STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989) – A film filled with fascinating females

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The following is my entry for the Girl Week 2016 blogathon, being hosted by Dell on Movies from Nov. 21-27, 2016. Click on the above banner, and read Dell’s and other bloggers’ takes on interesting female leads in movies!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

So many movies are content to show killings, or even destructions of entire civilizations, with nary a shrug. One of the many virtues of Steel Magnolias is that it takes the time to show the importance of a single person in one’s life, and what a hole that person leaves when she dies.

That person is Shelby (Oscar-nominated Julia Roberts), who is based on the sister of playwright-turned-screenwriter Robert Harling. Like Shelby, Harling’s sister Susan suffered and eventually died from Type 1 diabetes, and he wrote this play-turned-movie as a way of dealing with his sister’s death.

The movie centers around soon-to-be newlywed Shelby and her female friends around town, all of whom frequently gather at the local salon for beauty treatments and (let’s face it) gossip. Truvy (Dolly Parton) runs the salon and hires milquetoast Annelle (Daryl Hannah) to work for her.

(Annelle’s characterization — at least the latter part of it — is about the only problem I have with this movie. Annelle begins as a very conservative Christian, owly eyeglasses and all. Then later in the movie, she loosens up considerably and transforms into — again, let’s face it — beautiful Daryl Hannah. But then after feeling guilty about acting so worldly, Annelle goes back to the conservative look and the owly eyeglasses again. I’m no woman, but I have to think that, once you’ve had the opportunity to turn into Daryl Hannah, you’d never want to look back.)

The salon’s customers include wisecracking Clairee (Olympia Dukakis), widow of the town’s late mayor and owner of the local radio station; and Clairee’s Frankensteinian friend Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine), who freely admits she has not been in a good mood for several decades. About the only local woman with whom Shelby does not always get along is her contentious mother M’Lynn (Sally Field), who does not approve of Shelby’s wanting to have a baby due to Shelby’s fragile physical state.

There are a few men in the story (you gotta love M’Lynn’s happily wacko husband Drum [Tom Skerritt]), but the movie’s centerpiece is the relationship between the women. The plot doesn’t advance far from its initial starting point, but the women are so fascinating that it doesn’t matter much.  Sometimes movies, especially play adaptations, can easily turn into to snoozy talkfests. But here, the dialogue truly enhances the characterizations, and the acting as well — there’s not a bad performance in the entire ensemble. These are well-defined, strong women whom you can easily imagine having lives of their own after the movie has ended.

Be prepared to laugh and (most definitely) cry at Steel Magnolias. And brace yourself for one of the most hilarious closing shots in any movie ever — in a scene that had to have been added for the movie, because it could never have been performed on a stage.

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Laurel & Hardy: The eternal friendship of Stan and Ollie

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The following is my contribution to the You Gotta Have Friends Blogathon, being hosted Nov. 18-20, 2016 by Debra at the blog Moon in Gemini. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to some of cinema’s most memorable friendships!

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Usually, anyone who writes about Laurel & Hardy dwells on their comedy highlights (and justifiably so). But in this instance, I’d like to discuss some of their more thoughtful moments and show why, as L&H biographer Randy Skretvedt once said, they have more “depth” than most comedy teams.

It’s not for nothing that, within their fan base, Laurel & Hardy are just as likely to inspire a tear as a laugh. The most commonly cited instance is the famous softshoe dance from Way Out West (1937; embedded below), in which the deep bond of Stan and Ollie is just as obvious as their superb comic timing.

But there are plenty of other instances — not as funny, maybe, but just as touching — that illuminate Stan and Ollie’s friendship. I’d like to cite just four of them. (SPOILER ALERTS)

At the climax of their short subject Below Zero (1930), Stan and Ollie have just been, literally, knocked out and thrown out of the back of a greasy-spoon cafe for not paying their dinner tab. (They thought they had sufficient funds to pay for it, but you know, it’s Stan and Ollie.) When Ollie regains consciousness, he doesn’t see Stan anywhere, and he yells for Stan several times — first in a normal tone of voice, then with fear that his friend is missing or has been physically harmed. All of this is conveyed simply by Ollie calling Stan’s name four times, followed by Ollie grabbing a large piece of wood and rushing to the cafe’s back door to bang on it.

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This is also a tribute to Oliver Hardy’s often-underrated acting. (And of course, Stan turns out to be all right — I’ll let you discover the movie’s silly ending for yourself.)

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In L&H’s first feature film Pardon Us (1931), The Boys have been sentenced to prison for trying to sell bootleg liquor (to a cop, as it happens). Stan has a troublesome lisp that makes the end of his every sentence sound as though he’s blowing a raspberry. It’s determined that Stan needs to go the prison dentist to get a loose tooth pulled. Stan has grave misgivings about this idea, especially after seeing a couple of patients in the dentist’s waiting room who are vocalizing their agony. Suddenly, Ollie sneaks in, takes a seat next to Stan, and declares that he’ll stay with Stan all through the dental visit. It’s a tiny moment that’s not dwelled upon, but Stan’s delight at seeing a cheerful, familiar face in a hostile environment speaks volumes.

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In Busy Bodies (1933), Stan and Ollie are having a back-and-forth physical row with an antagonistic co-worker (Charlie Hall). At one point, Stan hits Ollie by mistake. Charlie laughs and starts to make friends with Stan, telling Stan he has “a kind face.” Stan starts to get chummy with his new buddy and offers him a cigar. Ollie’s look to the camera — a device that always conveys Ollie’s exasperation to the audience — has an undertone of pity in this instance, as Ollie fears that Stan has turned on him. (Not to worry. Stan gets Charlie ejected from work — theirs is a “No Smoking” place of business.)

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The most profound instance of Stan and Ollie’s loss-and-regaining of friendship occurs at the end of their feature film A Chump at Oxford (1940). (Major spoilers follow.) Stan and Ollie are attending Oxford University on a scholarship. Unbeknownst to them, Oxford once had a brilliant professor named Lord Paddington who, one day, inexplicably walked away from Oxford for good. Paddington’s former servant notices Stan’s resemblance to the former genius and declares that Stan is Lord Paddington returned to his old stomping grounds. Ollie laughs derisively at the idea.

OLLIE: Why, I’ve known him for years, and he’s the dumbest guy that I ever saw. Aren’t you, Stan?

STAN: I certainly am.

But when Stan leans out a window and is conked on the head by the window’s pane, Lord Paddington’s memory returns — as does Lord P. in all of his snobby glory.

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There follows a delicious scene in which Ollie is justly punished for all of his years of condescending treatment of Stan, as Ollie is demoted to being Lord P.’s lackey. At one point, Paddington instructs Ollie on how to behave with more poise. “Lift your chin up,” he tells Ollie. When Ollie duly lifts his chin, Stan instructs him, “No, no, no, both of them!”

Ollie eventually loses it, telling Paddington that he’s had enough and that he’s returning to America without him. As it happens, some of Lord P.’s followers are singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” outside his window. Lord P. goes to the window to listen, the window pane does its business again, and Stan is returned to his old self.

Ollie is still on a rampage when Stan starts to cry at the thought of Ollie deserting him. Eventually, it dawns on Ollie that Stan is back to normal. Ollie laughs in happiness and throws his arms around his old buddy, briefly looking down at his derided double-chin before resuming his joy at the return of his old friend.

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You have to think that Stan Laurel, as the uncredited co-creator of most of Laurel & Hardy’s movies, felt compelled to add these subtle grace notes to L&H’s characterizations. They’re minor, but they’re there for anyone who looks for them, and they add a little emotion to what could have simply been (superb) slapstick comedies.

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The 2nd Annual ‘ONE’ of My All-Time Favorite Cartoons Blogathon – The Big Wrap-Up

We had a couple of no-shows, but then a couple of other entrants balanced them out, along with one surprise guest. So it’s time for

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Click here to see the entrants from Day 1. For the entrants below, click on the name of each individual blog to read their ‘thon entry.

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Film Music Central covered the high points of the acclaimed Japanese fantasy film My Neighbor Totoro.

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Moon in Gemini showed that animation isn’t limited to fiction, in her examination of the Lebanon War documentary Waltz with Bashir.

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And Dell on Movies sneaked in with his fun memories of “The Brown Hornet,” the show-within-the show of the long-running Saturday morning series “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.”

Thanks to all who took the time to write such thoughtful and enjoyable blogathon entries, as well as those who took the time to read them. May you enjoy animated films for the rest of your second childhood!

Day 1 Recap of The 2nd Annual ‘One’ of My All-Time Favorite Cartoons Blogathon

With more than half of our blogathon entrants showing up on the first day, it’s time to whistle a happy tune as we present

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If you missed any of the entries, click on the appropriate blog’s name below to link to them.

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BNoirDetour gave us some stylish laughs with the the delicious film-noir parody Key Lime Pie.

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Once Upon a Screen showed how Porky Pig dealt with a wartime egg shortage caused by a Swooner Crooner.

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Silver Scenes revived a colorful ode To Spring from the 1930’s.

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Caftan Woman gifted us with Richard Williams’ rendition of the holiday chestnut A Christmas Carol.

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Realweegiemidget Reviews provided an unusual adventure in the form of The Lego Movie.

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Wide Screen World waxed nostalgic for Saturday-morning memories of Hanna-Barbera’s World of Super Adventure.

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The Midnite Drive-In declared “Adults only” with his screening of the 1980’s anthology Heavy Metal.

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And finally, yours truly offered the unique double feature of Mickey’s Garden and A Single Life.

And that’s not all, folks! With two more days left in our salute to cel work, you’d be wise to bookmark us to enjoy further blog entries of animated gems. See you soon!

 

 

 

The Marx Brothers in AT THE CIRCUS (1939) – Peanuts to you!

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The following is my contribution to the At the Circus Blogathon, being hosted Nov. 11-13, 2016 at the blogs Critica Retro and Serendipitous Anachronisms. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ take on a wide range of circus-themed movies!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Everything that’s wrong with At the Circus is encapsulated in its first ten minutes. Before two whole Marx Brothers are together on-screen at the same time, we’ve had:

* Margaret Dumont being fourth-billed in the supporting-cast credits;

* MGM’s fancy idea of a small-time circus, complete with neon lighting;

* two musical numbers from The Couple Nobody Cares About; and

* Kenny Baker as part of that couple — easily the simpiest romantic lead in a Marx movie (and that’s saying something).

And when two Marxes finally do get together, it’s no cause for celebration. The movie’s premise is that all that’s standing in the way of would-be circus owner Jeff Wilson (Baker) and his true love Julie Randall (Florence Rice) is the $10,000 that the circus’ owner stole from Jeff so that he couldn’t pay off his circus bill. So Jeff’s cohort Tony (Chico) brings in his “best friend in the world” J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho) to solve the case.

With best friends like Chico, Groucho doesn’t need enemies. Tony, the very man who called for Loophole’s help in the first place, keeps pushing Loophole out into the rain because he doesn’t have the proper badge to get on the train. Once he finally gets on the train (and the movie never shows how he gets on — he just is on), Loophole tries to extract a cigar from a midget suspect (Jerry Maren, a quarter-century before he strew confetti on “The Gong Show”) to match some of the crime scene’s evidence — only Tony keeps offering Loophole his own cigars instead, at the same time complaining that Loophole isn’t getting any evidence. These, sadly, are the movie’s first attempts at Marx Bros. comedy scenes.

Also, villainess Peerless Pauline is played by Eve Arden. Although she was only 28 years old at the time of filming, and her circus costume certainly shows her long legs off nicely, her character is such a priss as to make Our Miss Brooks come off as a siren. Margaret Dumont exudes more sex appeal than Arden does in this movie.

The one who comes off best, at least for a while, is Harpo, who keeps making silent but wacko commentary on the sidelines and is funnier than the main performers. But then MGM has to drag that “Svengali” stuff from A Day at the Races into the movie, apparently trying to prove again that the only hope for the future of African-Americans is Harpo Marx.

When Loophole finally gets the bright idea of hitting up Jeff’s rich aunt (Margaret Dumont) for the missing money, the movie turns into the comedy it was supposed to have been an hour before that. Groucho’s usual wooing of dame Dumont, Harpo and Chico’s subsequent burglary of the strong-man/suspect’s den, and most of the movie’s climax are quite hilarious.

Even the climax, filled as it is with cheap slide-whistle sound effects and obvious back projection, is so frenetic that it comes as a relief after the movie’s dirge-like beginning. It’s a case of the Marx Brothers rising above the movie’s intended comedy instead of causing it. But in the Marxes’ latter MGM days, that almost counts as a triumph.

Here’s a definite highlight of the movie, from the same songwriters who brought you the score for The Wizard of Oz:

The 2nd Annual ‘ONE’ OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE CARTOONS BLOGATHON is here!

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Grab some cereal and pretend it’s Saturday morning. Our three-day blogathon devoted to bloggers’ favorite animated films is underway!

If you are one of the participating bloggers:

  1. Please post the names and URLs of your blog and the cartoon you are blogging about, in the “Comments” section below, so that we can link to them.
  2. The only deadline is that we request you post your blog entry by the end of the day on Sunday, Nov. 13 — and the sooner, the better. (Inquiring cartoon buffs want to know!)

If you are one of our visitors, click on the appropriate blog and/or cartoon title below to link to the blogger’s entry about said cartoon. Keep us bookmarked, as we will continue to update the list below throughout the weekend as bloggers submit their entries. This blog will also be doing end-of-the-day wrap-ups of blog entries submitted on each day.

So sit back this weekend, and enjoy a guilt-free line-up of classic cartoons on us!

Below are the blogathon entrants:

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Mickey’s Garden (1935) and A Single Life (2014)

Once Upon a Screen – Swooner Crooner (1944)

BNoirDetour – Key Lime Pie (2007)

Film Music Central – My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood – Bambi (1942)

Reelweegiemidget Reviews – The Lego Movie (2014)

Cinema Shame – Perfect Blue (1997)

Caftan Woman – A Christmas Carol (Richard Williams, 1971)

Pop Culture Pundit – Frozen (2013)

Epileptic Moondancer – Akira (1988)

Wide Screen World – Hanna-Barbera’s World of Super Adventure (1980-84)

The Midnite Drive-In – Heavy Metal (1981)

Moon in Gemini – Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Silver Scenes – To Spring (1936)

Dell on Movies – The Brown Hornet (1979-84)

A SINGLE LIFE (2014) – Setting a new record for longevity

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The following is my second of two entries in The 2nd Annual ‘ONE’ of My All-Time Favorite Cartoons Blogathon, hosted at this blog from Nov. 11-13, 2016. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ entries on a variety of animated films!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The Oscar-nominated A Single Life is only two-and-a-half minutes long, but it’s probably the best one-joke cartoon since Bambi Meets Godzilla.

A lone woman is about to enjoy a pizza when a knock comes at her door. She opens the door and finds a small package containing a 45 RPM record of a song titled (guess what?) “A Single Life.” She starts to play the record while eating her pizza, but at one point the record skips. The woman returns the record needle to the correct point but discovers that, during the skip, a bite of her pizza went away.

The woman plays with the record needle and finds that she can make the pizza bite reappear and disappear. When she investigates further, the woman discovers that placing the needle at different points on the record can actually take her to different points in her life. If you had a favorite “trippy” song that you’d swear could take you through time and space, you haven’t heard anything yet.

About the only other thing I can say without giving away the surprises of the cartoon (embedded below) is that it, like life itself, is over much too quickly. So enjoy it while you can — life and the cartoon, that is.

(If you enjoyed this blog entry, click here to read my first entry in this blogathon, about the Mickey Mouse cartoon Mickey’s Garden.)