Laurel & Hardy in ONE GOOD TURN (1931) – The worm turns

onegoodturn

According to L&H biographer Randy Skretvedt, One Good Turn came about because Stan’s real-life daughter Lois was afraid of “Uncle Ollie,” so Stan did this movie to show that his on-screen persona could stand up to Ollie whenever necessary. While there is some satisfaction in seeing the oft-bullying Ollie get his for a change, it leaves the movie rather open-ended.

(Major spoiler alert follows.) The story is that “victims of the Depression” Stan and Ollie have begged a meal from an old lady (Mary Carr) whom they mistakenly believe needs $100 to keep from being evicted. (They didn’t know that she was rehearsing for a community-theater play.) After a drunk (an uncredited Billy Gilbert) mistakenly shoves his loaded wallet into Stan’s pocket, Ollie discovers the wallet and assumes the worst about his pal, dragging him kicking and screaming back to the old lady to “make a full confession.” When Ollie learns the truth, he tries to tie-twiddle his way out of his “slight faux pas,” only to feel the full wrath of Stan’s vengeance.

The concept is cute, but the execution is troubling. Earlier at the free lunch provided by the lady, Stan absent-mindedly pours coffee into Ollie’s lap. To get back at Stan, he grabs an entire pitcher of coffee cream and pours it onto Stan’s lap. The laugh from this gag is diminished when one realizes they’re having a food fight at the expense of a generous woman.

Similarly, at the film’s climax, Stan corners Ollie in a garage (presumably also the old lady’s) and venomously chops it down so that the roof will fall on Ollie. Again, one can’t entirely enjoy Stan’s revenge while knowing that this poor lady might indeed need the $100 to clean up the destruction caused by Stan.

One Good Turn has some funny gags – especially at the beginning, when Stan inadvertently destroys the tent they were using to live in. But in that instance, the only persons they were harming were themselves. L&H biographer Scott MacGillivray wrote that when Stan and Ollie ripped up their wartime ration cards (in a scene in Jitterbugs), audiences groaned at the loss of what was then a sizable commodity. One wonders what Depression audiences must have thought of Stan and Ollie wreaking havoc on an innocent old woman.

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Charlie Chaplin in GENTLEMEN OF NERVE (1914) – A race to the finish

Nerve

Mack Swain and Charlie attempt to sneak into an auto race via an opening in a fence. The movie’s funniest bit is an extended routine wherein Mack gets stuck halfway through the opening. Once he’s seen and conspicuous, he continually motions to Charlie to leave him alone so that he can get back out. But Charlie misinterprets the motions as Mack’s asking for help, so he tries to push Mack further through the fence.

Chaplin has some other good gags here, though they’re rendered somewhat impotent by some of his most anti-social on-screen behavior to date. (At one point, Charlie is arguing with Chester Conklin and punctuates his side of the debate by biting Chester’s nose; later, Charlie’s burns Mack’s proboscis with a lit cigarette.)

Charlie gets to stay and watch the race with Mabel Normand, while the other guys get hauled off by a cop. In the Keystone way of looking at things, I guess that counts as a triumph.

Requesting donations for a hairy situation

As a rule, I use this blog strictly to promote my movie-related writing, and not for personal gain. Just this once (I promise), I ask for your indulgence for my breaking this rule.

My co-workers and I are dressing up as fairy-tale characters for Halloween. In honor of one of my favorite Popeye cartoons, I am dressing up as Sindbad the Sailor. For the sake of verisimilitude, a few weeks ago, I started growing a beard to look more like Sindbad.

Yeah, I know..."My eyes, my eyes!"

Yeah, I know…”My eyes, my eyes!”

I am not one of those guys who looks more distinguished by sporting a beard, and I’m not fond of the sensation of wearing a Brillo pad on my chin. So I was planning to chop it off as soon as Halloween was done.

Then my son told me about No-Shave November and how many of his friends will grow huge beards next month in order to benefit the American Cancer Society. So I figured, as long as I’m already toting this dead weight around, I might as well stick it out another month to benefit a charity.

There’s also a personal connection. The “event” asks if you would like to dedicate your tonsorial growth to a particular person. In my case, I am dedicating my contribution to my mother, Gertrude, who died of ovarian cancer when I was four years old. I don’t mention this very often because it sounds as though I’m plucking at people’s heartstrings (which of course I am), but in this case, I’d say it’s worth it.

R.I.P., Mom.

R.I.P., Mom.

Anyway, if you would like to donate, simply go to:

http://bit.ly/1xCp4wG

This will take you to a page where the American Cancer Society gives you instructions for donating online. They ask for a minimum donation of $5. The page also allows you to quickly find out whether your place of employment offers a matching donation, in which case you can use that to contribute even more.

I hope you will donate to this truly worthy cause…because I ain’t wearing this faux steel wool on my face for nothing.

#LetItGrow

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in THE SPINACH ROADSTER (1936) – You auto watch this cartoon

PopeyePopeye drives into view singing about his new car, which looks as though it was bought used from Laurel & Hardy. (His idea of braking is to drop an attached anchor behind the car. Does the dealership charge extra for that anchor?)

Bluto, naturally, pulls up in a mile-long convertible, but for once Olive Oyl isn’t bowled over. When she opts to ride with Popeye, Bluto does everything he can think of to sabotage Popeye’s trip, including setting up a fake detour to send Popeye and Olive up a precarious mountainside. (Hmm, is this where Wile E. Coyote got his plans a decade later?)

This cartoon is a real wowser, full of “thrill” gags and even more snappily paced than usual. It hums along like Bluto’s snazzy roadster.

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon: CanCanCanCanHalf

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in THE TWO-ALARM FIRE (1934) – A cartoon that doesn’t quite spark

Popeye

Popeye and Bluto are firemen at adjoining firehouses. Olive Oyl’s house catches on fire. There’s only one way this can go, and it won’t be pretty.

It could just be me, but I have a visceral reaction to fire in cartoons. It’s one thing when the antics of the main characters are hurting only those characters. But when there’s a dangerous situation at hand and the supposed heroes are acting like idiots, you want to yell at the screen, “Get over yourselves and do something to help!” Popeye and Bluto can have their whizzing contest any old time, but not when they have a life they’re supposed to be saving.

(Walt Disney’s 1935 Mickey Mouse cartoon Mickey’s Fire Brigade has exactly the same scenario — it might well have been inspired by this Popeye cartoon — and it certainly has the same defects as its predecessor.)

And the non-Popeye gags are pretty pedestrian, as when the fire does “human” things (such as knocking Olive in the rear end and then shaking hands with itself on a job well-done). By cartoon’s end, Olive’s house is totaled, as have been our expectations.

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon: CanCanCanHalf

Charlie Chaplin in DOUGH AND DYNAMITE (1914) – Not exactly an explosion of comedy

Dough(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The main plot of Dough and Dynamite has waiters Chester Conklin and Charlie having to become bakers when the bakers at the restaurant where they work go on strike for better working conditions. Annoyed that the “scabs” have taken their jobs, one of the bakers hides a stick of dynamite in a loaf of bread and connives to get it put back into the restaurant’s oven, causing predictable havoc for the movie’s climax.

But that plot is mostly an excuse for Charlie to shove everyone around, act belligerent and incompetent simultaneously, and sling a lot of dough at people primarily because it’s so available. (That old reliable, the arse-kick, makes several appearances here as well.) And that’s not much of an excuse for extending this two-reeler to nearly an entire half-hour’s length. For the heavy-handed slapstick, my guess is that the blame goes to credited “co-writer” Mack Sennett.

Nothing is done with the explosion comedically, other than a final, gooey close-up of Charlie emerging from the doughy mess. Ironically, this was among many Chaplin shorts to be shown at the New York Historical Society in September of 2001. Needless to say, the real-life terrorist attack dampened the humor of the slapstick model, and the movie was pulled prior to screening.

Jane Russell Friday # 3

A lot of my favorite show-biz related blogs have quirky habits. TV writer Ken Levine posts and answers questions from his fans. When he’s too busy to blog, Mark Evanier posts an image of a Campbell’s Soup can to let his readers know that he’s otherwise occupied.

When I get home on Friday, I’m happy it’s the weekend. The best way I could convey this is with a weekly photo of me drinking a bottle of wine, but nobody wants to look at that. But Jane Russell? That, people want to look at (including me).

I’ve already done two such JR/Friday posts, so I’ve decided to make it my tradition. Sometimes I’ll post a video of her, sometimes just a photo. (I “run” a Facebook page titled “Jane Russell’s Bod,” so I’m forewarning my FB readers that I will probably freely crib from that.)

I have been gaga over Ms. Russell ever since the ripe old age of 15 when, in 1976, I happened onto a photo of her in a coffee-table movie book. The photo was of Janie stuffed into a barely-contained one-piece bathing suit, from The French Line. I’ve been pie-eyed over her ever since. Someone will say I’m living way in the past, but IMHO, an ounce of Jane Russell is worth a ton of Kim Kardashian.

Anyway, here’s my JR tribute for today: her riotous number “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?”, from the so-adorable-you-could-pinch-it musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Trivia (or is it urban legend?): Jane’s very wet finale wasn’t scripted for the movie, but it worked out so well that it was kept in. (And notice how those muscle-bound men don’t, er, quite have it in them to reciprocate Jane’s obvious lust for them…)