Dr. Rich Edwards

OUCH! A Salute to Slapstick - The Films of the 1940s

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Use this thread to discuss the six films airing on TCM on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016.

 

The films include:

1. The Bank Dick

2. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

3. A Southern Yankee

4. The Inspector General

5. Always Leave Them Laughing

6. The Palm Beach Story

 

Enjoy your discussions!

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I would like to see more said about the role of burlesque in shaping some of the 1940s comedians like Kaye and Abbott & Costello. I think burlesque was somewhat different than vaudeville in that the comedians were working with generally all-male audiences and they had to hone their material for that audience.

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The Bank Dick (1940)

 

I noticed that the other characters in The Bank Dick often had funny lines, too, and they weren’t simply foils for the comedy star. For instance, the film opens with two women pausing in front of Sousé’s mailbox and one of them explaining how to pronounce his last name; these two minor characters get to set up the ongoing gag.

 

My favorite bit is the one in the bank: A boy in a cowboy costume is playing with a toy gun. Sousé, in his new role as bank dick, grabs the boy around the neck until the boy’s mother intervenes.

Egbert Sousé: “Is that gun loaded?”

Boy’s mother: “Certainly not. But I think you are.”

Another minor character has the funniest line in this bit.

 

I find Fields’s delivery very funny, but sometimes he is almost impossible to understand. Maybe the result of his drinking in real life? Maybe because of the unusual and funny terms he uses? I watched The Bank Dick on DVD and reran some of the scenes, which was well worth the effort.

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Always Leave Them Laughing did anything but that for me.

 

Berle is arrogant & obnoxious (And those are his good points!)

 

His attempts at drama are phony as are his feelings of regret.

 

He comes off as completely unlikeable in this film, and for me, you have to like the person to laugh at them. He is performing and, as a viewer, you know that he's performing. It is as if he is saying, "Look how funny I'm going to be."

 

From what I have read, Bert Lahr detested Milton Berle, although he tried not to show it in the film.

 

Anyone else feel the same about this one? It's the only film in this course that I don't care for.

 

Berle has his place in other films, but I think that this would have been a better film with a different comedian playing Berle's role.

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I'm a sucker for anything from Preston Sturges, but I do wish we had seen something other than The Palm Beach Story for any number of reasons. No matter how much I like it and all the bits in it, it isn't nearly my favorite, nor do I believe it to be nearly the most "slapsticky" of Sturges' films. Probably this was one of those moments when someone couldn't get something into the library...something like Hail the Conquering Hero, maybe?

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Keaton is an uncredited writer on The Southern Yankee script and you can absolutely see his influence in scenes like the one where Skelton marches through the warring lines wearing both uniforms and carrying both flags simultaneously, and maybe even in the scene where all of John Ireland's gang's pistolas are gathered up upon a single sabre. Of course the main writers were Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, the famous writer/director team of screen and tv who hadn't been born, practically, when Keaton was starting in film. These college kids certainly learned a lot from him...

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I didn't realize until last night that Fields wrote the scripts for his movies. Unlike other slapstick movies I've watched he isn't the only one with the one line zingers. He reminds me of the uncle that no one wants to talk about but everyone knows he's lazy and a drunk. He even comes across that way in David Copperfield because of his laziness. In that movie his slapstick is more subtl but it's there. Abbott & Costello are the perfect match with the way they play off of each other. Abbott's scardie cat added to the comedy and was believable. The way Costello was scolding him wasn't contending but funny. The setting just added to endless possibilities for gags.

 

I've seen the Palm Beach Story many times and always find it funny. The movie starts out with almost an endless gag of the Weiner King and his hard of hearing. Even Claudette Cobert can't keep a straight face. The physical gags include the husband running after her in his night clothes with a quilt wrapped around him. To the hunt club and their antics in the dining car and hunting throughout the train. Preston Sturgis always does a good job with his movies and comedies.

 

I DVR'd the others but haven't had a chance to watch them yet.

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You've included some of the best comedies of the 1940s. Some comments on two of them I recently re-watched....

 

The Palm Beach Story (1942) - Sublime Preston Sturges comedy about marriage and sexual attraction. In terms of our slapstick discussions, this one has plenty of expert "verbal slapstick," particularly when Mary Astor joins the story as Rudy Vallee's rich, amorous sister (and Vallee is pretty top-notch too as the introverted millionaire). This is the one with the "Weenie King," the joyous and destructive Ale & Quail Club, and Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea at their best and (in the surprise ending) double cast. 

 

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) Their best. Having the Universal monsters played straight (including Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man) helped up the comic possibilities with jittery Lou Costello being the target for Dr. Frankenstein's next brain experiment. In addition to the Abbott & Costello verbal slapstick, this has quite a bit of the physical, such as when our guys find the secret laboratory in the Frankenstein castle, complete with revolving walls and Costello accidentally sitting on the lap of Frankenstein's monster.

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You've included some of the best comedies of the 1940s. Some comments on two of them I recently re-watched....

 

The Palm Beach Story (1942) - Sublime Preston Sturges comedy about marriage and sexual attraction. In terms of our slapstick discussions, this one has plenty of expert "verbal slapstick," particularly when Mary Astor joins the story as Rudy Vallee's rich, amorous sister (and Vallee is pretty top-notch too as the introverted millionaire). This is the one with the "Weenie King," the joyous and destructive Ale & Quail Club, and Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea at their best and (in the surprise ending) double cast. 

 

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) Their best. Having the Universal monsters played straight (including Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man) helped up the comic possibilities with jittery Lou Costello being the target for Dr. Frankenstein's next brain experiment. In addition to the Abbott & Costello verbal slapstick, this has quite a bit of the physical, such as when our guys find the secret laboratory in the Frankenstein castle, complete with revolving walls and Costello accidentally sitting on the lap of Frankenstein's monster.

The revolving wall in this film brought to mind the revolving wall in Young Frankenstein... "Put the candle back!!"

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Re-reading and rethinking Dr. Edwards' notes about The Palm Beach Story, I'd have to say it has come up one or four notches in my Sturges book. While I still believe other Sturges films provide better examples of "raw" slapstick, Dr E is exactly right when he says that, "The Palm Beach Story is a fantastic way to summarize almost everything we have covered so far, and its mixture of farce and sophistication, of broad humor and elegant touches, is a great lead-in to next week's topic of slapstick's continuing journey through American film." It' is a pity that Sturges, himself, did not survive this transition.

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The bank dick is one of m y favorite films. I've watched it a million times. When I first saw the scene with him practicing with the gun in the mirror. I replayed it over and over. And when the doctor was examining that boney man. Hilarious! W.c he talks alot of snack and if anyone heard it he'd be in big trouble!

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One film I'm seeing that's been largely overlooked on this thread is Danny Kaye's terrific "The Inspector General".  If an analogy can be drawn between miraculous physical stunts and vocal calisthenics, Kaye has to be the vocal equivalent to Buster Keaton. He can be silly at times but when given the proper vehicle, he proved himself a multi-talented performer capable impressing and amusing simultaneously.

I do find it interesting that Bob Hope isn't included in TCM's great overview of important and influential performers. Without Bob to pave the way with his fast talking wisecracks, performers like Kaye and Red Skelton might not have been sought out by the studios. In one review of Skelton's "Whistling In The Dark", he was labeled by critic Bosley Crowther as the latest "Bob Hopeful".  Although not primarily thought of as a slapstick performer, most of Hope's pictures contain sublime moments of slapstick and at his best, he was second to none.

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I saw The Bank Dick yesterday for the first time and thought it was laugh-out-loud hilarious. I had heard of this film for many years but never had the opportunity to see it. Thanks to this course, I finally did. 

 

W.C. Fields plays Egbert Souse as a straight man not wanting to be funny, yet that's what he is- funny. The character seems miserable most of the time and yet he makes us laugh.

 

My favorite laugh-out-loud moment comes early, when Egbert's young daughter throws a bottle at him (ketchup perhaps) and hits him in the back of the head. Moments later he returns with intentions of throwing a big flower pot at her. The exaggeration caught me off guard and laugh-out loud I did.

 

The car chase at the end had plenty of slapstick stunts and gags that were both inventive and fresh. There were also funny one-liners:

 

There goes the helmet.

 

The resale value of this car is going to be nil after this trip.

 

The one-liners work because W.C. Fields delivers them with such seriousness.

 

 

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I saw The Bank Dick yesterday for the first time and thought it was laugh-out-loud hilarious. I had heard of this film for many years but never had the opportunity to see it. Thanks to this course, I finally did. 

 

. . .

 

 

The car chase at the end had plenty of slapstick stunts and gags that were both inventive and fresh. There were also funny one-liners:

 

There goes the helmet.

 

The resale value of this car is going to be nil after this trip.

 

The one-liners work because W.C. Fields delivers them with such seriousness.

 

Yes, and I can hear them still in Fields's distinctive voice. The rear projection made it look like chaos was going on all around him, but Fields delivers his lines just as he always does. Everything he said seemed funny during the car chase in The Bank Dick.

 

By the way, I loved the bank president telling Fields confidentially that his new job is called "bank dick," and he tells Fields that's the term they use nowadays in street parlance.

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One film I'm seeing that's been largely overlooked on this thread is Danny Kaye's terrific "The Inspector General".  If an analogy can be drawn between miraculous physical stunts and vocal calisthenics, Kaye has to be the vocal equivalent to Buster Keaton. He can be silly at times but when given the proper vehicle, he proved himself a multi-talented performer capable impressing and amusing simultaneously.

 

I do find it interesting that Bob Hope isn't included in TCM's great overview of important and influential performers. Without Bob to pave the way with his fast talking wisecracks, performers like Kaye and Red Skelton might not have been sought out by the studios. In one review of Skelton's "Whistling In The Dark", he was labeled by critic Bosley Crowther as the latest "Bob Hopeful".  Although not primarily thought of as a slapstick performer, most of Hope's pictures contain sublime moments of slapstick and at his best, he was second to none.

Now that we're already halfway through the course, I am thinking that maybe an 8 week course would have been better.  I feel like so much is being squeezed into 6 weeks that there's a lot of stuff being left out.  Of course I realize that things were limited by TCM's movie programming.  (Was that Dr. Edwards I just heard groaning?)

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Now that we're already halfway through the course, I am thinking that maybe an 8 week course would have been better.  I feel like so much is being squeezed into 6 weeks that there's a lot of stuff being left out.  Of course I realize that things were limited by TCM's movie programming.  (Was that Dr. Edwards I just heard groaning?)

 

Yes, I will agree 6 weeks is a very compact course length, and was dictated by the length of the OUCH! Festival. We won't be able to cover everything. But on a positive note, I do love the 56 films we do have, and they provide a solid introduction to the topic of slapstick comedy in the movies.  

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Oh my, so we are finally caught up on the films during the 40's, my young adult daughter and I. Now, this evening it's her turn to pick and well, we've started season 1 episode 1 Vice Principals compliments HBO. I'm a bit shell-shocked to say the least, is this the modern day slapstick? Sticking chairs in the wall etc I might be finding all the five ingredients.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the 40's film line up. The Bank Dick was so entertaining from beginning to end. I haven't watched any of Fields films but this one and find it hard to agree with his cantankerous character persona. It seems he is the great one-liner of rebuttals and sarcasm. While I see a softer side when he is praised, promoted or of some importance even if it's not his own doing. He's so caught off guard it looks as if he's spooked and taken by surprise and even studdars when aggression approaches him. He is charmed in the end while everyone has changed to "money happiness" and he stays uninterrupted.

 

A&C meet "Frankie" is tops, the perfect movie. Red Skelton is a wonderful comedian and was so fortunate to have Keaton in the background, the ending with the fire brigade and the beautiful Sallyann rescuing the grey spider: hands down one of my favorite movie endings. Kaye is one of the sure favorites. This is the movie I was able to see the subversive nature of a film as the nostalgic approach I have always had. Just love his rapid articulation. Always Leave Them Laughing was ok, the vote is still out on this film. Milton is so pushey I didn't find it as entertaining. My favorite part was when Bert Lahr describes a true comedian and hands him the sugar cube. The Palm Beach Story felt very long winded but enjoyed the romantic side. I need to watch it at another time by itself. I have watched so many films I don't think I was able to appreciate it to the fullest.

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Yes, I will agree 6 weeks is a very compact course length, and was dictated by the length of the OUCH! Festival. We won't be able to cover everything. But on a positive note, I do love the 56 films we do have, and they provide a solid introduction to the topic of slapstick comedy in the movies.  

I definitely agree that the course gave me a great introduction to slapstick comedy, especially from the 20's through the 40's.  Up to now, I really knew very little about the development of comedy films.  I had never watched a Fatty Arbuckle film and had never heard of Charlie Chase.  Now these are all familiar names and the comedians (Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, etc.)  are "real people" to me.  I have a great appreciation of their contributions to comedy, and especially how hard they worked and the risks they sometimes took!!  And although I've always loved The Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, etc., their films have been refreshed for me because of what I've learned from the class.  So, thank you to all of you who worked so hard to put this course together!  As with last year's film noir course, I'm going to really miss this class when it's over!

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The Palm Beach Story is one of my favorite screwball comedies of the 1940s, because there is something quite saucy about it, especially when it comes to the dialogue. This can be said about all of Preston Sturges' films, where you can't believe that some of the subject matter managed to slip past the production code.

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    An interesting contrast in styles of comical gags is presented in a short time frame in the Preston Sturges comedy “The Palm Beach Story” from 1942.  The club car scene, in which the Ale & Quail Club members shoot up the railroad car, is an example of slapstick at its most wild and boisterous.  This scene is almost immediately followed by the sleeping car scene, in which Geraldine (Claudette Colbert) is helped into an upper berth by John D. Hackensacker (Rudy Vallee).  As he supports her foot for a boost, it slowly slips down and crushes his glasses -- twice.  Here we have a much more subtle form of slapstick.  While I find the club car scene hilarious, I think the breaking glasses is even funnier.  And none of it would have been possible without the financial backing of the Wienie King (Lay off ‘em, you’ll live longer).The versatility of Sturges, in this period is truely amazing.  Visual slapstick and verbal fencing abounds in this and other Sturges classics such as “The Lady Eve” (1941) and “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” (1944).

 

     1948 appears to have been a great year for genre spoofing.  As we have already discussed, “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” was a near perfect spoof of the Universal horror series of the 1930’s and early 1940’s.  But we had another spoof of the western/civil war genre with Red Skelton’s “A Southern Yankee.”   The story is a standard civil war spy tale with Skelton’s comedic character running amok through it (with the off-camera help of Buster Keaton).  This structure fits Miller’s definition of a spoof: the movie treats the genre with respect and pokes lighthearted fun at it.  The story is meant as a comedy but has scenes that are played straight.  Another example of a spoof (not on our viewing list) is Bob Hope’s “The Paleface.”   As with “Southern Yankee,” “The Paleface” respectfully presents a standard western story line with a comic character (Painless Peter Potter, the dentist) operating within its bounds.   When Hope was not on screen, it can be easily mistaken for a serious western.   Bob Hope did several movies that would fit Miller’s definition of a spoof:  “My Favorite Blonde” (1942) spoofed spy thrillers: “the Princess and the Pirate” (1944) spoofed pirate movies; “Monsieur Beaucaire” (1946) & “Casanova’s Big Night” (1954) spoofed historical dramas; and “My Favorite Brunette” (1947) spoofed detective/noir movies.      

 

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