There is a certain reassurance in watching your favorite films over and over and over again. The act of repeated watching is like getting together with an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time. You talk about the same old stories, you laugh or maybe even cry about those bygone glory days. Similarly, when watching a favorite movie you know where the jokes are. You can anticipate those laughs long before they come on screen. If it’s an old gangster film, you know you have to watch just one more time as James Cagney takes that long final walk toward the electric chair. Either way, there is a level of contentment that flows in you with the familiarly of repeatedly watching a favorite film. You forget about the world outside, the troubles inside your head, for two hours and relax with pure celluloid comfort food.
In the traditional sense, we all have our comfort foods. For me, it a good chocolate chip cookie and I mean a “good” chocolate chip cookie and not just some run of the mill store bought cookie with the sort of chemical additives added into the ingredients that you cannot identify or even pronounce. If I am going to eat fattening stuff, it’s going to be the best.
But comfort food can come in various forms meaning not junk actual food. Recently I got into a mental funk and needed a few comforting movies to get over it. Whenever I am down, a movie, the right movie can help bring me back. However, it isn’t always easy to find the right film or films. I began by taking a took a look at my extensive collection and found nothing was appealing to me. I kept receiving these negative vibrations inside my head. No, not that! Don’t feel like that one. God, why did I even buy this one? All I wanted to do was watch a couple of films that I knew so well and enjoyed that I could just sit back in my chair and watch without having to think. This went on for a couple of days. I just could not find anything that was going to help.
I finally found my first bit of relief from an unexpected film. Hal Ashby’s Being There was recently on TCM. I had set my DVR to record it and that is where it remained along with a bunch of other films. Based on a novella by Jerzy Kosinski, whose books I devoured one after another upon their release, the film is a subtle intelligent satire on superficiality. Chance the gardner, misinterpreted as Chauncey Gardner, speaks well. He dresses in a dignified way and answers questions in a quiet self-assured though superficial manner that important and intelligent people, including the President of the United States, found insightful and took to heart. The point being if you talk right, look right and act right, you can fool a lot of so called smart people making one wonder who are the bigger fools. Now I know this doesn’t sound like the kind of film you can sit back and not think about. Unless you have seen it multiple times. I have. The comfort comes from watching Peter Sellers performance and the superb dialogue. Kosinski adapted his own novella. Sellers is wonderful here giving one of his best performances.
I now quickly found myself in a grove with a series of other celluloid comfort. George Cukor’s Adam’s Rib is a film I only watched just a few months ago and now was going to watch it again. Written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin this is the best of the Tracy/Hepburn pairings. A film with a feminist slant that was years ahead of its time. It’s a battle of the sexes and the women come out on top. Tracy and Hepburn are two New York lawyers, he’s an Assistant D.A. while Kate works for a private firm. When Judy Holiday shoots her philandering husband, Tom Ewell, after catching him in the arms of his lover (Jean Hagen), battle lines are drawn. The actors are all superb, especially Judy Holiday, but it is the script by Gordon and Kanin that really shines.
I next turned to a really old favorite. I have always liked Abbott and Costello. They were never intellectual favorites like the Marx Brothers who anarchistic style made them a shining light for the intelligencia. Bud and Lou came out of Burlesque. One of the lower rungs on the show business ladder. Naked dames and baggy pants comics. That said, Abbott and Costello were funny. Bud Abbott may just have been the greatest straight man in the history of comedy. As a kid, I watched all of their movies and their TV show over and over again. Many of their routines (Susquehanna Hat Company, Niagara Falls, the Dice Game and Who’s On First are classic routines, all learned during their early days on the Burlesque stage. Today, I still watch many of their films but there are three that I rank as their best. A&C Meet Frankenstein, Hold That Ghost and Buck Privates. The last one was selected as my next piece of tasty celluloid comfort food. It’s 1940 and the draft has just been reinstated. The boys, attempting to avoid the cops, duck into what they think is a movie theater. Only to find out the theater was converted into an enlistment center and they are in the army now. In many ways, the film is just another military comedy, but damn, there are those routines from the old days like the dice game and the Your 40, She’s 10 routine where Bud tells Lou he is a 40 year old man who wants to marry a ten year old girl! Can’t do that, so Bud tells Lou, “Let’s say you wait five years. Now you’re forty five and she’s fifteen. You are now only three times as old as that little girl. So you wait another 15 years. Now you’re sixty and she’s thirty. You’re only two times as old as that girl.”
Lou remarks, “Hey, hey she’s catching up!”
The question Bud now poses to Lou is “how many years do you have to wait until that you and that girl are the same age?
It’s a wonderful play on words and it never gets old!
What also make this film so good are the Andrew Sisters. Generally, I don’t like musical interludes in comedy films. They bring the films to a screeching halt. Most notoriously in the MGM Marx Brothers films where Alan Jones and Kitty Carlisle/Maureen O’Sullivan stop things in a coma inducing fashion. It’s times like that, I give thanks for fast forwarding. However, this is not the case with Patti, Maxine and Laverne. At a time in my life when I only would admit to liking rock and roll, I secretly loved the music of the Andrew Sisters. Apple Blossom Time, Hit Me Brother with a Solid Four and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy are all done with genuine style.
My funk was getting better and I now was on a roll. Another comedy was up next. Bob Hope in My Favorite Brunette, a fabulously funny take off on the P.I. film which includes a cameo by Alan Ladd as tough guy detective Sam McCloud. As you watch this film you can easily see the influence Hope had on Woody Allen. The mannerisms, the jokes would roll off the tongue of either with ease. For good measure, the film throws in the wonderful Peter Lorre. It may not be Bob Hope’s best but it’s my favorite.
By now, I needed one more film to get me back. That film became John Ford’s Stagecoach. The western that made John Wayne a star. It’s beautifully shot with an array of spectacular images shot in Monument Valley which Ford used for the first time and would use in many films in the future. The cast of characters traveling are mostly outcasts. From Wayne’s Ringo Kid, to the embezzler, the alcoholic doctor, the prostitute and the gambler all are wonderfully portrayed by a cast of fine actors. It’s a classic western that is close to perfection. I ranked it among Ford’s best westerns along with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Searchers. But for pure celluloid comfort Stagecoach is number one.
I have a lot of favorite films, or celluloid comfort food. Someday I am going to publish a list. I know, I know, I have said this a few times but it never seems to come out. Someday. What I can tell you is that the five films I mention here can be considered a preview. All will be on the list.
Whenever I feel in some sort rut or something got me down I know I can always turn to a favorite film like one of these to help me get long. I am sure we all have our own celluloid comfort food. Feel free to share.