Monday, May 27, 2019
Memorial Day Comedy
Well, Memorial Day is here, so . . . Are we going to reflect upon the meaning of the holiday or watch comedy films? With a tip of the Jimmie Hatlo to and appreciation for all those who served and are currently serving, the Admiral McRavens among us, it's time to watch some Memorial Day comedy films.
Many of us of a certain age had dads and moms who served with distinction in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and WACS. Of all the classic film comedies about the military, this writer thinks it is good bet that their favorite - indeed, one of the very best comedies from the 1940's - would have been Howard Hawks' 1947 film I Was A Male War Bride. As great a light comedian as Cary Grant is, and he's terrific as usual in this, the stellar performance of Ann Sheridan puts this post WW2 comedy over the top.
No doubt a close runner-up for the greatest generation - and easily this blogger's WW2 vet father's fave - was Mister Roberts. Always enjoy watching it just because Jack Lemmon, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Cagney and William Powell - we love 'em all - are in the same movie. At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we have been known to double bill it with The Caine Mutiny.
There are few things we can imagine less than comedian Harry Langdon a.k.a. The Little Elf in the armed forces, yet here he is as a very dubious doughboy in a clip from the 1924 Mack Sennett comedy All Night Long. While the king of the silver screen, Charlie Chaplin set a high bar line for comedians starring in service comedies a few years earlier with his 1918 film Shoulder Arms, the highly original Harry Langdon more than holds his own here. He's in top form, very funny. Harry's offscreen pal and key supporting player Vernon Dent co-stars.
Even goofier than Harry Langdon was a certain comic who started in a comedy team that was a sensation in clubs during the last half of the 1940's and subsequently were the principal stars of The Colgate Comedy Hour and a bunch of movies, Martin & Lewis. In Jumping Jacks, Dino sings and Jerry is the human wrecking ball, more destructive than Snooky the Human-zee.
Even less suited for the military: The Three Stooges. In Half Shot Shooters (1936), directed by Preston Black a.k.a. Jack White (director and producer of numerous silent and early sound comedies for Educational Pictures), Moe, Larry and Curly play soldiers who miraculously did not get killed in WW1 - and, unfortunately, encounter their former sergeant 18 years later. This one is noteworthy because it features the first appearance in a Three Stooges comedy of the great comic foil Vernon Dent, perennial nemesis, adversary, Sultan of Scorn, etc.
Among the comedy teams, there are definitely some sleepers in this genre. One would be this Hal Roach Studios opus starring Thelma Todd & Zasu Pitts, helmed by noted silent movie director, offscreen character and carouser Marshall "Mickey" Neilan.
One of the earliest L&H films, WITH LOVE AND HISSES, is a military comedy but not among those sleepers. The duo had not established their characters yet at this point, so the guy we see here is not Stanley from the Laurel & Hardy pictures but the more aggressive Stan we see from his solo films. A few years later, L&H would join the French Foreign Legion in BEAU HUNKS.
The topic of military-related comedies made by the Roach studio in itself could fill a half dozen more Memorial Day posts. Several were musicals starring Charley Chase, something of a mini-series within the larger series - and mostly an excuse for Charley to sing tunes with The Ranch Boys. The standout in these, especially Rough Seas, is invariably the eternally winsome Thelma Todd.
Frame grab courtesy of lordheath.com.
Closing today's Memorial Day entry: Abbott & Costello.
The Abbott & Costello Universal Films DVD box set is chock full off World War II themed films.
Any one of the A&C service comedies - Buck Privates, In The Navy, Keep 'Em Flying, Buck Privates Come Home - goes very well on Memorial Day.