Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Passionate Plumber Politely Plunges


Released: February 6, 1932
Directed: Edward Sedgwick
Starring: Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton is Elmer E. Tuttle, a Parisian plumber who's been picked up by Julius J. McCracken (Jimmy Durante), a servant of Patricia Alden (Irene Purcell) to fix her shower. Patricia is a beautiful and rich woman who's lover is a two timing liar by the name of Tony. She tries to get away from him, but he follows her all the way up to her bedroom where he finds Elmer only in a towel, due to a little plumbing accident. Patricia then pretends that Elmer is her lover in order to keep Tony away. The only trouble is Elmer takes his job too seriously and besides that he's madly in love with her. To make matters worse, everyone seems to think that Elmer was trying to assassinate a military leader.
I could have put Jimmy Durante in the starring list, but Durante and Keaton just do not mix. I wanted to strangle Durante for obnoxiously taking away Buster's scenes. THE PASSIONATE PLUMBER isn't terrible. It's actually pretty funny. My main problem was Durante. He's just so annoying. The funny thing about this movie is that much of the beginning is reused for a Columbia Pictures cheater called SHE'S OIL MINE. Many of his later cheaters seemed to reuse gags from his old pictures. Not the greatest film ever, although probably better than some of his earlier talkies. Buster is allowed to do what he does best, and for that, I am truly grateful. For the true fan of Buster Keaton or someone who's just curious.

Maybe some day you'll be glad I was here,

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lover Come Back To Me


Released: December 20, 1961
Directed: Delbert Mann
Starring: Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall

Jerry Webster (Hudson) and Carol Templeton (Day) are rival advertising executives who hate each other's guts, despite their never having met. Jerry uses sex to get clients and sell products. Carol uses good old fashioned hard work. When Jerry steals the Miller account, Carol goes to war. She complains to the Ad Council but her witness, Rebel Davis (Edie Adams), has been coached by Jerry and gets him off the hook. By accident, Rebel hints to Carol that she's the new VIP girl (not the acronym) and Carol is off to get the VIP account. But Jerry only made up the VIP product to keep Carol under his thumb. And now that Peter Ramsey (Tony Randall), Jerry's neurotic friend and boss, has released the commercials featuring Rebel as the VIP girl, Jerry has to come up with VIP. He approaches Dr. Linus Tyler to create VIP and he agrees, but Carol accidentally mistakes Jerry as Dr. Linus Tyler, the supposed inventor of VIP.
This is a fairly enjoyable piece of fluff. The story isn't original (rewatch PILLOW TALK) but LOVER COME BACK is entertaining. Tony Randall is just fabulous as the neurotic employer, and it's plain to see where Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake got their inspiration for DOWN WITH LOVE. This can be a background film, but watch with caution. I tried to some work and immediately put it down. I just got sucked in. Doris Day and Rock Hudson just have great chemistry. I love it.

I'm surrounded by traitors,

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Dear Ladies


Released: July 1, 1953
Directed: Howard Hawks
Starring: Rosalind Russel, Marilyn Monroe

Dorothy Shaw (Rosalind Russel) and Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) are two showgirls who are out to grab their man. Lorelei found her's: a young millionaire by the name of Gus Esmond (Tommy Noonan) who's wrapped around her little finger. The two are off to get married, but Gus's dad calls him away. Not wanting to miss her trip to Paris, Lorelei convinces Gus to let her and Dorothy go on the trip. Unbeknownst to them, Gus's father has hired a private investigator, Ernie Malone (Elliott Reid), to spy on Lorelei. Ernie, of course, falls in love with Dorothy and Lorelei approves only because she thinks Malone has money. Lorelei is obsessed with money and finds her golden goose in Piggy (Charles Coburn) who owns a diamond mine. Things, of course, begin to unravel quickly for both girls in the quest for love, money, and diamonds.
Let me start by saying this is the only classic film my brother will watch. He finds the two women hysterical. That said, Rosalind Russell and Marilyn Monroe do a terrific job in their roles. They are highly entertaining and are at their best. Rosalind is so pretty and Marilyn looks surprisingly innocent. A really great film but it is a musical. So if you don't like musicals, I'd pass it up. Especially if you're not into meaty men, as one specific song involves the U.S.A. Olympic team (not the actual team).

The second reason is you got a lot of animal magnetism,

Friday, October 21, 2011

Leave It To Tammy And The Bachelor


Released: June 14, 1957
Directed: Joseph Pevney
Starring: Debbie Reynolds, Leslie Nielson, Walter Brennan

Tammy Tyree (Reynolds) is a young teenage girl who's lived her whole life on the Mississippi River with her Grandpa (Brennan). Tammy dreams of getting out of the river and into a new life. She sees an airplane crash, and she and her grandpa fish out the barely living pilot, Peter Brent (Nielson). Tammy falls head over heels, but Peter thinks of her as only a kid. He recovers and leaves, but not before telling Grandpa that if anything should happen to the old guy, to send Tammy to his house. A few weeks later Grandpa gets sent off to jail for making moonshine and Tammy (and her goat, Nan) walk to Peter's house. Tammy is definitely a fish out of water with her domestic, religious, and simple ways. Tammy also has competition in ways of Peter's affection, as he has a girlfriend by the name of Barbara (Mala Powers).
TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR is a sweet movie. Tammy isn't the brightest kid surrounded by all of these high brow people, but she is clearly smarter than all of them. She helps nearly everyone in the family despite their not realizing it. Tammy is one of those roles that Debbie Reynolds was always given: the sweet country girl. She does it well but I've always wanted Debbie Reynolds to do a different type of character. She's still pretty brilliant. Leslie Nielson, before he was famous for AIRPLANE!, is very charming. It's clear to see why he was a leading man. A nice movie that's worth a watch. Debbie had a hit with the title song, "Tammy", garnering her a gold record. This movie, however, is not a musical.

Come on, Nan,

Monday, October 17, 2011

I Know How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying


Released: March 9, 1967
Directed: David Swift
Starring: Robert Morse, Michele Lee, Rudy Vallee

A window washer by the name of J. Pierpont Finch (Robert Morse) purchases a book called How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Due to the advice in the book, he obtains a job at the World Wide Wicket Company. It's not too big, but it's not too small, either. Finch quickly works his way up from the mailroom, as a clerk, having his own office, to getting his dream job: advertising. But Finch has friends and enemies. Bud Frump (Anthony Teague), the bosses nephew, is always one step behind Finch. There's also Rosemary Pilkington (Michele Lee), the secretary who falls madly for Finch at first sight. Another road block is the boss Jasper B. Biggley (Rudy Valee) and his old 'pal' Hedy LaRue (Maureen Arthur).
When I first saw this movie I was just blown away by the awesomeness of it all. It's a corporate musical. That's just great. There's a lot of sarcastic and satirical remarks about corporate life, but mainly it's just a friendly romp through Finch's life. Although he starts from the bottom, he still manages to become a someone. So it's a pretty ridiculous way, but isn't American culture about shortcuts? This is another 60's musical, and it shows. It's not as bad as some, but HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING is a gem. It has everything a movie needs. Plus some really catchy tunes and a barrel of laughs.

An emotional involvement can only lead to getting involved...emotionally,

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Becoming Battling Butler


Released: September 19, 1926
Directed: Buster Keaton
Starring: Buster Keaton, Sally O'Neil

Alfred Butler (Keaton) is a wealthy, pampered young man. His father is sick and tired of his lack of manhood and suggests young Alfred go hunting and camping. Alfred has his valet "arrange it" and soon he is camping in style. By sheer accident, he nearly shoots a Mountain Girl (O'Neil) and falls in love. He asks for her hand in marriage, but her big and burly father and brother don't want a weakling in the family. By pure coincidence there is a boxer by the name of Alfred 'Battling' Buster, so Alfred's valet claims that his weak kneed master is that boxer. The family buys it and arrange a marriage between the two lovebirds. But Alfred has to keep up the charade, otherwise his new married life will be ruined.
BATTLING BUTLER was based off a play by a similar name (Battling Buttler). Keaton did a few features that were based of stories or plays, SEVEN CHANCES being the most obvious. These were films that Keaton did because he had to, not because he particularly enjoyed the story. However, Buster did the best he could do. BATTLING BUTLER may not be Buster's greatest film, but it is still highly enjoyable. First off you get to see his athletic prowess. His athleticism would be featured a few years later in COLLEGE, but this is a great jumping point. Buster uses mainly subtle gags in this film. Nothing too over the top or laugh out loud. It's a cute film with some old school boxing violence. Also, the valet (Snitz Edwards), played the lawyer in SEVEN CHANCES. No one could forget a face as freaky as his.

Arrange it,

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How Do I Know Who Framed Roger Rabbit?


Released: June 22, 1988
Directed: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy

It's 1947 Hollywood and toons run freely through town. Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), a toon hating detective, is hired by R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern), the owner of Maroon Cartoon Studios, to spy on Roger Rabbit's (Charles Fleischer) wife. Eddie is a washed up, drunken detective and needs the cash, and despite his prejudices, takes the job. To his surprise Mrs. Jessica Rabbit (Kathleen Turner) is one sexually appealing toon. Eddie takes pictures of her playing patty cake with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), owner of both Toontown and the Acme corporation. Eddie and Maroon show Roger the pictures but he just can't believe it. He leaves in a fit and the next morning Acme is found dead. Everyone assumes Roger did it, but Roger claims he was framed. It's up to Eddie, Dolores (Joanna Cassidy) - Eddie's girl, Roger, and Jessica to find the killer, the deed to Toontown, and save their own skins.
WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? is a visual spectacle of pure magic. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this movie. It's funny, dramatic, serious, and goofy all in one dose. My animator friends are blown away by the seamless animation/human interaction and my live action pals think the cinematography, story, and acting is superb. It's a film for every and anyone. Anyone who hasn't seen WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? is really missing out. It's really one of those films you've got to see to believe. There are so many great things about ROGER RABBIT that I can't just talk about it in a rational manner, but then again, how rational is this movie? A mix of humans and toons is just an ingenious idea and it is executed in the most perfect way. Watch it. Now. Do it!
ROGER RABBIT also has cameos of famous toons, such as Betty Boop, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, Dumbo, Micky Mouse, and Bugs Bunny.

I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way,

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I Prefer A Vivacious Lady


Released: May 10, 1938
Directed: George Stevens
Starring: Ginger Rogers, James Stewart, Charles Coburn

Peter Morgan Jr. (James Stewart) is a botany professor at the university run by his father (Charles Coburn). Peter's sent to the city to bring back his cousin Keith (James Ellison) back to the university. While attempting to find Keith, Peter meets Francey, a nightclub singer with whom Keith is infatuated. After a night walking the city, Francey and Peter get married. The three return home but Peter has a hard time telling his conservative parents that he's married. Things are complicated by the fact that Peter has a fiance, his Father is an overbearing jerk, and that everyone seems to think that Francey is Keith's girl.
VIVACIOUS LADY is a very fun film. You get to see Ginger Rogers and Jimmy Stewart paired together for the first and only time. And to think it almost never happened! Jimmy got sick three weeks into filming and then he had to go star in OF HUMAN HEARTS. They considered getting another actor, but Ginger was vehement. The two have lovely chemistry and they are just superb together. You get a taste of Ginger's singing and dancing at the beginning of the film and a little bit more near the end. James Stewart is just so terribly funny as Peter Morgan. He's such a great actor and I'm glad they let him keep the part. The supporting players are quite great. Beulah Bondi plays Stewart's mother in this film, a role she was already familiar with as she played his mother in OF HUMAN HEARTS. She would later play his mother in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, and on an episode of THE JIMMY STEWART SHOW. Another bit of trivia is that Ginger's legs were insured for $500,000, so during the fight scene, her legs were padded up to avoid damage.

And besides, it's against the law to hit a man who has glasses on,

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

And That's My Son Steamboat Bill Jr


Released: May 28, 1928
Directed: Chas F. Reiner, Buster Keaton
Starring: Buster Keaton

Steamboat Bill is a tough steamboat captain who's rival, J.J. King, is taking all of his business. Bill's son, William Canfield Jr. (Buster Keaton), has just finished school and is visiting his dad, probably for the first time in his life. Steamboat Bill is terribly upset at the son he's been given and things go from bad to worse as he discovers that Willy's got a thing for King's pretty daughter.
STEAMBOAT BILL JR. is just a great film. Buster Keaton is at the top of his game. It's just sad that STEAMBOAT BILL JR. wasn't as a big a success as it is now. Also Chas F. Reiner really didn't direct. He mainly got paid to get in the way. Buster was the actual director. Reiner was given all the scenes Buster wasn't in. This was the last film made before Buster signed with MGM, and it's a shame that we wouldn't see this much creativity and fun on screen by Buster Keaton almost ever again (except for perhaps THE CAMERAMAN). There are a bazillion great gags, such as the pork pie hat cameo, Buster's baking, learning the ropes, and the cyclone scene. The cyclone was originally going to be a flood but there was a recent flood in Mississippi and they didn't want to offend or upset anyone. Sound familiar? STEAMBOAT BILL JR. also has perhaps Buster's greatest stunt. I won't give it away if you haven't seen it, but I'll give you a hint: it involved life or death.

I know what it is - you're ashamed of my baking,

Monday, October 3, 2011

She's Quite The Ball Of Fire


Released: December 2, 1941
Directed: Howard Hawks
Starring: Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck

Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper) is one of eight professors who, for the last nine years, have been working on an encyclopedia. A garbageman comes asking for the answers for a trivia questionnaire and Potts notices his use of slang. Realizing his compilation of slang is outdated, Potts goes out on the town, gathering new words and "experts" to help in his research. One of his "experts" is Sugarpuss O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck), a nightclub singer who's on the lamb due to her boyfriend being suspected of murder and her testimony could put him behind bars. She decides to hide out at Potts' house, but there are seven professors who haven't seen a women in years. Not to mention their stuck up housekeeper. Potts wants her out, until he discovers 'yum yum.'
BALL OF FIRE is a really great film. Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck are just a great couple. Cooper is   the perfect uptight professor. Stanwyck is so tough and sexy. It's no surprise she drives the old professors nutty and Potts up the wall. This is just a great roll for Stanwyck. Howard Hawks remade this movie in 1948 with Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo as A SONG IS BORN. That film is good, but not as fantastic as BALL OF FIRE. Stanwyck and Cooper just have a chemistry and understand their characters in a completely different way than Kaye and Mayo. Another bit of trivia is that the professors were each based off of Disney's seven dwarfs. Maybe you could figure out which ones they are.

Sugarpuss, would you...yum me one more time?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Great Stone Face


Born: October 4, 1895
Died: February 1, 1966

Joseph Frank Keaton was born in Piqua, Kansas, for no other reason than his parents were on the road. Myrna and Joe Keaton were vaudeville performers, so it was perhaps destined that young Joe would become a performer. In fact, his first appearance was as a mere toddler: he had gotten loose from the rope his parents tied him up in and crawled on stage. It was a laugh riot! Myrna and Joe eventually incorporated their son into the act.
It's said that Harry Houdini gave Buster his name. At a mere six months, Buster tumbled down the stairs completely unharmed. Houdini supposedly cried out, "What a buster!" There are, of course, different versions of that sentence but the point is, Buster stuck. And at six months old, Buster Keaton was born.
At about three, Buster got his finger caught in a clothes wringer and had it cut off. If you look closely, you can see he's missing part of his finger on his right hand. There are other fantastical stories involving Buster's childhood but whether they're true or is a mystery in itself. 
Buster joined his parents onstage at around four. It was quite a violent and dangerous act. Myrna would play the saxophone (perhaps one of the only lady saxophonists at the time) while Buster would find an amusing way to harm his Father. Joe would then dangerously reprimand Buster in various ways, including kicking him, throwing him, etc. What made it so funny was Buster's dead pan expression. His father had learned that if Buster was unresponsive, the audience ate it up.
After a run in with the child labor laws, the Keaton's moved to Muskegon, Michigan to lay low for while until Buster was old enough. That was probably the only time Buster really had a normal childhood. He had the opportunity to be a real kid. 
Of course Buster grew up, and after some tension between he and his father, Buster left to New York where he quickly found a job on Broadway in Shubert's Passing Show of 1917. But that was short lived as he ran into Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. 
Roscoe was impressed by Buster and asked him to come to his shoot. Buster agreed and was so impressed by it all, that he quit his well paying job in the show to work with this new technology for $40 a week.
Buster had always had a mechanical mind and so when he saw the camera he immediately asked to see it. He took it home that night and took it apart. He was in love. He knew this was where he was meant to be.
While shooting, Roscoe had asked Buster to join in. He had refused, but then decided to give it a shot. He went through all of the costumes and put on any old thing, but one thing item would become his trademark: the pork pie hat.
Buster's first film appearance was in THE BUTCHER BOY. 
After a few more shorts, Buster would become Roscoe's co-director  and writing staff. The two became great friends and after the bird had left the nest, Buster would still keep in touch with Roscoe. Buster stuck to Roscoe through the Rappe murder scandal and was crushed when he died in 1933.
In 1920, Buster began making his own shorts, starting with ONE WEEK and starred in his first feature, THE SAPHEAD. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. had recommended Buster for his former role and Buster did not disappoint.
Buster continued to make shorts until 1923 when he made his first feature: THE THREE AGES. It was broken down into three parts just in case it wasn't a hit. If it lost at the box office, then they could release three different (albeit similar) short films. It was a success.
Buster would continue to make feature films, some with more success than others. THE GENERAL, which we consider a classic today (and Buster's favorite of his work), was a flop. After a string of failures, Buster was given less financial and creative freedom.
In 1928 Buster signed with MGM, and like most diehards will tell you, that's when things went down hill. He made two more silent pictures, THE CAMERAMAN and SPITE MARRIAGE, before moving into talkies. MGM refused to give Buster the creative freedom that he thrived on. He was given lousy scripts with one dimensional characters. 
To make matters worse, Buster's marriage to Natalie Talmadge was falling apart (if not dead in the water) and Buster had turned to alcohol. By 1933 Buster was out of a job and married to Mae Scriven whom he had denounced merely as a marriage of convenience.
Buster got little parts in a few films and even got a job as a gag writer for MGM. He would recycle his own gags for comedians such as the Marx Brothers (whom he detested) and Red Skelton. 
For a while Buster made cheaters for both Educational Pictures and Columbia. Although he had little pride in these films, they contributed to his income and he was above dignity. He was supporting both his parents and his brother Harry "Jingles" and sister Louise. 
Around 1940 he met 18 year old Eleanor and the two married in July 28, 1940. Buster was finally happy.
Buster would continue to work small parts, some of which are quite memorable such as "pass" in SUNSET BOULEVARD or as Hickey IN THE GOOD OL' SUMMERTIME. 
During the 50's Buster could even be found on your television sets on THE BUSTER KEATON SHOW or HERE'S BUSTER. He also had guest appearances on talk shows or general programs such as his rather famous TWILIGHT ZONE episode.
Near the end of his life, Buster received the honor that he so greatly deserved, even receiving an honorary Oscar, but as Buster believed, it was too late. 
Buster died of lung cancer in 1966. 
People had always told Buster that he was a genius but as the great stone face once said, "No man can be a genius in slap shoes and a flat hat."
Buster Keaton understood the camera and he knew what made people laugh. He has left behind an inspiring, yet sad story. He was definitely one of the greatest actors, directors, and producers of all time. He understood the absurdity of man, nature, and machine. His character was a lovable guy who always got the short end of the stick. We rooted for Buster because he's a part of all of us. He's the child in all of us who can do anything if we want it badly enough. It's a shame that other silent stars have been engraved into our culture and yet Buster Keaton stands on the other side of the line. I suppose it's for the best. They might destroy everything he ever stood for and everything he means to dedicated fans and visionaries. 

All my life I have been happiest when the folks watching me said to each other, 'Look at the poor dope, will ya?'

Boy, You Must Have A Hole In The Head


Released: July 15, 1959
Directed: Frank Capra
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Eleanor Parker

Frank Sinatra is Tony Manetta, an unsuccessful hotel owner who's on the verge of eviction. His eleven year old son, Ally (Eddie Hodges), is the mature one in the family and is constantly worrying about his Pop. Tony needs $5,300 or his hotel will close down so he calls up his brother Mario (Edward G. Robinson). He makes up some cock and bull story about Ally being sick which worries Sophie (Thelma Ritter), Mario's wife, and they both hop a plane and head down to Miami. Mario refuses to give his 'bum' brother the money gives Tony a proposition. Either marry a nice quiet lady, or they'll take away Ally. Tony doesn't want to get married, nor does he Ally to leave him. But he really needs that money. Not to mention his crazy idea about a Disneyland.
Talk about a heart warming film! Sure Tony is a bit of a jerk, but the guy obviously loves his son so much that you can forgive everything he does. Thelma Ritter is absolutely hilarious, but then she usually is. It's more of a subtle funny, don't expect a spectacle. Eddie Hodges is a cute kid and he and Sinatra are just great together. Edward G. Robinson plays a wonderfully uptight fellow. The changes in the film are subtle and sweet. Yes, I was on the verge of tears. It is just a sweet movie and you can't help but root for Tony. I think the script is just fantastic! Ok, so it was adapted from the play, but that doesn't mean a thing. This movie also pre-dates Disneyland, and I can't help but wonder if Disney got the idea from this film. A real sweet film about family.

How can you be a bum, you're my brother!