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Friday, January 29, 2021


One of the reasons that I have posted so little in the last several days is that I have been consumed by anger and a feeling of depression at what is happening in America these days, even though I am only a fortnight away from my second vaccine shot, which you would think would cheer me up. So I thought I would spend today giving you one example of the wit in movies and then invite any who wish to post comments to give us other examples that they like.


My example comes from an old Clint Eastwood movie. All of us are familiar with the movie cliché of the couple who, consumed by desire for one another, stumble into an apartment and start tearing their clothes off, dropping them on the floor as they make their way to the bed. In the non—R-rated versions, we never see them naked on the bed making love. We simply see the trail of clothing leading up to the bed: a shoe, a bra, a sock, an undershirt. I have no idea what imaginative director created this trope but it is now so stale that one yawns when it begins and it no longer has the power to arouse.


In the Clint Eastwood movie, he plays a Secret Service agent tasked with defending the president (I think, I may misremember that). His partner is a female Secret Service agent and sure enough, they get the hots for each other and go to his or her apartment. The scene starts conventionally enough but the director, with what I consider a marvelous wit, shows us a somewhat different trail of dropped accoutrements: a side arm, a pair of handcuffs, a bra, a bit of body armor. When I saw it I laughed out loud. It was such a lovely bit of inter-textual critique, as the lit crit people say. I do not remember much else about the movie but I will never forget that scene.


Okay. That one is mine. I invite you to contribute yours for the general amusement of the readership and to lighten the burden under which we all labor these days.


DDA said...

There's a much earlier parody of that cliché in Duck Soup, involving Harpo. (It's combined with a parody of the cliché of going-off-to-war sex.)

s. wallerstein said...

Broadway Danny Rose.

Woody Allen is a theater agent with clients who as soon as they become successful, leave him for more mainstream agents.

Mia Farrow, who is the girl friend of one of his clients, is fleeing from the mafia because her jealous ex boy friend, a gangster, wants to kill her and her new boy friend, Danny's client.

They are in Danny's apartment and Mia is hysterically trying to get Danny to hurry up because the mob hitman will arrive soon. However, all Danny can think of is whether
his socks which are on the clothes line are dry.

I find that hilarous every time I think about it. I may have some of the details wrong because I saw the movie over 30 years ago.

DDA said...

Here's a description of the moment in Duck Soup (I snipped it from a article about Duck Soup): The Hays Code, which predated our current MPAA rating system, was a new force in Hollywood when Duck Soup came out. Among its more famous rules was that a man and a woman could not be shown in bed together. This led to the sight gag where we see, next to a bed, a pair of men's boots, a pair of women's shoes ... and a set of horseshoes. Cut to a woman sleeping in one bed, Harpo and a horse in another. The Hays Code didn't have any rules about men and horses sleeping together.

Zachary Scott said...

I can think of several off the top of my head:

The classic scene in “When Harry Met Sally,” at Katz’s deli in the Lower Eastside, when Meg Ryan tells Billy Crystal that most of his girlfriends probably faked their orgasms because it’s easy to do, which he disputes, and, as she is eating her lunch, she convincingly imitates an orgasm, at which point a woman in neighboring booth (played by Rob Reiner’s mother), says to the waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

The scene at the end of “Some Like It Hot,” in which Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are imitating female band players in order to escape the mob after having witnessed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Joey Brown, playing a rich tycoon has fallen in love with Daphne and has proposed marriage. Lemon, dressed as a woman, is trying to explain to Brown why they can’t get married. Lemon says, “We can never have children.” Brown responds, “That’s alright, we can adopt.” Finally, Lemon removes his wig and says, “You don’t understand, I’m a man.” Brown responds, “That’s OK, nobody’s perfect.” In the age of constitutionally protected gay marriage, the punchline may have lost its punch for contemporary audiences, but it points out how inconceivable the idea of same gender marriage was in the 1950s.

In “The Odd Couple,” Walter Matthau has invited two sisters in the upstairs apartment to join him and Jack Lemon for dinner. As Matthau retreats into the kitchen to mix some martinis, Lemon is left in the living room to converse with the Pigeon sisters. Lemon, who is going through a divorce, starts talking about his happy family and starts showing the sisters photos of his children. When Matthau returns, he finds the Pigeon sisters and Lemon bawling their eyes out, ruining his hopes for a romantic evening.

Also in “The Odd Couple,” Lemon criticizes Matthau because Matthau refers to the dinner which Lemon has made as spaghetti. Lemon mocks Matthau and says its not spaghetti, it’s linguini. Matthau picks up the plate and throws it against the wall. As the sauce and linguini slide down the wall, Matthau says, “Now it’s garbage.”

Finally, in the movie “Sleeper,” a futuristic movie about revolution, Woody Allen joins the revolutionaries. The country’s dictator has been killed in an explosion and all that is left of him is his nose, which his supporters are going to use to clone a new dictator. Woody infiltrates the operation room and steals the nose. As he is being chased by the police, he pulls out a gun, aims it at the nose and says, “Stop, or I’ll shoot your President’s nose.” (There are several other hilarious scenes in the movie, but this is my favorite.)

Anonymous said...

This is real life as affected by a movie prop, or how I knew I was going to marry my then girlfriend.

On our first overnight trip together out-of-town, we were visiting Napa Valley and taking the usual tours of wineries. We entered what looked like an exclusive winery and the small visitor center had a small wine tasting area. Though it was quite early in the day, we decided to walk in to look. At the doorway was a brightly colored surfboard affixed to the wall, totally out of place for what was a well appointed continental interior with antique Italian charm.

As we walked in we both blurted out "I love the smell of merlot in the morning." You see that was the Coppola Winery, a name made famous by Francis Ford Coppola, the director of the movie Apocalypse Now. The surfboard was from the movie connected with Robert Duvall's character Colonel Kilgore whose most memorable line was "I love the smell of napalm in the morning"!

--Dave F.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

All good ones, several of which I remember but several of which – the Harpo scene and the one from Sleeper - I have not. Keep them coming!

Robert Paul Wolff said...

P.S.I assume Zachary Scott is a nom de cinema

DDA said...

from Duck Soup

Danny said...

As I recall, Robert Paul Wolff claims to explain why labor is the necessary value numeraire for the Marxian theory of exploitation. Let us all have a laugh.

Personally, I am amused by the whole 'there is a way of reconstructing the Marxian concept of exploitation independently of the labor theory of value' idea, sort of like I am amused by the science of the Rorschach blots. I'll explain my analogy a bit -- the use of the Rorschach to diagnose mental illness is mostly a thing of the past. Research on the test continues. Meanwhile, Marx's value theory is a complex doctrine. To be serious about this kind of thing, involves choosing a numeraire, say the net output per worker, and considering other degrees of freedom, such as the wage-rate of profits frontier, and ultimately, this system of equations shows the capitalists advancing the wages to the workers, but a different formulation would show the workers as advancing their labor power to the capitalists and being paid from the output, and notice here, that the wage is higher for a lower rate of profits. I'm half-kidding, but it's not to pick on Marx, who is in good company here -- Adam Smith had an "adding-up" theory of natural prices:
'When the price of any commodity is neither more nor less than than what is sufficient to pay the rent of the land, the wages of the labour, and the profits of the stock employed in raising, preparing, and bringing it to market, according to their natural rates, the commodity is then sold for what may be called its natural price.'
Consider, whether natural wages, rents, and profits could vary independently of one another. And then consider, that I didn't define 'natural'. There are assorted relevant debates about whether we assume natural prices as equal to labor values, and whether prices of production are equal to labor values, and whether the rate of profits would be the ratio of the labor value of profits in the wage-good industry to the sum of the labor embodied in the means of production and the labor embodied in the wage-goods purchased by the workers producing wage-goods, and to be clear, I'm half-kidding. And as it were: what are the different types of exploitation that you see?

David Palmeter said...

Looks like the request for names is being ignored.

Zachary Scott said...

Danny, Prof. Wolff has asked for laughs, not Marxist theory. Don’t be a stick in the mud.

And David, do you doubt my name is Zachary Scott. Are you confusing me with someone else?

One of the wittiest movies ever made, but today rarely remembered, is the movie “The Awful Truth,” starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. Grant suspects that Dunne is cheating on him with her music instructor. Grant’s suspicions are aroused when Dunne claims she spent the night at an inn with her instructor because his car broke down:

Grant files for divorce. At the trial, the only item which has not yet been awarded is their dog, which Grant claims he brought into the marriage, and therefore should be awarded to him. The judge decides to let the dog decide, and has it brought into the courtroom. – whichever spouse the dog goes to first wins the dog. Dunne surreptitiously uses the dog’s favorite squeak toy to get it to come to her, and the judge rules accordingly, with Grant left sputtering. Grant insists on having visitation rights. When he shows up for one of his visitations, Dunne is entertaining the music instructor, which will only confirm in Grant’s mind that she has in fact been cheating on him. So she hides him in another room, which results in confusion over the ownership of two bowler hats: You can see the scene here:

While they are waiting for their divorce to become final, Grant starts dating a night club singer, and Dunne starts dating an oil tycoon from Oklahoma (played by Ralph Bellamy, who later won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of FDR in Sunrise at Campabelo). Grant and Dunne run into each other at the nightclub, where Grant’s date sings Gone with the Win (not the song you are familiar with from the movie):

Grant then starts dating a wealthy heiress, and Dunne shows up unexpectedly at her home, posing as Grant’s sister, from the South:

After Dunne performs her rendition of Gone With The Wind, Grant offers to drive his sister home. Dunne, claiming that her brother is intoxicated, insists on driving and then intentionally crashes the car. The police arrive and take them to a nearby lodge owned by Dunne’s aunt. This is the last day before their divorce becomes final. In the final scene of the movie, Dunne performs a monologue which is a fantastic play on the words “same” and “different.” The movie ends with a musical clock providing the backdrop for romantic reconciliation.

Zachary Scott said...


Hail Freedonia!

Duck Soup is one of Woody Allen’s favorite movies. At the end of Hannah and Her Sisters, depressed about the meaninglessness of life, he goes to a theater to watch Duck Soup and realizes that laugher, as Prof. Wolff is recommending, is the best medicine for life’s insanities:

David Palmeter said...

Zachary Scott,

No, I didn't mean you or the others who gave their names or a pen name.

jeffrey g kessen said...

From, "Annie Hall". Woody walking down a Manhatten street in earnest conversation with himself (as usual), lamenting his inability to keep any of his long-term relationships sexually interesting. He stops, at random, an old gentleman and his wife walking the other way, and asks them, off-the-cuff-wise, if they had any secret to keeping their relationship sexually gratifying. "Yes", the old boy responds, "we use a large vibrating egg."

Charles Pigden said...

The Movie professor Wofff remembers is In the Line of Fire (1993) , directed by Wolfgang Peterson and starring Clint Eastwood and Rene Russo as the female agent for whom he has the hots. It's not iconic but it is a good solid B-movie.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

There is nothing Ike good slapstick to instantaneously get one laughing. The earlier the movie or short was produced the better they are, it seems to me. Laurel and Hardy movies and shorts are great. I can’t remember the name of the short I like best but I think it is Early to Bed. The climatic scene is Abbott getting into a Murphy bed to sleep for the night when suddenly the bed returns to the upright position and he goes crashing through the brick wall and into a river. They had a motto, ‘Duae tabulae rasa en quibus nihil scriptum est.’

Then there is WC Fields. His best jokes were not told in movies, though. For example, when asked if he ever drinks water he exclaims, “Water! You realize fish fuck in that!”

RE Anon., aka Dave F. - on our first date my spouse and I went to dinner and a movie. Dinner went great but the movie, in my mind, was not so great. As we got up to leave I said, “If I were an actor in that movie I’d pay to have my name removed from the credits.” She punches me in the arm and says, “I was about to say that!”

John Rapko said...

My favorite Hays code-evading witticism is in Bringing Up Baby (1938). Cary Grant plays a shy, unworldly, muttering paleontologist who is engaged to his prim, dreadful assistant Miss Alice Swallow (!). They're trying to figure out where the last, recently discovered bone goes in a brontosaurus skeleton. Grant holds up the big bone and says: "I think this one belongs in the tail." Miss Swallow replies: "Nonsense. You tried it in the tail yesterday."

PhilosophicalWaiter said...

In the Big Lebowski, there is a bit of a discussion about a group of men who had attacked them. One, Walter (who notably had converted to Judaism in a previous marriage), wanted to insist that they were Nazi's. The conversation ends with one of the most outrageously absurd (but not literally false) philosophical statements I have ever heard:

The Dude: They were nihilists, man, they kept saying that they believed in nothing.
Walter: Nihilists. F*** me, I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.

Here's the scene, if you're willing to tolerate the language.

Big Lebowski, Nihilists scene

Tim Badonsky (AKA Philosophical Waiter)

Zachary Scott said...

John Rapko,

That’s very funny.

Directors and screen writers often include subtle double entendre sexual references. In The Maltese Falcon, John Huston’s directorial debut, Peter Lorre plays a character who is supposed to be gay. When he first meets Sam Spade (Bogart), he is carrying a cane, which he keeps caressing. The case was supposed to be a phallic symbol.

PhilosophicalWaiter said...

In Sleeper, Woody Allen (in disguise as an android butler) has a long, drawn-out fight with a giant sentient pudding.

Tim Badonsky (AKA Philosophical Waiter)

C said...

This meme.

If you haven't seen the relevant films, then it's not so funny.

Charles Rossi said...

For wit in a movie, nothing to me beats a great scene in the 1975 Italian film Pasqualino Settebellezze (English Seven Beauties) directed by Lina Wertmüller (née Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller von Elgg Spanol von Braueich in 1928 in Rome) and starring the great comic actor Giancarlo Giannini. The movie examines how Pasqualino (Giannini) survives in Fascist Italy and WWII Europe (he spends some time in a German concentration camp). In Venice, Pasqualino is a third-class hoodlum, one of the many points in the Italian economic system where a “touch” (tangento) takes off some of the excess of the system. He is also trying to prevent his seven sisters (the “seven beauties”) from resorting to prostitution as the war approaches (he fails in the end). In my favorite scene, Pasqualino dressed in a white suit (that’s my memory) and a large beautifully pointed hat haughtily surveys his meagre economic domain and is approached by the local second-class hoodlum, a thug really, collecting the payment for the hoodlums further up the chain. With aplomb and masculine pride, Pasqualino tells the thug that he doesn’t have this week’s payment. The thug pummels him, knocks him to the floor, stomps on his lovely hat, kicks him, dumps a trash can and an ashtray on him and his lovely suit, and puts the fear of the mob in him to come up with his contribution to local economic stability. Pasqualino rises, brushes the ash and trash from his suit, aligns his hat, and regaining his aplomb speaks thus not to anyone but to the world “He tried to humiliate me.” This is both funny and a deep insight into the Southern European shame culture and machismo.

Zachary Scott said...

For a flurry of laughs, start your morning off with a 57 minute tribute to the one, the only, Groucho Marx:

Zachary Scott said...

Woody Allen’s explanation for why we keep repeating how we behave. We can’t control ourselves because, “We need the eggs.”