollywood Revue!  The entire cast sings it at the end of the film.

Seen today, there’s something charming about how old-fashioned and corny The Hollywood Revue is.  I imagine that some people will laugh at it but, honestly, it’s still more entertaining than that stupid live version of The Sound of Music that they put on TV two years ago.  The Hollywood Revue is basically the classic film equivalent of a high school talent show, where everyone does their best and a good deal of the charm comes from seeing how silly it all is.  If you love TCM, you’ll enjoy seeing all the Golden Age performers trying to do their best.  If you don’t love TCM, then go to Hell.

The Hollywood Revue is usually listed as being a nominee for best picture.  Actually, the truth is a little bit more complicated.  For the 2nd annual Academy Awards, there were no nominees.  Instead, the awards were determined by a select committee and only the winners were announced.  Much like the Cannes Film Festival, no film received more than one award.  Broadway Melody (which starred Hollywood Revue‘s Bessie Love) was named best picture.

However, notes were kept of the committee’s meeting and those notes indicate that Hollywood Revue was considered as a possible pick for best picture.  Hence, Hollywood Revue is considered to be a best picture nominee even though there were no official nominees that year.

Anyway, if you’re a classic film lover, keep an eye out for Hollywood Revue the next time that it shows up on TCM!

The Fabulous Forties #29: Li’l Abner (dir by Albert S. Rogell)


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The 29th film in the Fabulous Forties box set is a “comedy” from 1940, called Li’l Abner.

Li’l Abner takes place in rural America, which this film portrays as being the type of place where cousins get married and have children that end up raising pigs and marrying each other.  Everyone in the small town of Dogpatch is kind of an idiot but they appear to mean well.  There’s a huge amount of single, young women in town but apparently, there’s only one single, young man.  His name is Abner (Jeff York) and he’s called Little Abner because the people in town have a taste for irony and he’s not little at all.  In fact, he’s really tall and he’s also handsome and likable in a dumb sort of way.  Every woman in town wants to marry Abner but Abner has no desire to ever get married.  As Abner sees it, getting married means getting old and eventually dying.  He wants to have adventures in the real world as opposed to just staying in Dogpatch and doing nothing…

But then Clarence is sent down to Earth and shows Abner what life would be like if he had never been born … oh wait, sorry.  Wrong 1940s film.

Instead of being visited by guardian angel, Abner is misdiagnosed with a fake illness and he becomes convinced that he only has 24 hours to live.  How does he become convinced of this?  Do you really want to know?  Even more importantly, do I really want to tell you?  Seriously, this is really stupid.  Okay, Abner goes to see a barber but he thinks the barber is a doctor and the barber, as a joke, tells Abner that he’s going to die of a fake disease.  When Abner tells his parents that he’s going to die, his parents immediately realize what has happened but they decided to let Abner believe that he’s going to die because they really want him to get married and, if Abner’s on the verge of death, he’s more likely to propose to one of the many local girls who is pursuing him.

(Ladies, the lesson here is simple: If you want your commitment-phobic man to pop the big question, convince him that he’s got less than a day to live.)

Anyway, two different girls ask Abner to marry them and, since Abner thinks he’s going to be dead by morning, he says yes to both of them.  However, Abner then wakes up the next morning and, for a few brief moments, is convinced that he is dead and the heaven looks just like the Ozarks.  But then he realizes that no, he’s still alive.  And he’s engaged to two women!

AGCK!  Bigamy much?

Luckily, all of this happens on Sadie Hawkins Day.  On Sadie Hawkins Day, any single woman can marry any single man that she chooses.  So, Abner figures that he just has to wait around see which one of his two fiancées finds him first…

Or something like that.

To be honest, the plot of this one made absolutely no sense to me and I wasn’t shocked to discover that it was based on a comic strip.  Li’l Abner is only 72 minutes long but it still has more plot than the last few seasons of The Walking Dead.  (BAM!  Take that, quality television!)  Anyway, this movie was light-hearted and good intentioned but way too stupid for its own good.  Jeff York was likable in the role of Abner and silent film fans might want to watch it just because Buster Keaton shows up in a small role, playing a moonshine drinking Native American named Lonesome Polecat.

Otherwise, Li’l Abner is one of the more forgettable films in the Fabulous Forties box set.