If there ever was a golden age of comedy, it was the 1920’s. Three geniuses led the way: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. There were others of course, Harry Langdon, Laurel and Hardy, Snub Pollard, Mabel Normand, Larry Semon and Fatty Arbuckle among others. But it was the top three who reached the exhalted status of genius. Of the three, there was always a battle on who was the greatest. Lloyd always seemed to take the third spot. No disgrace considering the talent of the other two. Between Chaplin and Keaton, it’s always been a matter of individual taste. Chaplin was the sentimental artist with a social conscience. Keaton’s comedy was always more cerebral. I personally love both and have always went back and forth on who I thought was better. I have resigned myself to the fact that they both share the top spot.
This is the first in a series of monthly posts that will highlight my favorite comedies of each decade. Key word here is favorite and not necessarily the best. Comedy is a highly subjective category. While many film lovers see Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot to be one of the best comedies, there are folks, well informed film lovers, who disagree.
I myself believe many of our modern day comedies rely too much on trashy jokes and not enough on sophisticated humor. A fart joke gets the laugh. Why bother with intelligent humor. Now, I have nothing against low-brow or bathroom humor, but how many times do we have to see Will Farrell take off his shirt, pants, or more (Old School, Blades of Glory, Talledega Nights, Anchorman, Step Brothers, Daddy’s Home)? Today’s audiences also have an intolerance for the buildup to the joke. Attention spans have diminished over the years. Television is partially to blame for this; the jokes have to come quick to get them all in a twenty minutes time frame. Laurel and Hardy would never survive in today cinema world. It’s not that there are not good comedies today. The Big Sick is one of my favorite films of 2017, and Judd Apatow has a pretty good record. However, overall they are far and in between. Continue reading →
There was a lot of buzz about A Countess From Hong Kong when it was first announced. After all, it would be Charlie Chaplin’s first film in more than ten years. The buzz increased, even more, when it came out that Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren would star. What a combination! The Little Tramp, Stanley Kowalski and Italy’s greatest export since pizza and pasta. How could it miss? Continue reading →
Note: A couple of years ago I did a series of reviews for Halo-17, an Australian music and arts website which from what I can tell is no longer out there in cyber space. In the past I have occasionally linked to some of these reviews here at Twenty Four Frames. Recently, it seems all the links lead to an internet void; subsequently I have been occasionally posting these reviews here in updated versions. The original postings with broken links have or will be deleted.
Dare I say that “Monsieur Verdoux: A Comedy of Murders” is Charlie Chaplin’s best film? If not, his best certainly one of the best, a brilliant black comedy unlike anything else in his portfolio. It was not his first feature film without The Little Tramp character, that would be “The Great Dictator,” though the Jewish barber may be a close relative. Verdoux is a completely different characterization with little trace of sentimentality., In its place, he had a mass murderer.
It must have been a strange film to the American public of 1947, only two years after the end of World War II; black comedies were rare back in those days. I can only think of “Arsenic and Old Lace” as an early example. Besides that, Chaplin was on the outs with the U.S. politically. Chaplin leaned toward the left and from the 1930’s on his films took on a definite political slant. “Modern Times” depicts poor workers and striking labor unions and in “The Great Dictator,” Chaplin practically stops the film cold with a dramatic political speech where he addresses the audience as comrades. During World War II, he did not support the Allied war effort, which led to a public outcry. FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover had been keeping a file on Chaplin for years. In addition, he was fighting off a scandal with a very young actress named Joan Barry who claimed she fathered his child. Blood test would prove the child was not his though damage to his career was done. By the time “Monsieur Verdoux” was released, two years after the end of WW II, with its attack on capitalism, many critics attacked back and the crowds stayed away. Some theaters even refused to play the film. While there were many critics who disliked the movie, and or Chaplin, the film did have its supporters. James Agee wrote an extended three part essay in “The Nation” calling it, “One of the best films ever made.” Continue reading →
In my review I wrote for Halo-17, linked below, I said, “Monsieur Verdoux: A Comedy of Errors may be Chaplin’s greatest film.” To elaborate, if I had to put them in order it would be a close race however, Monsieur Verdoux, is a brilliant dark, thought provoking comedy, as powerful now as it was over sixty years ago. It is Chaplin’s greatest film. In my Chaplin hierarchy City Lights would be second with The Gold Rush right behind. They are three brilliant films at three different stages in the artist’s life. In Verdoux, Chaplin’s message is that war is nothing but a business done for profit. If an individual takes the same approach, as Verdoux does, he is a murderer. Kill millions it’s business, kill one or two it’s murder. “Numbers sanctify” as Verdoux says in his own defense.