CUCKOO (1974) – Loving documentary tribute to Laurel & Hardy

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The following is my first entry in this blog’s self-declared Laurel & Hardy Month. If you’re a L&H fan, watch this space, as there’s plenty more to come!

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What if, just the other day, you had viewed a copy of Hats Off — the only Laurel & Hardy film that hasn’t been seen in any form for decades? As an L&H buff, your most likely emotions would be: (a) astonishment, at your good luck in seeing such a rare find; and (b) joy, at being able to watch yet another chapter in the Laurel & Hardy canon.

Such was my experience with Cuckoo, a lovingly-compiled British L&H documentary that last saw any kind of broadcast in 1976. Years ago, for no reason other than the typical generosity to be found among L&H buffs, a British member of the online Laurel & Hardy Forum sent me a DVD of a second- or third-generation copy of this documentary. The gentleman warned me that, since the copy was over 30 years old, it would look a little bit beaten-up. After about five minutes of viewing it, the dupe-like quality of the video hardly mattered, because – as with Laurel & Hardy’s own best work – the care and love involved in the preparation of this film shown through like the midday sun.

Narrated by the British comedy duo Morecambe and Wise, the documentary cleverly makes generous use of clips from L&H movies to comment on The Boys’ life stories. (Best intercut of all: Ollie in Oliver the Eighth expressing his wish to meet “the future Mrs. Hardy,” followed by an interview with that very person: Babe’s widow, Lucille Hardy Price.)

The doc also sports priceless interviews from Price, Babe London (Ollie’s hapless bride-to-be in the L&H short Our Wife), and L&H followers Marcel Marceau, Dick Van Dyke, and Jerry Lewis. In particular, Lewis (never shy about expressing his philosophies on-camera to start with) makes some surprisingly insightful comments about Stan Laurel’s modus operandi, i.e., most people would care only about the joy of receiving a lavish gift such as a piano; only Laurel would be interested in the plight of the piano’s delivery men (The Music Box).

The documentary sports a few inaccuracies (such as the oft-quoted “fact” that Stan Laurel was married eight times – wrong again!). But in the end, my only major regret about Cuckoo is that this loving L&H tribute is so frustratingly unavailable to the general public. Below is a link to the documentary’s current posting on YouTube; catch it while you can, as it will probably be yanked eventually!)

 

 

 

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Mel Brooks’ SILENT MOVIE (1976) – Not Chaplin, but funny enough

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The following is my contribution to The Mel Brooks Blogathon, being hosted by The Cinematic Frontier from June 28-30, 2016. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ critiques of movies directed by the famous funnyman!

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Just about the time you roll your eyes at the hopelessness of the gags in Mel Brooks’s Silent Movie, a real gem comes along. As when a poster of Bernadette Peters in bosomy vamp mode is revealed, and some men seated at a table make the table rise without touching it. Or the gigantic prop fly that lands smack in the middle of Henny Youngman’s soup, inspiring the greatest one-liner in the history of silent movies.

Of course, the fact that Mel Brooks co-wrote, directed, and stars in this silent-film spoof is enough to tell you whether you’ll enjoy it or not. Surprisingly, this ramshackle farce has its basis in autobiography. At the time of this movie, Mel Brooks had just come off his Blazing Saddles/Young Frankenstein doubleheader, and 20th Century-Fox would probably have let Brooks film a spoof of the Yellow Pages at that point.

Thus comes the storyline of Mel Funn (Brooks), a washed-up movie director who comes up with the brilliant idea of making a silent movie. The studio director (Sid Caesar, who might have done better in Brooks’s role) agrees to the film as long as Funn can provide the appropriate big-name stars as box-office insurance. It doesn’t help that Funn’s studio is being threatened by the conglomerate of Engulf and Devour, and the studio needs a hit to make it back into the black.

Surprisingly enough, the big-name cameos provide some of the movie’s biggest laughs. Burt Reynolds takes a narcissistic shower and finds himself growing extra hands. Paul Newman pokes fun at his offscreen racing hobby by zooming around in a wheelchair. And famed mime Marcel Marceau finds his voice in the movie’s only line of dialogue.

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On the other hand, Marty Feldman and Dom DeLuise, who would seem an obvious choice as Mel’s crazy cronies, are a little joke that gets stretched a long way. Yet even when the movie isn’t as hysterical as it thinks it is, it causes you to smile throughout and to wish silent film was still a viable alternative for physical comedians, instead of an occasional novelty put to use by a hit filmmaker who could make any movie he wanted.