Laurel & Hardy in BRATS (1930) – Boys will be boys, even when they’re adults

brats

In the canon of Laurel & Hardy dual-role movies, Brats falls about midway between the highbrow hi-jinks of Our Relations and the nails-on-a-blackboard gratiness of Twice Two — nothing profound, but it goes down easy enough.

As generations of L&H biographers have pointed out, with Laurel and Hardy portraying “themselves” and their own children, Brats takes L&H’s child-like-ness and makes it a little too literal. But it does offer some interesting insight as to how the same qualities we find endearing in our children, we sometimes regard as “brattiness” in other people’s kids. Notice the shots where either Stan or Ollie acts as though he supports the other adult and then makes faces to his kid, behind that adult’s back. (Interesting, too, that in their day, Laurel & Hardy could still be considered “lovable” even when Ollie is yelling at kids and calling them “brats.” These days, that kind of behavior would probably get him a call from Child Services.)

Just as interesting as the sociological perspective are the simplistic special effects, which still satisfy in the era of Star Wars. Ollie Jr., on an outsized movie set, throws a block at Stan Jr., and it hits Ollie on the “regular” set. Buster Keaton couldn’t have done it more seamlessly.

And of course, there’s the usual fun characterization, which here demonstrates that, even as a parent, Stan just doesn’t get it. (His latest words of wisdom to Ollie are, “You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead”; and at one point, he threatens the kids that if they don’t behave, he’ll have to go to bed.)

This all makes you realize that Brats is the only movie depicting Stan and Ollie with natural offspring. Short of immaculate conception, how could it happen? One critic who saw the Disney cartoon A Goofy Movie, (1995), about Goofy and his adopted son Max, turned purple when he jumped to the mistaken conclusion that Goofy had had sex. One can only guess what heights of apoplexy this critic would reach about Brats.

MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS – Episode 34, “The Cycling Tour,” orig. broadcast on 7/12/1972

citizensarrest

The following is my contribution to the “Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon,” being held March 27 through 29 at the blog A Shroud of Thoughts. Click on the above banner, and read interesting insights into bloggers’ favorite single episodes of TV series!

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

“My name is Pither…as in ‘brotherhood’, but with P-I instead of BRO and no HOOD.”

PythonTitleCard

Broadcast for a total of 45 episodes — first on the BBC from 1969 to 1974, followed a year later by its American premiere on PBS — Monty Python’s Flying Circus changed the face of television comedy. Its sextet of writer-performers (Britons Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin; and American expatriate Terry Gilliam) delighted in offering sketches that had no punchline finale and often commented on each other. Generations of comedy fans have delighted in this TV surrealism.

However, as Humpty Dumpty proved, sometimes it’s just as meaningful to put something back together again as it is to break it. After 33 episodes of TV deconstruction, the “Flying Circus” actually went the traditional route for one episode. “The Cycling Tour,” a third-season outing from 1972, actually carries a linear storyline from start to finish.

However, even most Python fans are not likely to cite this as their favorite “Flying Circus” episode. Even though it has a “traditional” plotline, it careens all over the map even more than their Etch-a-Sketch-style episodes. It has references that will be lost on the average American viewer. (Previously, I was unaware of the Eurovision Song Contest, which plays a major role in many of this episode’s gags.) And one scene contains Chinese stereotypes that are as jaw-dropping as anything you’ll find in old Charlie Chan movies.

Perhaps it’s for all of these reasons that ‘The Cycling Tour” is my all-time favorite “Flying Circus” episode. It’s as though the Pythons are saying to their detractors, “You don’t like our unique comedy style? Right, then, we’ll do a sitcom-style plot and screw up that tradition for you!” For that reason, I find this episode as adventurous and wondrous as anything in the Python pantheon.

(Actually, the only reason that this is a more “traditional” “Circus” episode is that Michael Palin and Terry Jones, who are the main stars of this outing, had written this script for another venue, only to see it unused. The Pythons snapped it up to fill out an episode when they found themselves running short of material during their third season.)

CyclingTitleCard

The episode follows the adventures of Reg Pither (played by Palin, who seems to have gloriously channeled Stan Laurel for his character’s likable imbecility). Mr. Pither is on a bicycling tour of Cornwall, and every few yards (or so it seems), his bicycle overturns because, as he informs us in off-screen narration, “the pump got caught in my trouser leg.”

Mr. Pither recounts this mundane fact (and the contents of his lunch pack) to any number of people who couldn’t care less. He blathers on about it to a woman who tends to her gardening without ever acknowledging him; then to an equally disinterested restaurant cashier; and finally to an arguing couple whose relationship’s demise is aided by uncomprehending Mr. Pither.

Doctor

My favorite such encounter is when Mr. Pither goes to a doctor (Eric Idle) after one of his pump/trouser catastrophes. The doctor tries to uncover Mr. Pither’s malady, but he has none. Pither went to the doctor simply because he needed proper directions and didn’t want to trust “the possibly confused testimony of some passer-by.” Irritated, the doctor provides the necessary directions — in prescription form. The doctor scribbles some Latin on a piece of paper and says, “Here, take this to a chemist [pharmacist]!”

Gulliver

Eventually, Mr. Pither has one too many trouser-based accidents and winds up in the backseat of a car driven by Mr. Gulliver (Terry Jones). At last, Pither has found his equal in pedantry. It seems that Gulliver is an inventor making breakthroughs in self-protected lunch items. He has even perfected a tomato that ejects itself from an automobile just seconds before an accident occurs. Sure enough, a Gulliver-laced tomato pops out of the car, followed by crash sound-effects and a screen blackout.

When the scenario resumes, Pither is transporting Gulliver to a hospital via his bicycle. Gulliver lost his memory in the car crash and now thinks he is Clodagh Rogers, the then-recent winner of the Eurovision Song Contest for her pop smash “Jack in the Box.”

Hospital

The hospital scene is a slapstick delight involving Palin, Jones, and Chapman and Cleese as hospital personnel. One Python biographer reports that the scene actually bombed when performed live for the show, but Jones and “Circus” director Ian MacNaughton turned it into a comedy miracle via some judicious editing.

In any case, Gulliver gets booked in a nightclub to sing as Clodagh Rogers. But once he gets on stage, he suffers another lapse of memory and starts spouting Communist propaganda in the mistaken belief that he’s now Leon Trotsky.

Chinese

Pither checks Gulliver into a hotel for safety and goes to the British Embassy, not realizing that his bicycling has taken him all the way to Communist China. As previously mentioned, there follows the episode’s most unforgivable scene, with Chapman and Cleese cavorting as outrageous Chinese stereotypes that put even Jerry Lewis’ foreign mimicry to shame. (However, it is funny, in the Pythons’ usual non-sequitor way, that the embassy duo are singularly obsessed with bingo.)

When Pither returns to the hotel, he finds that Gulliver/Trotsky has headed for Moscow. The Russian secret police are tailing Pither, and they take Pither to Moscow “to be present as an honored guest when Trotsky is reunited with the Central Committee.” But they tell Pither — who is too dim to figure out the international mess he’s in — that they’re taking him to a clambake.

Trotsky

When Gulliver/Trotsky is “reunited” with his comrades at a huge meeting, he starts out by giving a pro-party speech, but the speech then turns into a seductive nightclub number complete with feather boa. Gulliver has suffered yet another memory bash; he now thinks he’s Eartha Kitt. The Russians arrest Pither for misleading them, but they decide to let Gulliver continue his number since “He’s going down well.”

Pither is then thrown into prison, and shortly thereafter, he finds himself in front of a firing squad. Again, Pither is completely oblivious to this ominous threat until the guns are actually aimed at him. Luckily, everyone in the firing squad misses their intended target. Pither is thrown back into prison while the firing squad practice their shooting skills.

There follows one of Python’s greatest-ever gags. I am a long-time opponent of the old “It was only a dream” cop-out; it was used in countless Chaplin and Keaton silent comedies, as well as many TV sitcoms to follow. Instead, in this extremely satisfying scene, Pither falls asleep in his cell and wakes up to find his mother serving him tea in their backyard. There follows this exchange:

mySuperLamePic_3490a30bc825e800516fd1458642b0bd

Sure enough, Pither is woken up so that the firing squad can have another go at executing him.

Meanwhile, Gulliver/Kitt has snagged yet another nightclub engagement. But as luck would have it, when he gets up to perform, he slogs his memory one more time and now becomes Edward Heath, the then-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (who was a frequent butt of Python jokes). When “Heath” starts spouting capitalist rhetoric, an Eartha Kitt fan in the audience smacks him with a turnip.

The turnip finally brings Gulliver to his senses, and he runs out of the nightclub and through town (while in a gown, high heels, and blackface) screaming for Pither, as the out-for-blood audience trails him. Gulliver hears Pither’s voice and climbs over a wall to get to him.

YesAndNo

“Pither!” an elated Gulliver cries. “What a stroke of luck!” “Well, yes and no,” dithers Pither, as he points to an oncoming firing squad armed with bayonets.

How are the duo going to get out of this one? We’ll never know. A “Caption – Scene Missing” title flashes on the screen, followed by Pither and Gulliver on the outskirts of town, recounting their luck at their “amazing escape.” The duo say goodbye and go their separate ways, as the title “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” finally graces the screen. (The episode had no opening title sequence, probably to try to confuse viewers into thinking they’d switched on the wrong TV show.)

Oh, did I mention Terry Gilliam’s animation? Two strange-looking monsters named Maurice and Kevin rear their ugly heads every so often during the episode, before coming on after the credits to provide a rousing final laugh.

Gilliam

Despite its being a traditionally-based episode, I find “The Cycling Tour” as endearing as any episode of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” It has every element that made the series a comedy stand-out: Completely insane actions performed by nonchalant people who act like it’s just another day at the office; hysterical verbal wordplay and sight gags; Gilliam’s wacko animation; and definitely a smattering of bad taste. I might not recommend it as an introduction to the Python style, but the episode wouldn’t have been out of place at the end of the team’s movie debut, the sketch-laden And Now for Something Completely Different. Kudos all around!

The real Clodagh Rogers. Click on her photo to hear her award-winning song.

The real Clodagh Rogers. Click on her photo to hear her award-winning song.

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in MY ARTISTICAL TEMPERATURE (1937) – But is it art?

download

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The cartoon opens outside the Sweet Art Studio. (Speaking of “artistical,” you gotta love that subway shadow at the fade-in. Some of these unheralded Fleischer moments put even Walt Disney to shame.) The studio’s come-on signs read: “Portraits Painted – If It Looks Like You, $10; If It Doesn’t, $15,” and “Sculpturing Done Without Chiseling.” Ten points for guessing which he-man does the painting and which one does the sculpturing.

Popeye is sculpturing a woman holding a vase upward, but the arms keep slipping, so Popeye rips the arms off and turns her into a Venus DeMilo. But jealous painter Bluto lobs some black paint at her and turns her into Al Jolson.

Customer Olive Oyl enters and says she’ll sit for a portrait and a sculpture and then pay for whichever looks the best. (Nice. She ought to just come right out Wimpy-style and say, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a work of art today.”)

Popeye sculpts a brilliant likeness of Olive, except that the likeness comes out standing on her hands, so Popeye makes Olive do the same. Olive is surprisingly agreeable to this, but of course Bluto isn’t, so they beat each other up by way of tearing apart their studio. (Do they do this with every customer?)

The ensuing violence is actually quite funny, as The Boys’ fighting inadvertently “turn” each other into famous works of art. As The Three Stooges taught us, trying to teach culture to those who aren’t prepared for it can often be a dangerous thing.

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

THEY’RE PLAYING WITH FIRE (1984) – Sybil Danning’s bod; everything else, bad

Poster

I have what I call “The Adrienne Barbeau Theorem,” which is as follows: Big breasts, in and of themselves, are not enough reason to watch a terrible movie. Ironically, there are two movies that strongly test my theorem, and one of them is Adrienne Barbeau’s Swamp Thing (which see my review at this blog). The other is an abysmal ’80s slasher flick titled They’re Playing with Fire.

SybilEnglish

Sybil Danning plays an English professor (so much for realism) who seduces one of her young students (Eric Brown) in order to make him a patsy in a murder plot in which she’s involved.

SybilBoy

Despite its familiar ring, this plotline is several generations (not to mention quality points) removed from Double Indemnity and its ilk. In fact, the movie’s slasher motif is so sordid, even for this genre, that it’s painful to watch. The movie would be deservedly forgotten, were it not for Danning’s astounding sex scenes.

SybilNude

These scenes, particularly the first one, are as jaw-dropping as anything you’re likely to see in a mainstream, R-rated movie. While not as anatomically graphic as your average porn video, Danning in the altogether amply displays enough, er, enthusiasm to get her point across. In fact, she’s so enthusiastic, you lose any sympathy for the kid she’s seducing. Here’s this gorgeous, buxom blonde twisting the night away on top of him, and he can’t think of anything better to do than *make conversation* with her! Obviously, the kid needs an education in more than English.

AlvyMoore

Other than the all-too-brief scenes in which Danning demonstrates why a date with her would fetch a small fortune on an auction block, the movie’s only element of interest is in seeing Alvy Moore (shown above, left). Moore, best known as bumbling Hooterville county agent Hank Kimball on TV’s “Green Acres,” here hits a career low as a gas-station manager who’s dumb enough to hire and re-hire the kid as an attendant even after he’s dumped the job on the promise of some loot from Danning’s English professor. The only thing that could have made this movie more bad-memorable would be to pair Danning with fluttery Hank Kimball: “Welcome to Hootersville, I mean Hooterville! Sorry, I was blinded by your headlights, I mean my car headlights. The car is strangely stacked, I mean built, I mean…”

Here’s a short trailer for the movie (minus, of course, Sybil Danning’s cinema-verite sex workout):

Charlie Chaplin in IN THE PARK (1915) – Park and recreation

InThePark

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Chaplin once famously said, “All I need to make a comedy are a park bench, a cop, and a pretty girl.” Perversely, in In the Park, to that formula Chaplin adds the pretty girl’s boyfriend (Bud Jamison, beau to Edna Purviance), a pickpocket (Billy Armstrong), and a passionate couple (Leo White and Leona Anderson).

And the movie proves that adding more characters to the formula doesn’t add more fun, it just causes a traffic jam. This looks like Chaplin’s revisiting of Mack Sennett’s “park” comedies, but at any given time, there are so many people populating the screen, it’s hard to tell what Chaplin was getting at. Even Charlie can’t make up his mind what he wants to be: one moment he’s a hero (he saves a sausage vendor from getting robbed), the next he’s a villain (he steals the sausages himself).

(The best gag comes at the beginning: A pickpocket absent-mindedly gropes Charlie in an attempt to steal from him, so Charlie figures that turnabout is fair play and gropes the pickpocket.)

Already, Chaplin’s expansion upon simple themes in his previous Essanay comedies proved that he had more on his mind that revisiting old formulas. Even at only ten minutes, In the Park seems too lengthy.

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy in THE HOUSE BUILDER UPPER (1938) – A flipped house, indeed

download

Volunteer firefighters Popeye and Wimpy arrive just in time to see the charred remains of Olive Oyl’s house, which burned down after she used “only a gallon of gasoline” to clean her dress. Gotta hand it to those Fleischers — they really work to keep our attention.

Popeye vows that since he missed the “housewarming,” he and Wimpy will help Olive re-build, giving new meaning to the phrase “flip this house.” (Example: When Wimpy is carrying a load of wood that is too wide to fit through the door, rather than entering the door sideways, he finds it easier to saw off the offending parts of the wall.)

Lots of spot gags about house-building lead to the eventual collapse of the new house. Popeye downs the spinach and re-re-builds the house in less time than the opening credits took, but still it collapses again. Guess that spinach needs to be recalled!

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