Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Ringing out the old year with new books about very old movies, the last post of 2015 tips the Jimmie Hatlo top hat to several superb new releases on the subject of comedy. The bonanza begins with the biography of comedian Larry "Ridolini" Semon - many years in the making - by cartoonist and linguist Claudia Sassen. There are also Michelle Morgan's latest, The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life And Mysterious Death Of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd (which concentrates on Miss Todd's ONSCREEN career), The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels & The History Of American Comedy by Kliph Nesteroff, author of the Classic Television Showbiz blog, and Matthew Dessem's The Gag Man: Clyde Bruckman and the Birth of Film Comedy.
Claudia Sassen's book is a painstakingly researched answer to the question, "just who was that goofy looking ultra-wacky silent film comic known as Larry Semon?"
The thumbnail sketch is that Larry was a prolific cartoonist and the son of a magician named Zera The Great. After a childhood that involved getting onstage with the magic act, Larry who found his way into filmmaking. He started as a gag writer and director for other comedians at Vitagraph and then began starring in his own inventive, cartoony, lightning-paced and stunt-filled series.
In the WW1 era and early 1920's, Semon would be the primary exponent of the "louder, faster, shorter" school of comedy and the architect of spectacular sight gags on an epic scale.
Larry's frequent co-stars and collaborators at Vitagraph included Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy and Dick Smith (the director of The Marx Brothers' silent film, Humoresque, as well as numerous comedies starring his wife, slapstick queen Alice Howell). For more, a lot more, read Larry Semon: Daredevil Comedian Of The Silent Screen.
Thelma Todd has been mostly known for her tragic demise, so it's a wonderful thing that someone has at long last penned a book which actually delves into her contributions as a comedienne, Hal Roach Studios stalwart and ace supporting player in movies.
Surprise surprise surprise, Thelma was actually very bright, very talented and particularly winsome in her films with Charley Chase (The Pip From Pittsburg and Looser Than Loose being standouts). Miss Todd deserves her due and finally gets some overdue accolades here.
The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels & The History Of American Comedy presents an epic history of nightclub and standup comedy in 20th century America, but not in a way that is pedantic or academic in any way.
Nesteroff is a former standup comic and sees it from the inside, weaving the various backstage tales of the wisecracking vaudeville and nightclub denizens (and the mobsters who owned the clubs) into a more expansive overview of 20th century American culture and subculture. For more, listen to the following interviews on WGN Radio and LA Review Of Books.
Clyde Bruckman is both ubiquitous - worked with Keaton, Lloyd, Fields, Laurel & Hardy and many more - and something of a mystery man of classic comedy. Like Thelma Todd, he worked with just about every comedian in Hollywood not named Charlie Chaplin but is known more for his tragic end (suicide) than for the countless laughs he was responsible for.
The Gag Man: Clyde Bruckman and the Birth of Film Comedy spotlights his many contributions to screen comedy, investigates who Bruckman the man was and how drastic changes in the movie business - including the transition from silents to talkies - affected him. Clyde Bruckman's name was on way too many amazingly funny films to be relegated to a footnote in film history.
There's also the new edition of Randy Skredvedt's Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind The Movies, slated for publication in April 2016 (and plugged here prominently just short of two weeks ago), as well as standout new books about classic movies - albeit not specifically about comedy - that would be worthy additions to anyone's bookshelf. These would include Hollywood Celebrates The Holidays: 1920-1970 by Karie Bible (Location Filming In Los Angeles) and Mary Mallory (Hollywoodland), which received a glowing review on the TCM website, as well as Tracy Goessel's The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks. As the old ad campaign said, reading is fundamental. It's also a fitting way to chase out the old year and ring in the new one.
Saturday, December 26, 2015
Here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we are tickled to have made it through another year. Feel very lucky in many ways.
We wish you all the Happiest of Holidays as we traipse, sometimes stumbling, towards the new year. Topping today's post-Christmas post: the finale from Abbott & Costello's Christmas Show on The Colgate Comedy Hour. Take it away, Bud n' Lou!
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Don't know who is responsible for this graphic, but it hits the funny bone sweet spot here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog. While I don't recall Dinah Shore ever hosting A Very Existentialist Christmas special, maybe she should have. . .
Friday, December 18, 2015
Here's the last classic movie related fundraiser we will be plugging for 2015.
The following Kickstarter fundraiser is raising much needed dough-re-me for publication costs associated with the long awaited new edition of Laurel on & Hardy The Magic Behind The Movies.
Classic movie and comedy buffs around the world have worn out previous editions of Randy Skredvedt's book, among the definitive tomes on The Boys, to the point where all the pages have unceremoniously fallen out, so the announcement of the fundraiser is most welcome news.
We fez-wearing L&H aficionados at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog are happy to plug the completely revised, greatly expanded Laurel & Hardy The Magic Behind The Movies - 632 large 8.5 x 11 pages, printed on sturdy, slick paper stock, with over 1,000 photos, most previously unpublished.
The new edition also includes original scripts (including hilarious scenes that never made it to the screen) and quotes from a number of classic comedy luminaries - producer Hal Roach, actresses Anita Garvin and Dorothy Granger, musical director Marvin Hatley, film editors Richard Currier and Bert Jordan.
We wish Randy and Bonaventure Press all the best with this fundraiser, which ends on December 31.
The usual gang of comedy-crazed characters at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog suggest - just in case you happen to be a reader who has forgotten how amazingly funny these guys were - watching the Laurel & Hardy silents You're Darn' Tootin' and Liberty, posted on Hulu.
We add that the intrepid preservationists of UCLA Film & Television Archive launched an ambitious restoration project devoted to Laurel & Hardy awhile back.
To whet a classic comedy buff's appetite further for L&H related stuff, here are some excerpts from Arthur Friedman's August 1957 interview with Stan Laurel. The complete interview has been posted on Ross Owens' Blog.
A great deal more interesting material on the champion of comedy teams can be found on Laurel And Hardy Forum.
The following 1950 "Ship's Reporter" program is among the rare interviews with Oliver Hardy.
We close with a bit of historic footage from the archives of photographer George Mann - and shot on The Lot Of Fun.
Here are Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy and Slow Burnin' Edgar Kennedy on the set of Should Married Men Come Home, the 2-reeler that culminates in a golf course free-for-all, in March 1928.
Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog has posted this footage before but it's so good we had to do it again!
A pre-order of Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies, to be published in April 2016, unquestionably is a far better holiday gift for the classic comedy buff in your life than "hard boiled eggs and nuts".
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Nothing says Merry Christmas quite like a sleazy hood portrayed by Richard Widmark pushing a woman in a wheelchair down the stairs - and San Francisco film buffs will get just that on December 16 with this year's Noir City Xmas extravaganza.
The sixth annual Winter Wonderland of sheer dread starts with The Reckless Moment, one of two 1949 noirs - the other being Caught - directed by Max Ophuls with diabolical skill. Noir queen and noted femme fatale of Fritz Lang movies Joan Bennett stars as a suburban matriarch, responding to a family spinning out of control by plunging into a vortex of blackmail, paranoia and murder.
READERS, PLEASE NOTE: do NOT watch the following YouTube clip and still compilation from The Reckless Moment if it turns out you have both never seen this movie and will be at tomorrow night's program. It is quite the spoiler.
Science fiction and classic television aficionados will note that Geraldine Brooks, the actress who portrays the wild, fast, loose and generally pretty darn reckless daughter in this movie later turns up in several episodes of The Outer Limits.
Not to be outdone, the Ophuls opus will be followed by Kiss Of Death, directed by Henry Hathaway and produced as a vehicle for good guy star Victor Mature, but now primarily known for the bad guy exploits of the baddest of bad guys, sneering psychopath Tommy Udo, played with raging insanity by Richard Widmark.
Tickets are available online via Brown Paper Tickets. For more info, check out the Noir City and Castro Theatre websites.
Saturday, December 12, 2015
Today we tip the Fred Astaire top hat to the vocalist who, in our music-loving opinion here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, is in a three-way tie with Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald as THE greatest interpreter of 20th century pop standards - yep, those tunes (by the usual suspects - Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Frank Loesser and founder of Capitol Records Johnny Mercer) that remain eternally tricky to sing and even trickier to sing on key and with proper understanding of the lyrics. . . Frank Sinatra (December 12, 1915 - May 14, 1998).
Here are just a few clips of The Chairman Of The Board's vocal magic.
To add to the legend, Frank Sinatra was also a terrific actor in numerous movies, including Man With the Golden Arm, From Here To Eternity and this blogger's favorite, Some Came Running.
Thanks, Frank and Ring-A-Ding-Ding!
Sunday, December 06, 2015
This Saturday Night: The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival Returns - Our Better Judgment Notwithstanding
Yes, indeedy do, as this poster by festival co-producer Scott Moon proclaims, on this coming Saturday, December 12, flying in the face of everyone's better judgment yet again, the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival returns to besmirch the hallowed halls of Foothill College's Room 5015.
We will be back with yet another freewheeling improvised program of questionable entertainment, inevitably wreaking a winter harvest of pop culture mayhem.
"Psychotronix" is a variation on Michael Weldon's absolutely essential book, The Psychotronic History Of Cinema, which remains the one and only source covering all varieties of under-the-radar B-films: monster movies, exploitation, horror films, science fiction, rock 'n' roll revues, etc.
Reacting against the very idea of devoting a screening to one director, one genre or one series, curator-archivist-producers-mad scientists Sci Fi Bob Ekman, Scott Moon and yours truly essentially create the program on the fly; we respond to audience reaction and select films accordingly in a "And Now For Something Completely Different" approach to film programming.
As far as overall content goes, the more obscure, the lower the budget, the more under-the-radar, the more pointlessly bizarre, the better.
The delirious mix includes weird cartoons, 1930's comedy shorts, vintage TV commercials, silent film clips, well-meaning but awkward educational films, snack bar ads, Scopitones, Soundies and kidvid gone wrong, terribly wrong.
The next KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival will return (by nothing remotely resembling popular demand) to spacious room 5015 on the Foothill College campus in the lovely Los Altos Hills, not far from the dreaded Silicon Valley on Saturday, December 12, 2015.
Ever-facile movie music expert and linguistically nimble host of "The Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show" Robert Emmett m.c.s the festivities with panache, bon mots and a carefully picked selection of cheesy door prizes.
In addition, the three archivists of Psychotronix will be jabbering about this Saturday's extravaganza on KFJC 89.7 FM at 6:00 p.m. tomorrow evening from 6PM to 7PM Pacific Standard Time.
Since Saturday's KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival happens to be taking place on the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra, there will definitely be some Chairman Of The Board-related footage on hand. It won't, however, be the following trailers, unless someone literally sells or gives 16mm film prints of them to one of The Three Archivists sometime this week.
So while we don't know just WHAT Sinatra-related 16mm footage will be included in the program, there will be some!
The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival
When: Saturday, December 12, 2015, 7:00 to 11:30 PM
Where: Room 5015, Foothill College campus
12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills (El Monte exit off 280)
Why: We like cheesy movies.
How Much? $5 Donation Benefits KFJC. Bring $3 for Parking!
Parking: Lot #5
Public Transit: Cal Train and VTA
Info: Foothill College Transportation & Parking.
Arrive early, as the shows often sell out.
Doors open at 6:00 p.m.
Be there or be oblong!
Thursday, December 03, 2015
Our love for the incredible Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams being well documented, the comedy-crazed crew at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog is ecstatic to see articles from Broadway World and The Hollywood Reporter announcing that the intrepid film preservation gurus of The Library Of Congress have acquired the Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams collection from Edie's son, Josh Mills.
The Ernie and Edie material will join rare videotapes and kinescopes from such luminaries as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Groucho Marx, Danny Kaye, Johnny Carson, Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope.
Your Correspondent, seriously lacking writing mojo today, shall quote the press releases:
"The Library of Congress is the ideal place for the Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams Collection, because both are synonymous with television history and the preservation of American popular culture," Mills said.
"It's immensely gratifying that Edie's dedication to preserving the history of Ernie's pioneering genius in television will ensure that both of their work will live on for generations to enjoy."
"The Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams Collection is an especially welcome acquisition for us," said Mike Mashon, head of the Library's Moving Image Section.
"We're very proud of our humor collections and we're always looking to expand our holdings in early television. With Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams, we accomplish both."
The collection includes more than 1,200 audiovisual items, documenting some of Kovacs' and Adams' earliest work in television.
- 2" videotape masters of all eight of Kovacs' monthly specials for ABC (1961-1962)
- 35 mm kinescopes of 74 episodes of Kovacs' morning show for NBC (1956)
- 2" videotape masters of 35 episodes of "Take a Good Look," Kovacs' tongue-in-cheek panel quiz show (ABC, 1959-1961)
- Original 16 mm elements of Kovacs' silent-movie spoof "The Mysterious Knockwurst," made for his CBS morning show in 1953
- 2" videotape masters of all 21 episodes of "Here's Edie" (ABC, 1962-1964)
- Original 16 mm kinescopes for "Ernie in Kovacsland" (NBC, 1951)
- Audio masters of a formerly unreleased Kovacs LP "Percy Dovetonsils...Thpeakth"
- Test footage of matting effects for Ernie as "Superclod"
Once the processing procedures at LoC are completed, The Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams Collection will be available to researchers in the Library's Motion Picture and Television Reading Room in Washington, D.C. And big time Kudos, Bravos and Huzzahs to that!