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OUCH! A Salute to Slapstick -- The Films of the 1960s


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#1 Whipsnade

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Posted 09 October 2016 - 07:00 PM

      With regard to the relative weakness of the comedies of this era, as mentioned by IN04150, I have to agree.  When compared to the films of the 1930’s and 1940’s, we can conclude that bigger (and longer) is not always better.  While I enjoy many of the films of this era, I think they can be overlong, ponderous and forced in their humor.  “The Great Race” (1965) as an example, is enjoyable but physically taxing.  I think “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963), though longer, is better comedy, but watching it is still something of an ordeal.   Several reasons for the decline have been discussed, including the need to compete with television in the 1950’s and the changing demographics of audiences in the 1960’s (which resulted in the change to a new rating system in 1968).   Another factor that has not been discussed is the breakup of the studio system.  Movies faced a double-barreled threat in the late forties: competition from television; and a government-mandated prohibition on dual ownership of movie studios and movie theaters.  This resulted in the slow dissolution of the studio system during the 1950’s -- a system that had controlled film production and distribution from its earliest days.  While the studios are often accused of stifling creativity, they also controlled the creative propensity for excess.  I think the studios served a function similar to that of an editor -- shaping the finished product, sometimes for the worst but often for the better.  Is it a coincidence that the decline in quality corresponded with this loss of external control over the creative process?  Something to ponder.

 

     Another possible factor is that comedy had run its course under the rules and conditions that existed at the time.  The move to all-star comedy extravaganzas may be, in fact, a sign of weakness in the genre.  A parallel can be drawn to the Universal horror genre, the last gasps of which were the “monster all-star” movies: “House of Frankenstein” (1944) and “House of Dracula” (1945).   As we have seen, the next step after exhaustion is parody.  For Universal horror, it was “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948).   After the epic comedy era ran its course, comedy moved into an extended period of spoofs and parodies in the 1970’s.   The target of these parodies was not comedy, itself; it was other genres or films from Hollywood’s past.  The change in the production code in 1968 laid the foundation for a new kind of comedy that would come to the forefront after (and as) the 1970’s parody period played itself out.

 

     It is interesting to contrast the performances of Milton Berle in “Always leave them Laughing” (1949) and “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963).  In “Always,” Berle is not a likable character. He is an aggressive schemer willing to do almost anything to get ahead.  And the comedy in the movie is too blatant and burlesque for my tastes.  I was never a big fan of his style of comedy.   Whether on radio, in movies or on television, he always seemed like he was trying too hard.   But in “Mad, Mad,” I find him subtle and effective in his comedy.  I find myself sympathetic with his character who must deal with Ethel Merman as a mother-in-law and Dick Shawn as a brother-in-law.   And the “fight” with Terry-Thomas is hilarious.   In an interview made at the time of production, Berle admitted that he intentionally acted in an understated way that was markedly different from his usual performances.  I think it was a very effective performance.

 


#2 savaney

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Posted 29 September 2016 - 10:48 AM

With films like The Great Race and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, I think that was the decade where the running times became more lengthier, and films themselves became more expensive. What I loved about these films was how famous comedians from the 40s and 50s made cameos in these films. They weren't afraid to poke fun at themselves and their legendary personas. In both film, the jokes and gags come at a very fast pace. There are so many jokes that you have to go back and watch the films again to see which ones you may have missed. That's what makes these films popular because of the thrill of watching them repeatedly to take it all in.


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#3 HEYMOE

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Posted 25 September 2016 - 03:32 PM

I never saw The Great Race before this course. An amazing comedic performance by Jack Lemmon. What a shame that he did not receive an Oscar nomination. I saw it again and appreciated Peter Falk's performance better the second time around.

 

I kept anticipating a gag while Natalie Woods sung The Sweetheart Tree and therefore enjoyed the song better on my second viewing. She was excellent and so much fun to watch.

 

The soundtrack (Bach, Strauss, Mancini) worked so well with the imagery.

 

You cheated, I hate you! I refuse to accept! I won't win any way but my way! You have ruined my reputation, do you hear? You, I hate! You and your hair that is always combed, your suit that is always white, your car that is always clean! I refuse to accept! I challenge you to another race!

 

Too bad that in that era, sequels were not made; It would have been fun to have seen another Great Race!


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#4 Hoosierwood

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Posted 25 September 2016 - 03:09 PM

The Beach films brought back old slapstick. These films did sound effects and Von Zipper did many gags on his bike. They even included a master of slapstick, Buster Keaton. Young people were being introduced to classic slapstick and not knowing it. 

https://www.youtube....h?v=_nIw9g_cYtc


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#5 gefanonymous

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Posted 25 September 2016 - 11:12 AM

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is one my favorite movies. I have always wondered why TCM shows the cut up version instead

of the original version? For example, when they are discussing how to divy up Smiler's money, the original version had 3 scenes and the cut-up version only had 2. It takes away from the movie. Is this some legal issue?


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#6 John_Simpson

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Posted 24 September 2016 - 11:51 AM

One of the things missing from Mad, Mad World is developing sympathy for the creator of the mayhem.

 

Look at this clip below from actually one of my favorite scenes with Jonathan Winters:

 

 

 

 

Now look at this clip from A Night at the Opera.

 

https://youtu.be/m3GhMyIMQdI?t=1m56s

 

 

 

I believe it was Groucho who said that producer Irving Thalberg at MGM came up with the formula to make them more sympathetic. After watching their future target whip Harpo then ANYTHING the boys did to him would be enthusiastically cheered on by the audience.

 

With Winters, he's righteously attacking Phil Silvers but he starts destroying their new gas pump with Phil's head.  The scene is slapstick and funny as heck but then you ask, what did these guys do to deserve this?

 

Also, thanks to what I've learned in this course I can now contrast the scene with Ray and Irwin rolling under the garage door with Chaplin and the fence in the #1 episode of Breakdown of a Gag. Contrast of course because Chaplin was rolling to get away from the antagonistic cop and Jonathan Winters was doing it to pursue the garage owners and further antagonize them.


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#7 John_Simpson

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Posted 24 September 2016 - 11:19 AM

 where the dirty lawyer portrayed by Spencer Tracy escapes with the loot.

 

You really ought to watch the movie again. They didn't keep calling him Captain Culpepper as a nickname. And "Erma Bombeck"?



#8 Russell K

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Posted 24 September 2016 - 09:59 AM

Just finished watching THE GREAT RACE.  I am sure if I had seen this film when it was released, I would have remembered.  So it was a treat!  Yes, it was way over the top, yes it was a bit long, but the cartoon characteristics as noted in class this week made it enjoyable and amusing.  Reminded me of my passion for Rocky and Bullwinkle, Boris and Natasha, and Fractured Fairy Tales - cartoons I loved even more than my Looney Tunes.  

 

I enjoyed the bouncing ball to the music of The Sweetheart Tree.  The Mercer- Mancini tune is a pretty one, and while it ultimately defined the relationship between Curtis/Wood in the film, to me - the song seemed out of place with the rest of the film.  With as manic as the rest of the film was, I think the primary song for the movie should reflect the overall pace and style of the film.  Just my opinion.

 

Certainly, the film reflected the attempt of this time period to be grander than television.  The color was magnificent, the scenery on such a grand scope, the visual design of the scenes - all impressive.  And the homage paid to slapstick was evident - meeting the criteria we discussed in week 1.

 

And Jack Lemmon in two roles - twice as much fun!

 

Glad to be exposed to this film!


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#9 Janeko

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Posted 23 September 2016 - 07:49 PM

Some will disagree with what I am saying. Everyone has their own tastes, and there's no arguing with that. Transitional period or not, the 50s and 60s were probably the weakest decade for cinematic comedy, despite highlights like Martin and Lewis and some brightness on the horizon late and from foreign shores (much like "The British Invasion" in music sparked a revival in both interest and creativity here, foreign film, more than the parodies and "honorariums" we've seen, created a new life for comedy forms). Despite a relatively bright beginning in films like The Good Humor Man, they reach a dark nadir in works like The Great Race (where we see comedy moments lost, wasted, literally thrown away--how can you lose the comedy potential of a polar bear in a car?). But then things start to turn around at the end of the 60s, as we see in Le Gran Amour, where Etaix parodies not American comedies but modern European cinema--the traffic jams made so popular by Goddard, the dream sequences in Bergman--and turns them to more comic effect. Then this is picked up by Woody Allen in the 1970s and 80s to produce in him one of the internationally renowned masters of romantic and intellectual comedy. One thing to note, though, particularly in regard to the question of "taste," and what so many people have been remarking about, especially since Prof Gehring's comment...in the 1950s we can see an increasing use of sexuality, over-the-top innuendo, coarseness and, finally after the breaking of the Hayes codes in the 1960s, flat-out obscenity as one of the means for coping with the rise of television since television had to stay even "cleaner" than the codes forced the films to be.

With all due respect to the people who love these films, I agree with your comments about  the 50's and 60's being a weak period in comedy film  It was noted in the lectures that in reaction to the inroads television was making, the film industry made movies bigger, longer, "epic."

 

But with films like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World and The Great Race, more  isn't automatically better. It's just more, too much  "more," and winds up being boring. I saw "Mad"  in the theater when it first premiered  and really didn't think it was all that funny then. i remember thinking that it seemed to go on forever..  As I watched it the other evening, I again kept thinking that it was way too long.  

 

I read a review of The Great Race earlier today.  When discussing the pie throwing scene, it was said that at first the actors had fun but after a while it wasn't fun anymore.  Natalie Wood choked a piece of pie that was caught in her throat when she got hit in the face when her mouth was open.  And Jack Lemmon was quoted as saying that he almost got knocked out a couple times because getting hit in the face with a whole pie was like getting hit with cement!! So much for idea that the actors enjoyed themselves during the shooting!!   As for my take on the scene, doing a pie throwing scene for a longer period of time than in any other movie doesn't somehow make it fresh or clever. It just makes it long!


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#10 Marianne

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Posted 23 September 2016 - 05:48 PM

Le grand amour (1969)

 

Le grand amour reminded me of some of Woody Allen’s films. Someone plotting an affair (older Pierre with his younger secretary) is not an amusing premise for me. But it could be said that Pierre’s plotting equates to emotional violence, so even though there isn’t much physical violence throughout the film, I felt uncomfortable enough with the planning of the affair to call it emotional violence!

 

The exaggeration in this film is subtle: I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it really was true for Le grand amour, and it mostly had to do with the use of sound. Here’s what I mean. Viewers can hear the sound of machinery going every time Pierre is at work in his office: I would say that the repetition is the exaggeration. And I wonder if it’s a metaphor for Pierre’s machinations with his new secretary Agnès. Viewers can also hear the sound of a crying baby when Pierre doesn’t get his way with Agnès or when he agrees to Bourget’s terms of sale (the baby crying is especially loud when Bourget is on the phone with Pierre). Again, it seems to me that the repetition is the exaggeration.

 

Le grand amour seems like a film that’s worth seeing more than once if one really wants to appreciate the details as they relate to the narrative. Perhaps much like Mon oncle, which is another movie I think I’ll have to see again after reading so much about it on this discussion thread.


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#11 Joifuljoi

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 02:00 PM

"It's A Mad, Mad World" shrouded in the world's greatest pastime, the steeplechase.  The great hoopla of the scene would be all in the event of racing after "yellow fool's gold."  To state of the authenticity of the threat, where it is extolled that one man didn't make it, upon "kicking the bucket."  The race with time was filled with thrills, spills, and lots of action.  It was an all-over comedy hit.  A crowd pleaser for audiences of the young, as well as the old.  Where "laughter is the best medicine," this real pleasure ride consisted of a rip roaring laughs, every minute.  It hosted a star studded cast of characters who participated in "this real spectacle of buffoonery."  It's like episodes of "the world's worst bet," entitled "Around The World In Eighty Days," only this time, there's a twist, where the dirty lawyer portrayed by Spencer Tracy escapes with the loot.  Who would have expected him, of all people.  The film was a portrayal of human nature, who this dysfunctional family unit chooses to trust.  An ordinary guy, "average Joe," (Sid Caesar), entered the race, in order to afford his goldigging wife, portrayed by Erma Bombeck.  Buddy Hackett's character is definitely not in it for the ride, reminiscent of those comedy legends, "Bud Abbott and Lou Costello," and lastly "Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy."  When the crew was found dangling from a window on a tenement apartment dwelling, it reminded me of those archaic Charlie Chaplin movies.  It was real whoopee fun.

I'm sorry but I'm confused.  I didn't get the impression that Edie Adams, Sid Caesar's wife, was gold-digging in any way.  Spencer Tracy was the police chief...perhaps I'm confused.  Sid was ordinary, however, he was a dentist, a little more than an average Joe.  Just an idea.



#12 clark2600

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 01:38 PM

"It's A Mad, Mad World" shrouded in the world's greatest pastime, the steeplechase.  The great hoopla of the scene would be all in the event of racing after "yellow fool's gold."  To state of the authenticity of the threat, where it is extolled that one man didn't make it, upon "kicking the bucket."  The race with time was filled with thrills, spills, and lots of action.  It was an all-over comedy hit.  A crowd pleaser for audiences of the young, as well as the old.  Where "laughter is the best medicine," this real pleasure ride consisted of a rip roaring laughs, every minute.  It hosted a star studded cast of characters who participated in "this real spectacle of buffoonery."  It's like episodes of "the world's worst bet," entitled "Around The World In Eighty Days," only this time, there's a twist, where the dirty lawyer portrayed by Spencer Tracy escapes with the loot.  Who would have expected him, of all people.  The film was a portrayal of human nature, who this dysfunctional family unit chooses to trust.  An ordinary guy, "average Joe," (Sid Caesar), entered the race, in order to afford his goldigging wife, portrayed by Erma Bombeck.  Buddy Hackett's character is definitely not in it for the ride, reminiscent of those comedy legends, "Bud Abbott and Lou Costello," and lastly "Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy."  When the crew was found dangling from a window on a tenement apartment dwelling, it reminded me of those archaic Charlie Chaplin movies.  It was real whoopee fun.



#13 ln040150

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 08:15 AM

Some will disagree with what I am saying. Everyone has their own tastes, and there's no arguing with that. Transitional period or not, the 50s and 60s were probably the weakest decade for cinematic comedy, despite highlights like Martin and Lewis and some brightness on the horizon late and from foreign shores (much like "The British Invasion" in music sparked a revival in both interest and creativity here, foreign film, more than the parodies and "honorariums" we've seen, created a new life for comedy forms). Despite a relatively bright beginning in films like The Good Humor Man, they reach a dark nadir in works like The Great Race (where we see comedy moments lost, wasted, literally thrown away--how can you lose the comedy potential of a polar bear in a car?). But then things start to turn around at the end of the 60s, as we see in Le Gran Amour, where Etaix parodies not American comedies but modern European cinema--the traffic jams made so popular by Goddard, the dream sequences in Bergman--and turns them to more comic effect. Then this is picked up by Woody Allen in the 1970s and 80s to produce in him one of the internationally renowned masters of romantic and intellectual comedy. One thing to note, though, particularly in regard to the question of "taste," and what so many people have been remarking about, especially since Prof Gehring's comment...in the 1950s we can see an increasing use of sexuality, over-the-top innuendo, coarseness and, finally after the breaking of the Hayes codes in the 1960s, flat-out obscenity as one of the means for coping with the rise of television since television had to stay even "cleaner" than the codes forced the films to be.
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#14 Marianne

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 07:39 AM

The Great Race (1965)

 

Jack Lemmon is a favorite of mine so I fully expected to enjoy The Great Race. And I did. He’s as versatile as ever in his dual role as Professor Fate and Prince Hapnick of Carpania. But Jack Lemmon isn’t the only reason to see this film.

 

I’m used to seeing Natalie Wood in dramatic roles, but she was great in this comedy. She did great “cross eyes” when she gets knocked out as a prisoner in Pottsdorf. Wearing only a corset and landing in the baron’s arms, singing “My Country ’Tis of Thee”: She practically stole the show.

 

George Macready was great, too. I remember him for his film noir roles—Gilda’s husband in Gilda, for example. But here he takes the first pie in the face.

 

And, of course, the pie fight was spectacular and worth the wait. Exaggeration par excellence.


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#15 Dr. Rich Edwards

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 10:22 PM

A thread to discuss the films that aired on TCM on Wednesday, September 21, 2016

 

The films included:

 

  • 8:00 PM IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD(1963)
  • 10:44 PM STOPOVER IN HOLLYWOOD(1963)
  • 11:15 PM THE GREAT RACE(1965)
  • 2:00 AM A SHOT IN THE DARK(1964)
  • 4:00 AM THE PARTY(1968)
  • 5:45 AM LE GRAND AMOUR(1969)

Richard Edwards, PhD

Ball State University

Instructor: TCM Presents: Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir (2015)

Instructor: TCM Presents: Painfully Funny: Exploring Slapstick in the Movies (2016)

 





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