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Monday, August 14, 2017

Where Farce Lays A Thud


Was Monkey Business a Best 50's Comedy Could Do?

Gosh awful Howard Hawks comedy, or is it just me? Best part of having finally sat through this is knowledge I won't have to again. Hawks rule still stands: He's funny when it's relief from action, much less so where laffs are sole objective. Look at humor of The Big Sleep, El Dorado (which I still enjoy more than Rio Bravo), To Have and Have Not, Only Angels Have Wings ... there's more wit to even Land Of The Pharaohs than Monkey Business. Can someone sell me on notion that this "comes to life with an audience," because I could only believe that if I saw, and heard, it. FXM ran Monkey Business HD, luring me like moth to the flame. All these years and constant opportunity, but only portions and excerpts till now. Fact to face: Some movies, well-known and even must-sees, are avoided for intangible reason, a lifetime of "not just yet" that keeps us away. I've been like that about Monkey Business, partly because the premise seemed inane, even embarrassing (Cary Grant regressing to child behavior). Did it prove to be that? I agonized for Grant (he does this, then turns down Sabrina?), was irritated anew by Ginger Rogers (a real trial by the 50's). The only one to come out unscathed was Marilyn Monroe. Were she not in it, there'd be total disaster.


Hawks in interviews and biographer Todd McCarthy tells of denuding by censors, wrong casting (HH wanted a lead lady younger than 41 yr. old Rogers), and a situation not so funny as it seemed on paper. Seems Hawks knew halfway in that he had a cluck, yet had to push on. How enervating this must be for any talent, especially one like his. At least the pay was good, Zanuck happy to have the director on whatever terms. Idea of youth potion mixed by a monkey would have worked fine for Disney ten years later, and his audience of ten-year-olds, but I wonder if grown-ups in 1952 cringed more than laughed at this. On the other hand, you could say Howard Hawks was ten years ahead of his time. Imagine Cary Grant as Merlin Jones in 1964 instead of Tommy Kirk! I'd have preferred that to Father Goose. To be fair, little of 50's comedy works today, at least for me. Can anyone name six of them that are still funny, if they ever were? Off top of my head, I'll nominate Pillow Talk, it having clicked at a college show I did in the early 00's. Teacher's Pet is also a favorite, but what else? Cary Grant as star of a series of sparkling comedies that decade is largely myth (Room For One More? Kiss Them For Me?). Would that he had done more that endured. For the record, I'd posit North By Northwest as the funniest of all Cary Grant films, and it's not per se comedy.

47 Comments:

Blogger Boppa said...

'No Time for Sergeants' still makes me laugh. But I can't think of five others.

7:41 AM  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

You and I are so on the same page about "Monkey Business". It's really wretched. In defense of 50's screen comedy I can only say that the Brits could still deliver the goods quite often. A lot of people, for instance, still love "Genevieve" and Alec Guinness's Ealing comedies. My favorites are lesser known but they still have me in stitches whenever I watch them : "Curtain Call"('52) with Margaret Rutherford and Robert Morley, "Meet Mr. Lucifer" (Stanley Holloway and Peggy Cummins) "Fast and Loose"('54) (also Holloway) and "Sailor Beware"('56) - Peggy Mount and Shirley Eaton. As it happens, three of those four also feature wonderful Kay Kendall -possibly the 50's most elegantly inspired comedienne.
If I had to choose my favorite 50's comedy from Hollywood, it would probably be "Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man". A joy from start to finish.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Richard Schilling said...

I could have written this post - I have avoided Monkey Business for all of my 53 years. The DVD has been sitting on my shelf in the Monroe box set for years but the clips I have seen have made me avoid it.

Now regarding the 1950's - maybe no one felt "funny" in Hollywood after the trauma of the Blacklist but other than Singin In The Rain in 1952 (ok, not strictly a comedy but very funny) and Some Like It Hot in 1959, plenty of comedies were made but they were not funny. The great Preston Sturges was all washed-up by the dawn of the decade. I know there has been renewed interest in Frank Tashlin's films, especially The Girl Can't Help It, but are his Martin and Lewis films considered funny these days? The 1950's films of Bob Hope and Abbott and Costello were shadows of their work of the 1940's. There were no Marx Brothers to make great comedies in the 1950's, nor was there a new Carole Lombard. Perhaps TV is the reason, since everyone stayed home and laughed at Lucy?

In any case, I still can't come up with six!

9:48 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

My understanding is that as originally written, Grant's was the only character to regress to childishness, but when Rogers read the script she insisted on her character getting into the sandbox as well. Grant's regression was hardly a laff riot, but Rogers' was embarrassingly cloying (as it eventually became during THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR) and sank any comic potential the movie had.

And I still laugh at ROOM FOR ONE MORE, HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, BORN YESTERDAY, ALL ABOUT EVE, AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, CASANOVA'S BIG NIGHT, SON OF PALEFACE, ROAD TO BALI, SOME LIKE IT HOT, THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, and THE LONG, LONG TRAILER, just off the top of my head, so I can't make the case for a total fifties comedy drought...

10:36 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Yes, the Brit comedies of the 50's are good, better overall, I'd say, than ours.

As to "Some Like It Hot," that one for me was always less a fall-down comedy than a really well-constructed suspense story played light. It has more menace than most gangster films done in earnest.

And agreed, Richard, "A&C Meet The Invisible Man" is a fine one from their later lot.

10:39 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Glad you mentioned the Bob Hopes, Neely. There certainly are some good ones there. I don't tend to think of ALL ABOUT EVE and AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER as comedies, but should perhaps, as both have plenty of humor inherent in their set-up. THE LONG, LONG TRAILER I find too messy and ordeal-ish.

10:44 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Just in from Griff ---


Dear John:

I'm assuming you're thinking romantic comedies here.

[Hence, a wild Dean & Jerry vehicle like ARTISTS & MODELS apparently doesn't apply.]

Naming six is difficult... but in addition to PILLOW TALK and perhaps TEACHER'S PET, there's Tashlin's WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER, THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT (and, yes, SUSAN SLEPT HERE)... and a certain 1959 movie called SOME LIKE IT HOT.

Regards,
-- Griff

Hi Griff --- Yes to Martin/Lewis, which then comes down to picking films of theirs that still work (for me, YOU'RE NEVER TOO YOUNG is a favorite). The Tashlins are good, but do they work with a general audience as well as with 50's culture fans? That's not a rhetorical question --- I'd actually like to know, as I've never seen any of his with an audience, and never tried one on a crowd either.

10:49 AM  
Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

Let's not forget THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. My Jewish buddy and I watch it every year and just laugh our heads off for the whole long running time. Speaking of long, yes, I agree that THE LONG, LONG TRAILER is more cringe-inducing than funny.

The wolf, man.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Wow! We'll have to agree to disagree, John! I'm afraid it's Hawks' tough-guy epics like RED RIVER, ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS and especially RIO BRAVO and its two clones that have me squirming these days. The overly strident man's-gotta-do-what-a-man's-gotta-do stuff seems way over the top. Even the Bogarts don't wear as well with me as many of the lesser known Bogies. On the other hand, I find most of Hawks' comedies pretty funny yet, if a little creaky around the edges. I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE, BALL OF FIRE, BRINGING UP BABY and, yes, MONKEY BUSINESS all go down fine with me. MB is, perhaps, no big deal but I don't find it at all irritating and when coming across it midway on the tube, I always find myself lingering! As to those six great 50's comedies, SOME LIKE IT HOT, ROMAN HOLIDAY, THE COURT JESTER and GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (one of my absolute favorite HH films by the way) pop to mind. Will have to give it some thought to two more.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Saw MONKEY BUSINESS during the first season (1961-62) of NBC's SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES. Haven't watched it since.

Two fifty's comedies I have loved since their releases are OPERATION PETTICOAT and THE SHAGGY DOG. Still enjoy them.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

For years, what always bothered about "Monkey Business" was when I saw it listed in "TV Guide", and it wasn't the Marx Brothers movie.

As much as I like Martin & Lewis' TV appearances, I've never been able to sit through any of their movies, even "Artists & Models". Other than Preston Sturges and a handful of W.C. Fields movies, I think comedies started going downhill in the '40s, and only continued into the '50s and 60s. Have you ever watched "Sunday in New York"? Hoo boy -- young woman is shocked to discover her single brother has sex with single women.

11:23 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I'd add two good Billy Wilder comedies from the 50's, STALAG 17 and SABRINA. I saw SABRINA at a New York revival house during the 80's and it got tremendous laughs, along with very big applause at the end when Bogart shows up on the boat to join Audrey Hepburn. STALAG 17 is more along serio-comedy lines, like some of ones mentioned above, but I'd guess the laff lines would still work with an audience. These two would be worthy candidates for Fathom Events.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Matthew Clark said...

I also saw Monkey Business on NBC in the early sixties. I remember liking it the first time, and wanted to watch it again when it came back around a year later. Even then, as a ten-year-old seeing it a second time, I thought it was trying too hard. Now, having just watched the trailer, I see a lot of post war, 1952 middle age crisis in all the "comedy". Just watch Cary's manic look as he's speeding around in that sports car with Marilyn. And, the cat fight that Hawks seems to be going out of his way to stage between the childish Ginger and the more mature acting Marilyn. Though having Cary threaten to torture Hugh Marlowe is satisfying. I agree, that Hawks should have approached the story more as a light drama, or even a minor science fiction story, like The Man In The White Suit. But he didn't do light dramas. Did this movie do well at the time of its release?

1:24 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

WE'RE NO ANGELS (1955) remains brilliantly funny in this day and age of humor served on the dark side. Plus, with its Yuletide theme, it's welcome balm in December; antidote to all the Scrooges and Miracles and Wonderful Lifes.

1:27 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Glad to see you endorse WE'RE NO ANGELS, Michael. It is certainly a favorite of mine, one I like to revisit each Christmas.

As for reception to MONKEY BUSINESS, Matthew, it made but meager profit, that largely due to foreign receipts being modest and negative cost topping $1.6 million.

1:48 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...


Oh-wee John, talk about comedy and you get everyone going on a Monday Morning! Can't agree more with you on the 1952 MONKEY BUSINESS, it is indeed dire, and Hawks doing straight comedy is usually a formula to escape from, with the exception of BALL OF FIRE, whose success may be more due to Wilder and Brackett than Hawks(Then again, despite ridiculously being one of the darlings of the auteurists, Hawks never made a good movie that wasn't written by Jules Furthman, Leigh Brackett, William Faulkner, MacArthur and Hecht or Wilder and Brackett).

I've always found BRINGING UP BABY a painful slog, with Katherine Hepburn for once earning her "box-office poison" moniker with a character 100 percent annoying and actually psychotically dangerous to the point that the possibility of her being mauled by a jungle-cat may be the only impetus to keep watching. Hawks has everyone playing too loud and too obnoxiously in hope that the audience might not figure out that it isn't funny, but the audience had the film's number at the time and stayed away, it just took the pretentious and generally humorless film buffs of the 70's to declare it a classic, the same buffs who would consider THE ITALIAN STRAW HAT a classic comedy while they turned their noses up at most silent American silent comedies that did that sort of thing much more brilliantly, or would take the Auteurist theory seriously mush less even think Hawks ever came close to actually being one.

Also agree with Dave K on both RED RIVER and RIO BRAVO, on the former there is not enough suspension of disbelief in the world for one to buy that Monty Clift could whup the Duke in a fair fight (I think Joanne Dru could clean Monty’s clock with one hand tied behind her back), and RIO BRAVO comes from the period when Hawks thought he was indeed an auteur and his movies are all too long, too self-indulgent, and repetitive (how many movies did Hawks make where the heroine tells the hero “I’m hard to get, all you have to do is ask”?), yet I disagree completely on ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, despite being an atmospherically over-charged rehash of John Ford’s AIR MAIL (1932), it hits on all cylinders, for years it was the best movie no one remembered to pull out for a non-immersed film buff audience when one wanted to entertain them for two hours, and it has one of the best ensemble casts ever put together in a film, followed by Hawks’ HIS GIRL FRIDAY. Mucho-macho be damned, guys get guy flicks too, women can go watch all those TWILIGHT movies and leave us alone, and just how macho can Cary Grant be wearing the outfit he wears in that film?

Yep, classic 50’s film comedy is a pretty short list (the great comedy was being done on television in the 1950’s), but it was nice to see someone mention TEACHERS PET (though I would take issue with the “perhaps” put before it), that film ages better each time I’ve run it, with Gable giving one of his best late performances, using all his aging cragginess to pull some hilarious reactions and he and the always better than her movies Doris Day have a terrific chemistry working with a crackling script, a big hit at the time and underrated ever since.

As for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, I’ve always said it shows what an Ed Wood film with a big budget would look like.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

2:22 PM  
Blogger shiningcity said...

Its from a different decade, but my vote for Grant's best comedy is MR BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE. And it didn't have an A-list director.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Wow. Guess I'm very much in the minority here...and kind of surprised at that.

When I saw MONKEY BUSINESS on the NBC Saturday Night movie, I thought it was about the funniest thing I'd ever seen. Of course, I was 12 years old at the time. When I saw it again a few years back, it wasn't the comic masterpiece I remembered, but it was still funny.

But I suppose it is near the bottom of the Hawks' comedy line. I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE is pretty darn funny and, to me, BRINGING UP BABY is one of the five or six greatest comedies ever.

And I must admit that, outside of the great comic book it inspired, I've never really felt the attraction of RIO BRAVO.

Kind of lonesome here on this side of the fence, but at least I have a lot of laughs to keep me company.

4:46 PM  
Blogger b piper said...

Mr. Rick, you're not entirely alone --- my feelings about MONKEY BUSINESS are pretty much identical to yours. I think the apparent dearth of comedy in the 50s is mostly a reflection of the lack of big time comedy personalities. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, all pretty much gone, although I think Abbott and Costello and Bob Hope still made quite a few good films that decade.

Regarding RIO BRAVO --- I watched some of it again last night and the thing that struck me most about it is the characters never SHUT UP! It is the most verbose "action" movie I've ever seen. Yakkity yakkity yak yak yak....

7:34 PM  
Blogger Richard Schilling said...

Some of the wittiest moments of the movies in the 1950's can be found in Alfred Hitchcock's films (North By Northwest, To Catch A Thief and Rear Window especially). Ironically his one true comedy of the era - The Trouble With Harry, was a massive flop. A few years ago, the Guardian tried to make a case for it as "The Trouble With Harry: Hitchcock's lost masterpiece", but having seen it recently, I found it lifeless.

12:45 AM  
Blogger Tom Ruegger said...

"His Girl Friday" -- a great comedy directed by Hawks.

12:59 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Via e-mail from Joe from Virginia Beach:

John,

I never failed to be disappointed in "Monkey Business". Always tuned in expecting the Marx Brothers classic only to be disappointed.

In regards to naming six comedies from the 1950’s, I submit in no particular order:
“Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd”-I have always felt this to be their most underrated film. Growing up when this was shown on television, it was often shown edited or in black and white, but was one of their two films in color and like “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” featured a major star (Charles Laughton) repeating one of his classic roles (Captain Kidd). Being not in their Universal package and a Meet film without horror elements are other reasons I fell it may have been/is overlooked.

Bob Hope-“My Favorite Spy”, “The Lemon Drop Kid”, “Son of Paleface”, and Road to Bali”.

Lewis and Martin-Any of their films with the exception of “My Friend Irma” (from the 1940s), “The Stooge” (Great movie, but not really a comedy), and “Scared Stiff” (which I have always felt paled next to the Bob Hope original (“The Ghost Breakers”).

Finally if you consider them both comedies, which I do-“Mister Roberts” and “Some Like It Hot”.

Joe from Virginia Beach

7:36 AM  
Blogger phil smoot said...

Kevin K had a similar experience as me -- TV Guide or newspaper said Monkey Business would be on local television, and it implied that it would be the Marx Brothers film. Instead, it was the 50s film which I really hated (and finally turned it off) and never to be revisited.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Man, I LOVE it when you get an ongoing colloquy like this going, John! Love that Joe sites SON OF PALEFACE, MY FAVORITE SPY and A&C MEET CAPTAIN KID! Love that Griff raises the flag for Frank Tashlin! Love that Rick gives a shout out to the great Alex Toth comic book of RIO BRAVO! Love the love some feel unembarrassed to show Martin and Lewis! And I love the slams too, even the ones on some of my faves! Hey, what kind of blog would this be if we didn't enjoy a little barbecued sacred cow once in a while? Just a lot of opinions, and so many interesting ones too! Keep up the good work!

11:55 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

I could throw some more comedies in there-- no one's mentioned Champagne For Caesar, or The Mating Season, for instance. And things that are quasi-comedies-- Beat the Devil and His Kind of Woman, for instance.

But yeah, not a great decade for comedy if you're not Ealing Studios.

That said, I think people are groping around the real answer, which is that the best situation comedy of the 1950s is exactly the movie that plenty of people say doesn't measure up as a western-- Rio Bravo. What puts them off about it is exactly what's great about it— it really isn't about the western plot, it's about hanging out with likable characters and their interactions. Joe Burdett and his bunch matter so little they get wrapped up in longshot. It could have been a weekly show, and don't think the Gunsmoke crew didn't know it-- TV Gunsmoke is more like Rio Bravo and El Dorado than it is the radio series it came from.

If you don't like it, fine, but when I have a cold, Rio Bravo is the first movie I throw on, to spend 2-1/2 leisurely hours with my old friends.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

I remember a lot of 50s stuff unkindly because the worst of it infested television in my youth (the worst of the 30s had largely fallen by the wayside; oldies that got much air time in the 60s were either good or had fan bases believing them so).

There was something heavy about too much postwar comedy, from thick orchestral scores telling you EXACTLY when to be amused to leaden pacing and editing that forgot everything discovered in the 30s. It was world of huge, artificial suburban homes and apartments; fashions that rendered women dowdier than the 30s, early 40s, or 60s; physical comedy reduced to obvious stuntwork (differentiated from a serious film by somebody sitting up crosseyed afterwards); and sanitized plots centered on stupid mistakes or stupider deceptions. And on top of it all, talky in the manner of bad television.

Yes, a lot of good stuff was being made. But "We're No Angels" owes much of its charm to its obvious stage play source and a cast that makes a feast of good material. Billy Wilder made comedy dangerous with high emotional and even physical stakes (Still not sure if "The Apartment" is the darkest comedy or funniest melodrama ever). Blake Edwards rediscovered the Oliver Hardy reaction shot and Edgar Kennedy slow burn as well as the actual sight gag and made good use of them (when resisting his impulse for excess). In the 50s you couldn't rely on a studio programmer to be amusing.

In time guys like Richard Lester would take avant-garde filmmaking and make it work for comedy, restoring the speed and (seeming) randomness of Keystone. But running on parallel tracks through the 60s would be Don Knotts features, "daring" bedroom farces ending in marriage, and aging stars as parents of nubile teenagers. And of course, Disney live action.

The comparison to 60s Disney is apt. Films like "The Misadventures of Merlin Jones" were family-safe comfort food even then, sometimes a little more nimble and visual than the big studio comedies of the 50s but clinging to many of the same ground rules . Today "Merlin Jones" screams "Sitcom Pilot", which it may well have been.

"Boatniks" in 1970 was a sort of climax: the convergence of Disney, standard 50s comedy, and television sitcom. Lots of familiar faces. Now the funniest bit is a running gag of Wally Cox with a party boat full of girls -- He's a preview of the future Hugh Hefner. More "Love Bugs" and the like were to come, but Disney finally joined all the others in chasing the elusive new audience.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Realist said...

I'll put my money on "Kill the Empire" (1950) a minor, but wonderful slapstick film about baseball staring William Bendix and written by Frank Tashlin. Also I do agree with the idea of the "Ten Commandments" being a comedy with the great Edward G. Robinson playing a gangster in a biblical film.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

Here are 6 comedy favorites of this person from the 1950's-- some of you might have missed..., (after TOP FAVES-, "SOME LIKE IT HOT",& "OPERATION PETTICOAT)!!Take a peek at these: > "HAS ANYBODY SEEN MY GAL?"-(Charles Coburn, Rock Hudson & Piper Laurie & James Dean)!!, "ALIAS JESSE JAMES"-( Bob Hope); "A HOLE IN THE HEAD" -(Sinatra);< but if MUSIC cancels out "HIGH SOCIETY"(SINATRA) that decade, as a comedy,then I can STILL SAY I like JERRY LEWIS IN HAL WALLIS' "DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP!" and (Tony Randall in "THE MATING GAME"(Debbie Reynolds).There are others, of course; but they are not that easy to recall. You folks are sure right about THAT PARTICULAR DECADE being shy on laughs. However, let's not forget the shorts and cartoons that were STILL renting on the circuit then. The 1960's would REALLY deliver the laughs, for sure. And also, let's not forget to mention Robert Youngson's silent- film comedy compilations.

1:29 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Boy, I couldn't agree more with your assessment of MB - and Rogers. I just suffered through Tight Spot on TCM, buoyed by the chance to see Edward G. Robinson take on Rogers. Suffice it to say, a lot of water had gone under the bridge since they'd been at Warners ...

As for Hawks and comedy, I think the only really successful ones (His Girl Friday -- and, by the way, I wish people would stop hitting the pronoun in that title -- and Ball of Fire) have foolproof scripts. Hawks is a fine director, but comedy isn't his genre.

Re: '50s comedies, I have a soft spot for Callaway Went Thataway (which is that rarest of creatures, an MGM comedy that's actually funny), but beyond that, the decade is a swamp of Abbott and Costello* and Danny Kaye insisting against all evidence that they're amusing, and filmmakers beating their heads against the ceiling of the Code.

Finally, I've always considered The Ten Commandments (one of the most entertaining things I've seen) a silent movie with sound.

(*A&C are actually very funny on their television shows, but those are basically excuses to get sure-fire burlesque routines on film.)

4:24 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Just saw a very good 50's comedy on TCM that I'd add to the list ... DREAMBOAT with Clifton Webb and Ginger Rogers.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Ah, DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. I love that movie, but not for the right reasons.

Very entertaining, and again, not for the right reasons. Hokey dialogue.

"Moses, Moses, Moses."

And Eddie G. and Vincent P. walk off with the picture...and not into the desert.


And I agree with Steven...DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP is hilarious from start to The End.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

I think THE MATING GAME (Mitchell Leisen, 1951) is a terrific comedy, with still-relevant social comment and a wonderful performance by Thelma Ritter (is there any other kind?).

3:16 PM  
Blogger b piper said...


THE MATING GAME was directed by George Marshall, to my mind one of the great comedy directors. It's based on a novel by H. E. Bates, which was made into a British miniseries in which the Debbie Reynolds part was the first big role for Catherine Zeta Jones. And Thelma Ritter wasn't in it --- she was in THE MATING SEASON.

8:05 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Griff has thought of a few more good 50's comedies ...


Dear John:

A little more thought.

I am also a fan of the witty THE MATING GAME, with its fabulous Thelma Ritter performance. Count me in also for the late screwball comedy CHAMPAGNE FOR CAESAR (I didn't realize that it was a '50s film; I always think of it as a late '40s picture). Ditto for DREAMBOAT*, with a pitch-perfect Clifton Webb (and a good Rogers, better here than in most of her '50s work).

I'm also fond of MISTER 880, a Fox hybrid of droll comedy and crime procedural (partly NYC location-shot), based on a true story by New Yorker writer St. Clair McKelway. Edmund Gwenn is peerless as a lovable retired seaman who moonlights as occasional counterfeiter of -- wait for it -- one dollar bills. His notes are incredibly poor in quality (for instance, "Washington" is misspelled on his bills), but he successfully evades capture for over a decade. Treasury agents are stymied, and vow to redouble their efforts until the unknown offender (dubbed "old eight-eighty" by the department) is caught -- but that turns out to be a tall order.

I would very cautiously put forward the first (and only the first) FRANCIS movie as a candidate. This still has some freshness to it; you can see how the film (and its tropes) became a sensation and why they were subsequently repeated and copied ad infinitum.

Finally, and this is far afield (that is, it's British), I have a long standing affection for A TOUCH OF LARCENY (actually US-released in 1960), with a thoroughly charming light comic performance by James Mason as a British naval officer with a brilliant, if unscrupulous, plan to become wealthy that's possibly too clever to discuss here. I treasure my memory of this, once a late show staple, and am almost reluctant to look at it again; it can't possibly be as good as I remember it.

Regards,
-- Griff
___________________________
* This thoroughly enjoyable trifle, with its convincing pastiches of silent dramas, might be a worthwhile subject for a future Greenbriar post.

9:04 PM  
Blogger djwein said...

Another vote for DREAMBOAT, which is unfairly forgotten. Clifton Webb and Ginger are delightful together in their scenes and in the clips we see of their overheated "silent movies." Ginger emotes by clutching her stomach like Theda Bara on meth and secondary couple Jeffrey Hunter and Anne Francis are charming. THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC is still fun, with Judy Holliday & Paul Douglas, in sort of a BORN YESTERDAY rehash (not incidentally with the stars of the BY Broadway Cast). I also like DESK SET and a minor Lucy comedy, THE FULLER BRUSH GIRL, which anticipates some of her I LOVE LUCY routines.

Other stinkers of the 50s include THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (was Tom Ewell ever funny to anyone?), FOREVER DARLING, THE GAZEBO (Glenn Ford should never have been allowed near a comedy), THE TUNNEL OF LOVE (ditto for Richard Widmark), SUSAN SLEPT HERE, THE OPPOSITE SEX (a zero laughs remake of THE WOMEN), DREAM WIFE and the lumbering THE MOON IS BLUE.

Dave Weiner

10:37 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

If it has Thelma Ritter it's The Mating Season (1951, Mitchell Leisen). The Mating Game is Debbie Reynolds and Tony Randall (1959, George Marshall.

11:07 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

dj just made my day here with his hilarious comments on the 'stinker comedies' of the 1950's; especially his remark about TOM EWELL, THAT--really SENT ME OVER THE EDGE with laughter because I have been wanting and waiting to speak those SAME EXACT WORDS since 1955!

9:10 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

"Finally, I've always considered The Ten Commandments (one of the most entertaining things I've seen) a silent movie with sound."

I call it (stealing Phillip Johnson's crack about Frank Lloyd Wright) the greatest movie of the 19th century. I love it, happily watch it at least every other Easter.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Stinky likes Tom Ewell.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Stinky is very fond of BLUES BUSTERS, the pinochle of The Bowery Boys movies.

7:05 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...


Hey, I'll put in another vote on the pro-side for Tom Ewell, he had a great, deadpan comic face and he brings a lot to both THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH and THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT (which is a 50's comedy classic). Ewell is also good teamed up with David Wayne in the also forgotten UP FRONT (1951) based on Bill Mauldin's WW@ Willie and Joe cartoons.

Thinking about it, some other fun 50's comedies are some of the Donald O'Connor Universal vehicles of the early 50's like CURTAIN CALL AT CACTUS CREEK (1950), THE MILKMAN (1950) and DOUBLE CROSSBONES (1951), all enjoyable comedy vehicles in the usual Universal vein. Heck, I still like the FRANCIS THE TALKING MULE and MA AND PA KETTLE series as well, both filled with fine comic actors and entertaining if not filled with "deep meaning", as if that really is a pre-requisite for comedy.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

3:38 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Personally, I find Seven Year Itch excruciating. Nobody can ham-hand directing a comedy like Wilder. ("When he's good, he's very, very good; when he's bad, he's horrid.") I'm not a fan of most of Monroe's lighter fare, but love her in noirs. Go figure.

7:19 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

I might have tuned in to "Monkey Business" as a kid expecting the Marx Brothers film. I know I tuned in late one night (in the mid '70s) because TV Guide listed the 1920s Lon Chaney film "The Monster" - but what the station actually ran was "The MANster." That was a bigger disappointment. (Hell, if they'd ran Lon Jr.'s "Man Made Monster," I probably would have been happier) Oh, and another local station ran Charlie Chan films on Sunday mornings; they had announced "Charlie Chan in the Secret Service," but they actually ran the 1930 Richard Dix film "Secret Service," with no Chan in sight.

What many remember about "Monkey Business" and "Seven Year Itch" are scenes involving Marilyn's legs.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

What many remember about "Monkey Business" and "Seven Year Itch" are scenes involving Marilyn's legs.

What I remember about The Seven Year Itch is Marilyn's bare feet, as shown (in a long shot) in one scene.

I'll say that comedy got better in the 1960's with films like It's A Mad, Mad, Mad World, A Hard Day's Night, Help!, The World Of Henry Orient, Candy, and a few others that escape my memory now. And many of these were British.

5:23 AM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Stinky likes Monkey Business, especially the first half; especially the parts without Ginger Rogers. He prefers it to I was a Male War Bride.

And when people say Hawks was not particularly adept at comedies, Stinky has to scratch his beautifully-coiffed noggin.

1:13 AM  
Blogger Dan Bitgood said...

Not to forget that Roger Cormans' Bucket of Blood and the first few Carry On films came out in the 1950s.

3:09 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

No one mentioned "Father of the Bride" (1950).

11:38 AM  

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