Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Harry and Tonto (1974)
A slow, contrived senior adventure
"Harry and Tonto," reminded me of John Steinbeck's 1962 book, "Travels with Charley." In that travelogue, Steinbeck wrote about a road trip he took around the United States with his French poodle, Charley. Steinbeck drove his camper on the Interstates and back roads as he circled the country in 1960. He stopped at roadside diners, gas stations, truck stops and shops along the way. He talked to truck drivers, waitresses, hitchhikers, store clerks, and people on the streets. No doubt, the writers for "Harry and Tonto," Paul Mazursky and Josh Greenfeld, got some ideas from Steinbeck's book.
The situation is quite different here, though. While it's billed as a "cross country odyssey," it's more of a trip interrupted here and there. Art Carney is Harry, and some of his encounters don't seem natural or spontaneous to me. Rather, they seem contrived. The film moves very slowly at times, and has a mix of Harry's philosophy and talks with other people.
The movie also reminded me of the later very good comedy drama, "Planes, Trains & Automobiles." In that hit comedy, Steve Martin and John Candy meet while traveling from New York to Chicago for Christmas. Weather, accidents and numerous other situations lead them to take different modes of travel.
In this film, Harry's son, Burt, drops him off at the airport to catch a plane to Chicago to visit his daughter. But Harry has to leave the airport because he wouldn't let go of Tonto's cage to pass through the security scanner (that's right, airport security was there as early as 1974). He takes a bus and gets left on the roadside after he has the bus stop so that Tonto could relieve himself. Next he hitchhikes and meets some different people. Then he buys a used car and picks up hitchhikers himself. This goes on past Chicago as he continues to California where he meets his youngest son and puts down new roots. Tonto dies toward the end of the journey.
As I said, it's slow going much of the time, and some of his encounters with different people seem contrived. It was only mildly interesting for a time but seemed way too long. A movie can't be very good when, about half way through, one begins to wonder when it will end. Art Carney won the 1974 best actor Oscar for his role in this movie. He was okay here, but I don't think his performance was particularly good or challenging. That may have been a year when sentimentality ruled at the Oscars, because Carney beat out some superb acting jobs by Albert Finney ("Murder on the Orient Express"), Al Pacino (The Godfather Part II"), and Jack Nicholson ("Chinatown"), in what may be the best performance of his career.
His Private Secretary (1933)
An early John Wayne film from Tin Pan Alley
The plot for "His Private Secretary" is a good one. It's a variation on a common theme for later films about a rich father who rues that he has a son who has been spoiled. Only, the screenplay for this film is not very good. It has holes in places and isn't tightly put together. The quality overall is crude and rough.
The film was made by Mascot, one of the Tin Pan Alley studios of the time. It's an early John Wayne film one of the first in which he is credited and has a lead. Even then, Evalyn Knapp is billed ahead of him. But like so many other players from Tin Pan Alley, she never went much further in film and was forgotten by the 1940s. Wayne is one of a small number of players who got a start in the bottom rung of movie makers but who climbed to the highest rung and stardom.
The acting is so-so here, but it does show that Wayne had some talent and early on was comfortable in front of the camera. He would go on to make many more films of various genres, including a host of dime Westerns before the 1939 John Ford film, "Stagecoach," that caused his star to rise.
Charley's Aunt (1941)
Oh, Donna Lucia! Donna Lucia! What a great comedy.
Forget about American or English accents in this film. The attempts themselves even add to the humor almost as though they were contrived to have that effect. Forget that this was a stage play first, and that much of this movie seems as though it were filmed on stage. Forget about critiquing the qualities of the production. All of those things are OK here, but they're of little substance. Rather, the content, the plot and the characters and actors are what make "Charley's Aunt" a truly great film. It's one of the funniest, most outlandish comedies ever made into a move.
Every scene in this film has some humor. Most are hilarious. Each character contributes deliciously to the plot. All of the cast are excellent in their roles. And what a marvelous cast 20th Century Fox assembled for this romp around Oxford.
Jack Benny is the quintessential actor to play the lead double role of Lord Babbs Babberley and the stand-in Donna Lucia d'Alvadorez. His scenes as Donna Lucia with Stephen Spettigue are over the top hilarious. Spettigue is a money-grubbing, gold-digger who only wants to marry Donna Lucia for her money. And, he won't let his niece or her friend and his ward, Amy and Kitty, out of his clutches until he finds a replacement or better income for his stewardship. The talented Edmund Gwenn plays Spettigue, a role so out of character from his 1947 Kris Kringle that won him an Oscar for "Miracle on 34th Street." It's hard to believe this is the same actor, but he's a riot in every scene here.
Reginald Owen is very funny as Dean Redcliff. The number of physical clashes he has with Babbs and Babbs as Donna Lucia are hilarious. Richard Haydn and James Ellison play schoolmates of Babbs (who is now in his tenth year at Oxford), Charley Wyckham and Jack Chesney. They have their eyes on Amy and Kitty, played by Anne Baxter and Arleen Whelan. The girls have some wonderfully funny lines in helping the boys propose to them. Laird Cregar plays Jack's dad, Sir Francis Chesney. He has a riotously funny scene with Babbs as Donna Lucia, before he learns the truth. They play grab the whiskey bottle until it finally falls off the table and spills.
Finally, Kay Francis lends some charm to the whole affair, with knowing approval after she recognizes Babbs as her pretender. She's the real Donna Lucia, and she has gone undercover to visit Oxford and check on the girl whom her nephew, Charley, wants to marry. She had heard from the Babberley law firm headed by Babbs' uncle, that there are gold diggers on the prowl to marry young men who are wealthy or who may come into riches one day. The beautiful Donna Lucia had married a wealthy Brazilian, and he had died a while back.
A frequent line occurs in the film about Brazil that brings a laugh every time. Charley, Babbs and others say it "Brazil where the nuts come from."
This movie has many comedic twists. Donna Lucia is attracted to Babbs, and the hilarious film has laughs at every turn. Babbs holds all the parts together in his frantic changes between characters. Watching this marvelous comedy is a sure bet for an evening of laughter.
Seems Like Old Times (1980)
Court comedy and love triangle film
This movie has many laughs. The dialog is funny in places, but the pratfalls and physical miscues that happen to Chevy Chase's character are the source of most of the laughter. His routines and mishaps resemble something out of the Three Stooges.
"Seems Like Old Times," is an entertaining comedy with Chevy Chase as Nicholas Gardenia. He is a writer who is divorced from Goldie Hahn's Glenda Parks. She is now married to Ira Parks, played by Charles Grodin. Glenda and Ira are both attorneys. He is a DA whom the governor of California plans to pick for state attorney general. She takes mostly pro bono work, defending the poor but guilty. She is a one-person rehabilitation center because she employs many of the bad apples she gets off the hook. Of course, they don't change.
The hilarity of this movie reaches its zenith when a couple of ex- cons kidnap Nick and force him at gunpoint to be the front man for the hold-up of a Carmel bank. Nick comes back to Glenda as his only source of help. He hides in their garage. The cops are looking for him. Ira wants to put him in prison for good. Glenda tries to send him away. He comes back. She hides him. This goes on throughout the film
Chase does what he does best the sort of deadpan mannerism with delivery of funny lines as asides. This may be Hahn's best comedy. She doesn't force herself in this one it seems to come naturally, and she isn't otherwise a bumbling goofus. It's a light comedy with plenty of laughs that most viewers should enjoy.
Our Man in Havana (1959)
A great spy spoof and stiff upper lip satire
While this film has serious and somber moments in a couple of places, it is one of the best spy spoof movies ever made. It's based on the novel of the same title by Graham Greene. Director Carol Reed did a superb job with the film's cast in polishing the comedy of the plot. The story is slow and deliberate at the start, and the comedy is very tongue-in-cheek. The humor comes in the situations and the scheming by Jim Wormold, played by Alec Guinness. His deadpan expressions are particularly suited for the satire of this plot. Wormold is an expatriate British citizen who's been a resident of Havana, Cuba, for 15 years. He owns a vacuum cleaner store.
The cast for this wonderful satire couldn't have been better chosen. Guinness is in the lead role as the British secret service's recruited man in Havana. Burl Ives plays his best friend, Dr. Hasselbacher, himself an expatriate from Germany. He's also been living in Havana a long time. After Wormold confided the British offer to the doctor, Hasselbacher suggested that he create an imaginary network of agents and make up things to report to agent 59200, his boss. That role is played hilariously by Noel Coward as Hawthorne. He is the head of British operations in the Caribbean.
From the first moment one sees Coward's character, early in the film, you know you're in for a delightful time. His expression is even funnier than Wormold's. Coward is serious and dour. With his suit, bowler hat and umbrella, he stands out like a sore thumb amid the street throngs of Havana. He doesn't blend in with the populace, and his brisk, deliberate walking pace makes him all the more easy to spot and follow. Enter the chief of police, Capt. Segura, played by Ernie Kovacs. This is one of those roles in which Kovacs' character is calm and unruffled, and it, too, is particularly apropos for a spy spoof.
At the head of the whole British "intelligence" operation in the London home office, is Ralph Richardson as "C." Other characters fill in the secret service bunch in London. The rest of the cast are all superb, especially those with parts in Cuba. Jo Morrow plays Wormold's daughter, Milly. Maureen O'Hara plays the British agent, Beatrice Severn, whom London sends to help Wormold. Fredy Mayne is hilarious as Prof. Sanchez whom Wormold tries to recruit initially. Paul Rogers plays Hubert Carter, Wormold's would-be assassin.
This is one very funny film that lampoons the British secret service mercilessly. The satire continues to build right to the end with a surprise finish that caps the mockery beautifully. Again, most of the humor is in the scheming, plotting and situations rather than in the dialog. The script at the end, though, has a running pun that wraps it up nicely. After Wormold has been given the boot by the Cuban police, and is in London with Severn, Hawthorne says to C, "The loss of those two will create quite a vacuum." C, "What?" Hawthorne, I'm most frightfully sorry, sir. I really didn't intend to make a pun. I only thought, perhaps, that if we are to make a clean sweep "
The movie was filmed in Cuba and England. The Havana scenes are around Cathedral Square and the Havana Biltmore Yacht and Country Club. It's interesting to see photos around the square after the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959). Cam shots today show very little human traffic and activity, and deterioration of the buildings. The movie prologue quickly points out that the story takes place and the movie was made there in the days "before the recent revolution." The movie came out in 1959, just after the end of the revolution that installed Fidel Castro at the head of a communist government. Thus, the Cuban filming would have been shot before July 1953.
So, besides its wonderful satire of British espionage and government offices, "Our Man in Havana" gives some snapshots of life and street scenes in the once vibrant capital of Cuba. At one point, Wormold says to Carter, "Everything is legal in Cuba." Indeed, besides its high society and cultural side, the Havana of the mid- 20th century was known as a place where morals were subdued in favor of pleasure.
This is a very clever satire, even though it's on the dark side in places. It's one of the best adult films (because of its content) that spoof government "intelligence" operations. It makes a fine addition to any film library.
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Fantasy flick falls short of potential
The plot for "Safety Not Guaranteed" was interesting and had potential for a very good film. Instead, a disjointed script that slows down in places comes close to losing a viewer's interest. The cast are OK, but only Mark Duplass as Kenneth gives a very good performance.
The movie is billed as a comedy, drama and romance. But one suspects there is more here early on as the story unfolds. There is some mystery, so it's most likely on the shady mysterious side. Toward the end, one begins to suspect there may be some sci-fi here, and the ending turns it into fantasy.
The film has a couple of side stories a former romance rekindled by Jeff, played by Jake Johnson; a magazine research for a story; government men stalking Kenneth. More focus on the main story, and shelving Jeff's romance would help the main story. But, whoops! That would eliminate the gratuitous sex from the movie. And Hollywood must need that more than a better story and film.
The Front Page (1974)
This remake loses much of the humor and satire
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau would seem to most movie buffs to be a perfect pair to play the leads in a remake of the 1931 comedy film, "The Front Page." And, had director Billy Wilder and Universal Pictures decided to do an authentic remake, I think it would have worked. But instead, they took a 1928 story, updated the script to 1974 and kept the story in 1928. And they failed to consider some other things. The result is a mediocre film, at best. The only thing that earns it six stars from me is the fine acting by Matthau as Walter Burns and a couple of supporting cast performances. Lemmon's Hildy Johnson isn't much better than Pat O'Brien's seemingly tame performance in the 1931 movie. Otherwise, the script is slower and riddled with profanity in place of the overlapping, fast dialog with digs.
Other reviewers who compare versions include the 1940 "His Girl Friday," that starred Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. That film pepped up the roles, and switched the lead of Hildy from male to female. But it kept it in the exact same setting. Some other things that were added helped set "His Girl Friday" apart from "The Front Page" of 1931 with its successive remakes. As so many others, I also think the 1940 film excels and is head and shoulders above the lot.
But for this review, and understanding where this film falls short, one must look to the original work the 1928 stage play and the 1931 screenplay. In this remake, the dialog and mannerisms of the people in the press room of the Chicago criminal courts building have a tone of bitterness. In the 1931 film, it was more of an uncaring detachment and humor among the cynical members of the press. The official characters in the Hecht and MacArthur play were written as funny, buffoonery roles. They came across that way in the 1931 film, but in this version they are more serious and sinister. And, here the script is slower and riddled with profanity in place of the faster, overlapping dialog with digs.
The biggest change from the original is in the press itself and its image with the public. The news media is front and center throughout the story. The press of the 1920s-1930s had a lot of clout. Yellow journalism, which had reached its peak in the late 1900s, had a resurgence in the Roaring Twenties with prohibition and the rise of organized crime. Sensationalism to the point of fiction overruled straight, factual reporting in "news stories." But the public ate this stuff up. And the papers competed, not only to see who could get the scoop (be first with a breaking story), but which paper could make it the most sensational.
By 1974, the American press had undergone a metamorphosis. The regular press didn't have the clout of its former days, but since WW II it had come to be more highly regarded. The public, business and government all generally had respect for the press. This was at the height of the American public's trust in the news media. Alas, the media would once again, by its own volition, lose the public esteem and trust by the end of 20th the century. But, for this 1974 film to go over with its audience with a script written in and for 1929 America, it needed the comedy and lampooning of the press and the political officials to be clear. Instead, much of the satire and humor is lost in the undertone of bitterness and seriousness.
The Front Page (1931)
Gritty press of the past stars in this comedy
This 1931 movie is the first made from the Broadway smash hit by the same name that opened in 1928. The author of the play, Ben Hecht, was the principal screenwriter for this United Artists film. This version probably sticks closest to the original script of the stage play. The setting is perfect for transition from stage to silver screen. It needed only one major set and a couple of smaller ones.
Even though it's a comedy, "The Front Page" is a gritty portrayal of the working press of the day. Some of it is undoubtedly tongue-in- cheek. But the portrayal of the sensationalism among the reporters and papers, to the point of fiction and manufacturing stories is a realistic picture of the culture of the time. The press held considerable clout in those days, and news stories could get public officials in trouble. Especially if those articles were real "stories" with more opinion and fabrication than fact. At the same time, many mostly men -- working within the press had no scruples about embellishing stories or garnishing the facts and truth. The whole drive was to make splashy headlines and sensational stories. That's what sold newspapers.
So, this film is a good portrayal of the big city press of the day. And the cast consists of actors who play the parts of reporters very well, and of an unscrupulous managing editor in another. The latter is Walter Burns, played superbly by Adolphe Menjou. He's a perfect picture of a hardened, driving editor. He's been on the beat and on the streets. He know all the tricks of the trade. His ace reporter is Hildy Johnson, played very well but it seems to me a bit tamely by Pat O'Brien. Mary Brian plays Peggy Grant, Hildy's fiancé. Among the rival reporters in the jailhouse or courthouse press room are Edward Everett Horton as Bensinger, Walter Catlett as Murphy and Frank McHugh as McCue.
The film also castigates in comedy and buffoonery the local politics of the time. In this case that's the locally elected sheriff and the mayor. Clarence Wilson plays Sheriff Hartman and James Gordon is the mayor. The other major characters are Earl Williams and Molly. Earl is the convicted murderer who is set to be hanged the next day. Molly is a street woman who has befriended Earl. George Stone and Mae Clarke play their roles superbly.
With the overtones of criminal justice, political corruption, inept public servants facing an election, and seeming indifferent attitudes of reporters about justice and a man's life, the story is a battle of wits between Burns and Johnson. For the moment, it's about getting a sensational front page story out. But in the long run, Burns is conniving to get Johnson to stay on his staff instead of leaving the city to marry Peggy.
This story has been filmed a few times, and has been revived on Broadway. It's a popular story and play among actors and the public. This original film version does the best to capture the sense of the times and culture in which the story takes place. It's more realistic with its grittiness. Another version is my favorite for the comedy. The quality of this film that I watched on DVD was not very good. It was not a remastered or cleaned up copy, but was an old scratchy and blotchy film similar to what we used to see on late night TV back in 1950s and 1960s.
A little comedy will liven up any marriage
This is a very good comedy about marriage, divorce and remarriage. Judy Holliday is Nina Tracey (nee Chapman), and Jack Lemmon is her husband Robert. Robert's best friend is Charlie Nelson, played by Jack Carson. They had been officers together in the Navy during WW II. Now they are both attorneys. Kim Novak is Janis, a girl in Charlie's black book whom he lines up with Robert after Robert and Nina get a divorce. The couple had been married eight years but boredom set in and they decided to divorce. This happens early in the film, so that the rest is a nice blend of comedy and romance as Robert and Nina try to adjust and get back in the dating game. Of course, that doesn't work for either one, and romance returns between them. The rest of the small cast are fine in their roles.
This isn't a challenging film or top flight comedy with much witty dialog and situations. But, it's a pleasant story with some fun scenes that most should enjoy.
The cast for "Phffft" is a first rate list of comedy actors in the 1950s. Jack Lemmon and Judy Holliday played in some of the best sophisticated comedies of the time, although Holliday's career was a short one. Jack Carson for many years was one of Hollywood's best supporting actors, especially for comedies. He co-starred here along with Kim Novak, in just her third film. Novak was very good and won a Golden Globe as most promising female newcomer.
Holliday had won an Oscar for the comedy-drama "Born Yesterday" of 1950. She had two more smash comedies after that, including another hit with Lemmon in early 1954 "It Should Happen to You." Holliday made only 14 movies in her career, but won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for film, and a Tony Award on Broadway. The Tony came in 1956 for the Broadway smash hit, "Bells Are Ringing." Holliday's last film was the movie version of "Bells Are Ringing" in 1960. It's a great comedy-musical with Dean Martin, Jean Stapleton and Eddie Foy Jr. Holliday died at age 43 in 1965 after a five year battle with breast cancer.
Jack Lemmon was one of the great actors of the silver screen for nearly five decades. But, he got his start in TV in 1949 and was in several TV series through 1954. Those included dramas and comedies. "Phffft" was just his second movie and followed the smash hit earlier that year with Holliday, "It Should Happen to You." Of course, he would go on to win two Oscars and have six more nominations. He also won four Golden Globes for acting, with another 17 nominations. Lemmon won three BAFTA awards, with four more nominations; and he won two prime time Emmy awards with four more nominations.
Lemmon was equally adept at drama and comedy. Some of the funniest and most endearing comedies he made were later in life and his career with long-time friend Walter Matthau.
Front Page Woman (1935)
Davis smiles light up this film of rival reporters
By the time she made this film, Bette Davis had been in more than two dozen movies, and she had attained leading lady status. Never known or remembered for comedy, she nevertheless made several comedies and this is one of her early ones. In "Front Page Woman," Davis has the looks and smarts that make her a competing "newspaperman," to rival journalist and boyfriend George Brent.
Davis plays Ellen Garfield and Brent is Curt Devlin. A good supporting cast is headed by Roscoe Karns as Toots, a news photographer. All the cast are good and Ellen and Curt have a friendly rivalry for getting the front-page story. At times they are very serious, but love is in the making with these two. As the plot unfolds here, the two match wits to solve a crime and get the big front-page splash ahead of the cops and one another.
It's a fun story and the leads have very good chemistry. Davis smiles a lot in this film something moviegoers didn't see very often with this giant of the silver screen over five decades in her many serious, dramatic and mystery roles. It's nice to see Davis with Brent, whom she considered among her favorite leading men. It's easy to see why he was her favorite in this film. He has an affable, kind persona here, even as an otherwise shrewd and accomplished reporter.
Most people should enjoy this film.