Comedies

The Gazebo (1959)

The Gazebo 1959

Elliott Nash (Glenn Ford) is a prominent television writer and director. Although he likes his job, it is a very stressful occupation and it’s made him very high strung. Not a bad person, he’s the type of man who nurses injured pigeons back to health, just stressed out a lot of the time. He and his Broadway star wife Nell (Debbie Reynolds) recently bought a house together in the suburbs so he can get away from the city and be able to relax a little.

In addition to his job responsibilities, there’s something else that’s been eating Elliott up inside. Lately, he’s been getting phone calls from a man trying to blackmail him into paying him to keep some scandalous pictures of Nell out of the papers. But the blackmailer is asking for higher and higher amounts of money, more than he can afford at the moment. The only way he can get the money is to sell the house, but Nell just loves it and refuses to agree to selling it, despite Elliott’s best attempts to sabotage the home.

When Nell purchases a historic gazebo to put in the backyard, it needs to be placed on a concrete foundation. When Elliott finds out it will take 24 hours for the concrete to set, Elliott decides to lure the blackmailer to his house by telling him he has the money so he can kill him and bury him in the backyard where the gazebo will be. Elliott goes through with the plan, despite a few mishaps along the way. But then he later finds out that the real blackmailer was found dead in his apartment. So who is buried under the gazebo?

Now this is a movie that’s well overdue to be rediscovered. Not your typical Debbie Reynolds flick, but if you appreciate dark humor, it’s a very funny movie. Glenn Ford was absolutely hilarious in the scene where he’s trying to carry out his murder plot and Debbie Reynolds is just a delight. I really liked Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds together as a duo. And since I mainly know Glenn Ford from movies like GildaBlackboard Jungle, and The Big Heat, seeing him in a more comedic role was a nice change of pace.  The Gazebo is also noteworthy for being the film debut of Carl Reiner and featuring John McGiver in a great supporting role. Given its offbeat style of comedy, it’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but it was right up my alley.

A Foreign Affair (1948)

A Foreign Affair 1948

In the aftermath of World War II, American Congresswoman Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur) is sent to Germany to evaluate the morale of American troops still in the area. When she arrives, she comes bearing a homemade chocolate cake for Captain John Pringle (John Lund), a gift from his fiancee. Before long, she’s being whisked off on a tour of the city, during which she’s appalled to see American servicemen cavorting with German women. In fact, when she’s mistaken for a German woman by a couple of  American servicemen, they take her out for drinks at a club where singer Erika von Schluetow (Marlene Dietrich) is performing.

While at the club, Phoebe learns that Erika was reportedly the girlfriend of a prominent Nazi leader who is now being protected by her American soldier boyfriend. She also sees a very familiar-looking cake being passed around the club. Unbeknownst to her, John is Erika’s secret boyfriend and he had traded his cake on the black market for a new mattress for her. Once Phoebe is able to prove Erika had ties to Nazi officials, she orders Erika’s apartment to be monitored constantly to find out who her boyfriend is and, still oblivious to who the person responsible is, assigns John to the task.

Following an awkward encounter outside of Erika’s apartment, in which she confronts John for keeping her waiting while Phoebe watches on, Phoebe drags John along to look up files on Erika. To prevent her from finding Erika’s files, John tries to convince Phoebe he’s in love with her. When he kisses her, she really does fall in love with him and John, still willing to protect Erika, even agrees to marry Phoebe to prevent her from investigating. Meanwhile, Colonel Rufus J. Plummer (Millard Mitchell) is aware of John’s relationship with Erika and wants him to keep seeing her in the hopes she will lead them to other Nazi officials.

From a historical standpoint, A Foreign Affair an absolutely fascinating movie to watch. It’s a movie dealing with Nazis and post-WWII Germany that was written and directed by a man who left Germany when the Nazi Party rose to power, stars an actress who despised the Nazis so much she renounced her German citizenship. It’s a role Dietrich absolutely despised, given how her character’s willingness to associate with known Nazis was in direct conflict with her own views. In fact, there’s a scene where Dietrich wears a gown she wore while performing for American troops during the war. It’s also a movie that was released shortly after the end of the war and was actually filmed in Berlin.

Even without the historical significance, it’s simply a good movie. A Foreign Affair is pure, unadulterated Billy Wilder — full of biting wit, razor-sharp dialogue, and a good amount of cynicism. In addition to Billy Wilder’s brilliant writing and direction, Jean Arthur is perfect as the uptight and repressed Phoebe. Although Dietrich hated this role, she worked very well with Billy Wilder and over 10 years later, he’d direct her again in one of her best performances in Witness for the Prosecution. It’s just a wonderful film. I’ve yet to be completely disappointed by a Billy Wilder movie.

Hearts of the West (1975)

Hearts of the West 1975More than anything else in life, Lewis Tater (Jeff Bridges) wants to be a writer of Western novels. When he sees an advertisement for the University of Titan, he decides to enroll in some correspondence writing classes. The University of Titan had a Nevada address, so despite the advice from his family, Lewis decides he’d rather take classes in person so he can enjoy the atmosphere of being out west.

After making the long trip out to Titan, Nevada, he shows up at the address only to find out the University of Titan doesn’t actually exist; the “school” is run by a couple of con artists operating out of a local hotel. As fate would have it, Lewis ends up staying in the same hotel as the con artists and gets into a fight with them. In the tussle, Lewis takes their car and drives out into the desert until it runs out of gas. Then he decides to get out and walk through the desert and happens to wander onto the set of a movie being filmed by Tumbleweed Studios, a studio that specializes in “B” Westerns.

The film crew helps him out and let him ride back into town with them. He has a crush on their production assistant Miss Trout (Blyth Danner) and makes friends with actor Howard Pike (Andy Griffith), who recommends he get a job at a local restaurant. At least this way he can spend time around cowboys and get some inspiration for his big novel. He also applies for a job at the studio and is hired by Bert Kessler (Alan Arkin). Lewis starts out doing stuntwork, but works his way up to featured roles and becomes a star. Meanwhile, he has to watch out for the con artists from the University of Titan, who are looking for him.

Not one of my favorite movies, but Hearts of the West is quite pleasant and good for some laughs. The cast is fantastic; it’s full of great stars who I never knew were in this movie, mostly because I’d never even heard of this movie until I saw it in today’s lineup on TCM. Jeff Bridges was perfectly cast as the youthful and naive Lewis and I really liked Alan Arkin as Bert Kessler. Andy Griffith was a pretty good fit for playing a cowboy film star. It’s a little too slowly paced for my liking, I found myself starting to tune out here and there. Not bad, but not that great, either.

Monkey Business (1931)

Monkey Business 1931

When Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo are found as stowaways on a ship, they have to avoid being captured by running all over the place and trying to hide as best they can, whether it’s blending in with a puppet show, posing as musicians, or trying to pose as the ship’s barber. When Groucho tries hiding in a stateroom, it turns out the room is occupied by Lucille (Thelma Todd) and her husband gangster Alky Briggs (Harry Woods). Lucille is attracted to him and when Zeppo ends up coming in, he and Groucho end up being hired to be Alky’s bodyguards.

Meanwhile, Zeppo has met Mary Helton (Ruth Hall), daughter of Joe Helton (Rockliffe Fellowes) and rival to Alky. When Chico and Harpo find themselves in Helton’s stateroom while on the run, they end up becoming bodyguards for him. A big confrontation is about to happen between the two gangsters and their feud continues after the boat docks, putting Mary in danger and leaving it up to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo to save her.

Monkey Business is pure anarchy. Although the plots to all Marx Brothers movies are pretty thin and basically only exist to serve as a catalyst to mayhem, Monkey Business seems to be the one where the plot matters the least — but that’s not a bad thing in this case. The main plot of the movie doesn’t really kick in until quite a ways into the movie and the everything leading up to that is just an excuse to have the Marxes running around the ship, wreaking havoc wherever they go. With lesser comedians, this movie would be a complete disaster, but the Marx Brothers were completely on top of their game and that’s what makes Monkey Business a true comedy classic. The physical comedy is absolutely brilliant and the jokes are pure gold. The Maurice Chevalier impersonation scene will never stop being hilarious to me. If you’ve never seen a Marx Brothers movie, Monkey Business is definitely not a bad place to start.

Made in Paris (1966)

Made in Paris 1966

Maggie Scott (Ann-Margret) works at Barclay’s Department Store as an assistant fashion buyer. When the head fashion buyer Irene (Edie Adams) suddenly leaves to get married right before she’s supposed to go to Paris for some fashion shows, Maggie is sent in her place. Maggie isn’t sure she’s up to it, but Irene thinks she can handle it and her boss’s son Ted (Chad Everett) recommends her for it, even though he’s been trying to pursue her romantically and she keeps turning him down.

Maggie has never been to Paris before so Ted asks his friend Herb (Richard Crenna) to take her out and make sure she’s okay. It turns out Herb has designs on her, too. Before Maggie leaves, Irene tries to tell her that fashion designer Marc Fontaine (Louis Jourdan) needs special attention, but she leaves before she can elaborate. Once Maggie arrives in Paris, she’s brought to a lovely apartment to stay in. While she’s sleeping, who should walk in but Marc Fontaine. It doesn’t take long before Maggie finds out Marc and Irene had been seeing each other and he didn’t know she wasn’t coming to Paris.

When Maggie goes to see Marc’s fashion show, they have yet another tense encounter, but they eventually make peace with each other and Maggie begins to fall in love with Marc. Before long, Maggie’s stuck in the middle of a crazy love triangle.

Made in Paris may be total nonsense of a movie, but it’s at least fun nonsense. Well, at least it’s fun if you like Ann-Margret and 1960s fashion. Ann-Margret and the fashion are the two biggest redeeming values Made in Paris has going for it, so if you’re not a fan of either of those, you might want to sit this one out. It’s not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination and it’s certainly not one of the best movies for Ann-Margret or Louis Jourdan, but I was pleasantly surprised that I had as much fun with it as I did. Not the kind of movie I’d go out of my way to watch, but I’d watch it again if nothing else was on.

Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945)

Her Highness and the Bellboy 1945

Jimmy Dobson (Robert Walker) has a humble job working as a bellboy at a swanky hotel. When he’s not working at the hotel, he spends his spare time with his friend and co-worker Albert (Rags Ragland), trying to keep him from getting mixed up with gangsters, and their neighbor Leslie (June Allyson), a former dancer who is now disabled and bedridden. Albert and Jimmy like to cheer Leslie up by taking her up to the roof and telling her stories, but Jimmy is completely unaware that Leslie is in love with him.

When Princess Veronica (Hedy Lamarr) arrives in America, she stays at the hotel where Jimmy works. But when she arrives, she accidentally walks into the employee area, she isn’t recognized by Jimmy, who thinks she’s a new maid. He invites Veronica to join him for a walk in the park and they have a lovely time together, but when they go back to the hotel, Jimmy nearly gets fired for hanging around with such an important guest, but Veronica saves him by arranging for him to be her personal attendant while she’s in town.

As Jimmy and Veronica spend more and more time with each other, they become great friends and Jimmy starts to fall in love with her, much to Leslie’s dismay. But Veronica is really in love with Paul (Warner Anderson), a reporter she had been in love with several years before but ultimately left to marry her now-deceased husband. In fact, the whole reason she’s in America is so she can try to win him back. Paul is still too hurt to give her another chance, but she’s not ready to give up. Meanwhile, due to a misunderstanding, Jimmy ends up thinking Veronica is in love with him, too, and at one point, he does have the chance to go back to her home country with her. But when he goes to say goodbye to Leslie, she has some news for him that makes him change his mind.

Her Highness and the Bellboy is what I like to think of as a great Sunday afternoon movie — it’s not great cinema or anything, but it’s simple, charming, lighthearted entertainment that was never meant to do anything more than make the audience smile at the end. Those are the types of movies that always just feel so perfect to me on a Sunday afternoon, hence why I call them “Sunday afternoon movies.” Sure, it’s predictable and hardly innovative, but that’s not always a bad thing. It’s like cinematic comfort food; it just makes you feel good and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a cute, fluffy little movie with a happy ending, a few laughs, and a great cast. I ended up liking it a lot more than I really expected to, actually, and look forward to watching it again someday.

Pulp (1972)

Pulp 1972

Mickey King (Michael Caine) is an author who specializes in writing sleazy pulp novels under dirty pseudonyms. When meeting with his publisher one day, Mickey is given the chance to ghostwrite the memoir of a legendary Hollywood actor. The book would be a guaranteed best seller and Mickey would be quite handsomely for the job, so he accepts, despite the fact that he has no idea who the mystery celebrity is.

Before finding out who his employer is, Mickey has to travel to Malta and wait to be met by a contact. Along the way, he meets a man who he thinks is his contact, but Mickey finds the man dead in a hotel room, it isn’t long before Mickey begins to suspect someone might have been trying to kill him instead. Eventually, Mickey meets his contact and finds out he’ll be working on the memoir of Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney), a retired actor famous for playing tough gangsters on film and hanging around with them in real life.

Preston has recently been diagnosed with cancer and wants to be sure his wild life story will be immortalized. Preston is also a notorious prankster so when a person appears to shoot Preston during a party, his guests think it’s just another one of his jokes. But Preston really is dead and Mickey has reason to think he also may have been a target. After all, Preston was friends with many criminals who may not want Mickey to make their stories known to the public. But it’s up to Mickey to find out who might be trying to kill him.

When I started watching Pulp, it seemed like the type of movie that would be right up my alley. I have a bit of a dark sense of humor and Pulp has dark, offbeat humor in spades and Michael Caine was perfect at delivering those dry lines. The story sounds like a murder mystery, but Pulp is really more of a dark satire of detective films. Although I really appreciated the movie’s style of comedy and liked seeing all the beautiful scenery (the movie was filmed on location in Malta), but the pacing was a little slow for my liking. It felt like it was a longer movie than it really was and the dark humor wasn’t enough to keep me interested in it. Perhaps I’m biased because I was tired when I watched it; I might be willing to give it another shot just because I really want to like this movie.

Father Takes a Wife (1941)

Father Takes a Wife 1941When Frederic Osborne Senior (Adolphe Menjou), a man who has a reputation for never missing a day at the office, suddenly seems to have lost all interest in his business, his son, Junior (John Howard) is both frustrated and confused as to what’s brought on this sudden change in attitude. One day, Senior comes in and informs Junior he’ll be in charge of running the family business from now on because he’s fallen in love and is getting married.

The woman Senior has fallen madly in love with is Leslie Collier (Gloria Swanson), a famous actress who is planning to give up the stage to marry Senior. But the relationship between Leslie and Senior starts to become strained before they even make it to the altar. When Senior, Junior, and Junior’s wife Enid (Florence Rice) go to see her final performance in her play, Senior becomes extremely jealous of her over-affectionate leading man. Then before the wedding, they squabble over her insistence on continuing to use her maiden name. But they go through with the wedding and head off on their honeymoon cruise.

After they’ve set sail, Leslie and Senior find out Carlos Bardez (Desi Arnaz) has been found as a stowaway. Senior allows him to stay, and it turns out Carlos has been a successful singer in other countries and Leslie wants to help him launch his career in America. She becomes his impresario and Senior becomes extremely jealous of all the attention Carlos is getting from Leslie. It nearly drives Leslie and Senior to divorce, but when Junior and Enid try to help, Carlos ends up nearly driving them apart, too. Can Junior and Senior save their marriages and get Carlos out of the picture?

Father Takes a Wife is cute, but not remarkable. Adolphe Menjou has some nice comedic moments and Gloria Swanson isn’t bad in it, but the story falls flat. On the surface, the story sounded like it might have potential, but even with the decent amount of talent involved, Father Takes a Wife just doesn’t measure up. As a Gloria Swanson fan, I thought it was somewhat interesting mostly because it gave me a chance to see her in something that came after her silent films and before Sunset Blvd.; she didn’t make too many movies during that time frame. If you’re a particularly big fan of Swanson, Menjou, or Arnaz, you might want to give it a shot, but otherwise, you’re not missing much.

Sextette (1978)

Sextette 1978Marlo Manners (Mae West), world-renowned screen siren, has just married Sir Michael Barrington (Timothy Dalton), her sixth husband. The world adores Marlo and her marriage is making headlines all over the world. But when they check into the hotel for their honeymoon, they’re faced with endless intrusions from the media, Marlo’s manager Dan Turner (Dom DeLuise), dress fittings with her costume designer (played by Keith Moon), an entire team of athletes, and her former husbands Laslo (Ringo Starr) and Alexei (Tony Curtis). Meanwhile, Marlo has been working on her memoirs by recording scandalous tales of her many, many lovers on an audio cassette. She then tells her manager to destroy the tape, but it falls into the wrong hands and its contents could have major implications for a meeting of international delegates going on at the hotel.

Oh, Sextette. Where does one even begin with a movie that opens with the line, “Hello to you, this is Regis Philbin,” and (almost) ends with Alice Cooper singing a song at a piano while hotel maids and bellhops dance behind him? And in between, there’s a baffling list of guest stars, Dom DeLuise tap dancing on a piano (yes, there is Dom DeLuise tap dancing on a piano in this movie), and a whole lot of 80-something year old Mae West doing her typical Mae West schtick. Oh, and there’s also Timothy Dalton singing “Love Will Keep Us Together” along with Mae West.

It’s not a conventionally good movie by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, when I bought this DVD, the clerk looked at me and said, “You do realize this is not a good movie, right?” If you can appreciate really bad movies, then Sextette is the kind of movie you could definitely have some fun with. While it is definitely a “so bad it’s good” type of movie, I’m kind of obsessed with it just because of the sheer fact that this movie even exists. Because when it comes down to it, trying to describe Sextette is kind of like describing some bizarre, star-studded fever dream.  “…And Mae West was there…and Ringo…and George Raft…and then Keith Moon showed up playing a fashion designer…oh, and Tony Curtis talked with a bad Russian accent and threw a cake out the window!”

Absolutely everything about Sextette makes it sound like such an incredibly unlikely film that the fact that somehow all of these things came together to make this movie a reality absolutely delights me.  I mean, who would have thought that Mae West, Ringo Starr, Tony Curtis, Regis Philbin, Alice Cooper, George Raft, Keith Moon, and Timothy Dalton all appeared in the same movie together? That fact alone was enough to sell me on the movie. Then there’s other gloriously insane moments like Tony Curtis hamming it up so much you’ll be looking for a “Honeybaked” label on him and the fashion montage that consists of Mae West trying on dresses and saying her famous quips while Keith Moon, who plays her fashion designer, looks on. I mean, this movie just made it possible for me to write a sentence that mentions both a fashion montage and Keith Moon in the same sentence! It’s all just so incredibly unlikely that I can’t help but love it in a very odd way.

The King and the Chorus Girl (1937)

King and the Chorus Girl 1937Alfred Bruger VII (Fernand Gravet), a former king, is now living in Paris with his last two subjects, Count Humbert (Edward Everett Horton) and Duchess Anna (Mary Nash). His life has no direction, he never goes out, and the only enjoyment he gets out of life is by drinking himself into oblivion. Nothing interests him anymore, but one night, Humbert and Anna talk him into going out to the Folies Bergere in hopes he will find something that will bring him a little bit of happiness.

At first, Alfred is totally unimpressed by the show at the Folies Bergere, but then chorus girl Dorothy Ellis (Joan Blondell) takes the stage and Alfred is instantly smitten. He insists that Anna and Humbert invite her to join him for dinner at home after the show. But when Anna arrives, Alfred is already asleep. Anna isn’t about to spend her night waiting for him, so she leaves, much to the amazement of Humbert and Anna. Not many women have the gumption to do that to Alfred!

When Alfred wakes up the next morning, he’s disappointed to find that she left, but the fact that she doesn’t fall over herself to pursue a former king is very intriguing to him. In fact, getting ditched by Dorothy makes Alfred feel more alive than he’s felt in a long time, and he wants to see her again. Anna and Humbert are so impressed by the influence she’s had on him, they arrange for her to keep rejecting his advances and she agrees. But, of course, things get complicated when she actually does fall in love with him.

The King and the Chorus Girl is most noteworthy for being Groucho Marx’s only attempt at screenwriting. For being written by one of the Marx Brothers, the kings of completely anarchic comedy, I was pleasantly surprised by how grounded the style of comedy in The King and the Chorus Girl is. The script wasn’t perfect, but the movie is still funny and charming without being zany and off the wall. Actually, I appreciated getting to see a little bit of a different side to Groucho’s talents.

I kind of wish Groucho had written more films because I think he could have potentially come up with something really great with a little more experience at screenwriting and writing for other actors. Joan Blondell in particular is an actress I though would do well in a movie with dialogue written by Groucho Marx, and she was indeed the high point of the movie. It wasn’t one of the highlights of her career or anything, but she’s likable enough in it. I think the movie in general could have been greatly improved with a different leading man; Fernand Gravet didn’t really do much for me at all. I probably sound like I’m being rather harsh on The King and the Chorus Girl, but I really did enjoy it for the most part, it just needed a bit more polishing.