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Monday, February 15, 2016


Chrismealy asks about other old films besides Born Yesterday that are hilarious.  A  lot depends on what you mean by "old."  Young Frankenstein is spectacularly funny, but it is only 42 years old, which for me is just yesterday.  A number of the Tracy/Hepburn films are splendid -- Pat and Mike and Adam's Rib among them. The writing credits for Young Frankenstein, by the way, list Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, and Mary Shelley, which is a hoot all by itself.  a propos, I stole the title for In Defense of Anarchism from Mark Twain's essay "In Defense of Harriet Shelley."  Harriet Shelley was the poet's first wife.  She committed suicide after Percy took up with Mary, the daughter of the feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and the anarchist philosopher William Godwin.  Twain thought Harriet had gotten a bad rap from Percy and his friends.

Anyone have some favorite oldies to suggest?


Tom Cathcart said...

Just about any Danny Kaye movie.

Tom Cathcart said...

Also, Charlie Chaplin in "The Gold Rush."

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Of course, The Court Jester, with the classic routine about the potion with the poison in the flagon with the dragon.

I thought about the Charlie Chaplin movies, but they are something of an acquired taste. I mean, you cannot call yourself a Marxist if you have not seen MODERN TIMES.

Joseph Streeter said...

The scenes with Peter Sellars in I'm alright Jack are very funny. And while it's not really a comedy, the script of The Big Sleep with Bogart and Bacall is very witty, and makes me laugh more than most comedies.

Warren Goldfarb said...

The films that are called "screwball comedies" (a bad label, in my view) provide many hilarious examples. My favorites are "His Girl Friday", with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and "The Philadelphia Story", with Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart. There are lots more of these, many of them also priceless ("Bringing Up Baby", again with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, which also may have the first usage in a film of the word "gay" to mean homosexual).

I've always loved the Marx Brothers' films, although they don't read nearly as well on a small screen (the famous "stateroom scene" in "A Night at the Opera" is just not that funny unless it's BIG). Of course you have to pass over the ethnic stereotyping in Chico's character, but still, "Duck Soup" and "A Night at the Opera" are just hilarious. My favorite line from the latter: Groucho and Chico are negotiating a contract, and Groucho explains that if either party is insane, the contract will be void: that's the "sanity clause". Chico looks at him and says (in his stereotyped accent): "You canta foola me, there is no sanity clause".

I'm surprised David Auerbach hasn't weighed in yet. I know he has many favorites he might recommend.

David Auerbach said...

Hi Warren. Yes indeed. Certainly "Duck Soup" and "A Night At the Opera", with the mirror sequence in the former being one of greatest in comedy (the last gag in the sequence is one of those gasp with appreciation whilst laughing moments).
Anything with Buster Keaton though I particularly love Sherlock Jr. for the beautiful gag with the collapsing building and simply phenomenal dive through the hoop into a dress-- all actually takes with Keaton doing the stunt. As a cook I have a fondness for the cooking scenes aboard the empty steamship in "The Navigator" as well as the hari-kari gag. "I've suddenly gone gay" is, I think, the Grant line Warren references and it is a great moment. A favorite Grant-Hepburn of mine is 'Holiday', both because of the pointed politics of some of it and some that carried by the wonderful character played by Edward Everett Horton—he and his wife (Jeanne Dixon?) are a surprisingly warm-hearted evocation of a professional egalitarian couple.
"To Be or Not to Be" is astonishing, at least partly because how well-judged every moment in it had to be to work at all. But it does. The remake isn't offensive, but it doesn't work. Of course, practically anything by Lubitsch, but particularly "The Shop Around the Corner" which is both warm and sharp-eyed at the same time (Is Lubitsch the Hume of film?) And "Trouble in Paradise"
I could go on.
I will go on.

David Auerbach said...

Oh, of course, Sturges. "Sullivan's Travels" is simply one of the best films ever made. I always cry during the scene in the church, which serves both as the prećis of the movie and also undermines it a bit. "Dinner at Eight", with Marie Dressler's theatrical double-takes.
Moving right along to the fifties and beyond, there's “Some Like it Hot”, "The Apartment". And venturing out a bit: Les Ripoux which I found very very funny. (it had me with line "Toujours Zola". Well, go rent it and see.)
And, of course, "Psycho"

s. wallerstein said...

If we include Psycho, which isn't exactly a comedy, let me recommend the Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965).

David Auerbach said...

It is said that Hitchcock thought it was a comedy. I sort of see his point.

s. wallerstein said...

I saw Psycho when I was very young and it just scared me. Why did Hitchcock see it as a comedy?

Tom Cathcart said...

Peter Sellars in "Being There." Think Ben Carson as President.

Warren Goldfarb said...

Since Prof. Wolff spends significant time in Paris every year, let me mention a few French comedies. The early films of Jacques Tati, "Les Vacances de M. Hulot" and "Mon Oncle" from the 1950s are both really funny, although because part of the humor is physical it plays better on a big screen. (I didn't think his later films, "Traffic" and "Playtime" were as good.) From 1960 there's the early Louis Mallé film, "Zazie dans le Métro", which if you know Paris at all is very funny.

As expected, David's recommendations above are all spot-on.

Jim said...

Professor Wolff --

For some people, favorite films are representative of a particular time (much like popular songs are for many people). I prefer to perceive of films within their own historical existence (which is remarkably short, given the big scheme of history}. So for instance, one of my favorite films of all time is "Behold A Pale Horse" which was released in 1964 before I was born and directed by Fred Zinnemann. That being said, one of my most favorite comic films is the 1987 release "Withnail & I" directed by Bruce Robinson and starring the incomparable Richard E. Grant. My wife remains somewhat puzzled about why I never laugh while watching films. "Withnail & I" is one of the few films that have ever made me laugh.

Despite my desire to assess films within their historical continuum, myself and my generation continue to be obsessed with Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner." (1982) The film is a staggering improvement on Phil K. Dick's novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Although a devastating film, one of the things that renders it great for me is the fantastic soundtrack by Greek composer Vangelis Papathanassiou.

If you want to see a very funny (and silly) film that showcases blue collar workers struggling against the American capitalist system, watch "Tommy Boy" (1995). I could go on forever.

-- Jim