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Johnny Dangerously (1984)
A brilliant parody of depression era gangster films
This early 80's spoof is a spot-on parody of the old Warner Brother's gangster films and classic screwball comedies of the thirties. If you like those old classic films then you need to see this, you'll get all the gags and nonsensical plot details that make it so funny.
Michael Keaton is great as the title character, channeling the long gone spirit of Jimmy Cagney with the same irresistible Irish charm; but it's the supporting actors who give the film its hysterical brilliance, from Joe Piscopo---wickedly sending up the kind of despicable, second-banana roles Humphrey Bogart used to play---to Richard Dimitri, whose wildly funny portrayal of the sociopathic, unintelligible, ethnic-looking gangster is a pitch-perfect illustration of the unspoken racism in those old films, to Maureen Stapleton, who utterly steals every scene she's in as the lazy, dotty, foul-mouthed 'Sweet Irish Mum' those old gangster characters were always so devoted to.
It's one of the most perfect parodies of a film genre ever made, and it's still funny, 25 years later. Watch it.
Mabel's Strange Predicament (1914)
Middling Mabel short.
This is a short featuring the Divine Madcap Mabel (Normand) and her newest protégé, a young British vaudeville comedian by the name of Charles Chaplin. Chaplin does an early version of his little tramp character, but he's just a supporting actor. Mabel is the star here.
Mabel is playing with her dog in her hotel room, and gets locked out in the hallway in her pajamas. Chaplin's drunken buffoon sees her, and begins to chase her around. She runs into the room across the hall occupied by an old couple. She hides under the bed, avoiding the old man. Enter the old lady, Mabel's lover, and the drunken buffoon, add plenty of mix ups, and things get hairy. The ending is classic Mabel, with everyone frantically beating the snot out of each other while she comes out on top in the end, as she always does.
She's just adorable here, only 19 years old, fresh from modeling for Charles Dana Gibson (Yes, Madcap Mabel was a Gibson Girl. Who'da thunk?) with her saucer like eyes and expressive face. Unfortunately, this is not one of her best shorts. It's a bit amusing in parts, but not laugh out loud funny. If you want to catch Mabel in all her madcap glory, check out her shorts with Fatty Arbuckle; the two of them worked together wonderfully. Or her full length movies: Tillie's Punctured Romance, Mickey, and The Extra Girl.
Mork & Mindy (1978)
Fond childhood memories.
This show is my earliest TV memory---my father loved this show and we watched it a lot together when I was very small. I recently discovered Seasons 1 and 2 by chance at my local Fred Meyer, picked them up and enjoyed them immensely. I was reminded again of how funny Williams really is.
Robin is at his manic best, and it's obvious that he often forsakes the script and happily heads off into improv la-la-land. Some of it is of course dated now, but it is still very funny. People sometimes disparage Pam Dawber, but she did exactly what she was supposed to do---be the straight man (or woman). Williams is SO manic that he needed an EXTREMELY normal, average straight man to contrast with, and that's exactly what she is. She's cute and perky, the quintessential girl next door. When she explains basic human nature to a confused Mork (which she does constantly) she seems totally believable, like having an older sister explain something about people you didn't understand before.
Watching it as an adult, I did notice a few things I didn't realize as a child: Pam Dawber spends many scenes trying desperately to not laugh and break character at William's improvisations. You can see it in her face; to me, it makes it even more entertaining. Also, the live audience contributed a lot to the general air of cheerful hilarity on the show. When Mork or Exidor show up for the first time in each episode, the audience literally screams in delight.
All in all, watching the first two seasons again I was greatly entertained, laughing throughout, and it brought back great childhood memories. If you're into checking out past decades of pop culture, you need to see this show.
One of the hidden influences on American culture.
Before It, Clara Bow was A Hollywood actress. After It, Clara was THE Hollywood actress. The film catapulted her into super stardom, and it's easy to understand why. The film itself is just Hollywood popcorn fare for it's time---but Clara is an absolute sensation.
This film was like so many other Bow films---it was a vehicle specifically to show her off. Clara is unfortunately not remembered by many today, but she was the prototype for women like Harlow, Monroe, and Madonna. In other words, Clara was the very first mass-marketed sex symbol. She was one of the first 'personality' stars, incredibly popular with the average movie-going public because of her vibrant, bubbly, magnetic and photogenic screen persona. Most of her films were rather cheap, shoddily-made affairs put together solely to show her off and make as much money as cheaply as possible. The difference with this one is that it had a competent director, competent script, and competent actors to surround her with. Even so, she still out-shines everything else around her.
The dynamics between the characters in the film are confusing to us now, but were quite obvious and simplistic for the time. A lot of people today see Monty as gay. He wasn't written that way; he was a common stock character of silent comedies, the silly young man. He's interested in Clara, but willingly helps her snag his friend instead, because that's what friends are for. He's there for comic effect and to contrast with the male lead, Cyrus, who to us seems rather stodgy and dull, but needed to be this way in order to be above reproach: the man worthy of Clara's heart had to be a perfect specimen of propriety. Otherwise, he didn't deserve her. Clara's character today can come across as somewhat scheming and manipulative, but to the 1920's audience, she was a refreshing change from the movie heroines that preceded her; no shrinking violet or sexless schoolgirl, but a girl who would go after what she wanted, and get it.
The film is actually a pretty routine Cinderella story, except for one thing: instead of being pursued, Clara becomes the pursuer, chasing her boss and ensnaring him with her 'It'. The movies made during the roaring 20's helped free Western culture from the restrictive Victorian morals of the late 19th Century. For the first time, it was acceptable for women to pursue men, to openly acknowledge their sex appeal, and movies like this helped society grapple with these concepts. In those days, the word 'sex' was considered unsuitable to be uttered in polite company---hence the euphemism 'it'. The Glyn cameo---while serving her decidedly large ego---actually served an important function here: Glyn looks like the ultimate respectable dowager. If it was okay for someone like her to talk about 'it', well, then it must be okay for us as well! This is where the true genius of the film lies: while not a classic, timeless piece of celluloid, it did fundamentally alter American culture, as did Clara herself. Clara did not play exotic, dangerous characters, the way that Theda Bara or Rudolph Valentino did. She played everyday girls---the kind you might run into while spending the day at Coney Island sucking down hot dogs and hanging with your friends. It was this changing of the idea of the sex symbol, from exotic foreigner to everyday American gal, which was one of the real catalysts for the sexual revolution that occurred during the 20th Century.
This is one of the earliest examples of a concept film. The idea behind the marketing was that after watching this film, people would go home, look in the mirror, and wonder if they had 'it'. If they didn't, they'd wonder how they could get 'it'. They would then pay good money for things that would give them 'it': a new hairstyle, snazzy clothes, a nice car, etc. This, of course, has had an incredible effect on our culture in the last 80 years; we now have entire industries that revolve around us trying claim 'it' for ourselves, and a galaxy of people who's sole purpose is to be professionally beautiful: models of 'it' for us to aspire to.
To sum this up, this film has an important place in cultural history, and it's enjoyable to watch. If you like old movies, I recommend you see it. At the very least, Clara's exuberant and coy performance will enchant you.
Double Indemnity (1944)
best American Film Noir ever made
"I liked the way that anklet bit into her leg. I wanted to see her again, up close, without that silly staircase between us."--Walter Neff, after meeting Phyllis Dietrichson This is Fred MacMurray like you've never seen him before. He's edgy and sharp, and amoral, although he hides it well from his boss. Barbara Stanwyck's astounding performance set the standard for bad girls in Film Noir for years to come. I love this film because it is a perfect example of how the censorship of the time made it so that filmmakers had to get the sexiness across in a subtle way. This movie is undeniably sexy, and there's not a single 'love scene' in it!