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7/10
Quibbles aside, I preferred this version to the 1974 film.
24 August 2018
Yes, one can quibble. Yes, Branagh's Poirot moustache was prominent enough to qualify for separate billing, and only once, upon his waking do we see it encased in its own individual overnight casing. Qualifying as a more serious 'goof; is that the multi passenger-car Orient Express was reported to us, the audience, to be filled to capacity; yet there are only a dozen ticket-holders in evidence. Granted they occupy first-class compartments, and the rest of the coach cars may well be filled withe invisible hoi polloi segregated from everyone rich, famous or had a motive to murder, and forbidden to enter the club or dining cars. It seems the screenwriter was determined (thank heavens) to speed along the journey by ignoring each inconsistency as if it were a third-class passenger trying to enter the clubcar or an avalanche threatening to impede the pace of his plotting. On my plus side are the performances, evero one of which equalled or bettered their 1974 incarnation. Of course, no one EVER betters john Gielgud in any role, but I preferred Branagh to Finney, Although AF is a favorite, i found d his Poirot a bit too stodgy and forced. Michelle Pfeiffer reminded me she knows an d uses her craft, as did Johnny Depp, who masterfully and consistently chose an intonation and vocal rhythm unlike I've heard before from him. Does anyone know the background of Sergei Polunin? Is he related to that clown genius Slava Polunin? Also on the plus side for me was Kenneth Branagh's direction. The 1974 version moved like cold molasses, and some of the acting seemed like star turns rather than ensenble work. I appreciated Branagh's comparatively brisk direction that momentarily whisked us though and past an infelicity in the script. The denouement chugged and then halted along with the train. Perhaps it was blocking: the actors arrayed in a row, waiting for Poirot as if they were at an employment agency agency awaiting a chcck and, hopefully, their next gig. Yet I do not regret for the two hours spent in their company.
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9/10
One of the Great Film Comedies
20 November 2016
Other reviewers have explained the plot, so I'll simply tell you that I find this film funny and one of my top-rated movie comedies of all time (Blazing Saddles, Some Like it Hot, Olsen & Johnson's Hellzapoppin, Radio Parade of 1935, most of the film comedies starring Monty Python, Alastair Sim, Margaret Rutherford, Alec Guinness and almost all the classics by Chaplin, Keaton, Langdon, Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, Marx Brothers, W. C. Fields, Mae West and Mel Brooks. During what seems in retrospect a scant decade following WWII, English language movies along with some stage plays, literature, network radio and early live television appealed to an American public better educated and verbally literate than generations before and after. In comedy of that fleeting era, there was frequently an absurdist streak and occasionally some commentary and deconstruction of the very medium in which it appeared. It's in the Bag is a good example of wit, absurdist comedy and deconstruction. An independent production built around the twin poles of a satiric Russian novel and acerbic comedian Fred Allen, it attracted co-stars willing to work for less than their usual salaries: Jack Benny, Binnie Barnes, Don Ameche, Robert Benchley, Rudy Vallee, Victor Moore, William Bendix, John Carradine, Sidney Toler and Jerry Colonna. The result is a series of scenes encountered by Fred Allen as he follows the trail of his missing chairs, one of which conceals a fortune. The script (written by Fred Allen, Morrie Ryskind, Lewis Foster, Jay Dratler & Alma Reville (Hitchcock's swife) is tight, clever, stuffed with incident and characters (most of them spoofing their on-screen personas). Directer Richard Wallace is efficient and compatible wirth the material and performers, and cinematographer Russell Metty was one of filmdom's finest and a favorite of Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Don Siegel and Stweven Spielberg.
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The Jitters (1938)
One of Leon Errol's top three short films
3 December 2014
This Leon Errol short, The Jitters, recreates in part one of his most famous eccentric comedy dancer routines from the Ziegfeld Follies 20 years after he first performed it. Many folks don't know that Leon Errol was one (if not THE) most important stage comedian of the 1910s. Not only did he create a racial breakthrough when he chose to partner in comedy skits with African American comedian Bert Williams in four Ziegfeld Follies but Errol was one of Ziegfeld's frequent directors of the Follies. Errol went on to star in and direct a number of very successful Broadway revues and stage musicals before making silent films (mostly lost). Determined to maintain a freelance control of his film career, Leon likely realized that he was considerably older than most comedians that studios were willing to invest and promote them into 1930s and 1940s stars like Joe E. Brown, W. C. Fields and Bob Hope. Although Leon's birth date is given as 1881, it could well be 1876--otherwise he would have been 14 or 15 while studying in medical school in Australia! The Jitters is one of his best and funniest shorts: 2 one-reel comedies melded into a two-reeler that displays Leon's talents to perfection.
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The Fairy (2011)
10/10
Gordon & Abel & Romy revive Intelligent Physical Comedy
10 November 2014
I save the word 'brilliant' for a very few films; The Fairy is one. It is also mad, charming, funny, odd and the hippest comedy film in a generation. The Fairy is a spirited, zany concoction about lovable misfits--one with askew magical power, and the team of Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel & Bruno Romy is the most original and bright comedy team since Monty Python! Fiona Gordon is an unglamorous fairy; Dominique Abel the worn-down recipient of her beneficence; Bruno Romy is the third member of this writing-directing-acting triumvirate, although Romy tends more to the directing end than as an actor.How did IMDb compute a rating of 6.2 for a film that every one of the IMDb reviewers loved? -- Frank Cullen founder: American Vaudeville Museum; author of "Vaudeville, Old & New: an Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America" (Routledge Press).
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10/10
One of the Great Sim's great roles--and a fine film to boot
20 April 2014
This classic of comedy and drama stars Alastair Sim, the peerless character comedian, and Fay Compton, a versatile stage actor of considerable range. The Laughter coming from Paradise emanates from a recently deceased eccentric (madcap Hugh Griffith) who follows the efforts of his four competitive heirs, for all of whom he has set different but embarrassing tasks to perform to qualify for an inheritance. Alastair Sim and Fay Compton have the choicer roles. Alastair Sim's ludicrous dilemma leads into a bravura comic performance. His bewildered and peeved fiancée is played by the exceptional Joyce Grenfell. Fay Compton's unsympathetic character becomes an occasion for exquisite acting in this film. Young George Cole, one of Mr & Mrs Sim's real-life protégés, handled comedy nearly as deftly as the master, and Cole is still appearing in films 75 years after his celluloid debut. Cole's role as a sincere but insecure lad is the polar opposite of sly and suave Guy Middleton, the fourth of a quartet of prospective heirs. Kudos to supporting players Ernest Thesiger and Eleanor Summerfield. Audrey Hepburn made her English-language movie debut in this film as a cigarette girl in a supper club, and Anthony Steel, on the brink of becoming a star hunk, had a larger and romantic role. Laugher in Paradise defies genre. It offers character studies, by turn hilarious and poignant. An unqualified 10 from this fan
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10/10
One of the great comedy films of all time
20 April 2014
I seldom write 'over-the-top' reviews, but, in my opinion, Happiest Days of Your Life is the funniest of all comedies issued during Britain's golden era (late 1940s-early 1950s) of filmed fun. Directed by Frank Launder, Happiest Days of Your Life provides peerless comedy actors Alastair Sim, Margaret Rutherford, Joyce Grenfell, Richard Wattis, Muriel Aked, Guy Middleton and Edward Rigby with a witty script by John Dighton & Frank Launder filled with opportunities to perform at their best. Although the film is laugh-out-loud funny, convulsively so, at times, it provides a sharply satiric critique of a no-longer-so-Great Britain as it stumblingly tries to negotiate in a few years time a century of bureaucratic transition from ossified Victorian empire to a modern welfare state amid the wreckage and turmoil following WWII. I suggest that Happiest Days of Your Life ranks with the best work by Keaton, Chaplin, Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Monty Python and Mel Brooks.
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10/10
Brilliant! Trenchant. Funny. At 10!
5 April 2014
This is one of those films a customer either 'gets' or doesn't. If you are in doubt as to whether this mad British comedy will be your cup of tea, read the IMDb reviewers' comments. Its fans describe Bed Sitting Room very well, and I have never read such a high percentage of reviews that award a full 10 out of 10. The very few reviewers that give Bed Sitting Room with a low vote admit they didn't 'get' it, but their five votes have dragged down the film's cumulative total. Of the 28 reviews, only 5 were low (two at 5, one at 4, and two at 3). That left a total of 23 favorable reviews: ten gave it a 10, three gave it a 9, and one each for a 7 and an 8. Moreover, there were ten reviewers that didn't award a number rating but their comments ranged from ecstatic to very favorable---none lower. By any measure that must well exceed the cumulative rating of 6.4 that IMDb has stuck on this film.
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7/10
A true comedian at work
5 April 2014
If any other comedian of Kevin James' generation played Paul Blart, Mall Cop, the film would haven't merited more than a 4 or 5 rating (out of 10). That Kevin James co-wrote the script and created a well-defined character AND knew how to act physically (and take falls) is evidence that, given script and director, he is a true comedian. I'm disgusted by SNL alumni that think banging into things and shooting for an ironic persona is the stuff of comedy. Most of them are clumsy and obvious in both regards. Quick cutting masks the use of stunt doubles doing the physical gags these ersatz comedians should be able to execute. That Mr James can act physically as well as verbally, and knows how to write for his character puts him in proximity of the silent and early sound film comedians and well above most of the other comics of today. To see Kevin James to good advantage, see Paul Blart: Mall Cop. It's not great---only in comparison with other alleged comedies of today. Despite my dread of sequels, I look forward to Mall Cop II in 2015.
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7/10
Some notes about casting the roles
23 December 2012
Robert Osborne of TCM said that Warners intended John Barrymore but the Great Profile was too ill by 1942) for the role of Sheridan Whiteside (whose real life model was columnist & broadcaster Alexander Woolcott. Monty Woolley, who originated the role on Broadway (if one can originate what is a copy of the original) brought his smart performance from stage to screen. Others including Clifton Webb, Orson Welles, Simon Callow, Vincent Price and Nathan Lane have attempted the role with various degrees of success, and no doubt Barrynmore would have been great in the juicy, flamboyant role. Indeed, The Man Who Came to Dinner (MWCD), like all scripts written by George S. Kaufman and his various collaborator (Edna Ferber, Mac Connolly and Moss Hart) offers a great roles for all its actors. The screen cast was excellent, especially Reginald Gardiner who, in the role of Mr Beverly Carlton) captured Noel Coward perfectly. Gardiner and Monty Woolley recreated their roles for TV in 1954 (CBS' Best of Broadway 1954). Surprising to me was that Bette Davis actually underplayed and fit very nicely into the ensemble as the sane counterweight to a bunch of madcap egoists. Ann Sheridan sparkled in the slightly unpleasant role based on Gertrude Lawrence. And when did Billie Burke ever disappoint? Jimmy Durante played Banjo (based on Harpo Marx who, as a bachelor, palled around with the same sophisticated set in real life). Davey Burns created Banjo on Broadway, but Durante worked as a more famous casting choice, though in the 1954 Best of Broadway TV revival of this play, Banjo was played by Bert Lahr, and I preferred Lahr's performance. Although Mary Wickes was perfect as the nurse (she played the role in the Broadway production as well as in the film), Zasu Pitts was even more suited to the nurse ("Miss Bedpan!") role in the telecast, and casting Buster Keaton as the doctor in the TV version was brilliant. Most Kaufman plays, including MWCD, written with various partners (who probably supplied structure), remain playable and funny today. He was a master.
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7/10
Underrated & Fun!
31 July 2012
I never saw Won Ton Ton when it was released (although I was certainly old enough). The reviews were so damning that, in spite of a chance to see some of my favorites (The Ritz Brothers, Joan Blondell, Fritz Feld, Terri Garr and a host of former stars), I put it off until I bought the DVD and played it tonight. Perhaps the direction could have been better; certainly the camera-work wasn't consistent, but we thought it far funnier and more clever than many other 1970s movies that were better-received. The dog (or series of dogs) in the title role was (were) brilliant, even in extended shots. Harry & Jimmy Ritz (who, contrary to the IMDb cast list, WERE billed) showed, 40 years after their prime, why they were comedians' comedians. Art Carney didn't disappoint. I like Madeline Kahn but am not the fan that many are, and rather wish Terri Garr had the opportunity to play the lead. Rob Liebman and Fritz Feld gave topnotch comic performances. And Bruce Dern brought energy and comic sense to his lead role. It was a delight to watch the many former stars who, in a few moments of screen time, still knew how to nail a character and a scene. I wish Joan Blondell, now recognized as one of the finest and freshest actors of Hollywood's studio era, had been given a larger role. Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood isn't a comic masterpiece, but it is far better than its reputation. More important: it is fun!
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Trail Riders (1942)
6/10
Davy Sharpe, Stuntman & Western Hero
30 March 2009
No insult to Ray "Crash" Corrigan (who was one of the great western movie stunt men (along with Yakima Canutt and others), but I disagree with previous writer who dissed Davy Sharpe stepping in for ray Corrigan. I welcome any movie in which Davy Sharpe consented to appear. I don't know, but I guess that Davy Sharpe enjoyed stunt work more than acting, so his "acting" appearances are far fewer than the number of movies he was called upon to double the star and henchmen in dozens of films. No movie cowboy was handsomer than Davy Sharpe or better suited in terms of athleticism and acting chops to be a western star, but, watching him partner Rex Bell so well in Idaho Kid, I have to assume that it was Davy Sharpe's choice to limit his acting roles.
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The Chaser (1928)
7/10
Langdon revisited
12 March 2009
The Chaser is, admittedly, not all of a piece. It has some successful parts, several misfires and lacks the quality of Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the most coherent of Harry Langdon's features and one that balances a dramatic narrative with comic invention. The Chaser appears to be several short films welded together (as does The Strong Man). However this device of patching several two-reelers together for a features is much the formula for other comedians' feature films of the period (Laurel & Hardy among them). After all, the guys who wrote scenarios for feature-length films were the same guys who devised the one- and two-reelers. Because Harry Langdon came to Hollywood years after Ben Turpin, Roscoe Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, Olver Hardy, Stanley Laurel, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton had established themselves, critics inevitably compared Langdon to some of them: most notably Chaplin. Rather than emulate Chaplin, Harry Langdon sought to preserve his established comic character that he developed in vaudeville. His soured view of the world was more akin to W. C. Fields' than Chaplin's. Congratulations to previous reviewers, Chris Peterson and, especially, Rodrigo Valenzuela, for reviewing The Chaser with unbiased minds and for keeping up with contemporary research and for knowing something about the circumstances under which The Chaser was made. 1) First National Pictures, being acquired by Warners, was keeping everyone on tight budgets. Vitaphone (also part of the Warner Brothers/First National/Vitaphone family) had released the first commercially viable sound shorts in 1926, when there were only about 100 theatres equipped for sound. However, as Jack Warner expected, that number doubled in a year and by 1928 most of the better motion picture exhibitors were "okay for sound," and Warners was counting on sound features to make them a major studio. Unlike Chaplin and Lloyd, both Buster Keaton and Harry Langdon did not "own" themselves, and were forced to continue making silent comedies for several years into the sound era. MGM and Warners saved the expense of making sound movies for musicals and what they deemed "prestige dramas." 2) Harry Langdon spent more than 20 years in vaudeville. By the time he came to movies in 1924, just a few years before the sound revolution, he had been a headliner in big-time vaudeville for years. He did not need anyone, especially a relative greenhorn like Frank Capra, to "invent" a comic characterization for him. Harry's hen-pecked, slow-to-react comedic persona was well developed as is evidenced by descriptions of his vaude act, "Johnny's New Car." 3) Frank Capra was good at devising gags for Mack Sennett and Harry Langdon. Capra became a great movie director after he left Harry Langdon's employ, but he was as ambitious and self-serving as he was gifted. GHis autobiography is suspect and was his chance to settle old scores. Capra saw Langdon as a tool to propel him into prominence. But Capra clashed with Arthur Ripley, Harry Edwards and Harry Langdon. Between First National's cuts to Harry Langdon's production company's budgets and dissension in the creative process, someone had to go, and it was Capra who fought with Harry and Harry's other writers and directors. Also, Capra, as is apparent by his later films, was not in tune with Langdon's established comic character and the dark side of humanity explored by Langdon and his more sympatico writers/directors. 4) Langdon, indeed, did allow his long-time unhappy marriage (his wife had been in Harry's vaude act) to influence his choice of material. Most artists do mine their own lives for material. That Harry did not do as dispassionately or fairly as some may wish is subject to debate. I, for one, would have preferred more objectivity on Harry's part. Still, The Chaser is a fairly good comedy, no worse than all but the few best of the late 1920s.
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6/10
Better than Average B Movie
7 July 2008
If you like only big budget 'A' movies that provide the director, set designers, technicians and actors all the advantages that money can buy to make a decent flick, you shouldn't watch B programmers. And the Mysterious Mr. Wong is a B pic without apologies from Monogram. The small Poverty Row studios whose budgets permitted then to make only B movies, rented everything from actors to sound stages so they had to make their movies cheaply and quickly. Anyone can made a $60 million dollar film--even a 30 million dollar flick in today's dollars, and if it turns out to be anything less than a good film, the people responsible haven't talent. On the other hand, it took solid craftspeople to turn out an entertaining 6-reel B movie in a week or two for chump change. (If you ever need a hint to distinguish between A budget and B budget movies, look for ceilings in the settings. Eliminating ceilings saved construction money and made lighting easier.) If I compare The Mysterious Mr. Wong with the better A movies, I give it a 6. If I compare it to the best of the B flicks, such as the Thin Man series (which earns a 9 from me), I'd award Mysterious Mr Wong an 8. Nina Howett banged out a script peppered with amusing dialogue, and the seemingly spontaneous Wallace Ford and Arline Judge do it up proud. Robert Emmett O'Connor always scores as the pudding-faced Irish cop with little in his noggin. Bela Lugosi, regardless of how ineptly he handled his career, remains one of the most striking and interesting performers ever on the screen---able to excel in operatic horror, comedy and drama roles. Versatile as he was, however, his acting talent didn't include a facility with accents. His Hungarian accent could only adapt to Central or Eastern Europeans characters. Still, his exotic quality triumphed over that sole limitation. William Nigh, one of the most competent B directors, keeps the pace crackling for all of the film's 65 minutes. Even the camera work is smart. Yes, the script is racist: the film's Chinese are inscrutable, untrustworthy and murderous (except the roles of Lotus Lee and her mother (?)) and Irish are thick-headed. But, as another reviewer noted, two young Chinese women turn their own back from Wallace Ford's character by replying in cultivated English to his condescending pidgin talk. The picture quality of the Alpha release is fine, but the sound is muddy.
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1/10
Una Merkel trapped in claptrap
10 December 2007
This is a cheapie---even by Monogram Pictures'standards. Nearly unwatchable, its only grace is Una Merkel, the charming Kentucky pixie who brought sparkle to many films as a second lead. Sweethearts of the USA is claptrap about Una Merkel as a dismissed defense plant worker who seems to enter an extended dream sequence in which she, her boyfriend (the charmless Parkyakarkus) and three bankrobbers bungle about in a plot often interrupted by dull singing and piano spots. It's difficult to choose which interruption is worse: the musical interludes or the plot. The writing is witless, the direction is slack and the editor didn't match shots, so Merkel is the only gift this bottom of the barrel movie offers. Even those involved must have realized this film was a stinker. The director, two of the three writers and several of the "actors" used pseudonyms! The only mystery in this plodding pastiche is how Merkel, a future Oscar nominee and a Tony Award winner, found herself trapped in this sluggish mess.
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10/10
Top of my top ten movies of past decade
10 July 2007
This is my favorite film of the past ten years: it has wit, poignancy and top-shelf scriptwriting, acting and direction. Kieran Culkin has the role of his young lifetime, and he is supported by a superb cast: Susan Sarandon, Bill Pullman, Celia Weston, Amanda Peet, Clare Danes, Ryan Phillippe, Jeff Goldblum and Jared Harris. A friend of mine once remarked that she was seldom moved by stories about with self-absorbed rich people who think they are suffering. I agree. Thus it is a marvel that I felt empathy and a fondness for Igby, Sooky and several others in the story. Burr Steers is a marvel as the writer and director. Nary a false moment due to his canny script and faultless direction.
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7/10
A Rare Chance, perhaps only one of two, to see Great Music Hall Performers of Yesteryear
5 January 2007
The narrative, wrapped around the many excellent music-hall turns in this film, is maudlin at best, but it serves to provide a history of a particular music-hall from the era preceding WWI to the era of WWII. When I play my VHS copy for people, I simply zoom through the story line to watch matchless and perfectly executed acts like Slim Rhyder, Charles Coborn (in his nineties!), the great George Robey, Wilson, Keppel & Betty and some younger variety stars impersonating earlier stars. The IMDb listing is in error as regards Marie Lloyd: the listing assumes that it was she in the movie and that she was billed as Marie Lloyd, Jr. Indeed, it was her daughter Marie Jr. who impersonated her mother, Marie Lloyd. As a previous reviewer noted, it is difficult to give a rating to a film like Variety Jubilee. The best analogy I can think of it that of archeology. To find this film (or Elstree Calling) is to discover a rare artifact of an earlier generation of clever and amusing stars. If you expect surroundsound, wide screen, color and jump cuts or have little interest in the history of show business, you won't see its value. The narrative merits a 3; the acts (or "turns" as the British call them) merit a 10.
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6/10
Like the title says: slightly terrific
26 December 2006
There's two reasons why this movie is enjoyable: lead comedian Leon Errol and comedy director Eddie Cline. In other hands this would have been one more slightly embarrassing, low-budget, bottom-of-the-bill dud. There's little plot and that's probably all for the better as the plot is nonsense. But Leon Errol, about 70 when he made this movie, is very good in a double---make that a triple---role. Errol was one of the best physical and character comedians back in the Ziegfeld Follies, and 30 years later he was still a master. His drag act compares with that of any other comic before or after him. Betty Kean, one-half of the comedy duo, the Kean Sisters (Betty & Jane), dancer Ray Malone and Eddie Quinlan help make the fun, but some of the other acts that pop up every few minutes are strictly bush league. This isn't a comic masterpiece, but Slightly Terrific gives you the chance to see what a great comedian, Leon Errol, can do with two-cent script in a buck-and-a-quarter budget film that is helmed by one of the better comedy directors in Hollywood.
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8/10
Fox Musical Stars at their Best
25 December 2006
Director Norman Taurog has a witty script and the top musical performers on the Fox lot to direct, and he delivers. The plot is all too familiar and implausible, but the dialogue sparks it. Leads Alice Faye and Don Ameche are at their most charming and natural, and Faye has a couple of solid hit songs. Too bad Ameche wasn't as lucky. The Ritz Brothers have integrated roles in the plot, ample screen time and deliver several excellent numbers. Tip, Tap & Toe wow with a fine eccentric tap number just before the production number (a clinker) at the end of the film. Character comedian Charles Winninger is somewhat wasted in a largely straight role, but Gypsy Rose Lee (billed under her real name, Louise Hovick, gets a break as a playing the snarky "other woman." Tony Martin has fine pipes but comes off a bit smarmy and mannered in his numbers, and Rubinoff on screen is proof why he was better on radio. Phyllis Brooks and Wally Vernon also deliver snappy bits. Definitely one of the better of 20th Century Zanuck's musicals, although he can't resist his cheesily costumed chorus cuties whose talents are best on display without moving or talking. One chorine with a platter on her head traipsed pigeon-toed down a staircase in a Tony Martin number--at first I thought she was Harry Ritz. I'll watch this film again just to see the Ritz Brothers and Tip, Tap & Toe.
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7/10
Cantor's treasure chest of masterly performances
1 December 2006
There was a fluctuation in quality among the episodes, but those that featured old masters---like George Raft (dancing gracefully but lightning fast as in his vaudeville and speakeasy days), Buster Keaton, Billie Burke, The Three Stooges or other vaudeville or legit theater trained stars---were gems. This program, Cantor's final TV show, was similarly nostalgic to his last radio show, in which he played old recordings from his own collection of the great stars of vaudeville and musical comedy. Whereas many of those old sound recordings were subsequently reissued in LP and CD, the film episodes from this series are not, to my knowledge, currently available. That's a shame. I wish whoever has them in cold storage will soon transfer these 30 minute filmed telecasts to DVD for aficionados to enjoy. Frank Cullen American Vaudeville Museum
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7/10
Among the best of its type
20 April 2006
Archie Mayo and the writers took a stock project (a show biz musical) and made it special. The plot line about the beginnings of radio doesn't get lost in the welter of specialty numbers nor does the love story intrude too much in the fun. We even get a sense of what it was like when radio was expanding from a hobbyist's pursuit to a a mass market entertainment industry. The cast is nearly top notch all around but the Wiere Brothers are a marvel, providing the best turn in the film despite competition from the Nicholas Brothers, the Ink Spots and the always professional and often underrated John Payne, Alice Faye and Jack Oakie. Payne was usually justified in sleepwalking through the roles Fox saddled him with, but in this outing he shows what he can do with a congenial plot, director and co-stars. The primary reason for watching this film is to see the Wiere Brothers at their antic best. They were a deft and whimsical European comedy trio--comedians, instrumentalists, dancers and jugglers--with a long lineage in Continental circus, ballet and opera, and their style may be baffling to tastes weened on hit-them-over-the-head roughhouse comedy. Nothing wrong with roughhouse, but the Wieres offer something gently different.
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few brass rings on this Merry-Go-Round, but two are golden
18 November 2005
The golden moments are supplied by two comic geniuses from Broadway. Bert Lahr bellows and burlesks concert singers in "Song of the Woodman," and elfin clown, Jimmy Savo--whom Charlie Chaplin called the greatest pantomimist of his time--sings as he tries to hold back the flood in one of his signature numbers, "River Stay 'Way from My Door;" In another spot, Savo's engaging crab-like dance is reduced to a few seconds on film to make way for leading lady Joy Hodges who didn't belong in movies (or on the stage or anywhere else in show business). Hodges' deadening performance is not the film's only near-fatal flaw: there is the script blamed on Monte Brice, Henry Myers and A. Dorian Otvos---so hackneyed that one wondered if it were meant to be a spoof. Irving Cummings' direction (if he indeed were on the set) does nothing to cover up a poor script, and cinematography by Joseph A. Valentine undermines most of the comic moments. Other than Joy Hodges, the cast includes some of the best supporting comedians in Hollywood: Alice Brady, Mischa Auer, Louise Fazenda, Richard Carle, Hattie McDaniel, Dave Apollon and James C. Morton. There are three excellent reasons to see this film: Jimmy Savo, Alice Brady and Bert Lahr. Alice Brady, a fine dramatic actor as well as a comedian, turns her dialogue into hilarious operatic arias. Bert Lahr, seldom seen to advantage in films--most notably excepting his Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, shows his stage style that made him the darling of Broadway critics. Jimmy Savo, a very gentle, unusual comedian, requires several viewings for modern audiences used to bombast and insult comedy. Watching these masters is a must for budding comedians and clowns. But this is a difficult movie to locate. Petition TCM to schedule it. -- Frank Cullen, American Vaudeville Museum and Vaudeville Times quarterly
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7/10
charming period piece full of fun
17 November 2005
Ellstree Calling is a delightful revue film for those who can appreciate eras other than their own. Some of the highlights are: The Three Eddies, a top African American tap dance team that made a big success in the U.K.; they dance two numbers in this revue. Two numbers also by Lily Morris are great giggle ("Why Am I Always the Bridesmaid" is gem of character comedy.) Cicely Courtneidge closes the movie in a production number in color, doing an amusing song & eccentric dance. And Donald Calthrop interrupts the proceedings a number of times as an actor willing to do anything to get his moment in the spotlight. A couple of color production numbers are campy at best, but the film's strength is the individual 'turns' by its variety stars. Ellstree Calling was one of the most successful early talkies anywhere in the world: it was translated into 11 languages and made a fortune through the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other British outposts around the globe. -- Frank Cullen American Vaudeville Museum and Vaudeville Times quarterly
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