Some Like it Hot (1959) Billy Wilder

This posting is my contribution to the CMBA Comedy Classics Blogathon which runs through Jan. 27th. You can find more contributors here.

 

Do you remember the first film you ever recorded? I do, it was Billy Wilder’s “Some Like it Hot” way back sometime in the 1960’s. “Wait a minute!” You say, “How can you have recorded it back in the 1960’s when VCR’s did not come out until the late 1970’s?” Well, it was simple, on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. I loved this film so much I recorded the entire soundtrack. I use to lay down in bed or on the couch with my headphones on and listen to the entire movie, visualizing all the scenes.

Crazy, weird? Probably, I am sure my parents thought so.

Needless to say, “Some Like it Hot” is one of my favorite movies, it has stood the test of time. Because of this film, I became a lifelong admirer of both director Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon. It is a film I never get tired of watching.

Before and since its release in 1959, there have been many films that have used men in drag as a plot device (“I Was A Male War Bride”, “Tootsie”, “La Cage aux Folles”), even TV shows like “Bosom Buddies” got into the act, however none have come close or surpassed “Some Like it Hot” in its farcical humor. The well-known storyline is simple, it is 1929, two Chicago musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), witness The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre after which they decide it might be best for their health if they leave town. The only jobs available are as musicians in an all girl band heading for Florida. It is at the train station they meet Sugar “Kane” Kowalczyk (Marilyn Monroe) a ukulele player and singer with the band. Continue reading

Fingers (1978) James Toback

“Fingers” can be seen as a portrait of the artist as a small time enforcer. Jimmy Angellini (Harvey Keitel),  the quirky anti-hero of James Toback’s film directing debut is living a dual life, one of a sensitive artist, an aspiring pianist on the verge of an audition with a major impresario at Carnegie Hall. The other life is that of a street wise hood who acts as an enforcer for his father (Michael V. Gazzo), a small time loan shark. Jimmy however, doesn’t fit into either world, he has no friends and his only constant companion is a portable cassette tape player on which he is always playing the same songs, fifties rock and roll classics like “Summertime, Summertime” by The Jamies, “even when it’s fuckin’ 15 degrees outside,” as his father tells him.  His musical taste, like his life, is splintered between classical music and rock and roll.  Jimmy’s parents continue the duality theme in his life, his father, the low level hood while his late mother was a former musician, neither of who seemed to have bestowed much love on their son. Old Dad, at one point even wishes he had strangled Jimmy when he was a kid still in his crib. Mom was always resentful of his musical talent. Continue reading

Horse Feathers (1932) Norman Z. McLeod

For The Marx Brothers the world and everyone in it is a target for ridicule. It makes no difference what ones position is in life: politician, policeman, intellectual, thug, society matron or bimbo, all are treated with equal irrelevance. No one is immune, all are exploited as asinine know nothings. Though the Marx’s share the same universal space as the rest of us, they are a law unto themselves and the first rule is…everything is irrelevant. As for all other rules, just refer back to rule number one. As Groucho sings in the opening minutes of Horse Feathers, their fourth film, Whatever It Is, I’m Against It.

The Marx Brothers world juxtaposes ideas that challenge the normal thought process. We have Groucho telling Harpo, “Young man, as you get older, you will find out you can’t burn the candle at both ends.” Harpo proceeds to quickly rebuke this piece of worldly advice by pulling out a candle from underneath his coat that is doing just that! The Marx’s also fracture the rules cinematically with Groucho breaking through the fourth wall. During Chico’s piano solo, he addresses the audience directly saying, “I’ve got to stay here, but there’s no reason why you folks shouldn’t go out to the lobby until this blows over.” Living in the world of The Marx Brothers can best be described as a dreamy surrealistic trip, no need for drugs, recreational or otherwise, to help you along. Continue reading

Riffraff (1936) J. Walter Ruben

A young Spencer Tracy plays Dutch Miller, a highly arrogant, egotistical blow hard of a fisherman with the ability to lead men ever since he was a kid. He commemorates his marriage to the pretty cannery row beauty, Hattie (Jean Harlow) by quitting his job and encouraging his fellow fishermen to go out on strike. When the labor battle is lost, Dutch is tossed out as union President and with his oversized ego in hand, and no job, goes off leaving his wife and former friends to prove he can be a success. Later, Hattie learns the Dutchman is not doing well and is living in a hobo camp. She steals some money for him, but the ego driven Dutch refuses to accept her help or even see her. Hattie is soon caught for the thief and sent to prison. Pregnant with Dutch’s child on the way, Hattie escapes from prison. When Dutch learns about his child he has a sudden epiphany, coming to the realization being a good fisherman is good enough. He doesn’t have to conquer the world.

“Riffraff” is a paranoid piece of entertainment, written by Francis Marion, Anita Loos and H.W. Hanmann, based on a story by Marion. The film cannot make up its mind whether it wants to be a raucous waterfront comedy or a social drama dealing with issues of union labor, evil management and women behind bars. This is where the main problem with the film is, in the writing. Tracy’s character is not believable and his turn around at the end is just too quick and unconvincing. Continue reading

24 Frames: 2nd Annual 10 Best Classic Films Watched…For The First Time

Welcome to the annual Twenty Four Frames Top Ten List of Classic Films Watched… For The First Time. Once again, the list turned out to have an international flavor, though films from the U.S. still dominated with five (Only because the films watched during the year were mostly from the U.S.). That said, two of the films making the top ten are from Britain and one each from Japan, France and Italy. The 1930’s dominated with four films making the list. Again, the 1960’s was the most recent decade with two films. The two decades in between  also made the list with two films each. There are 15 honorable mentions all of which are worthy works in and of themselves and deserve to be seen. For easy access, I have provided links to the films on the list I have written about. Additionally, here is a link to all the films I watched in 2011Finally here is a link to the 2010 10 Best Classic Films Watched…For the First Time. The films are in alphabetically order. Continue reading