Dr. Rich Edwards

OUCH! A Salute to Slapstick -- The Films of the 1970s

24 posts in this topic

Use this thread to discuss the slapstick films of the 1970s, being shown on TCM on Tuesday, September 27:

 

8:00pm Bananas (1971)

 

9:30pm Young Frankenstein (1974)

 

11:30pm Foul Play (1978)

 

1:30am The Three Musketeers (1973)

 

3:30am The Gumball Rally (1976)

 

5:30am The Frisco Kid (1979)

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Fun Facts:

In the running gag in "Young Frankenstein", Mel Brooks claimed that the horses are terrified of Frau Blucher because "blucher" is German for "glue". But Brooks was wrong. "Blucher" is just a German surname. Still, Frau Blucher is pretty terrifying on her own.

When the bookcase spins around, the first couple of times, the film was undercranked to make the movement appear much faster.

A deleted scene reveals how Inspector Kemp lost his arm. It was ripped out of its socket by the fiendish monster that Frederick's grandfather created.

Teri Garr's mother was one of the film's Wardrobe Mistresses.

Danny Goldman (the annoying know-it-all student) later used a more exaggerated version of this character, as the voice of Brainy Smurf in the Hanna-Barbera series.

The smiling portrait of Viktor von Frankenstein made a cameo appearance on the episode of "Garry Shandling's Show" on which Gilda Radner (Gene Wilder's then-wife) guest-starred.

On the Hallowe'en episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" in which Ray's dad (Peter Boyle) mistakenly gives out flavoured prophylactics instead of Hallowe'en candy, Boyle's character is dressed up as Frankenstein's Monster, in a nod to Boyle's role in "Young Frankenstein".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
From "Foul Play": Chuck McCann was a well-known bit-player in film but better-known to children around the country as a former Bozo-the-Clown and even better as the helmsman for many a children’s broadcast showcasing the classic sound film of the Hal Roach Studios. Billy Barty was an old Hollywood comedy stunt man, often seen on early television and in the films of the 50s and 60s.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Something I've always found interesting about Young Frankenstein is the way it transitions from the present day to the thirties or earlier.

The lecture room scene clearly takes place in the present day, looking at the costumes, decor, and the number of women med. students.

 

 

Freddy then boards a steam train to journey to Transylvania. The Transylvanian costumes and the one car we see suggest an even earlier time.

 

Young Frankenstein's black and white photography actually makes this less jarring than it might have been

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bananas was the only Woody Allen film I have seen other than Manhattan. Of course in Manhattan the comedy (and drama) was more emotional (and cerebral) so it was a experience seeing this earlier, wilder film. But I could see elements of the latter in parts of Bananas, like during the early scenes of Allen and the girl together.

 

Young Frankenstein is a film you can't say enough about. It is an almost perfect film, and I would say it is definitely one of the top five comedies ever made. It's up there with Strangelove.

 

The Three Musketeers (and The Four Musketeers) are wonderful films and blend slapstick, adventure, romance and drama so magnificently. What is unusual about the slapstick in the film is it makes it more realistic, in my opinion, which is the opposite of what you would expect slapstick to do in a film.

In most swashbucklers, the fighting and action is choreographed, and meant to be as suave, daring, and as graceful as possible. Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone go at each other as master fencers, and though the action is may at times seem frenetic, it always comes off as if no one could have done it better. But the fights and the action in the Musketeers movies is often clumsy, awkward, and messy. People trip on things, slip and fall, bump into things, swing and miss, and tire. The effect is to make the fighting realistic, while at the same time funny. The fight at the laundry is a good example. Slipping on the wet surfaces, hitting people with wet sheets... this is unlike the graceful action you would normally see in a swashbuckling film.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Young Frankenstein has always been funny - with Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, what else could it be.  I like the salutes to the original Frankenstein - the lab, the little girl in the meadow, Wilder's screaming 
"It's Alive", and the townspeople gathering to go after the monster.  My favorite line, from the first time I saw it years ago was Cloris Leachman's "Yas, Yas, He Vas my boyfriend."

 

Igor is pure slapstick with his hump shoulder changing sides, his quick retorts and general physical activities.

 

Great cameo from Gene Hackman, the blind monk.

 

Loved this movie!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Foul Play and The Gumball Rally reminded me that 70's movies sure loved long car chases and Japanese tourist jokes.


Even though it never followed through with anything, you had to have Japanese tourists in Foul Play because of The Mikado. And the car chases, again, were something of an obligatory homage to Bullit (they were in San Francisco, after all...).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Woody Allen has never been a favorite of mine.  It has nothing to do with his personal life.  There's just something about him as a person that I've never liked.  I tried to watch Bananas with an open mind. But the film is 45 years old and the world has changed so greatly in terms of the violence we're all dealing with these days. The blatant violence portrayed in this film--televising an assassination like it's a sporting event, the merciless firing squad scene, etc., just didn't seem funny to me.  I guess I've seen too much news coverage of shopping malls and restaurants and movie theaters being attacked by terrorists and mentally ill people and people being murdered in the cruelest of ways.

 

Foul Play was a great spoof of Hitchcock films!  In Rear Window, James Stewart initially can't get anyone to believe him when he tries to tell them about Raymond Burr murdering his wife.  Goldie Hawn can't get anyone to believe her story about the dead guy in the theater.   In Dial M for Murder, Grace Kelly stabs her would be strangler with her sewing scissors and Goldie Hawn stabs her would be strangler with her knitting needles. The entire film spoofs The Man Who Knew Too Much as, eventually, Hawn, Chase, et al realize that there's going to be an assassination attempt made on the Pope at the opera and that they have a limited amount of time to stop it!!  In the end, our heroes save the day!!

 

Young Frankenstein is the most lovingly created spoof of horror films I've ever seen.  Every scene, line of dialog, facial expression and gesture is perfect.  From Frankenstein's asking the kid "Is this the Transylvania Station" to Igor's movable hump, from the little girl asking The Monster "What should we throw in (the well) now" once the flower petals are gone to the blind hermit's dismay at The Monster's rapid departure, saying "I was going to make espresso," this film never misses a beat.  I have to confess that since seeing this film when it first opened, I can't hear Ave Maria without thinking of Gene Hackman!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I always been a huge fan of Woody Allen. He has the ability to add satire to everyday conflict. Of course he has that New York appeal that makes it all work. Many of his film earlier film like Bananas, Sleeper, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask had that 'anything goes' quality, where jokes could be subtle and outrageous. In Bananas, there is the use of broad comedy to the political aspect of the plot. This is genius because it showcases the dangerous effects that politics has on society.

 

Young Frankenstein is a comedy masterpiece that successfully spoofed the classic Universal horror films that influenced it. It made fun of them, but it didn't disrespect them. There was a subtlety in the film that didn't find in Brooks' other classic "Blazing Saddles", which was more raunchy and political incorrect. The fact that was made in black and white gave it a much more soulful quality than a comedy should have. It doesn't hurt at all that it was made by Brooks and Gene Wilder.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Foul Play (1978)

 

I had seen Foul Play before, but I enjoyed it so much more after reading about it for this course. I enjoyed the references to Alfred Hitchcock—at least the ones I recognized after not seeing a Hitchcock film in a long while.

 

I just loved Burgess Meredith as Mr. Hennessey and I think he has one of the greatest lines. Goldie Hawn is worried because no one believes her fantastic story about the dwarf and disappearing bodies, and when she asks if he believes her, he says, in his most reassuring voice, something like, “I believe it if you believe it, dearie.” His desire to help her and her exasperation were priceless.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bananas

 

Woody Allen pays homage here to Slapstick-comedy and some of its icons of long ago.

 

Fielding Mellish reminds me of Buster Keaton when he stops and exits the Volkswagen, his demeanor reminds me of Harold Lloyd's when he catches up with his former girlfriend, his delivery reminds me of Groucho Marx's with the Denmark-Vatican-Rome joke, and finally, his antics when addressing the court reminds me of The Three Stooges in the funny short, Disorder in the Court:

 

I object, your honor. This trial is a travesty. It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham. I move for a mistrial. -Fielding Mellish

 

That Woody Allen could make as zany a film as Bananas, then eight years later, give us Manhattan (1979), is amazing because they are worlds apart in tone and style.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Fun Facts:

. . .

On the Hallowe'en episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" in which Ray's dad (Peter Boyle) mistakenly gives out flavoured prophylactics instead of Hallowe'en candy, Boyle's character is dressed up as Frankenstein's Monster, in a nod to Boyle's role in "Young Frankenstein".

 

This episode of Everybody Loves Raymond I would call a loving homage to Young Frankenstein and to Peter Boyle. Boyle was a great actor. He could be awfully sinister, too. As in The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It was noted in the course lecture that Young Frankenstein was "thrown together from spare parts" -- just like the Monster himself.  :)

 

 

"Young Frankenstein is, from its over-all composition to its isolated details, a comedy of production errors. The whole movie has been thrown together from spare parts of other movies as if it were a bin full of outtakes, a face off the cutting-room floors where Hollywood's campiest films were made...In vowel shifts that occur in a single one-liner, as in the execution of entire sequences, movie conventions fly through the air in this film in a mad jugglery that never lets us get down to earth for a moment." (Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr., 1975, Movie Comedy, p. 122-123)"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It was noted in the course lecture that Young Frankenstein was "thrown together from spare parts" -- just like the Monster himself.  :)
 
 
"Young Frankenstein[font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif] is, from its over-all composition to its isolated details, a comedy of production errors. The whole movie has been thrown together from spare parts of other movies as if it were a bin full of outtakes, a face off the cutting-room floors where Hollywood's campiest films were made...In vowel shifts that occur in a single one-liner, as in the execution of entire sequences, movie conventions fly through the air in this film in a mad jugglery that never lets us get down to earth for a moment." (Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr., 1975, [/size][/font]Movie Comedy[font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif], p. 122-123)"[/size][/font]


Mel Brooks actually used the same sets that were used by Universal to make the original Frankenstein. Everything done in Young Frankenstein followed the original film except for the addition of Frau Bleuker and the assistant. Using black and white really emphasized things.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mel Brooks actually used the same sets that were used by Universal to make the original Frankenstein. Everything done in Young Frankenstein followed the original film except for the addition of Frau Bleuker and the assistant. Using black and white really emphasized things.

 

Nonsense. Mel Brooks used the same props provided by Ken Strickfaden. The 1931 Frankenstein was filmed on the Universal backlot and soundstages (Stage 12 for the lab set) http://www.thestudiotour.com/movies.php?movie_id=801 and http://www.thestudiotour.com/ush/frontlot/stage12.php 1.jpg

 

Young Frankenstein was filmed on the old MGM backlot while that castle set was built in 20th Century Fox's stage 5 as detailed in the production notes http://www.afi.com/members/catalog/DetailView.aspx?s=&Movie=55238

stage05.jpg

 

In fact, there's a plaque on Fox's Stage 5 listing the productions made there (this one is from 2008)

stage05plaque.jpg

 

So no, Mel Brooks didn't use the original sets "actually" or otherwise. In fact the Universal exterior "Little Europe" set used in 1931's Frankenstein burned down in 1967 so that original set didn't even exist when Young Frankenstein was filmed.

 

Props not sets.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Nonsense. Mel Brooks used the same props provided by Ken Strickfaden. The 1931 Frankenstein was filmed on the Universal backlot and soundstages (Stage 12 for the lab set) http://www.thestudiotour.com/movies.php?movie_id=801 and http://www.thestudiotour.com/ush/frontlot/stage12.php 1.jpg
 
Young Frankenstein was filmed on the old MGM backlot while that castle set was built in 20th Century Fox's stage 5 as detailed in the production notes http://www.afi.com/members/catalog/DetailView.aspx?s=&Movie=55238
stage05.jpg
 
In fact, there's a plaque on Fox's Stage 5 listing the productions made there (this one is from 2008)
stage05plaque.jpg
 
So no, Mel Brooks didn't use the original sets "actually" or otherwise. In fact the Universal exterior "Little Europe" set used in 1931's Frankenstein burned down in 1967 so that original set didn't even exist when Young Frankenstein was filmed.
 
Props not sets.


Sorry I was not clear about this. It was the same props not the sets. Non-professionals in cinema sometimes get terminology mixed up.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This was not covered as a clip, but it is a classic slapstick bit. In The Philadelphia Story, Cary Grant walks out of his house carrying two suitcases. He goes down some steps to his car. Katherine Hepburn follows quickly behind carrying his set of pipes and golf bag. She drops the pipes on the steps. Then she takes a club out before dumping the rest at the bottom of the stairs. She breaks the club over her knee, turns around, and heads back to the door. He quickly marches after her, taps her on her shoulder, and she turns around. He raises his fist as if to punch her; then shoves her in the face. She falls backwards and starts rubbing her neck. Anyone else but Cary Grant doing this bit would have been called a bruit. He was a great, physical acrobat.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

From "Foul Play": Chuck McCann was a well-known bit-player in film but better-known to children around the country as a former Bozo-the-Clown and even better as the helmsman for many a children’s broadcast showcasing the classic sound film of the Hal Roach Studios. Billy Barty was an old Hollywood comedy stunt man, often seen on early television and in the films of the 50s and 60s.


Chuck McCann recently published his memoirs of working in kids' TV in the days when it was all done live, on a shoestring budget so tight that it forced people to be not only creative but downright ingenious. The book is "Chuck McCann's Let's Have Fun! Scrapbook". It's a wonderful record of his shows, and it comes with a bonus DVD of remastered footage that survives only because Chuck had the foresight to take the master tapes of his best bits to Reeves Teletape (where "Sesame Street" and the original "The Electric Company" were made) to have them copied onto film.

Unfortunately, all of the original tapes of the thousands of hours of Chuck's shows were wiped and re-used. This was a common practice at TV stations around the world, because, at that time, videotape was extremely expensive, and nobody imagined anyone would be interested in these one-offs and "mundane" day-to-day shows, let alone have the interest (or the apparatus) to buy them to watch at home. Standard broadcast contracts either didn't even consider rebroadcasts, or were only good for rebroadcasts for 5 years after the original airing. This is why the voice artists of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" haven't gotten a penny since 1969, and nothing at all for any of the merchandise and home videos. Hermey (Paul Soles) lives across the street from me, and Rudolph (Billie Mae Richards) used to, and it's a sore point with them.
__________

Billy Barty was a little person, who had a long career in Hollywood, dating all the way back to his childhood, when he often played babies and children. He was the mischievous little toddler who spies on the showering beauties in the "Pettin' in the Park" number in "Gold Diggers of 1933". He later performed with musical comedy band Spike Jones and His City Slickers, and stole the show with his imitation of Liberace (with Sir Fredric Gas as Liberace's brother, George) performing "I'm In the Mood For Love", with a candelabrum with a mind of its own.

https://vimeo.com/68487415

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This episode of Everybody Loves Raymond I would call a loving homage to Young Frankenstein and to Peter Boyle. Boyle was a great actor. He could be awfully sinister, too. As in The Friends of Eddie Coyle.


He was great in Taxi Driver too!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The Frisco Kid
How could I have missed watching this film in one sitting all these years? So entertaining a Rabbi's helplessness and misfortune in the Wild West. The gentle classic gags is easily matched to the early slapstick I love so much. It flows so smoothly Wilder and Ford, I prefer Ford to Pryor and would have liked to seen this pair as a double act. The film feels fresh In the sense Wilders character is so out of his element with energy, excitement during his adventures. His character Avram was well thought out and perfect for Wilder. No one could have done a better job. It shows his talent, knowledge, and ability to perform spoofing slapstick with minimal need of even another actor in the scene. The parodys are full of rich content in relation to bang bang shoot em up's and cultural differences. I laugh every time i think of Rabbi changing character and spoofing the American cowboy. He is the perfect stranger in a strange new world. Complete with mazel tov.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Three Musketeers (and The Four Musketeers) are wonderful films and blend slapstick, adventure, romance and drama so magnificently. What is unusual about the slapstick in the film is it makes it more realistic, in my opinion, which is the opposite of what you would expect slapstick to do in a film.

In most swashbucklers, the fighting and action is choreographed, and meant to be as suave, daring, and as graceful as possible. Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone go at each other as master fencers, and though the action is may at times seem frenetic, it always comes off as if no one could have done it better. But the fights and the action in the Musketeers movies is often clumsy, awkward, and messy. People trip on things, slip and fall, bump into things, swing and miss, and tire. The effect is to make the fighting realistic, while at the same time funny. The fight at the laundry is a good example. Slipping on the wet surfaces, hitting people with wet sheets... this is unlike the graceful action you would normally see in a swashbuckling film.

 

     I was happy to see Richard Lester’s “The Three Musketeers” (1973) included in our movie line-up.  It is a wonderful version of the Dumas story, played for laughs on several levels.  Not only is it played as slapstick, it is also presented as a realistic representation of the filthy world of the historical past -- with chamber pots dumped out windows and mud & dirt everywhere.  But the realism is in the setting, not in the fencing.  As a fencer, I enjoy the fights in this movie and the overflow follow-up “The Four Musketeers” (1975).   But it is not for the quality or realism of the fencing, it is for the energy and humor of the exchange.  Of course, the fencing in this film is as choreographed as thoroughly as any fight scene in any movie -- the action is too dangerous to do otherwise.  Because it was played for humor, the action was intentionally “clumsy, awkward and messy.”  Realistically, swordsmen who were clumsy, awkward and messy had very short careers.   

 

     The fencing that took place between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938) was beautifully staged by fencing master Fred Cavens, and it was not played for laughs. But it did involve tripping on or jumping over furniture and candle stands, and it ended with Rathbone making a critical defensive mistake that allows the killing thrust to land.   Cavens staged an even greater fight two years later, in “The Mark of Zorro” (1940), between Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone.  Though the structure of the fight was roughly the same, the execution was at a higher level.  It is the most realistic fencing I have seen in a movie.  Even so, it is not the real thing.  As Cavens explained, “For the screen, in order to be well photographed and also grasped by the audience, all swordplay should be so telegraphed with emphases that the audience will see what is coming.  All movements -- instead of being as small as possible, as in competitive fencing -- must be large…”    With “The Three Musketeers,” the movements are large, but the action is not telegraphed.  The humor comes from not knowing what they are going to do next.  The fight on ice, in “The Four Musketeers, is another example of this humorous approach to fighting.

 

     It should be noted that Lester’s version of “The Three Musketeers” was not the first version to spoof or parody the Dumas tale.  A musical comedy version was produced in 1939, starring Don Ameche and the Ritz Brothers, and a comic/dramatic version came out in 1948, starring Gene Kelly.  The 1948 version contains some very funny and athletic fencing by Kelly that could be considered slapstick.  But, the best example of comic fencing is not in any of these versions of The Three Musketeers. It is in “The Court Jester” (1956) between Danny Kaye and Basil Rathbone and contains both expert fencing and ridiculous slapstick.  It was staged by Hollywood’s other master fencer/choreographer, Ralph Faulkner.  It is no coincidence that Basil Rathbone was involved in all these great fight scenes -- he was a skilled fencer.  Among his fellow actors, only Cornel Wilde (who was a collegiate champion) was his superior.    

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Young Frankenstein (1974)

 

I was finally able to watch Young Frankenstein on DVD. I do think this is the first time I have seen the film from beginning to end. I’ve seen so many clips before, but not the entire film end to end. It gets better and better with each subsequent viewing. The monster and Elizabeth’s scenes were some of the funniest. In fact, Madeline Kahn practically steals the movie in her few appearances in the film.

 

I also listened to the DVD audio commentary by Mel Brooks, which was just as much fun as watching the film. It was great to hear him talk about Mary Shelley, the writer of the original story, and using some of her original words in the script, for example, in the speech Dr. Frederick Frankenstein gives when he is about to start his experiment reanimating the creature: “From that fateful day when that stinking bit of slime first crawled from the sea and shouted to the cold stars, ‘I am man,’ our greatest dread has always been the knowledge of our own mortality. But tonight, we shall hurl the gauntlet of science into the frightful face of death itself.”

 

And for all of us who are film noir fans, Brooks also tells viewers that he used German expressionistic lighting techniques for many nighttime scenes and scenes with the monster in Transylvania. Brooks was inspired by the films of Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau. The scene where the monster walks through the village at night made me think of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (directed by Robert Wiene).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Returning Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us