Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Movies I’ve stared at recently on TCM #20 (31 Days of Oscar/Rochester edition)

Brewster’s Millions (1945) – I took a gander at this one last night for really only one reason—the fact that Eddie “RochesterAnderson has a good-sized part in the picture. But Millions was a pleasant surprise; it’s no classic by any means but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Dennis O’Keefe (and I know I’ve ragged on Den in the past, but he’s very, very good here) is Montague “Monty” Brewster, a returning G.I. who learns that he’s fallen heir to a fortune worth $8 million…provided he can spend $1 million of it in thirty days and have no assets to show from his spree. If this all sounds familiar, it may be because Millions was remade in 1985 as a perfectly wretched comedy that wasted the talents of Richard Pryor and John Candy (the property itself had already been previously filmed three times before the O’Keefe version, notably in 1921 with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle that, unfortunately, appears to be lost); until I’m able to see the other versions I’m going to recommend the 1945 outing to anyone who asks me. Helen Walker—an actress whom I normally associate as the evil psychiatrist in Nightmare Alley (1947) and Jimmy Stewart’s supportive wife in Call Northside 777 (1948)—acquits herself nicely as O’Keefe’s romantic interest…though she has some stiff competition from June Havoc and Gail Patrick. Others in the cast include Mischa Auer, Nana Bryant, John Litel (not a lawyer but the executor of the will), Joe Sawyer, Neil “Commissioner Gordon” Hamilton, Herb Rudley and Thurston Hall.

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) – It’s a “Rochester” two-fer in this gargantuan classic that’s been a favorite of mine since childhood…though I’ve never really understood why, since its reputation is a bit inflated. It must be the sight of seeing a bunch of superlative comedic talents in main and cameo roles in this wacky story about a hunt for $350,000 (buried in a park in fictional Santa Rosita) and how people’s base interests (greed) get the better of them, stopping at nothing (stealing vehicles, destroying property, crashing cars and airplanes) to get a share of the loot. I learned from Bobby Osbo last night that the director’s cut of World originally ran five-and-a-half hours, which sort of makes its Best Editing Oscar nomination a joke (its current restorative length runs a little over three hours, and I still think it could use a little off the top here and there); but whether you find the movie funny ha-ha or funny peculiar it’s still a wonderful viewing experience seeing all that talent gathered together (my favorite scene remains the Jack Benny cameo—why no one thought to give Benny, the world’s most famous skinflint, a bigger part in a movie about unbridled greed still puzzles me to this day; second place is the five-second cameo with The Three Stooges as firemen…that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bit simply speaks volumes).

You Can’t Take It With You (1938) – A “Rochester” hat trick! Yes, Eddie’s in this Frank Capra-directed paean to eccentricity, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. You’re not going to believe this, but last night was the first time I actually sat through this entire movie (I’d seen clips here and there) even though I was familiar with the play (PBS presented it in 1984 on Great Performances with Jason Robards in the Grandpa Vanderhof role, a truly sensational turn); the Capra version still holds up fairly well although I think its Best Picture trophy was undeserved. The best scenes in the film are the moments spent in the Vanderhof/Sycamore household, with a lovable band of lunatics—Lionel Barrymore (Vanderhof), Spring Byington, Ann Miller, Mischa Auer, Samuel S. Hinds, Donald Meek, Halliwell Hobbes, Dub Taylor and Lillian Yarbo—practicing the gospel of individuality while big business tycoon Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold—who else?) fumes because his son Tony (James Stewart) wants to marry Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur). Arthur, who I am quite fond of, is surprisingly a weak link here—not only do I not find her courtship with Stewart plausible (they would work together much better in Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) I don’t particularly care whether they get together or not. Capra’s treatment of the Hart-Kaufman play is a bit Capra Corn-ish; its “poor-with-money-but-rich-with-friendship” theme will return in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and I was amused to see Harry Davenport’s judge behave in the same bemused manner (trying not to crack a smile) as would Harry Carey’s Vice President in Smith. In addition to the cast members previously mentioned, you’ll also catch character favorites like Mary Forbes, Clarence Wilson, Ann Doran, Charles Lane (I wonder if he and Wilson ever held a contest to see who could be the most crotchety?), Ward Bond, Dick Curtis, Vernon Dent, Byron Foulger, Russell Hicks, Pert Kelton, Pierre Watkin and Ian Wolfe (the youngest-looking I’ve ever seen him)…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

1 comment:

Joe Gannon said...

Too funny. The Stooges and Benny cameos are my favorite parts of Mad, Mad World too.