Hooray for Harold Lloyd!: MOVIE CRAZY (Paramount 1932)


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Harold Lloyd  made a smooth transition from silent films to talkies beginning with 1929’s WELCOME DANGER. Unlike Charlie Chaplin (who stubbornly clung to making silents until 1940), and Buster Keaton (whose MGM contract took away much of his artistic freedom), Lloyd retained both his comic visual style while integrating verbal gags in the new medium and kept control of the pictures he made. And while his popularity had begun to wane by the 1930’s, Harold Lloyd’s early talkies are definitely worth watching – because they’re flat-out funny! Case in point: 1932’s MOVIE CRAZY.

MOVIE CRAZY is one of those “Hollywood-behind-the-scenes” stories you know I love so much, so it automatically scored cool points with me! Kansas farm boy Harold Hall lives with his parents and daydreams of being a movie star. One day, he sends his picture and a letter to Planet Films exec O’Brien – only the inept Harold…

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The Fabulous Forties #43: The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (dir by Preston Sturges)


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The 42nd film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was a 1947 comedy called The Sin of Harold Diddlebock.

As a classic film lover, I really wish that The Sin of Harold Diddlebock was better than it actually is.  The film was a collaboration between two of the biggest names in cinematic comedy history: director/writer Preston Sturges and legendary actor Harold Lloyd.  In fact, this was the first film that Sturges directed after leaving the studio system so that he could make bring his unique brand of satire to life without having to deal with interference.  He managed to convince Harold Lloyd to come out of retirement to star in the movie and the film even works as a quasi-sequel to one of Lloyd’s most beloved silent comedies, The Freshman.  In a perfect world, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock would have been a comedy masterpiece that would have perfectly shown off the talents of both men.

Unfortunately, that’s really not the case.  The Sin of Harold Diddlebock is consistently amusing but it’s never quite as funny as you want it to be.  This is one of those films that sounds like it should be hilarious but, when you actually watch it, you see that the film is oddly paced and Lloyd never seems to be fully invested in his role.  I suppose the natural inclination would be to blame this on interference from the notoriously eccentric Howard Hughes, who co-produced the film with Sturges.  After Harold Diddlebock failed at the box office, Hughes withdrew it and spent three years personally reediting the film before re-releasing it under the title Mad Wednesday.  However, by most reports, Hughes wasn’t really the problem.  If Wikipedia is to be believed (and God do I hate starting any sentence with that phrase), Lloyd and Sturges did not have a good working relationship.  As sad as that is, it’s also understandable.  Geniuses rarely work well together.

The Sin of Harold Diddlebock does get off to a good start, seamlessly incorporating the last reel of The Freshmen with footage shot for Harold Diddlebock.  (Somewhat sweetly, the film starts with a title card informing us that the what we are about to see was taken from The Freshman.)  After college freshman Harold Diddlebock scores the winning touchdown in a football game, impressed advertising executive J.E. Waggleberry (Raymond Walburn) offers Harold a job.  However, Harold wants to finish college so Waggleberry tells Harold to look him up in four years.

Four years later, recently graduated Harold goes to Waggleberry for a job and discovers that J.E. Waggleberry has totally forgotten him.  Harold ends up working in the mailroom but is told that, as long as he is ambitious and smart, he will easily move up in the company.  22 years later, Harold is still working in the mailroom.  He is secretly in love with Miss Otis (Frances Ramsden).  Of course, he was also in love with each of Miss Otis’s six older sisters, all of whom worked at the company before the current Miss Otis.  Harold bought an engagement ring when the oldest Otis sister was with company.  Years later, he’s still carrying it with him and dreams of giving it to the current Miss Otis.

However, that might be difficult because Harold has just been fired.  J.E. Waggleberry feels that Harold’s unambitious attitude is setting a bad example.  As severance, Harold is given a watch and $2,946.12.

The normally quiet and reserved Harold reacts to losing his job by doing something very unusual for him.  He goes to a bar and, with the help of a con man (Jimmy Conlin) and a bartender (Edgar Kennedy), he gets drunk.  The bartender even creates a special drink called the Diddlebock.  Harold drinks it and wakes up two days later, wearing a huge cowboy hat and owning a bankrupt circus…

And it only gets stranger from there….

While The Sin of Harold Diddlebock doesn’t quite work, I appreciated the fact that it not only created its own surreal world but that it just kept getting stranger and stranger as the film progressed.  It was Harold Lloyd’s final film and there’s even a scene where he and a lion end up on the edge of a skyscraper that’s almost as good as the famous comedic set pieces from his silent classics.  It’s a pity that the film doesn’t really come together but I’d still recommend seeing it just for history’s sake.

Still Funny After All These Years: Harold Lloyd in THE MILKY WAY (Paramount 1936)


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Harold Lloyd was one of the “Big 3” comedy stars of the Silent Era, right up there with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in popularity. I’ve viewed and enjoyed comic gems like SAFETY LAST and THE FRESHMAN, and some of his hilarious shorts. His bespectacled, energetic character was wildly popular in the Roaring Twenties, but with the advent of sound and The Great Depression, audiences turned away from Harold’s brand of comedy. Recently, I watched 1936’s THE MILKY WAY and wondered why they did, because Harold Lloyd was just as funny as ever in it, and the film is just as good as any screwball comedy of the era.

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Harold plays Burleigh Sullivan, a milquetoast milkman constantly in hot water for failing to meet his quotas. When a pair of drunken ruffians try to hit on his sister, meek Burleigh is forced to come to her defense. A fight breaks out, and Burleigh emerges from the pile victorious. The…

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Film Review: The Theory of Everything (dir by James Marsh)


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Earlier this year, when I was sitting in the audience for the unfortunate Nicholas Sparks film The Best Of Me, I found myself staring at the sight of an oil rig worker (played by James Marsden) relaxing by reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.  And, before I could stop myself, I laughed out loud and I may have even loudly said something along the lines of, “Oh come on!”

At the time, I got a lot of dirty looks but I stand by my reaction.  It’s such a cliché.  Any movie character who is meant to be intelligent and soulful will be seen casually reading a copy of Hawking’s book and scrunching up his brow as he considers whatever it is that Hawking has to say.  It makes sense, of course.  If the current cult surrounding Neil deGrasse Tyson proves anything, it’s that it is currently in to pretend to be fascinated by science.

I have to admit, though — science has never been my subject.  The cold logic of it all bores me to tears and there’s no bigger turn-off then listening to someone brag about being a “rational thinker.”  (Rational thought is incredibly overrated.)  As long as things work like they’re supposed to, the how and the why don’t really concern me.  Whenever I hear someone complain that there are “too many unanswered questions,” I think to myself, “Good.”  I like unanswered questions.  I like irrational feelings.  I like mysteries that can never be solved.  They fuel imagination.  They inspire great art.  They make life interesting and unpredictable.

(Please understand, I am not anti-science.  I’m anti-pretending-to-care-when-I-don’t.)

With all that in mind, you might think that I would be bored by The Theory of Everything, the recently released biopic about Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his marriage to Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones).  And, I’ll be honest.  If not for the fact that the film has been pegged as being a certain Oscar contender, I might not have ever wanted to see The Theory of Everything.  However, seeing as how The Theory of Everything is a certain Oscar contender, I did want to see it.

And, up until the final 30 minutes of the film, I was surprised with just how much I liked The Theory of Everything.  I have to admit that the film’s science still went over my head.  As far as that was concerned, the only thing I really learned is that there’s a difference between General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory but don’t ask me to explain that difference.  (And, for the love of all that is good, please don’t try to explain it to me…)  But, to be honest, the exact details of Hawking’s theories aren’t really that important to The Theory of Everything.  Instead, the film is content to have supporting characters assure us that Hawking’s work is brilliant and important and that’s really all that it has to do.  After all, everyone in the audience already knows that Stephen Hawking is a genius.  The appeal of The Theory of Everything is not the science but instead the human behind the science.

The Theory of Everything works for two very old-fashioned reasons — it’s well-directed by James Marsh and it’s well-acted by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.  For all the time that the film devotes to people talking about how Hawking challenged the conventional view of the universe, The Theory of Everything is, in many ways, a conventional biopic.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  A familiar story well-told is still a well-told story.

The film starts with Stephen as a student at Cambridge and we follow him as he awkwardly courts Jane and takes her on an amazingly well-filmed and soul-achingly romantic date.  Shortly after this, he’s diagnosed with motor neuron disease.  (As I discovered while doing some research for this review, Hawking was actually diagnosed before he even met Jane.)  Told he only has two years to live, Stephen’s first instinct is to isolate himself from the world but, largely as a result of Jane’s love and support, Stephen instead continues his work and becomes world famous.  The film suggests that it took a combination of Stephen’s logical (and skeptical) genius and Jane’s devout and unwavering faith (in both his genius and the God that Stephen doesn’t believe in) for him to eventually become the Stephen Hawking that we all recognize today.

And it’s all extremely well-done and touching, up until the final 30 minutes of the film.  Going into the film, I did not know much about Stephen Hawking but (thanks to Wikipedia), I did know that he eventually left Jane for another woman.  I have to admit that I did not expect the film to deal with this part of the story.  To the film’s credit, it does attempt to deal with the end of Stephen and Jane’s marriage but it does so in such an awkward way that it’s obvious that the filmmakers weren’t quite sure how they should handle the situation.

After all, the film had just spent 90 minutes presenting Jane as being an occasionally frustrated saint and Stephen as being idiosyncratic but likable.  And now, suddenly, Stephen is going to have to act like a jerk.  The film doesn’t know how to handle this and, as such, those final 30 minutes feel fake in a way that the rest of the film does not.  When Stephen tells Jane that he’s leaving her for another woman, it’s presented as being an almost mutual decision made by the two of them.  Tears are shed but there’s little visible anger, with the film going so far as to suggest that Stephen is leaving Jane because he wants her to be able to live the life that she put on hold to take care of him.  It’s even implied that Stephen was kind enough to pick out a new husband for her.

That new husband is played, quite well, by Charlie Cox.  When he first told Jane that he’s attracted to her, I assumed that the scene was included so that Jane could gently rebuff him and show us how devoted she is to Stephen.  However, thinking back on it now, it almost feels as if that scene was largely included so it could provide some cover for Stephen.  It’s as if the filmmakers are saying, “See?  Stephen wasn’t the only one tempted to end the marriage…”

And I have to admit that the way the film handled the end of Stephen and Jane’s marriage felt so false to me and the way Jane was treated and portrayed seemed so unfair that, as soon as I got home, I actually did the following google search: “Was The Theory Of Everything unfair to Jane Hawking?”

And the first result that came up was an article in The Guardian that essentially stated: “Yes, The Theory of Everything was unfair to Jane Hawking.”

Reading the article, I discovered that, according to Jane’s autobiography (upon which the film is ostensibly based), both her marriage to and divorce from Stephen Hawking was far more complex and intriguing than what was presented in the film.  For one thing, the marriage ended not with tears of acceptance but instead with a shouting match.  And trust me, if any actress could have done justice to Jane Hawking’s anger, it would be Felicity Jones.  By the time the film ends, both the character and the actress have earned the right to express their anger.  But neither one of them gets that opportunity, largely because that version of the Hawking marriage would also have been far less crowd pleasing.

And, if anything, The Theory of Everything is specifically designed to be a crowd pleaser.

And don’t get me wrong.  It’s a good film and it’s one that left me with tears in my eyes.  Do I recommend the film?  You bet I do.

I just wish that, during those final 30 minutes, the film could have been a little bit more honest with itself.  It’s a good film but it’s hard not to regret missing out on the film that it could have been.

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Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 04 “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things”


We’ve now come to the fourth episode of HBO’s very ambitious and expensive medieval fantasy series based on author George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga of which the first  book make’s up the first season. The first three episodes have done a great job at not just setting up the rules which govern this fantasy world of Martin’s but has deftly handled the many characters both main and supporting. It’s always been one of the many trepidations by fans of the books that the show may dumb down and simplify all these personalities both big and small for the tv screen. Luckily, for both fans and non-fans of the book the writers of the show have kept much of these characters intact.

“Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” is quite an apt title for this latest episode as it deals with exactly just that. The show explores those three subjects. We begin with both cripple and bastard finding a common ground as Tyrion (Peter Dinklage in what could only be an Emmy-winning performance as the Lannister Imp) shows compassion instead of pity to the crippled Bran Stark despite his very own suspicion as to the cause of Bran’s fall. It’s also in these scene where we see the appearance of fan favorite Hodor (Kristian Nairn). Hodor’s introduction is one of several instances which has allayed my concerns that such minor characters would be trimmed from the book as it makes its way onto the show. While I’m sure the show will not introduce every name from the book at least they’ve taken a deep understanding as to which of the supporting cast in the book must remain even if they are quite minor.

The rest of this episode really deals with the “Broke Things” of the title. We see just how broken the situation has become not just in Castle Black with the Night’s Watch but all across the Seven Realms of Westeros. The king’s insistence in holding a tourney for his newest Hand has led to more debt as more people flood into King’s Landing to witness this event. We see the broken relationships between family members in the houses of Stark, Lannister and Targaryen. It’s these cracks which has led to corruption and intrigue which could only lead to tragedy for the current holder of the Iron Throne and for all of the Westeros.

Even some of the characters themselves show signs of being broken things with the most visible being Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) whose cocky and self-absorbed personality shows hints of humanity. He sees what his king has been doing to hurt not just the kingdom he serves but to his sister Cersei whom he loves. There’s a brief hint in his expression as he stands guard outside Robert’s bedroom as whores attend his brother-in-law knowing he cannot do anything to fix it without living up once more to his infamous moniker of Kingslayer.

This episode introduces several new characters that should have some impact in the coming weeks as the show leads to it’s climactic season finale. One character which should please fans and make non-fans of the book lean with interest is the “Mountain”. Gregor Clegane is aptly named and comes in as Sandor “The Hound” Clegane’s (Joffrey Bieber’s personal guard with the half0burned face) older and much more brutal brother. We don’t hear him speak, but his entrance and what he does during the jousting tournament looms large in that sequence. It helps that Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen great in the role) gives Sansa a brief tale concerning the “Mountain” and the “Hound” which adds some mystery to the two siblings which the writers will hopefully explore further as the series moves along this season and the next.

The other new character that gets some major time in this episode was one of the stronger ones in terms of portrayal. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West sticking the role almost perfectly) is the latest recruit to don the black of the Night’s Watch and he’s as far from the ideal candidate for the black as any this show has shown. He’s fat, cowardly and almost effeminate in his behavior, but the character comes in as a broken thing. He’s forced to join the only thing he knows would accept him despite his shortcomings and the only haven from the suffering he has endured from his own family. At first it seems like pity that forces Jon Snow to take Sam under his wing for protection, but as he learns more of Sam’s background from Sam himself the more he sees similarities between the two of them. Only the turn of the fate having put Jon in the compassionate care of Eddard Stark has made him into the young man he is and becoming. It’s this growing rapport between Jon and Sam which really governs the Night’s Watch part of Game of Thrones.

But the show is not all about cripples, bastards and broken things. We see the beginning of the inner fires in both Daenerys Targaryen and Catelyn Stark in this episode. With the former we see how much she continues to grown into the role of Khaleesi of the Dothraki Horde. The confrontation between her and her older brother Viserys should begin to allay fears fans have had about how the writers have been handling the Daenerys character. Yes, the first three episodes haven’t really shown Daenerys being strong and kickass, but even in the book she wasn’t written to be such a character right from the onset. In both book and show her growing confidence still takes time. It just happens that the show just made her quite pliable and weak to start off with. I think that by the time this season ends Daenerys will grow into the confident character fans have been waiting to see.

With Catelyn Stark the situation has been a bit more complex as her character has been given several more layers of complexities with her book counterpart didn’t have. In the book she’s almost Ned Stark’s equal in almost everything, but lost in that was an emotional core which the show has given her. It’s this emotional layer which has added a loving motherly aspect to the character. It sometimes came off as helplessness in the previous episodes, but what mother wouldn’t feel so frozen with worry and inaction for the tragedy to have struck one of her sons. The fire that fans have been waiting for begins to fan as Catelyn sees herself confronting one of the very Lannister’s who she believes had a hand in the assassination attempt on her crippled son, Bran. Her reciting the many different bannermen who are loyal to her house and to her husband’s house was very inspiring and just a hint of what will come next as a storm of swords and a clash of kings loom over the horizon of Westeros.

Overall, “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” continues a streak of excellent episodes in the premiere season for Game of Thrones. We see more intrigue and machiavellian machinations than action, but it’s entertaining and thrilling nonetheless. This show has shown that fantasy, especially on TV, doesn’t have to be always about battles and bloodshed (though the spearing of the knight at the joust was done bloody well enough). It’s the political maneuverings and intrigues which will ultimately drive this show towards the very battles and bloodshed fans of these type of shows end up craving for.

Next week’s episode will be “The Wolf and The Lion”.


PS: It was great to see Jon Snow’s direwolf finally appear in its grown form. We’ve already it as an albino pop, but not grown like we’ve already seen with Summer, Nymeria and Lady. Ghost will soon become a favorite with the show’s fans the more he appears. The only one’s we haven’t seen are Robb Stark’s Grey Wind and Rickon Stark’s Shaggydog.