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No show from this era was better than Dobie Gillis
This show was groundbreaking. No other show captured the generation gap of this era quite like Dobie Gillis.
First, it portrayed life from a teen's perspective in the age of Father Knows Best. In the early seasons, Dobie was a high school student consumed with only getting a pretty girl to be his girlfriend. Usually, it was Thalia Menninger who had expensive tastes. The conflicts usually resulted from the fact that Dobie was always broke and never wanted to work. He would always try to get money from his dad, but Herbert T. Gillis was not the type to give someone something for nothing. Also, Dobie, despite being a highly likable boy, was far from an exemplary student, which meant girls realized that his future was not promising.
Second, Dobie's parents were probably the most realistically portrayed of any TV parents from that era. Herbert T. Gillis was a hard-working, but loud-mouthed and had a blustery personality. He openly declared his teenage son a "lazy bum who would wind up living off the county" because he wouldn't work. The first season he would often respond to his disapproval of Dobie's actions by saying, "I gotta kill that boy. I just gotta." This was mildly controversial in that era and that line was later dropped. Instead, he would just be speechless with a bewildered expression that pretty much said he wanted to kill his son. Despite, his outbursts, Mr. Gillis was basically good hearted, but the generation gap between father and son was obvious and portrayed with humorous results. Dobie's mom, Winnie Gillis, was nice, but too nice, and counterbalanced Herbert by doting on her son and letting Dobie get away with not working in the family grocery store. Third, the writing and editing were superb. The writing contained a wit not found in other shows of that era.
HERBERT: Son. Your mother's a wonderful woman. Dobie: She a gem. HERBERT: She's one in a million. Dobie: She's a princess. MAYNARD: She's a warden.
The editing was great, because as a scene would close, it would set up the next scene and instantly cut to the next scene where a character would respond in the exact opposite manner to how that scene was being set up.
MR POMFRITT- You talk to your father, Dobie. I'm sure he'll want you to stay in college. (instant pan to the next scene with Mr. Gillis closeup): MR. GILLIS: You have got to quit school. (After explaining to Dobie and his mom, that Dobie wasn't taking any courses that would help him in the real world at school, and that he was supporting Dobie's lifestyle): (shouting)Wise up, son. Get a job.
Fourth, the cast contained several well portrayed eccentric characters. In addition, to Dobie, Thalia, and his parents, there were:
Chatsworth Osbourne, Jr.- a rich, spoiled, and party time brat who was quite likable and funny. He was often in competition with Dobie for a beautiful girl.
Maynard G. Krebs- Gilligan with a gotee. Always wore a scraggly sweatshirt with holes, loved jazz and bee-bop, would shirk when the word "work" was mentioned, and an even worse student than Dobie.
Zelda Gilroy- was a smart, brainy, scheming, and an unattractive girl who loved Dobie and was always outsmarting him by sabotaging his romances with more attractive girls.
Mrs. Osbourne- was Chatsworth's mother who called her son, "you nasty boy." She was a tyrant, who stirred things up with her son, Dobie, Maynard, and Mr. Gillis. Maynard called her "Your dragonship."
Mr. Pomfritt- was Dobie and Maynard's high school teacher and later professor in college. He played most of their teacher/professors and taught just about every subject that there was. He, like other teachers portrayed on the show, weren't the Leave it to Beaver type teachers. They often complained about being underpaid, under-appreciated, and the "younger generation."
I think the best parts of this series were seasons 1 and the first half of 2 (before they made ill-advised decision to put Dobie and Maynard in the army) and season 3. By season 3, Dobie and Maynard are in college. At this point, Dobie has matured. He does work in his father's store while going to school, but unfortunately, he is taking mostly liberal arts courses and is becoming an idealist. There were a lot of young, cute actresses appearing on the show each week in this season as Dobie's romantic interests. The show also began to focus more on Maynard and Herbert Gillis. Maynard was a beatnik character when the series began, but was becoming more a clownish type character with a gotee at this point. The silly and sometimes humorous and other times ridiculously over the top conflicts between these two were kind of a preview of the Gilligan/Skipper escapades that would be down the road. Personally, I prefer this show and Maynard's character over Gilligan. By season four, Dwayne Hickman had outgrown Dobie, and much of the episodes focused on his cousin, Duncan (Dunkie) Gillis and Maynard's silliness. In fact, Dobie seemed like the only character that wasn't eccentric at this point. Unfortunately, the too many of the episodes were becoming a little over the top at this point. Despite much of the last season, and the last half of the second, this show has a special charm that stands out from most of the others from that era. Some of the material is obviously dated by today's standards, but overall I think this show and the basic premise holds up quite well. I hope they make this entire series available on DVD soon. From what I understand, there are currently copywrite issues.
Caught Plastered (1931)
A gem from a forgotten comedy team
I've seen two movies by this comedy team- one of which I enjoyed and the other I thought was terrible (CRACKED NUTS). CAUGHT PLASTERED is the one liked. There's tons of jokes and gags in this film, some are good for a few good laughs and some for a few groans. In fact, the boys play a couple of comics who failed in their routines and have been chased out of the theatre at numerous locations. So in this sense, I think the script acknowledges that these guys' comedy is not so great, but not bad enough to get some laughs. The story is fairly predictable. The down and out comedy performers out of money hopping trains stop in a town and find an old woman crying on a streetcar, because she's about to lose her drug store to the bank because of slow business. With nothing else to fall back on, the fast talking, cigar chomping, obnoxious Woolsey with this thick, round glasses and his baby faced parter, Wheeler, offer to help her get the drug store up and running again. Will they do this in enough time to save her from losing the store and saving her from having to spend the rest of her life in the "old ladies home?" You'll have to see for yourself. Much of the jokes centers around the boys interactions with the customers, many of which they, especially Woolsey, manage to offend and their getting duped by a crooked businessman/bootlegger (it's still prohibition in 1931)into selling "lemon soda". One of Woolsey's best lines, is "I think someone is passing the flask around here," when they're the ones serving the booze and they don't realize it. I can honestly say that I've never heard drunks singing "London Bridge is Falling Down" until I've seen this movie, but hey it was kind of funny. Dorothy Lee plays Wheeler's romantic interest in the movie and she is a little cutie, despite having a nasal voice. At times, they did get a little too dreamy eyed and sappy around each other, but not to the point of being too annoying. Overall, while I enjoyed this movie and the chemistry between Wheeler and Woolsey, I think their act was kind of second rate compared to others like the Marx Brothers. Still, this movie has the special early 1930s feel to it, is well written and doesn't move slowly like many early sound films, and is quite enjoyable. Check it out if you get the opportunity. 7/10
Clara's got IT
When it comes to IT, Clara Bow was in a league of her own. No other actress I've ever seen has even been close(maybe Jean Harlow). But most actresses since Clara didn't have silent films, which allowed her beautiful expressive eyes, facial expressions, and physical gestures (such as looking between the legs of stuffed toy dog) to do her talking and leave no doubt as to her intent. Her ability to do this made her special. I must admit that even though I loved this film, IT isn't my favorite performance by Clara. I happen to think she displayed as much and possibly more "IT" in some of her other silent movies like MANTRAP, HULA, & THE PLASTIC AGE than in IT. If you don't believe that's possible, then I highly recommend checking out some of her other films and judge for yourself. Even if you disagree, you will enjoy these performances if you enjoyed this film. As a whole, I think IT was the strongest of her silent films (in terms of plot, writing, and character development) that I've seen. Regardless, IT is the film for which Clara is most remembered and the favorite of her modern day fans. From Clara's scheming to reel in her boss as a husband to the hilarious sub-titles ("Sweet Santa, give me him", "Hot socks, the new boss", "I'll take the snap out of your garters", "He couldn't give birth to a suspicion", "On the contrary, I think she's got plenty in reserve"), I enjoyed this 1920s romantic comedy tremendously. Could Elinor Glyn, have been trying to promote her book or herself? IT was only defined 3 times during the movie (in the opening credits, in the first scene where Monty is reading about IT, and when Antonio Moreno asks Elinor Glyn herself in a scene about halfway through the film. I think if modern audiences would give IT a chance, they would be pleasantly surprised with Clara Bow. 9/10
The Saturday Night Kid (1929)
Not your typical Clara Bow movie, but still not bad for 1929
After audiences of the 1920s had become accustomed to seeing Clara Bow portraying the carefree flapper or an aggressive woman out to get her man, this movie strays from those formulas. Confined by the limitations of the role of Mayme and the constraints of early sound films, Clara is much more inhibited and restrained in this film. That high energy personality and wonderful facial expressions that I love about her, were absent in this movie. As another reviewer stated, Clara would have been much more suited to play the role of Janie(particularly the scene where Janie steals Mayme's boyfriend) that went to a young Jean Arthur. Even when, she was several pounds overweight for a leading lady/sex symbol, Clara still manages too look great and she does well in the somewhat thankless role. Mayme is a "good" girl that has developed a cynical and hard boiled attitude from past romances gone bad. It was also interesting to see Jean Arthur play a selfish, impulsive, immature Janie(who doesn't hesitate to stab her sister in the back if her neck is on the line) after seeing her in more virtuous roles in the 30s and she turns in a good performance despite just an average script and dialogue. The Saturday Night Kid also provides an interesting glimpse into the late 20s lifestyle from riding a street car to working in a department store. Yes, 75 years ago they were doing company "pep rallies" that employees had to attend and show their enthusiasm whether they were enthused to be there or not. There are very few films that were made in 1929 with outstanding productions values and are enjoyable to watch. While this film has it's problems I think it is better than most of the early sound films that I've seen, including THE WILD PARTY with Clara. 6/10
The Show-Off (1926)
Aubrey Piper's obnoxiousness heard loud & clear in this silent film
I enjoyed stepping back in time to the 1920s to view this film. The story is fairly predictable, but is given a strong shot in arm with an outstanding cast and direction of Malcolm St. Clair. I think we've all known someone similar to the main character, Aubrey Piper, "The Show Off". Aubrey Piper not only exaggerates his own self importance, but is incredibly loud and obnoxious in the process- From his loud bursts of laughter at inappropriate moments, to his backslapping, to his bragging and lying, Ford Sterling does not need sound to portray Aubrey Piper in this manner. Louise Brooks is superb and makes the most in her supporting role as the girl friend of Aubrey's girl friend's brother. The scene where she catches Aubrey, whose invited himself to dinner at the Fisher house, counting the portions during the prayer before dinner is priceless in a hilarious way. Again, no words needed, Louise's expression says it all. I was also impressed with the way that Louise and her co-star Gregory Kelly played the scene in which they react to the death of "Pop Fisher". No words or subtitles were needed, it was not overplayed, and was quite convincing. It was a bit of a stretch to believe that Aubrey's fiancee played by Lois Wilson, Amy Fisher (no, not that Amy Fisher) didn't see Aubrey as what he was and remained devoted to him, but hey I guess love can make us blind to the obvious faults of the ones we love. This is evident when she tells her mother that she'll marry Aubrey "out of spite." POSSIBLE SPOILER: It's even more difficult to believe the final conflict resolution, when Aubrey, a $30 per week railroad clerk, takes the rust free paint invention of Amy's brother to the board of a company and persuades them to buy it after her brother was unsuccessful in finding a buyer. But hey, this isn't Lawrence of Arabia or any epic like that, but rather a light comedy with a bit of drama done over 75 years ago and I think it stands up well over the test of time. If only more silents like this would have been preserved, especially Louise Brooks and Clara Bow Paramount films. 8/10
Red Dust (1932)
Gable & Harlow without interference from the Production Code
For those that have never seen a pre-Code film, RED DUST is a great film to begin with. It certainly isn't shy about dealing with adultery, prostitution, or heavy drinking. Although it was made over 70 years ago, it holds up extremely well by today's standards. This is due to a well written script that dealt with these subjects directly and wasn't restrained by the Production Code that was enacted 2 years later. Later films either didn't deal with this type of content or did so in a way that was ridiculous. It is also due to the performances of a rugged and virile Clark Gable and a strong willed and street smart Jean Harlow and a strong supporting cast. There is no doubt as to the sexual stamina of their two characters. We find this out early and often. One example is when Gable tucks money down Harlow's dress and says, "It's been nice having you." and spanks her behind. Most modern films would have shown a sex scene while films subject to the code would have treated its audience as children and made us aware in a ridiculous way that would satisfy the censors. The scene where he warns her against misusing the plumbing and attempts to pull her out of the water barrel(yes, she's naked, but we don't see the nudity) while the society woman he is trying to seduce watches on is hilarious. Clark Gable and Jean Harlow made one the better on screen couples of that time. It is a shame that her career was tragically cut short. I also enjoyed the scene where a frightened Mary Astor slaps him across the face for his indifference to the plight of her sick husband and he responds with a smug and confident grin. The movie also gives one an appreciation of the primitive conditions people lived in on a rubber plantation during that time. RED DUST is directed by Victor Fleming who would later direct THE WIZARD OF OZ and Clark Gable in GONE WITH THE WIND. People have complained that this film is racist, but need to realize that the world was a much different place in 1932 than in 2003. If you can do that, you'll probably enjoy this film. 9/10
Clara at her best
I've had the privilege of seeing a dozen or so of Miss Bow's movies and I would rate this one among the best, after IT. I'm surprised that the current rating is only a 6.6. Clara never looked better than in MANTRAP and was approaching the peak in her career. The soon to be "It" girl, is so vibrant, uninhibited, and full of life as Alverna, the young manicurist from Minneapolis who impulsively marries an older he-man, Joe Easter, from the back country and becomes restless once they return to Mantrap. Poor Ralph Prescott, a divorce lawyer from New York who is at his breaking point from all his flirtatious female clients, decides to take a vacation to get away from everything at the insistence of his friend. Not only does he get wrestled to the ground by his heavy-set friend, played by Eugene Pallate, once they get on each other's nerves, but he gets accepts an invitation to stay at Joe's cabin to get away from living in a tent. Little does he know, that the seductive Alverna awaits him ready to flirt with him every time Joe's back is turned. I think this is a very entertaining romantic comedy from the mid 1920s. Both Ernest Torrence and Percy Marmont, as well as any red-blooded male watching the movie, fall prey to Clara's mischievous grin and beautiful, expressive eyes. I'm so glad that Paramount didn't let this one deteriorate in its vaults. 8/10
The Thin Man (1934)
A fantastic start to a great series
Come celebrate the end of prohibition with William Powell and Myrna Loy as the high society and wise-cracking Nick and Nora Charles. Not only do they put away a large quantity of alcohol, but they solve a bizarre and fascinating murder case in the process despite Nick's best efforts not to get involved. He finally succumbs by taking the case to not only outside pressure, but instinctive curiosity and boredom that goes with being part of the idle class. Not only is he a super sleuth turned gentleman, but he is quite the aficionado on mixing drinks. We are first introduced to Nick as he instructs bartenders on the proper technique on mixing drinks ("In mixing the important thing is the rhythm. You should always have rhythm in your shaking. A manhattan you shake to a foxtrot, a dry martini you shake to a waltz", etc.) Also added into the fray, is their terrier, Asta, who helps Nick solve the mystery. Despite being made nearly 70 years ago, Powell and Loy's performances and chemistry together remain as strong today as they were then. This detective has clearly married into a family with a significant fortune, but Nick and Nora's love for each other is genuine and often reflected in sarcastic teasing of each other. When Nora walks in on him consoling a beautiful young woman by embracing her, he just wrinkles his nose at her and she returns the gesture which indicates the level of trust that exists among this couple. While Nick is often observant of an attractive woman, Nora doesn't keep him on a tight leash because their instinctive trust with one another. The film is packed with humor centering around the Charles' vices, mainly drinking and the subsequent hangovers and the complacency of not being required to work for a living. How many detectives are such smooth talkers that they befriend the criminals they helped convict once they've served their time and party with them on Christmas Eve? So if you enjoy a bit of sarcastic humor in your murder mysteries, chances are you'll love this film. A few side notes: Watch for Cesar Romero in this film. He later played The Joker in the Batman series in the 1960's. In later Thin Man movies, you can see a young Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Dean Stockwell, and Penny Singleton. Also, I noticed that it was Christmas Eve in this movie 2 days in a row. First, in the bar where we first see Nick, Maureen O'Sullivan says to her boyfriend that it's Christmas Eve and the next morning when Nora wakes up with a hangover they say it's Christmas Eve then. My only other criticism was the scene where Nick diverts the attention of a man holding him at gunpoint in the bedroom by tossing a pillow at him. I wish they had come up with something a little more believable. Other than those 2 minor points, an outstanding movie. I don't think Hollywood could make something as original and entertaining today if their lives depended on it. On a scale of 10 martinis, 9/10.
Song of the Thin Man (1947)
Great Jazz, thin plot
William Powell and Myrna Loy conclude an entertaining series with a so-so film that just happens to be packed with some great 1940's jazz. Much of the quick wit we've come to expect from Nick and Nora just isn't here with the exception of Nora's "Mr. Charles is a bit of a schmoe" remark. In many of the earlier Thin Mans, Nick and Nora both seemed to thrive when they encountered a murder mystery and when they drank quite a bit, which became less and less as the series continued. Unfortunately, the humor which had centered around their (especially Nick's) vices, drinking, gambling, flirting, etc., was replaced with parental humor. The scene where Nora becomes a disciplinarian and insists that a reluctant Nick give a spanking to Nick, Jr. just wasn't the humor we'd become accustomed to and was difficult to observe. It was obvious that Nick and Nora had entered a more mature phase of life, but in the movies that doesn't usually make for better comedy. POSSIBLE SPOILER: It is also hard to believe that someone who had been committed because he had been made to believe that he was the killer, and rehabilitated by being made to believe that the murder never happened was brought back to give a concert and then announce who the killer was after the concert.
Despite all of this, I did enjoy the film. I think it was mainly because of the jazz (in the words of Klinker "Love it! Love it!)and the nightclub and jam scenes. I wish I had been around when that music was popular. I also liked the fact that there weren't any stereotypical pathetically helpless female characters in the supporting cast, unlike the first four Thin Mans. While this is one of the weaker Thin Mans(this and Another Thin Man, while After the Thin Man and the original Thin Man are the best), I cannot imagine that this series would have been like without William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Asta (I think there was a new Asta for this last film). No one today could even come close. In honor of Nick and Nora, 6 martinis out 10 for Song of the Thin Man.
Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
Nick and Nora shine in spite of cliched supporting characters
I love the chemistry that William Powell and Myrna Loy display throughout the entire Thin Man series and "Shadow" is no exception. This film is packed with humor, mostly centered around Nick's drinking and gambling vices and the "screwy" hat that Nora wears to a wrestling match. My favorite scenes are toward the beginning of the film and include a line where Nora tells her maid that little Nick, Jr. is getting more like his father everyday to which the maid responds that she caught the little boy playing with a corkscrew earlier. The scene where Nick, Jr. insists that his daddy drink milk and Nora demands it by removing his cocktail shaker and ordering him a glass of it is hilarious. The great detective is momentarily reduced to a small child protesting and then making horrible faces when he actually drinks it.
While the humor is terrific and the plot serviceable, unfortunately, many of the supporting characters are so one dimensional and cliched. I think this was more a function of the writing and direction rather than the supporting actors, which included Donna Reed. She is given so little to do in this film except to stand by and act helpless. The worst supporting character was the lawyer of one of the suspects who does nothing but get in the way. I still enjoyed this movie and would rate this somewhere in the middle of the Thin Man series(better than "Song" and "Another, but not up to the original and "After"). 7/10