Friday, June 27, 2008

Two peas in a pod-dah

TCM has been showing Laurel & Hardy feature films every Saturday morning this entire month, and will conclude tomorrow with The Flying Deuces (1939) and Saps at Sea (1940), beginning at 10am. I’ve never seen Saps, and I’m anxious to do so despite the less-than-glowing critical reception from many Stan & Ollie fans—it can’t be any worse than A Chump at Oxford (1940), which TCM ran last Saturday.

TCM also showed Way Out West (1937), which more than made up for Oxford’s shortcomings; I have stated many times on the blog that West is my favorite of the feature films (yes, I like it even more than Sons of the Desert [1933]) only because it is so charming and, of course, contains two of my favorite musical movie moments: the soft-shoe dance to “At the Ball” and the duo’s sweetly sublime duet of “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.”

I haven’t seen a good portion of these films in many years now—my guess is that the last time I caught them was during their runs on AMC (if you can remember back that far). I’ve always lamented the fact that the greatest comedy team of all time gets absolutely no respect in this country…and yet is revered everywhere else. The prints shown by TCM range from okay to not-so-okay, but perhaps I’m too hasty to nitpick: at least they’re getting a showcase somewhere. TCM has gratefully made the boys part of their August schedule: on August 23, the home for classic movies will show twenty shorts and twelve feature films spotlighting the work of these wonderful comedians.

I’ve been fortunate to catch a few of some of my other comedy favorites this month:

Alias Jesse James (1959) – Bob Hope is an insurance salesman who issues a $100,000 policy to the titular outlaw (Wendell Corey) and then goes to hilarious lengths to keep his client from being killed. It’s probably Hope’s last really good solo vehicle; the luscious Rhonda Fleming (Hope’s co-star in 1949’s The Great Lover) is Bob’s leading lady and while James can’t quite measure up to the comedian’s best Western spoof (Son of Paleface) it does have some laugh-out-loud moments—particularly at the movie’s climax, in which our hero gets some help from a few movie and television Western legends.

Movie Crazy (1932) – Comedy great Harold Lloyd never was able to make a “talkie” that could measure up to his silent masterpieces…still, I think Crazy comes fairly close (particularly since the magician’s coat sequence is reminiscent of the falling-apart-suit in 1925’s The Freshman and Crazy’s climax is similar to the one used in 1927’s The Kid Brother). Harold is a small-town hick who desperately wants to make it big in pictures, and gets an invite to Hollywood to do so. Constance Cummings plays his would-be girlfriend(s) who dubs her paramour “Trouble.” It seems like every time I watch Crazy I call it Lloyd’s best sound comedy (and then I’ll watch The Milky Way (1936) and change my mind) but I now think I’ve reached the point where I don’t have to constantly second-guess myself.

The Kid From Spain (1932) – Eddie Cantor masquerades as a toreador in Mexico while trying to help a young Robert Young (Young Robert Young?) romance Ruth Hall—particularly since her father (Noah Beery, Sr.) disapproves of their coupling. Cantor has become an acquired taste with each passing year, but I think Spain is one of his best vehicles (despite the obligatory and uncomfortable blackface number and the stereotyping of Latinos—you know, the ones who shout “I weel keel heem!” at every turn), directed by Leo McCarey and co-written by songwriters Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar (who also did the “words and music”). Let’s be honest—it’s difficult to dislike a movie with dance numbers choreographed by Busby Berkeley and cinematography by Gregg Toland. (You can also spot Betty Grable, Jane Wyman, Paulette Goddard and Toby Wing among the “Goldwyn Girls” if you look sharp enough.)

1 comment:

Stacia said...

The obligatory mostly-nude ladies at the beginning of "Kid from Spain" caught my eye (ahem) but I couldn't stay for the whole film. Eddie Cantor doesn't do it for me.