Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy in CHOOSE YER ‘WEPPINS’ (1935) – A duel to the debt

FINAL

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The cartoon begins with Wimpy as a police officer (oh, the social commentary inherent here!), leading a dandified thief in handcuffs. Wimpy stops to observe a local hamburger stand, leaving the thief sufficient time to break free.

The thief happens upon Popeye’s Pawn Shoppe, where he observes Popeye beating up an inanimate suit of armor and decides he can make a killing here. Sure enough, he enters the pawnshop, picks up a box of silverware laid out in the shop, and tries to sell it back to clerk Olive Oyl — who was distracted from the theft by her own game of mumblety-peg with a nearby knife (at one point bouncing the knife off her fanny). The thief almost makes the sale, too, except he asks too much money for this obviously discerning clerk to pay him. (She determines the knives’ value by playing another round of mumblety-peg with one of them.)

Popeye intervenes and demonstrates the low value of the knives by using one of them to slice a hair; the blade promptly falls into two pieces. (So then why did Popeye’s store have the knives to start with?)

The brute engages Popeye in a sword fight, at which Popeye is at a notable disadvantage; Popeye’s sword phallically droops during the fight, and at one point the suit of armor hits him back in revenge for getting beaten up earlier. From behind the counter, Olive helpfully pulls out an already-opened can of spinach (what’s the pawn value for that these days?), and Popeye’s strength (not to mention the bulge on his sword) is reinforced.

The series’ motif of playing “Stars and Stripes Forever” during Popeye’s climactic battle gets one of its more clever variations here, as Popeye slowly denudes the thief in time to the cartoon’s playful version of the march. The thief gets knocked back into the handcuffs of Wimpy, who’s still drooling over hamburgers and hadn’t even realized his charge had escaped.

Lesson: Popeye is a hero and a worthy adversary, but don’t let him get within a hundred yards of a pawnshop.

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

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HOG WILD (1930) – Laurel & Hardy’s efforts to get Japan

hogwild

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

How many sitcoms have you seen over the years where a couple of fellows tried to garner laughs by taking risks on a house rooftop? Hog Wild is the template for all of them and remains the funniest by far.

The story’s prologue meanders somewhat with a bit about Ollie not being able to find his hat (it’s already on his head). Once that silliness is over, though, we get to the good stuff.

Mrs. Hardy (Fay Holderness) relentlessly nags Ollie to install the radio antenna he has been promising for weeks, so that she can “get Japan.” (75 years later, my son was watching the movie for the first time and commented, “Why doesn’t she call Comcast?” Such is the nonchalance of the Age of Information.)

Stan happens by and asks if Ollie would mind if he tried to help him, resulting in one of Ollie’s all-time-great responses, knowing what is to come: “I don’t mind…that is, if you’ll help me.” (L&H movies are often cited for their pedestrian dialogue, but here it’s either funny or purposeful. A little later, Stan asks if Ollie has all of his supplies, and Ollie’s throwaway reply is, “Everything. We don’t have to go down for a thing.” If that isn’t one of comedy’s most foretelling lines of dialogue, I don’t know what is.)

From there, it’s L&H at their most typical (which is to say, roaringly funniest): falling into ponds, getting buckets of water tossed at them by stagehands, and waiting for final bricks to fall on Ollie’s head. The whole shebang is capped by perhaps their wildest and most miraculous chase scene ever. (Like Buster Keaton’s chases, nearly the entire thing is shown in full-shot — no “cheating” cuts from Ollie atop a ladder to Stan holding onto the bottom part of the ladder. How they managed this through the winding streets of Los Angeles, God only knows.)

One L&H biography tells us how shocked Babe Hardy’s wife Lucille was when he first showed her the countless bruises his body endured in the name of comedy. For this, we owe Oliver Hardy an eternal debt. Who wouldn’t prefer Hog Wild to one of L&H’s later Twentieth Century-Fox talkfests?

Delving “Into the Darkness” with #TCM #NoirSummer

Turner Classic Movies is offering a free online film-noir course starting on Monday. Again, that’s FREE!

Once upon a screen...

It’s a bitter little world and I want all in!

Double-dealing dames, amoral cops, cynical, hard-hearted heroes all set against dark and dreary backdrops.  That is the world of film noir and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is offering us a chance to lurk in its shadows.

In conjunction with the “Summer of Darkness” festival during which TCM will air a total of fifty-three film noir classics as part of its Friday Night Spotlight series throughout June and July, the network has partnered with Indiana’s Ball State University and Canvas Network, an open online educational platform to offer a nine-week, free, online Film Noir course set to begin on June 1st.

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The “Summer of Darkness” series was first introduced by TCM in 1999 and as one of film’s most popular and entertaining genres, the scheduled film noir line-up this year will not disappoint.  The series will be hosted by “The Czar…

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Jane Russell Friday # 32

Happy Jane Russell Friday! From her own autobiography, here is the ultimate Jane Russell photo.

It shows Janie sporting a bikini that producer Howard Hughes wanted her to wear for his movie musical The French Line (1955). Let Jane tell the story:

“At the time, bikinis were only worn by a few naughty girls in the south of France; no one in America had ever worn them. [When I modeled it,] I stood before my horrified camera crew, feeling very naked.”

This reads like the account of a very embarrassed woman. Now look at the photo. Does that look like a very embarrassed woman to you?

JaneRussellBikiniFinal

Charlie Chaplin in POLICE (1916) – No helpful cops here

Police

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

If Chaplin needed an “excuse” for his Essanay period, Police is surely it. Here is where he gets all of his themes, ideas, and characters into one unified mass.

The movie begins with Charlie being released from prison. A nearby parson hones in on him, begging him, “Let me help you go straight.” The parson soon has Charlie reduced to tears, to the point that he keeps himself from nabbing a nearby drunk’s pocketwatch. Later, Charlie comes back to discover that the same parson has nabbed the pocketwatch for himself. When another parson wants to help Charlie “go straight,” Charlie’s high-kicking suddenly has a point to it – and it hastens the plot of the movie.

Charlie chases away the well-meaning parson and is soon enough mugged himself – except that the mugger recognizes Charlie from prison and hoists him into another heist, that of a well-off dowager (Edna Purviance). Edna soon enough notices the burglars and tries to phone the cops about them – but, far, from being Keystone Kops, they’re quite leisurely in their pursuit, sipping tea and talking over the day’s events before settling upon their latest call.

Edna is far from a cowering female, though. When Charlie’s partner wants to go upstairs, Edna asks him not to, as her ailing mother is up there and the shock would kill her. When he refuses to acquiesce, Charlie keeps him from getting upstairs, and soon enough, he turns tail and runs. When the police finally arrive and try to grab Charlie, Edna says he’s her husband, whereupon Charlie assumes all the bonhomie you could ask for, politely talking to the cops and inching them out the door. Edna, too, wants to “help him go straight,” but he’s heard that one too many times. So he saunters out to freedom, only to have one more cop on his tail.

Police is a wonderful ending to Chaplin’s Essanay period, and a sign of greater things to come. It was obvious by this point that Keystone-type two-reelers wouldn’t contain what he had to say, about his character and that character’s reflection on the society that made him.

THE CHIMP (1932) – Laurel & Hardy monkey around

chimp

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The Chimp is essentially Angora Love or Laughing Gravy with a monkey. It starts out interestingly, with Stan and Ollie as performers for an underwhelming traveling circus. In their usual well-meaning way, they manage to destroy what’s left of the enterprise, forcing the owner to declare bankruptcy and divide the circus’s acts among the unpaid performers. Stan gets the flea circus; Ollie gets Ethel the gorilla (Charles Gamora).

The rest of the movie involves them trying to sneak the gorilla past their hotel room’s manager (Billy Gilbert). They also try to avoid the circus’s wayward lion, who unconvincingly chases them during their escapades. (Stan and Ollie run down a path, then the movie conspicuously intercuts a shot of the lion roaming the same path. Not exactly enough to strike fear into moviegoers’ hearts.)

The funniest moments involve H.M. Walker’s intertitles (“The night was dark — they usually are”) and a lion-chase moment where Stan tells Ollie, “I just saw M-G-M!” The rest is pretty mechanical stuff, especially when the manager hears L&H talking to Ethel the chimp and thinks they’re having amenage-a-trois with Ethel his wife. Something about the incongruity of great movie comics with guys in chimp costumes (remember The Marx Bros.’ At the Circus?) practically screams out desperation.

Laurel & Hardy in COUNTY HOSPITAL (1932) – Half of a great comedy

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The first part of County Hospital is prime Laurel & Hardy. Ollie has a broken leg and is laid up in the hospital — happily laid up, as he tells his doctor (Billy Gilbert) that it’s the first decent rest he’s had in ages. That, of course, is before Stan arrives to visit Ollie, after which Stan has knocked Ollie’s doctor out of the top-floor window and nearly killed him, and completely destroyed Ollie’s hospital bed after first hanging him above it like the sword of Damocles. Exasperated beyond measure, the doctor orders Ollie out of the hospital.

The dialogue and by-play between L&H (Stan brought Ollie some nuts, knowing that Ollie can’t eat them, because candy was too expensive), and the thrill sequence with Dr. Gilbert dangling from the window, is truly wonderful stuff. But the comedy takes a distinct downturn when Stan accidentally sits on a needle filled with anesthetic. After the nurse removes the needle, she casually informs her boss that Stan will sleep for a month. (And she lets Stan leave the hospital on that basis. Nowadays, that would be plot enough for an episode of some TV legal drama.)

Ollie, unaware of Stan’s condition, tells Stan to drive him home. This could have made for some great thrill comedy, if it had been done properly. Unfortunately, what it does is show Stan and Ollie in a prop car in front of some very obvious back-projection of a busy city street. Ollie does his best to react to the footage as though he’s really in danger, but all it does is remind us of the lesser educational films we once saw in driver’s-ed class. (At one point, the prop car spins in a complete circle while the street footage stays in the same perspective!) Also, the music in this scene is lifted from L&H’s later (1936) film Our Relations, so apparently this score was tacked-on for a County Hospital re-release. One can only imagine how much drearier this sad footage already was without the music.

Eventually, of course, the car crashes (off-screen), and an irate cop tells Stan to get the car off the road. But the car is now bent at a right angle, so that when Stan tries to drive away, he follows himself around in a circle — much like a movie that begins promisingly and then ends up chasing its own tail.