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Friday, March 02, 2018

Metro Tries For Zany


The Big Hangover (1950) and Leo's Morning After



Sometimes an odd thing will happen with comedy. The premise that's supposed to be funny just isn't, or I receive it unlike others, what seems amusing to them disturbing for me. Van Johnson in The Big Hangover is a war veteran and now law student who gets fall-down drunk if he has even a drop of alcohol, a situation that I from the start took seriously and found no humor in. Where that's an entire basis for laughs to come, well ... you have your problem. Is it how Van Johnson plays the dilemma? His outbreaks seem less fun than hardship visited on a bland, if likeable, character, the more so where others sneak liquor into his food or benign drink to bring on the reaction. I side with those who are object of cruel jokes, in movies or life (as do most?). Johnson is made the goat to a point where his drunkenness is anything but funny. What came to rescue of The Big Hangover, indeed salvaged the picture, was a scene (in fact, a speech) near the end, played utterly straight, by supporting Leon Ames, who's in hundreds of things, but never so effective as here. Do watch The Big Hangover, be patient, and wait for the reward. I did, and was glad for sticking out an uneven first half.




When A Dog Has To Explain The Set-Up In Ads, You've Got A Sales Quandary


The Big Hangover clearly came of a singular mind, Norman Krasna's, who wrote, produced, and directed, for what 3-2-50 Variety said was take-home of $280K, over a quarter of what Metro spent on the negative (a million total). MGM under Dore Schary was gambling on talent like Krasna, latter's comedies having clicked on stage and screen. Tightened costs were policy under Schary regime, outlays modest so as to break even at least, if not earn profit (The Big Hangover barely did --- $31K). Biz was soft as the pic played off in duals or, in New York and Chicago, as support for popular bands on stage. Latter cut deep into rentals because half of gate often went to the headliners, theatres seeking flat terms on the screen show to simplify weekly accounting. The Big Hangover gave Metro's East Coast selling division a headache for what staff called an unmarketable title. Variety's 7-5-50 headline summed up the trouble: "More Swag In A Good Tag," trade-speak for more boxoffice where a public understood better what they'd be getting for admission paid. Merchandising chief William F. Rodgers put pox both on The Big Hangover and The Asphalt Jungle for offering no tip as to pic content, and unappealing besides. Rodgers knew folks were picky enough without having to translate obscure labels. The Big Hangover had a story that frankly took explaining beyond the customary, and preferred, single sentence that summed up most comedies. Metro's two-years later When In Rome would meet a same barrier, and lose customers as result. The Big Hangover is available from Warner Archive.

5 Comments:

Blogger Donald Benson said...

As a kid, saw a bit of this on TV (Johnson blotto at a formal dinner, people laughing, and Taylor getting mad) and thereafter conflated it with "The Big Sleep". By the time I saw all of "Big Sleep" in my teens I had it sorted out, but until then I'd read TV description and struggle to imagine how that scene fit in.

Recalling an old comedy bit where a bored viewer reads unpromising Late Show descriptions, all of which end in either "and tempers clash" or "Hilarity ensues".

3:32 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

I guess "The Big Hangover" was better than the more descriptive title "The Easy Drunk".

4:29 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

But look at that ad -- it says MOVIES ARE BETTER THAN EVER. Ergo, you must be wrong.

I kid! Actually, everything about this sounds terrible. But your hint regarding Leon Ames intrigues me. Perhaps the next time it runs on TMC, I'll DVR it for an evening when I'm home alone.

4:54 PM  
Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

Let's face it -- hardly anything about being drunk is funny in today's world of whole families being killed by someone so plastered he can't walk! The Wolf, man.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Donald: "Hilarity ensues" has always been my go-to catch-phrase for any event. By the way, has the word "ensues" ever been used in connection with any word other than "hilarity"? Kind of like "grassy knoll".

6:03 PM  

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