Dr. Rich Edwards

OUCH! A Salute to Slapstick -- The Films of the 1950s

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Hey #SlapstickFall:

 

Use this thread to discuss the films airing on TCM on Tuesday, September 20, 2016.

 

The focus on this day is the films of the 1950s.

 

We have 5 great films for our enjoyment and to discuss:

In chronological order, they are:

1. The Good Humor Man (1950) - Focus on screenwriter Frank Tashlin (Tues. 9/20: 3:15AM EDT)
2. Scared Stiff (1953) - Focus on Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (Tues. 9/20: 11:45PM EDT)
3. The Long, Long Trailer (1954) - Focus on Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (Tues. 9/20: 10:00PM EDT)
4. Mon Oncle (1958) - Focus on Jacques Tati (Tues. 9/20: 8:00PM EDT)
5. Have Rocket -- Will Travel (1959) - Focus on The Three Stooges (Tues. 9/20: 1:45AM EDT)

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Mon Oncle (1958)

 

I loved the sets. Apparently they were built specifically for this film (I think I read this on Wikipedia). And I loved the colors. The white modern sets looked good as backdrops for the color of the characters’ costumes. The story, the sets, and most of the characters were whimsical and delightful to watch. Exaggeration seems to be the main characteristic of Tati’s slapstick comedy, and I thought it worked beautifully. I also loved the whimsical nature of the story and of the Monsieur Hulot character.

 

But the music got on my nerves by the end of the film: same theme music again and again. Beginning and ending the film with the Arpels’ dog running lose with the neighborhood pack seemed pointless to me, even though their dog plays a role in the plot. I felt like these beginning and ending segments could have been cut down, and making the film shorter would have been an improvement.

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Mon Oncle (1958) 

While the use of sound and scenic design was commendable in this film, I just didn't get it and by 70 minutes into the film, I gave up!  It struck me as interesting that Dr. Edwards was the primary one tweeting during the live broadcast.  Don't know if it was a slow night for Tweeters, but seemed that those of us on line did not respond to this film as we have to earlier live tweet nights.  I see that there are many Tati devotees from the posts - maybe it is more of a cult following thing?  But I guess I am a more simple guy - personally, slapstick and its humor have to grab me without explanation - and the old saying goes, if you have to explain it, it ain't that funny for the audience.

The Long, Long Trailer (1954)

No, "splaing" to do here, Lucy!  - as Ricky would say.  This is one of the best!  The color is majestic in the mountain scenes.  The plot is plausible.  

 

As I shared with some online in Tweets last night, my family took a seven week trip in 1961 from Indianapolis through the Rockies, down to southwestern US, up California coast, and back through Yellowstone.  Kudos to my parents for taking a 9 year old and his brother - 11 - in a non-air conditioned car for that time.  Particularly since the two of us did not get along.  Remember first day of the trip spending most of the day with car repairs and Dad trying to hide his frustration.  Also, remember our making those steep inclines in the Rockies and getting lost on the LA freeway - pulling a trailer.  And to add to this - as a 9 year old - I collected rocks during the trip!  So art DOES imitate art!  Many memorable lines and scenes, just a treat - as Lucy and Desi always were!  How my father considered a trip like this 7 years after seeing this film is beyond me!  Was one of my mother's favorite films!

 

Saw some of the meet the family scene from this film in National Lampoon's Vacation.  Also noted in tweet last night the return of the stateroom scene from A Night at the Opera when the helpful neighbors in the trailer park assisted and met Taci and Nicki.

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I couldn't sleep last night so I had the chance to see the "The Good Humor Man". It was a sweet and funny little movie with amazingly complicated slapstick gags especially considering, as mentioned in a reference article, that they did it all without CGI. You can can certainly see Lloyd Bacon's Keystone Cops influence and Tashlin's cartoon influence. The last part reminded me of a roadrunner and coyote cartoon - which I know now that Tashlin influenced.

 

Jack Carson who, IMHO, is always great did a fine job of making a character that could have been silly into one that was sympathetic and believable-at least as believable as slapstick it gets. It put me in mind of the Chaplain thought that character is everything.

 

As I watched the movie I thought to myself "This looks like a cartoon." Imagine my surprise when I read in today's lecture that the writer Tashlin also wrote for cartoons. I would have to say I agree 100% with the assessment that his movies did resemble cartoons and his cartoons resemble movies.

 

This is s charming little movie I probably never would have seen if not for this class. The analysis in today's lecture made me enjoy it even more. It's just what I needed to cheer me up. Thanks TCM and Dr.Edwards

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This is s charming little movie I probably never would have seen if not for this class. The analysis in today's lecture made me enjoy it even more. It's just what I needed to cheer me up. Thanks TCM and Dr.Edwards

 

Thanks so much for the nice comment! I really appreciate it, and am glad that the course increases your enjoyment of these classic films! 

 

Best, Rich Edwards

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Well, Mon Oncle didn't grab me either, but I guess everyone is different. Just watched Scared Stiff, the Martin and Lewis vehicle. Normally I really enjoy this team but this was a remake of a movie with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard titled Ghost Breakers. The Hope version was much more to my liking with his great one liners. This one was stretched in a lot of non-plot line ways to fit Dean's singing in and Lewis whinning "Larry" every other word and the ending wasn't really very satisfying. This version did recall the "variety show" film format of earlier decades, especially with Carmen Miranda being just kind of thrown in without any point in the plot at all. The set on the island looked like the same one used on Ghost Breakers, nice and eerie and very well suited to Black &White filming. You're Never Too Young or The Caddy might have been better choices for this dynamic duo.

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Well, Mon Oncle didn't grab me either, but I guess everyone is different. Just watched Scared Stiff, the Martin and Lewis vehicle. Normally I really enjoy this team but this was a remake of a movie with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard titled Ghost Breakers. The Hope version was much more to my liking with his great one liners. This one was stretched in a lot of non-plot line ways to fit Dean's singing in and Lewis whinning "Larry" every other word and the ending wasn't really very satisfying. This version did recall the "variety show" film format of earlier decades, especially with Carmen Miranda being just kind of thrown in without any point in the plot at all. The set on the island looked like the same one used on Ghost Breakers, nice and eerie and very well suited to Black &White filming. You're Never Too Young or The Caddy might have been better choices for this dynamic duo.

Mon Oncle was difficult for me to get through, too.  I did find the factory mishap when the hose came out like sausages to be funny,  but that was it.  I couldn't help noticing how much the fish fountain resembled the fish he had in his carrying case at the beginning of the film!

 

I didn't finish watching Scared Stiff.  I haven't watched a Martin and Lewis comedy in ages and was disappointed in this film.  I much prefer The Ghost Breakers which was a well made, fun film.  Jerry Lewis got on my nerves after the first 20 minutes. I tried to hang in there but finally couldn't take him anymore and turned it off.  Of well, you can't win them all...

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I never heard of Tati and Hulot. Nor have I seen "Mon Oncle". However, it was an intriguing and entertaining introduction to the actor, character, and film. For a movie about a man hesitant to a new society, the film gave me French New Wave and silent film vibes. It was humorous, witty, and fun.

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I watched Scared Stiff last night and for me that was the first time ever seeing Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis teamed together but they truly made a great team. So sad that they did not stay together so one can only imagine the great gags that were never to be. I am not sure if anyone else thought so but I think there was a touch of film noir in this slapstick film. We have the mobster Shorty's girl(a femme fatale if I ever saw one) at the beginning fooling around with other men and she does not seem to care in the least that they could be in danger because of her actions as long as she gets what she wants. This of course puts Martin and Lewis on the run since Martin's character was with said femme fatale. I also on noticed that some scenes on the ship were shot in shadows and fog just like a film noir would have been.

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The Good Humor Man is a sweet movie.It definitely had the feeling of a cartoon, like when Jack's character gets frozen in his ice cream truck and goes floating off in the flood caused by the broken hydrant only to be saved from going down the storm drain by the cops. The totally crazy chase sequence at the end again felt like a classic cartoon, and the music was perfect. The gags were done in the classic physical slapstick style. For example, our hero and his sweetie hiding behind a small couch in the bad guys' room, and giant springs come out the back and smack Jack into the wall and hold him in place while a lit match lands on his head starting a small fire. Physical and painful, but since the whole movie has a cartoonish flavor the idea of make believe keeps us from thinking anyone is actually hurt and let's us know that everything will eventually work out alright. A movie that was definitely made for the whole family to enjoy.

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For me, the brilliant "Mon Oncle " and "The Good Humor Man" were the highlights of the evening. One subtle and thoughtful, the other outlandishly cartoonish (is that even a word?), between them they spanned the broad spectrum of slapstick film comedy in the fifties. Smack dab in the middle was the pleasant "The Long Long Trailer", one of the first successful bridges between early television and the movies. "Scared Stiff" is not one of the better Martin and Lewis vehicles. Hope and Goddard did it better. One laugh out loud highlight was Lewis doing Carmen Miranda. The Stooges film was made for children, to capitalize on their new found popularity with them, myself included, thanks to television. I love the Stooges but they lost a lot when they lost Jerome "Curly" Howard.

I've noticed that quite a few folks didn't warm to "Mon Oncle". Having seen it a few times I can tell you, it grows on you with repeated viewing. Nothing is wasted, and the party sequence always kills me. While we in America were getting faster, louder and broader in order to compete with television, the French were going in the opposite direction, making simple, intimate comedies that didn't bludgeon an audience. Pierre Etaix, slated to be showcased in Tuesday's lineup, is another example of France's understanding and reverence for this kind of comedy. I haven't had a chance to view the "Carry On" film from Great Britain but have seen others in the series and wasn't too impressed. Maybe they were inferior entries. I'll give it a chance.

I suppose it says more about me than the films themselves, but I'd rather meet a filmmaker halfway and be rewarded for my attention and patience than have someone in my face shouting, "THIS IS FUNNY!" Speaking of which, brace yourself for Jack Lemmon in "The Great Race".   

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. . .

 

I've noticed that quite a few folks didn't warm to "Mon Oncle". Having seen it a few times I can tell you, it grows on you with repeated viewing. Nothing is wasted, and the party sequence always kills me. While we in America were getting faster, louder and broader in order to compete with television, the French were going in the opposite direction, making simple, intimate comedies that didn't bludgeon an audience. Pierre Etaix, slated to be showcased in Tuesday's lineup, is another example of France's understanding and reverence for this kind of comedy. I haven't had a chance to view the "Carry On" film from Great Britain but have seen others in the series and wasn't too impressed. Maybe they were inferior entries. I'll give it a chance.

 

I suppose it says more about me than the films themselves, but I'd rather meet a filmmaker halfway and be rewarded for my attention and patience than have someone in my face shouting, "THIS IS FUNNY!" Speaking of which, brace yourself for Jack Lemmon in "The Great Race".   

 

You make a good point about the difference between Mon Oncle and The Great Race, but I still enjoyed The Great Race. I'll have to see Mon Oncle again sometime because it was so charming, in spite of its length. I must have missed important details on first viewing.

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I watched Scared Stiff last night and for me that was the first time ever seeing Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis teamed together but they truly made a great team. So sad that they did not stay together so one can only imagine the great gags that were never to be. I am not sure if anyone else thought so but I think there was a touch of film noir in this slapstick film. We have the mobster Shorty's girl(a femme fatale if I ever saw one) at the beginning fooling around with other men and she does not seem to care in the least that they could be in danger because of her actions as long as she gets what she wants. This of course puts Martin and Lewis on the run since Martin's character was with said femme fatale. I also on noticed that some scenes on the ship were shot in shadows and fog just like a film noir would have been.

 

I didn't enjoy Scared Stiff much. I've never been a Jerry Lewis fan and this film didn't change my mind. But it was a lot of fun to see Lizabeth Scott in a comedic role. I'm so used to seeing her in film noir. The fog on the ship seemed extra-thick, and I found it amusing that she was in those scenes enveloped in it.

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The Long, Long Trailer (1953)

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and it was a real pleasure to see Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in a vehicle (pun alert!) other than the I Love Lucy show. Even though The Long, Long Trailer had most of the elements of slapstick (exaggeration, physical humor, violence, and ritual), it was more subdued than the television show, and that’s why I don’t include make-believe in the list of characteristics. Nicky and Tacy seemed more like any couple traveling along the highway.

 

Desi Arnaz had a lot of screen time, and he showed his comedian side very well, I thought. He can do a gag with the best of them: the way he hits his head, then falls down the single step when he and Tacy first see the trailer they end up buying. The shower scene was hilarious, with him trying to keep the water going by holding the shower head on his head! In the television show, he is often overshadowed by Lucille Ball, but he can hold his own on screen.

 

Aside: At the start of the movie, when Nicky is laughing at Tacy’s idea about buying a trailer, he mentions the Lincoln Highway (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Highway). Am I the only one who saw the PBS special about the Lincoln Highway and even knew what he was talking about?

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The Good Humor Man was easy for me to enjoy, as I am a big Jack Carson fan.

 

We have comedy, romance, murder and mystery blending well the first hour. Then, topping it all off, a fast paced, music-filled, screwball comedy sequence, with plenty of slapstick-like chases, carrying the film the rest of the way. It is a good film with good comedic moments.

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Red Skelton is remembered as being a TV star. What saved his TV career was that he stopped doing the show as a variety show and went to a sitcom like format. What made his show special was that he was played a different character every week. Each character did include slapstick in a situation. He managed to do films after 1953 but not many. Talk about cameos, he did Around the World in 80 Days and Ocean's 11. 

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The Long, Long Trailer (1953)

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and it was a real pleasure to see Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in a vehicle (pun alert!) other than the I Love Lucy show. Even though The Long, Long Trailer had most of the elements of slapstick (exaggeration, physical humor, violence, and ritual), it was more subdued than the television show, and that’s why I don’t include make-believe in the list of characteristics. Nicky and Tacy seemed more like any couple traveling along the highway.

 

Desi Arnaz had a lot of screen time, and he showed his comedian side very well, I thought. He can do a gag with the best of them: the way he hits his head, then falls down the single step when he and Tacy first see the trailer they end up buying. The shower scene was hilarious, with him trying to keep the water going by holding the shower head on his head! In the television show, he is often overshadowed by Lucille Ball, but he can hold his own on screen.

 

Aside: At the start of the movie, when Nicky is laughing at Tacy’s idea about buying a trailer, he mentions the Lincoln Highway (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Highway). Am I the only one who saw the PBS special about the Lincoln Highway and even knew what he was talking about?

 

You're so right about Desi Arnaz. His facial expressions were highly entertaining, and he really commanded a scene better than I'd remembered. I especially enjoyed his terror when his wife took the wheel of the car. As a child, I wasn't able to watch this film, because I only felt disappointment that they weren't Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Now I can appreciate it in its own right, and I was surprised how entertaining I found it to be. 

The colors really popped in this one, and I enjoyed seeing familiar faces: Keenan Wynn, Madge Blake, Herb Vigran.

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It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad WorldBananas, and Anchorman...all so good! I am so glad I am able to see all these comedies that I had never thought to watch before. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was hilarious! 

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The Long, Long Trailer

 

This may not join the pantheon of classic films, but it is certainly very funny enough to close enough. As usual, Lucille Ball stole the show with her beauty and comic appeal, but Desi Arnaz could make you laugh as well. Their chemistry is what made the film work. The fact that it was in color was great too, because it was a film that belonged in color. It was in black and white, it would have lost some of the physical essence of the comic situations of the plot, which seems actually plausible.

 

Mon Oncle

 

With this and Playtime, Tati brilliantly captured the absurdity and confusion that modern technology sprung on society. In the mist of all of the chaos, he had something to say about how manipulative and damaging technology can actually be. That is one of the many reasons why his contribution to film history has managed to survive for so long.

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     “Scared Stiff” (1953) is an example of a movie that I would not normally watch, for two reasons.   First: though I like Dean Martin, I am not a fan of Jerry Lewis.  Second: it is a remake of “The Ghost Breakers” (1940), a movie I really like that stars Bob Hope & Paulette Goddard.  Dean Martin plays the Bob Hope character, and Jerry Lewis is in the role played by the incomparable Willie Best.  Because of these two biases, I had to watch it twice to see it once.  I spent the first viewing comparing it to the original.  Only with the second viewing could I see it more objectively.   I still would not consider it a great film and would never choose it over the original, but it was worthwhile to watch as a piece of film history.  One of the benefits of this course is that it has caused me to watch some films that I would not have otherwise seen.  My film knowledge was increased by viewing this.

 

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