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Daily Dose of Doozy #12: Live-Action Cartoon as Slapstick: Blake Edwards


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#21 Whipsnade

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Posted 23 September 2016 - 05:07 AM

    In this clip from “The Great Race” (1965), we see our hero, The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis), perform his daredevil stunt hanging from a hot air balloon in a straightjacket, while the nefarious Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) and his dastardly sidekick Max (Peter Falk) attempt to thwart his feat of derring-do.  But they fail and are hoisted with their own petard when the damaged balloon lands on them. Meanwhile our hero is unscathed, as he floats safely to the ground via a parachute.  This kind of “purple prose” (perhaps read by William Conrad) seems an appropriate way to start a discussion of the cartoonish nature of the scene:  As so many have already pointed out, the picturesque setting and the vibrant colors are reminiscent of the Warner Brothers cartoons of the 1940’s & 1950”s (but not the 1960’s).  The hero in subdued white with sparkling teeth, and the villains in outlandish black costumes is another cartoonish effect.  Professor Fate looks the embodiment of the Snidley Whiplash character from the Dudley Do-Right segments of “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle.”  Finally, the moving bush and concealed crossbow with the ridiculously large arrow also looks straight out of a Warner Brothers cartoon.  Many have mentioned that it looked like a product from the Acme Corporation, but it couldn’t have been.   After all, it actually worked!

 

     Much of what made it cartoonish also made it an homage to early slapstick comedies.  What better format to carry out the most outlandish forms of visual slapstick than with animation.  All the defining elements are present but the physical (which is represented by make-believe).  The Warner cartoons are, in themselves, an homage to earlier slapstick (especially in the 1930’s and  early 1940’s).  Any attempt to integrate the cartoon into live-action features would tend to make that feature more slapstick.  In this scene, all the elements are present and played to the extreme.

When the period costuming and setting are combined with the exaggerated caricatures of the principles, it calls back affectionately to the era and methods of the early slapstick comedies.   

 

     The most obvious visual indicator of Edward’s depiction of The Great Leslie as the “definitive hero and Professor Fate as the “definitive villain” is the use of a black or white clothing dichotomy (representing the evil or good natures of the main characters)   This costume effect allows no shade of gray (or middle ground) between the protagonist and his antagonists -- each represents the opposing extremes of a good/evil continuum.  A secondary indicator (still visual with Leslie, but visual and verbal with Fate) is their respective demeanors.  On the one hand, The Great Leslie is calm, deliberative and purposeful in his actions.  There is a sparkle in his smile, as he surveys the adoring crowd.  “Women love him; men want to be him (and he knows it).”  On the other hand, Professor Fate acts and speaks in a fitful and agitated way.  His facial gestures are scowling and his body movements are erratic.  His speech is punctuated with gasps of exasperation and fits of evil laughter. The total effect is to create a villain so despicable and unhinged that “no women love him, and only Max wants to be him.”

 

      I, too, was happy to see reference to Frank Tashlin by Dr. Edwards.  He was a Warner Brothers cartoonist in the early forties who left to pursue a career in screenwriting and, ultimately, directing live action pictures.  Like Blake Edwards, it was his desire to integrate elements of cartoon-like humor into his works.  He worked on the screenplays for Bob Hope’s western spoof, “The Paleface” (1948), and  Jack Carson’s “Good Humor Man” (1950).  As a director, he worked with Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, and after the team broke up in 1956, he continued to work with Jerry Lewis.  His success in bringing cartoons to life was eclipsed by Blake Edwards, but he did direct what I consider a classic comedy in 1952 -- “The Son of Paleface” starring Bob Hope.  He accomplished something relatively rare in Hollywood; he made a sequel that was even better than the very good original that it followed, and that movie had a number of scenes that were influenced by Tashlin’s cartooning experience.


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#22 Dubbed

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Posted 23 September 2016 - 03:46 AM

Prime examples of the live action cartoon effect(s) come very swiftly within this scene. The audience is greeted by an ever appealing hero, "The Great Leslie." Branded with good looks and an enchanting gaze, he breaks the fourth wall and bestows upon us the perfect, picturesque million dollar smile. And, of course, it's accompanied by the (now) famous teeth sparkling glint with a merry ding! He's the established hero with two villains hungrily vying for his demise.

Using a bush to remain "incognito," the villainous Professor Fate and his accomplice try to hide in literal plain sight. They are in the middle of an open field in broad daylight moving behind a (movable) oversized shrub. There is absolutely nothing sly about this so called "plan." At all. Will it backfire? I do believe so!

One particular cartoonish effect is the large red arrow employed to deflate the balloon sending it plummeting to the ground. This type of prop (for a film) is firmly planted in the absurd, however it is undeniably suitable for a cartoon. This calculating, villainous effort is reminiscent of an episode involving The Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, as The Great Leslie seems unknowing of the two villains attempts in defeating him as he goes about his heroic feats.

In saluting prior slapstick comedies, The Great Race scene is based on the ridiculous, with specificity pointing in the direction of the absent-minded villains gleefully awaiting the crash of the balloon. The two skitter off in the opposite direction assuming the balloon will land in their prior location. And, of course, they are introduced to their successful destruction via direct contact with the balloon slamming into their bodies. This is absolutely rooted in the cartoon arena, but the dimwitted mistake is a definite slapstick approach.

The Great Leslie as the definitive hero is clothed accordingly in white, angelic attire. He is also attached to a patriotic red, white, and blue balloon being cheered on by the crowd. The colors and merriment both reveal his heroic appeal. Professor Fate, with this eponym alone indicates a nemesis. He is characterized by "stealthy" movements (at least, he tries anyway), dressed in black from head to toe, all the while releasing a maniacal laugh. Plus, he has an evil, Salvador Dali mustache! Blake Edwards serves up the defining of his characters through a coloristic laden approach. The hero and villain are contrasts set against their mannerisms and indicative attire.

I'm unfamiliar with The Great Race, but I am curious to watch the live action cartoon approach play out, as this scene has readily crafted a worthy setup for the hero vs. villain humorous narrative.
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#23 CynthiaV

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Posted 23 September 2016 - 01:39 AM

I think everyone has said what is needed to be said in response to the questions.
 
I am grateful, however, to have learned this week of Frank Tashlin, referenced in this Doozy.  I had never heard of him until this week and amazed at what a historic figure he was with both live action and animated films. Another bonus of this course!


I agree. Tashlin is another creative, multi-talented artist who didn't receive the plaudits he deserved during his lifetime. Hopefully, this oversight will now be rectified. I'd love to see a film festival devoted to his diverse works and various roles. Or perhaps a chapter or two in Dr. Gehring's next book!
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#24 CynthiaV

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 09:54 PM

1. Describe specifically how this scene looks and feels like a "live action" cartoon.

The opening music and drum beats are familiar cartoon musical accompaniments. The theatrical voice of the announcer, the loud mismatched colors worn by The Great Leslie's team. Of course beautiful women love Leslie, kissing, fainting, being pulled up in his embrace, all such over exaggerations. The dizzying aerial shot famous in Road Runner/Wile E Coyote cartoons. The moving bush as camouflage, an old Looney Tunes subterfuge. All that's missing are the tippy-toe sounds, and the weapon used looks as if it's straight out of the Acme Corporation catalog. Even their simplified dialogue of overly dramatic repartee. The ending where Fate's evil plan backfires and he and Max are abused by their own thwarted attempt a la Elmer Fudd, Will E. Coyote or Daffy Duck. Zonked but miraculously alive to scheme again tomorrow.

2. In what ways does this scene function as an "homage" to earlier slapstick comedies?

The dangerous physicality of the hot air balloon stunt a la Keaton, the violence of Fate to Leslie, Fate to Max and Hot air balloon to Fate and Max a la Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges, the exaggeration of everything a la the Marx Brothers, the ritual of good vs evil a la Chaplin and even though the movie is based on an actual event the cartoonish nature of the acting and settings lends an overall make believe quality to the scene. One could transfer any golden age slapstick star or stars into the roles.

3. How does Blake Edwards depict The Great Leslie (Curtis) as the "definitive hero" and Professor Fate (Lemmon) as the "definitive villain?"

Leslie is perfect with perfect hair, perfect build, even his teeth which glint when he smiles are perfect with his movie star perfectly handsome good looks. The immaculate all white of Leslie's costume, the all black of Fate and Max with Fate in dastardly top hat and black gloves. Women love Leslie. Fate, no. Leslie is handsome and clean shaven, Fate and Max are hard featured with evil laughs and sneer a lot. Leslie is kind, Fate cruel (no pun intended).
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#25 gtunison

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 08:36 PM

It has the feel of a cartoon because the music, the bright colors and the moving bush.

 

It gives homage to earlier slapstick with the exaggerated way they tied the rope on Tony Curtis and the huge arrow launcher and the costumes of Professor Fate and Peter Faulk.

 

The Great Leslie is depicted as the definitive hero with his twinkling smile and he is dressed in all white. Whereas Professor Fate is dressed in all black with a cape and a mustache associated with villians.

 

 



#26 johnseury

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 08:28 PM

1. The bright pastel colors, the exaggerated motions, melodramatic music and the long sweeping shore gives this scene a cartoon feel. It reminds me of a Roadrunner cartoon, especially with the balloon falling on Professor Fate & Max, like when Wile E. Coyote's schemes backfired on him.
2. The scene sets up its gags and it has that feeling and tenor of the past.
3. The Great Leslie is in white, pure and good with glistening teeth (one respondent mentioned Benny Hill using that bit-I thought of Lyle Wagoner as Steve Trevor in the Wonder Woman TV show.) Professor Fate and Max are in black accoplmanied by sinister sounding music. He reminded me of Snidley Whiplash from Dudley Do-Right, which was another homage to the silents and slapstick.
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#27 Lawrence Wolff

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 08:15 PM

1) For me, it has a "cartoonish" feel due to the bright colors, the camouflage of the arrow launcher moving completely unnoticed on the hill, the gleaming teeth (which Benny Hill borrowed on many occasions. I hope we include him in the discussion at some point), the pure white outfit Curtis wears, the moustache on Lemmon (bad guys ALWAYS have a moustache) and the "topper' - the giant arrow launched at the balloon. A gun would have been more realistic, but the arrow gives it the slapstick/cartoon finish.

 

In a cartoon, the villain might have accidently gotten his foot tangled in the rope that would be attached to the arrow, so the bad cartoon character would have ended up in the falling balloon, with no parachute, of course! That wouldn't have worked in the film. The balloon and basket falling on the bad guys was a less over the top completion to the total scenario.

 

2) It's a homage due to the obvious rear screen projection, the over played physical reactions by the "bad guys" (right out of silent film - we are only missing Lemmon saying "Curses!") and the women fainting when it is announced that the balloon has a hole in it. But it is so over the top, it stays with the feel of the rest of the film.

 

3) To show the definitive hero and villain, like a 1930's or 1940's Western programmer (White hat / Black Hat - Ever notice the hats NEVER come off during the fight scenes?), the Good guy wears white and the Bad guys wear black. And, as is often the case in slapstick, the good guy(s) are often outnumbered. I think this helps in rooting for good guy, as he is an underdog.


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#28 Heather Mary

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 07:41 PM

The bright colors and the bright personality of the villains and the dazzling smile of the hero gives an exaggerated depiction thus ( yes for some reason I use the word "thus") creating a cartoonish feeling. What an absolute delight that such precise and expert effort and respect is given to the old vaudeville, and slapstick gags to bring such a bright vibrant movie for our viewing pleasure… What is wrong with me today?
Our hero doesn't even say a word. With the girls swooning at him and his bright gleaming smile, he is the true hero. And of course the brilliant Jack Lemmon creates the diabolical ridiculous caricature of a villain. Standing next to him the great bumbling Side kick Peter Falk. Movie perfect. Casting and all. Love it.
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#29 ShawnDog

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 07:34 PM

1.The cartoonish qualities of this clip are mainly emphasized by the bold colors in costumes, props and scenery.   The outfits make up a rainbow palette of varied hues.  The balloons bright red, white and blue.  The catapult which is equipped with a bright red spear, is camouflaged in leaves, looking like something out of a Road Runner/Coyote cartoon.  Add to it the boing sound of its release.

2. As homage to slapstick, you have the clear good vs evil characters (see answer #3), and the time setting of early 20th century time, and the use of an amazing stunt to heighten the absurdity of the comedy is a trope of many a silent comedy.

3. Leslie is all in white, signifying him as hero, additionally emphasized by the glint of his teeth.  He is handsome, smiling, fearless, clean-shaven, wholesome.  Fate is in black, and mustachioed - coding for bad guy.  He is hiding in the shrubbery disguise of the catapult, sneaking about to do Leslie harm.


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#30 ilovetcmandslapstick

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 06:04 PM

The only thing I have to add to previous comments is the musical score.  It's as over the top as the action, and reminds me particularly of Bugs Bunny. 

 

 

 

 


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#31 Higgs5

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 05:56 PM

Professor Fate is the generic bumbling villain (with the accompanying nutty sidekick, dark clothing, mustache, and inane laugh) whose efforts to sabotage Leslie’s heroic dare devil feats, using “cartoon logic”, consistently fires back on him. His gadgets always malfunction and he ends up falling from great heights or getting “hurt”.   Donned in white, Leslie is a noble, attractive hero who performs extraordinary feats, overcomes all obstacles, has an array of talents and special skills, never seems to get hurt or dirty, and always attracts women.

The film is a revival of non-stop slapstick styled gags, like shooting down hot air balloons, bar room brawls, cars races/crashes, and the ultimate pie fight. The scenes are whacky, vibrant/ colorful, and “looney”.


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#32 Janeko

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 05:51 PM

The sweeping scenery, the bigger than life action hero performing an outrageous feat, the villain sneaking around in the background, and the beautiful colors used in the scene (from the hot air balloon to the costumes)  all contribute  to  the film's coming across  like a live action cartoon. 

 

Leslie the Great's death defying act reminds me of  Buster Keaton's brand of slapstick. Leslie  bravely faces his challenge.  His struggle to get out of the straight jacket, climb into the basket, get the parachute on and then finally jump to safety are all actions I could envision Keaton doing.  .

 

And of course in slapstick style,  there were the beautiful women throwing themselves at Leslie, especially the one  who is kissing him just as the balloon starts to rise.  I half expected her to be pulled into the air with him.   

 

Then, when Prof. Fate attempts to sabotage the act, everything backfires on him and Max.  Not only do they get to see Leslie the Great successfully complete his outrageous show, but THEY wind up getting hit by the balloon and basket!! 

 

Leslie the Great is so obviously the hero.  He is dressed all in white and there's that glint of light off his tooth.  The hot air balloon is red, white and blue and the music in the background has patriotic melodies running through it.  There's Prof. Fate, so obviously the villain.  He and Max are both dressed in black.  Prof. Fate has a mustache and black top hat reminiscent of Snidely Whiplash.  They sneak around, attempting to ruin the day for Leslie the Great in a cowardly way,  But, of course, they receive their comeuppance.  Good triumphs over evil!


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#33 ScottZepher

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 04:51 PM

1.  First, there is color: big splashy color all over the place.  A typical "barnstorming" balloon act, performing somewhere in America (or even in Europe), would not nearly be as colorful, or even clean for that matter.  The Great Leslie may have had his circus tights bleached white (if he was lucky), but he certainly would not have a monogrammed straitjacket--he would have the real thing, four or six separate buckles to open, more exciting that way.  His balloon would not nearly be so spectacular, unless he was the barnstorming magician equivalent of Bruce Wayne.  Bunting? Do you know how much of a pain bunting is to keep clean, much less store or transport?
      Second, everything about Professor Fate and his minion is right out of a cartoon:  the camouflaged arrival unbeknownst to our hero, popping out of said camouflage with a evil cackle, and the appearance of the evil weapon (which others have very accurately pointed out should have "ACME" printed on the side).

 

2.  The one thing that stands out for me is the overwhelming make-believe factor.  Everything is so over-the-top comical I don't mind seeing the obvious blending of projected backgrounds and live shots.  The effect doesn't need to be believable, because we all know it's a homage.

 

3. This has already been thoroughly and sufficiently covered already in previous posts.  I think we're all agreed that the issue is pretty much "Black" and "White."

 


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#34 judith46

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 04:47 PM

I think the most important thoughts are already out, but here's my bit.  I get the cartoon flavor from the carnival-like atmosphere, the drum roll in preparation for a "death-defying feat".  The hero is in white satin, the barkers are in colorful clothes, the balloon is striped, and the villians are mustachioed, and wearing black with top hats like Barnaby Grudge.  The hero is silent while the bad guys have those scratchy voices.  The fall of the hero into the air is filmed from the start point, giving us the scary feeling that its curtains for him.

 

Homage is paid to past slapstick by the melodramatic exaggeration of the scene and the physicality of it

 

I don't usually like "cartoons" but it's interesting to see this aspect in the film.  Another great film that is like a cartoon is Warren Beatty's "Dick Tracy."


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#35 drmichaelbowman

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 04:42 PM

Describe specifically how this scene looks and feels like a "live action" cartoon.

 

Jack Lemmon’s character looks like Snidely Whiplash and Tony Curtis’s personae could be Dudley Do-Right.  Also, the huge arrow that shoots a hole in the balloon looks very cartoonish.

 

In what ways does this scene function as an "homage" to earlier slapstick comedies?

 

The scene is very visual.  I watched the scene with the sound turned down and knew exactly what was happening because of the visuals.

 

How does Blake Edwards depict The Great Leslie (Curtis) as the "definitive hero" and Professor Fate (Lemmon) as the "definitive villain?"

 

Tony Curtis is handsome, wears white, and is adored by women.  He can escape all perilous situations (such as escaping a straight jacket while hanging upside down from a balloon with a hole in it)  By contrast, Lemmon is wearing all back, has an “evil mustache,” and is aided by a dimwitted sidekick.


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#36 MrZerep

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 04:29 PM

From the moment we meet the hero with his dashing looks and the literal sparkle in his smile to the entrance of the villains in the bush...we can tell it's going to be a live action cartoon.  The film itself is an homage to the great WB cartoons that involve a hero and a villain who gets paid back...Wiley E. Coyote and all his back firings.  All that is missing is Muttley and his hilarious laugh when the villain's plans go wrong.

 

I'm pretty sure it takes the best of all earlier slapstick routines and really, really exaggerated them.  The villains getting smashed by the balloon; the hero easily escaping the damaged balloon.  

 

The Great Leslie is dressed in the stereotypical white outfit; the villains in black.  Women go mad when they see Leslie and his handsome looks.  The villains are so cartoonish that we know their evil plans may go wrong but we are going to have a laugh fest.

(again, all that is missing is Muttley and his laugh!)


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#37 Russell K

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 04:03 PM

I think everyone has said what is needed to be said in response to the questions.

 

I am grateful, however, to have learned this week of Frank Tashlin, referenced in this Doozy.  I had never heard of him until this week and amazed at what a historic figure he was with both live action and animated films. Another bonus of this course!


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#38 Charlie's Girl

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 03:58 PM

The Great Race villains a la Snidely Whiplash.  The rest reminds me -- as others have mentioned -- of Looney Tunes, and Wiley Coyote trying to foil the Roadrunner. 


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#39 oregon1965

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 03:57 PM

1) you notice that Tony Curtis never speaks throughout the scene, He,s cool and collected. Whereas the Villan  and his assistant try to slip up the hero (Tony Curtis) and it ends up backfiring on them like a bugs bunny cartoon.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 2) No matter what the hero walks away without a scratch oblivious to what has just happened.                                                                                                                                                                               3) Tony Curtis the dashing hero confident. Jack Lemmon the mustache the sneer and his clueless sidekick



#40 JazzGuyy

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 03:24 PM

Didn't this movie inspire a Hanna-Barbera cartoon show on TV? Sort of coming full circle. :)

 

There were also two comic movies that followed within a few years that covered a lot of the same territory: Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies. The latter film even had Tony Curtis in it.






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