Monday, June 1, 2009

Movies I’ve stared at recently (though some of them weren’t necessarily on TCM) #31 (Dusty TDOY Archives edition)

Saturday night found me bored out of my ever-lovin’ skull, so I decided the only remedy for such was some hot buttered popcorn and a double feature. There wasn’t anything on TCM that I had to see (and I’ve already seen all the flicks currently showing on TCM on Demand—including In Cold Blood [1967]) so I decided to dig through some of the titles on the overstuffed DVD shelves here at Rancho Yesteryear:

The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) – I sit down to watch this Airplane!-like spoof (assembled by the same individuals responsible for Airplane! [1980]—Jim Abrahams, David & Jerry Zucker) every three years or so and though many of the jokes haven’t fared well, the ones that do still manage to break me up. My favorite parodies include the Bruce Lee-inspired Fistful of Yen, the how-to sex record sketch (with Big Jim Slade!), the air freshener spoof and of course, Catholic High School Girls in Trouble (“More offensive than Mandingo!”). The sketches are mostly performed by a cast of unknowns, but a few celebrities pop here and there: Henry Gibson (speaking on behalf of the number-one killer in America, Death), Bill Bixby, George Lazenby (in a promo for Samuel L. Bronkowitz’s That’s Armageddon!), Donald Sutherland, Tony Dow (as Wally Cleaver)…and the late Forrest J Ackerman. “The popcorn you are eating has been pissed in…film at eleven!”

And Now for Something Completely Different (1971) – What better way to follow up a classic comedy film than with another classic comedy films? Okay, Different really couldn’t be called a classic—it’s really more of a Monty Python’s Greatest Hits collection, featuring the six-man troupe who warped my sensibilities growing up as a teenager. While I still maintain the best way to watch the Pythons do these sketches is on their television series, you just can’t resist popular bits like “Upper Class Twit of the Year,” “Hell’s Grannies,” “The World’s Deadliest Joke,” “Dirty Fork” and the immortal “Dead Parrot.”

The Wrong Box (1966) – The Python movie ended around 1:00am, and I switched over to TCM to catch this farcical vehicle that I hadn’t seen in ages: brothers John Mills and Ralph Richardson are the surviving participants of a tontine worth over £100,000 and Mills is scheming to secure the kitty for “grandson” Michael Caine while Richardson’s “relatives”, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, have the same idea. It didn’t take me long before I realized why it’s been so long since I’ve watched this movie: this once-popular film (based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne—with screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove) just isn’t as funny as it once was…though not for a lack of trying. Granted, there are some priceless scenes; the opening sequence showing the various tontine members meeting their demise is good for a giggle (influenced, no doubt, by Kind Hearts and Coronets), Peter Sellers’ performance as a down-and-out medico is riotous (I love the bit where he uses the kitten as a blotter) and I always enjoy seeing Cook and Moore work together. There are a lot of great British comic actors in this: Wilfrid Lawson, Tony Hancock, Irene Handl, John Le Mesurier, Cicely Courtneidge, Graham Stark and Leonard Rossiter are a few of the ones that spring immediately to mind. What the film could have benefited from was a better director; Bryan Forbes has no sense of pacing whatsoever.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) – Sunday night found me with the same Saturday-night ennui, so I kicked off another mini-festival with this sadly neglected comedy-drama starring Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones as a pair of ballplayers (who play for the Negro League) who grow tired of being exploited by the black owners of the League and set out to form their own team—where they themselves own the franchise and players share equally in the profits (their motto, a bit of leftist political satire, is “Seize the means of production”). Their former owners—headed up by funeral director Ted Ross—are none too pleased at this turn of events; in fear of losing their star players and facing new competition, they conspire to shut down Bingo’s operation with pay-offs and intimidation to those who would hire the barnstorming players. The only real flaw in Motor Kings is that it resorts to formula by the film’s end (Ross’ goons end up kidnapping Jones so he can’t play in the big game) but everything before that is first-rate—a rare opportunity to see both black villains as well as white (I also like how Bingo and his crew are able to win over a hostile white crowd by shuckin’ and jivin’ and clowning—even though Jones doesn’t like the idea, he realizes that the team will have the last laugh on the audience). Richard Pryor also appears in the film as Charlie Snow a.k.a. Carlos Nevada, a black player who has a scheme to get into the major leagues by pretending to be Cuban, and Stan Shaw is a notable presence as a combination Willie Mays/Jackie Robinson center-fielder who’s signed by an agent at the film’s end to play for one of the major leagues’ farm teams (which necessitates the pep talk Williams gives Jones at the conclusion that “the Negro League will never die”). Lots of veterans in good, solid roles are on hand: Jester Hairston, Alvin Childress (as one of the team owners), Carl Gordon and Mabel King—who steals every scene she’s in as the lone female owner of one of the Negro League teams (and it’s nice to know she did other things other than What’s Happening!).

Carmen Jones (1954) – Why does army officer Harry Belafonte jeopardize his fledgling career as a pilot by cold cocking his superior officer (Brock—spelled “Broc”—Peters) and deserting in the process? Well, he’s gone ga-ga over sultry Carmen Jones (Dorothy Dandridge), a civilian worker in a nearby parachute factory whose main occupation appears to be luring men to their doom (the parachute thing being just a sideline). This landmark all-black musical (adapted by Oscar Hammerstein II from the famed George Bizet opera Carmen) is a must-see movie, telling the tragic love story of a man who wanders off the straight-and-narrow traveled by his sweetheart (Olga Jones) after hearing Carmen’s siren song (Dat’s Love). The only quibble I have with this film is hearing LeVern Hutchinson substitute for Belafonte’s singing—I’m so used to hearing Belafonte belt out Jump in the Line or Mama, Look at Bubu that Hutchinson’s operatic tenor is a bit jarring. My favorite musical numbers in Jones are Pearl Bailey’s Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum (Bailey’s the only performer who was allowed to use her real voice, so I suppose that’s why I like her numbers the best) and the ensemble singing of Whizzin’ Away Along De Track, which features Bailey, Dandridge, Diahann Carroll, Nick Stewart and Roy Glenn (even though the last four are dubbed—Glenn by Brock Peters!)

1 comment:

Toby O'B said...

I'm sorry to hear 'The Wrong Box' doesn't work as well years later upon re-viewing. It's one of those movies I loved as a teenager - for the stars, and for the humor that seemed so foreign to me at the time (before I had seen Kind Hearts and Coronets or had been exposed to Monty Python). I can even remember where I was when I saw it!

Still, I'll probably give it another go should it ever cross my radar again...