If you’ve never seen this movie (or if you have always loved it), here’s your chance to see it on the big screen!
Join this fun movie blogathon! I did!
Breathes there a classic movie lover who has never burst forth with those immortal words…
“I LOVE THIS PART!!”
Well, here’s your chance to sing it loud and proud!
Sister Celluloid presents the “…And Scene!” Blogathon—your chance to go into excruciating detail about your favorite classic film scene (or one of them, anyway—I’d never be so cruel as to ask you to narrow it down any further). The one you replay over and over, so the DVD ( or VHS tape—c’mon, you know you still have them!) has a little groove in it. The one you catch yourself mouthing the words to. The one where your loved ones tiptoe out of the room because they know you’re going to get all weepy or crazy or giddy again. Yeah. That one. Share it here, with your movie people… we know just how you feel!
And just think of it—you don’t even…
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I liked Steve Martin when Steve Martin wasn’t cool (in the movies, at least). After his surprising box-office success in The Jerk (1979), Martin went the Woody Allen route and lost his way with his audience for a while — including Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, a film noir spoof that earned middling box-office. I found it one of the funniest comedies of its year.
Martin (who co-wrote with director Carl Reiner) plays Rigby Reardon, a 1940’s gumshoe in the Bogart style. (In fact, via interspliced film footage, Martin constantly chastizes Bogart about his downtrodden appearance.) Reardon helps a gorgeous femme fatale (Rachel Ward at her most voluptuous) to solve the mystery of her scientist father’s disappearance.
This is mostly an excuse to throw Martin together in (seemingly, and seamlessly) the same scene with old film clips of Bogart, Cary Grant, and other noir stars. The gimmick isn’t always hilarious, but at the very least it’s fun to watch. But Martin manages to be quite hilarious on his own — doing a schizoid ballet on skinned knees, or nonchalantly “adjusting” (i.e. groping) Ward’s ample breasts. The later Reiner/Martin collaboration All of Me (1984) proved to the world what a flawless physical comedian Martin could be, but there’s ample display of his talent here.
Reiner and veteran composer Miklos Rosza (Double Indemnity) also deserve credit for evoking noir moods about as lovingly as you could ask for. The movie is filled with shadowy corners and appropriately slithery music. (Check out the scene where Rosza duplicates Martin’s expression of the phrase “cleaning woman.”) Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid — the title is explained within the movie, by the way, but it doesn’t help — is an overlooked but delightful entry in the Martin canon.
Swiss Miss is no Way Out West; in fact, it’s two minutes longer than that feature and has far more peripheral material. If anything, it’s like those late-period Marx Brothers movies where the nutty comics intrude upon the supposedly interesting starring lovers, though it’s a notch or two better than that.
(One actor that both comic teams’ movies have in common is Walter Woolf King, who played a stuffy opera singer in the Marxes’ A Night in the Opera and here plays a stuffy opera composer. Indeed, if a classic-comedy connoisseur didn’t know better, he/she could imagine that Woolf’s opening scene in Swiss Miss depicts the Night opera star being exiled to Switzerland after getting his just desserts from the Marx Brothers.)
Producer Hal Roach advertised this movie as his “Big Lavish Musical Superfeature,” and he sure did his darndest to make the movie live up to its billing. We have to endure a ten-minute musical tribute to Swiss yodeling before we’re allowed even a glimpse of Stan and Ollie. The plot we’re supposed to care about concerns the composer, who has escaped to Switzerland to write his latest masterpiece away from the shadow of his diva singer-wife (Della Lind). Naturally, the plot we end up caring about is Stan and Ollie failing as mousetrap salesmen in the world’s biggest cheese-producing country, and being forced to work for a tyrannical hotel chef.
Unlike the charming musical numbers in Way Out West, the numbers here are mainly to be endured. (Even in the 1930’s, were there a lot of moviegoers who came out of the theater humming “The Cricket Song”?)
Luckily, the L&H sequences — such as Stan trying to snatch a keg of brandy from an assertive rescue-dog (shown below), and the famed scene of Stan and Ollie trying to move a piano across a rickety bridge (shades of The Music Box) — are worth waiting for. There’s even a mild attempt to integrate L&H into the silly romantic story, as the diva works her wiles on Ollie to make her husband jealous. (Naturally, the situation gets resolved — not so much to satisfy the grand love affair as to give the movie a quick wrap-up.)
You could almost make a drinking game out of watching Swiss Miss by enjoying the comedy scenes and then taking a swig when King and/or the Swiss residents start singing. I’ll bring the brandy.
(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)
The premise of this film is that Laurel & Hardy hide a lot from their wives, and their wives know all the secrets. Again, not one of their more feminist-oriented movies.
Stan thinks he is able to stash a few bucks out of his paycheck and hide it in a supposed “family photo,” but of course his wife knows all and replaces the money with cigar coupons. Stan and Ollie go out to wine and dine on the supposed stash and are hoisted by their own petard. (A similar premise, of course, later propelled their talkie Blotto.)
As this sort of thing was repeated in countless sitcoms generations hence, some of the nicest moments come from Stan and Ollie’s reactions when they realize they’re in over their head. After that comes a slapstick finale that has practically nothing to do with what went before it. Stan and Ollie’s wives have come to catch them in a lie, and Stan and Ollie’s erstwhile dates await them with a shotgun and a knife. And what happens at the end? Stan and Ollie throw pies and soup at each other when Ollie tries to accuse Stan of dragging him “into this den of vice.” So what? If all I had to endure to get out of sure death was a pie in the face, I’d take it in an instant, too.