4 posts categorized "Screwball Comedy"

March 22, 2018

THEY ALL LAUGHED

They_all_laughedPeter Bogdanovich’s underseen romantic comedy is an unabashed love letter to 1980 Manhattan. Storyline and plot take a welcome backseat to an attractive if iconic cast portraying characters digging each other and the summer midtown New York vibe they inhabit.

Frank Sinatra’s songs of the era (“New York, New York”) contrast against country music tunes to give the movie a surprisingly effective musical lilt. It is a picture about love and joy that celebrates its own purpose for being. Knowing nods between characters acknowledge the film’s open secret. We’re constantly watching characters admiring or spying on one other from afar.

You can’t help but stumble over yourself as an audience member watching Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara, John Ritter, Colleen Camp, Patti Hansen, Blane Novak, and former Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten goofing around as the least believable private detectives and subjects you could dream of.  

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There may not be much dramatic conflict, but that’s the point. Colleen Camp’s request from a street vendor for a “very large orange juice” is rewarded with a small half-filled Styrofoam cup. New York culture is crammed into every frame.  

Bogdanovich takes inspiration from Arthur Schnitzler’s often-adapted play “La Ronde” to create this lighthearted comedy of manners that never strays from the shallow end of the screwball comedy pool. Pratfalls come with the territory but “What’s Up Doc” this is not. Still, nobody falls down funnier than John Ritter.

Algonquin

“They All Laughed” is as breezy as its title suggests, but there are so many tiny elements that make you want to revisit the picture. Patti Hansen’s guileless smile, scenes filmed in and around Manhattan’s legendary Algonquin Hotel, and Dorothy Stratten’s stunning charisma contribute to the film’s friendly appeal.

John Ritter

If you’ve ever wanted to take a time machine vacation back to 1980 New York where you can do no wrong, this fun-loving movie makes it possible. We’re all in the mood for love.

Rated PG. 115 mins. (B+) Three stars — out of five / no halves)

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April 03, 2016

HAIL, CAESAR!

HailCaesarThe Coens Go A Wandering In McCarthy Era Hollywood And Get Lost

The ever-streaky Joel and Ethan Coen commit a cinematic blunder with a would-be screwball comedy that has all the laughs you can count on one hand.

Lushly composed but disconnected set pieces play out in ‘50s era Hollywood backlot intrigue involving Josh Brolin’s Eddie Mannix, a movie industry “fixer.” Eddie Mannix is in charge of keeping big budget pictures on schedule and under budget. He also patches up potentially scandalous incidents involving wayward starlets before gossip columnists can get wind of their indiscretions. Mannix has the bearing of a cheesy private investigator who intentionally wears too much cologne. He marks his territory. Brolin’s modulated performance is in keeping with the comedy’s restrained tone and the film’s lulling tempo but there’s nothing to sink your teeth into.

It says a lot about the film that its most engaging subplot involves cowboy actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich). The ambitious but woefully unskilled Doyle is cast beyond his acting chops in a romantic period drama being directed by the esteemed British director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). Ehrenreich steals what there is of a movie with abominable line readings drive Ralph Fiennes’s pleasantly articulate director to distraction. Still, the subplot doesn’t pay off. Neither do any of the film’s other narrative detours.

Even Coen-regular George Clooney gets cornered into mediocrity. Clooney plays Baird Whitlock, an A-list star who gets kidnapped away from the sword-and-sandal epic he’s currently working on by a group of blacklisted [communist sympathizing] screenwriters looking to abandon America. Think the Hollywood Ten — Dalton Trumbo, Lester Cole, Ring Lardner Jr. etc.) The nerdy movie writers keep Baird sequestered inside a plush seaside house in Malibu, where he easily falls in with his captors' anti-capitalist ideologies, at least until another script comes along. 

Hail,Caesar01

The Coen’s bland use of political satire here is so inept that you can’t decipher what kind of point, if any, they are attempting to make about a [mostly] brave group of blacklisted writers who were sited for contempt of Congress, and lost their once flourishing careers for refusing to answer question about their alleged involvement with the Communist Party. 

Hail-Caesar

“Hail Caesar!” falls into the same dustbin as other Coen Brother cinematic splats that include “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers.” Simultaneously overworked and underdeveloped, here is an unfunny comedy that will leave audiences scratching their heads about the point of so much blind slapstick razzmatazz that goes nowhere. The movie is pretty to look at, and that's about it.

“That’s all folks.”

Rated PG-13. 106 mins. (C-) (One Star — out of five / no halves 

December 06, 2015

BRINGING UP BABY — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Bringing-Up-Baby Howard Hawks’s “Bringing Up Baby” is the go-to example of screwball comedy that critics and film-lovers reference most as the definitive model of the genre. The picture exemplifies the category’s requisites of farce, innuendo, punchy dialogue, comic anticipation, and pratfalls.

The slapstick-punctuated comedy revolves around Cary Grant’s engaged-to-be-married paleontologist David Huxley, and Katherine Hepburn’s Susan Vance, a high-society tornado of trouble with romantic eyes for David. The screenwriters emphasize David’s incompatibility with his also-bespectacled fiancée Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker) in the film's opening scenes when she makes it clear that there will be no hanky panky even after the wedding. Alice is staking out her dominance in the relationship. Alice may be a great assistant in the lab, but she clearly isn’t wife material.

Toss in a tame leopard named Baby, a missing Brontosarus bone (the “intercostal clavicle” to be exact), and several people connected to Mr. Peabody, a wealthy would-be donor of a million dollars to give David for his scientific research, and let the laughs fly.

Hawks sets the script’s frequently overlapping dialogue at an unprecedentedly (at the time) quick tempo that Grant and Hepburn zip though with their distinctly idiosyncratic voices. Hepburn’s New England accent filters through her raspy, not quite obnoxious, voice in harmony with Grant’s trademark staccato delivery of unlikely octave leaps.

Bringing up baby
Romantic tension pops between Hepburn and Grant because their characters are so steadfastly at odds and yet helplessly caring for one another in spite of the waterfall of calamities that strike whenever they are together. Their funny compatibility is best revealed through the conflicts that beset them.

The couple’s introductory meeting, on a golf course, involves Susan playing one of David’s balls (she sinks the putt), before inexplicably pretending that his convertible belongs to her. David’s oversized auto suffers some severe dents before he is compelled to ride on the running board as she drives the aim of her starry-eyed intentions away from Mr. Peabody.

Although modern audiences don’t pick up on it the way Depression Era spectators did at the time, an essential “screwball comedy” conceit lies in David’s and Susan’s upper class status. Nerdy David works for a museum, while independent Susan is a headstrong but ditzy bon vivant. Both are financially secure people who dare not look their attraction in the eye. When Susan disposes of David’s clothes after he takes an unintentional dip, he is forced to put on her oh-so-frilly nightgown. A comic zinger arrives when David is forced to explain his controversial mode of dress to Susan’s aunt Elizabeth (May Robson). David says, “Because I just went gay all of sudden!” Cary Grant leaps into the air while spilling the line as if the floor has suddenly become too hot to stand on.

The leopard serves as a great comic randomizer for the preposterous plot to spin out of control. Susan knows that singing the 1928 standard “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” calms Baby down. Listening to Grant and Hepburn harmonize together on the song is comically painful in a delightful way. Hitting the notes isn’t as important as the screwball route they seem to take along the way.

Not Rated. 102 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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January 22, 2012

IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD — CLASSIC FILM PICK

The_big_w.colesmithey.comStanley Kramer's 1963 screwball comedy sent the genre into an orbit of epic proportions. Using a treasure-hunt plot that allowed his gigantic cast of character actor comedians to run with the ball, Kramer didn't just capture lightening in a bottle; he caught a volcano's worth of comic fireworks.

Written by the husband-and-wife writing team of William and Tania Rose, the movie kicks into gear on a two-lane highway in the Mojave Desert where aging criminal "Smiler" Grogan (Jimmy Durante) goes off a cliff trying to outrun a couple of plainclothes detectives. Smiler has been on the run for 15 years since stealing $350,000 from a tuna factory heist. Four vehicles' worth of witnesses stop to check on Smiler's dubious condition at the bottom of the cliff he ejected from. Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett, and Milton Berle leave the women (Edia Adams, Ethal Merman and Dororty Provine) with the cars to climb down the embankment where Smiler miraculously has enough life left in him to describe his stash of loot buried beneath "a big W" in Santa Rosita State Park near the Mexican border before he kicks the bucket--quite literally.

Its-a-Mad-Mad-Mad-Mad-World

Naturally, the men rush back to their respective automobiles to head for the border like bats out of hell. A brief roadside attempt at concocting a civilized method for splitting up the cash, should it be found, is broken up by Ethel Merman's unforgettable domineering shrew Mrs. Marcus, the mother-in-law to Milton Berle's character and his wife Emeline (Provine). It's each man, or woman, for him or herself.

Little does the group of treasure-hunters know that a police captain named Culpepper (wonderfully played by Spencer Tracy) is surveying their progress with bated breath. Captain Culpepper has been waiting 15 years to be led to Smiler's fortune so he can drop the cop act and go on a permanent vacation with his wife.

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Apart from a plethora of perfectly pitched comic cameos by the likes of Jerry Lewis, Jim Backus, Norman Fell, Buster Keaton, Don Knotts, and even the Three Stooges, the movie is remarkable for its comic action set pieces that go gleefully over the top. Jonathan Winters’s truck driver Lennie Pike single-handedly razes an entire gas station with sidesplitting fury to the ground. Watching Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett crash land a twin-engine airplane into an airport cafeteria is a classic image that informed Arthur Hiller’s great 1976 comedy “Silver Streak.”

When the unpredictable slapstick hits its uncontrolled fire-truck-ladder climax of body-tossing insanity the film achieves a deeply satisfying kind of comic catharsis you just won’t find in any other film.

Not Rated. 205 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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