Wednesday, September 25, 2019
We are happy to see the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum present a two day tribute to one of the greatest and arguably the most original of all the comedians from silents and early talkies, Harry Langdon (1884-1944).
On the strength of a series of popular short comedies produced by Mack Sennett and the success of his first three First National feature films, Harry Langdon became a major star and rival to Chaplin for top box-office attraction in screen comedy in the 1920's.
Following an era dominated by Keystone slapstick, Harry presented a minimalistic and wholly unique style of comedy featuring his highly unusual "manchild-space cadet" characterization.
In this respect, Langdon, along with Charley Chase (who also began headlining comedy short subjects in 1924), followed the leads of Buster Keaton and Lloyd Hamilton away from the rough house knockabout favored by Mack Sennett, Henry Lehrman's L-Ko and Fox Sunshine comedies, Roscoe Arbuckle at Comique, Larry Semon at Vitagraph, Hamilton himself as part of Kalem's despicable scoundrel team of "Ham & Bud," and the early Harold Lloyd (in his "Lonesome Luke" series of 1915-1917) towards a less frantic and more nuanced approach.
The first day of the festival will concentrate on Harry's silent films, the second shall present two different programs of his talkies, one from the 1930's, the last from the 1940's.
In lieu of I Don't Remember and Cold Turkey, the Harry Langdon Film Festival will be showing The Stage Hand and The Head Guy. The latter is one of Harry's indescribably bizarre early talkies from his 1929 Hal Roach series and reflects his uncanny ability to be brilliantly original, irritating, uniquely funny, fearless, wildly flailing and a blazing comic genius within the same five minutes. Also on the bill on Sunday will be seversl of the Educational Pictures "Mermaid Comedies" series co-starring Harry Langdon and Vernon Dent; these are arguably Harry's strongest work in the sound era, and the only talkies that get the "little elf" characterization right.
There will be plenty of live presentations on Harry's 20 year career in movies and book signings throughout the weekend. Historians and authors will be offering live introductions to the programs, in addition to the recorded intros by Harry Langdon experts like Michael J. Hayde, Ben Model, Rob Farr and Jim Neibaur.
Here's the link for advance tickets. For more on Harry's career, the book Little Elf: A Celebration Of Harry Langdon by Michael Hayde and Chuck Harter delves into his films in depth and is highly recommended.
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
One of the 20th century comedy greats, in the cartoon voice world, radio, movies and television was trombonist, vocalist and songwriter Jerry Colonna.
A mainstay of Bob Hope's popular radio show, veteran of numerous USO shows, and later a guest on The Bob Hope Chevy Show, The Colgate Comedy Hour and other television programs, Jerry was born Gerardo Luigi Colonna on September 17, 1904.
Jerry's claims to pop culture immortality include stints playing with the Joe Herlihy Orchestra, as well as the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, which at one point was led by bandleader/composer Raymond Scott. In the following clip, Jerry follows then-crooner John Payne (a decade before his starring roles in film noir) and the boys in the band.
He recorded with Scott's Quintette, and appeared on radio with Fred Allen, Bing Crosby (as a trombonist with John Scott Trotter's group) and Bob Hope. As a cast member on Hope's NBC radio show, Jerry delivered catchphrases, zingers and ultra-wacky musicality to spare.
The ultimate tribute was paid by the animators at Warner Brothers, who not only caricatured Jerry frequently, but even gave him his own cartoon, directed by Friz Freleng.
Jerry would continue co-starring with Hope on such movies as Road to Rio, Road to Singapore, Road to Utopia and The Road to Hong Kong. He also appeared in Rosalie Little Miss Broadway, It's in the Bag, Andy Hardy Comes Home and many Bob Hope TV specials.
This was not unnoticed in the showbiz world and led to Colonna's work as a cartoon voice artist at Disney.
For more, read the splendid article Devon Baxter wrote about Jerry for the Cartoon Research website.
Saturday, September 14, 2019
Back in big screen glory - Laurel & Hardy tomorrow evening at QED in Astoria, Queens.
The following Saturday, across the country from Astoria, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum presents Comedy Shorts Night, featuring Charlie Chaplin in The Pawnshop (1916), Buster Keaton in One Week (1920), Charley Chase in His Wooden Wedding (1925) and You’re Darn Tootin’ (1928) starring Laurel & Hardy.
A week later, on the last weekend of September, the museum shall pay tribute to the 1920's comedy headliner for Mack Sennett and First National Pictures (and later, in the 1930's, an inventive story and gag writer for Laurel & Hardy feature films) Harry "The Little Elf" Langdon.
The key word is LAUGHS!
Laughs are king and will rule the roost at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum on the last two weekends of September!
Film buffs and comedy fans: support your purveyors of classic movie goodness!
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. First and foremost, the National Suicide Prevention hotline is (800) 273-8255. Sadly, suicide is a topic which dovetails too often with the focuses of this blog: classic movies, comedy and 20th century show business.
Life is not easy for anyone, but can be particularly harsh on those whose profession is making people laugh on stage and screen.
The Suicide Prevention hotline may well have saved several of this blogger's all-time favorite 20th century performers, directors, writers and filmmakers.
Maybe a hotline or intervention would have averted tragedies involving a number of the greatest laugh-getters to ever star in feature films.
Touched upon this topic last year after the news broke that author/filmmaker/chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade had committed suicide. Two years earlier, the death of Robin Williams by suicide was a shocker.
If any readers of this blog find themselves in danger from severe clinical depression and considering suicide, again, the hotline number is (800) 273-8255. Use it. Go there first.
Wednesday, September 04, 2019
While watching clips from Your Show Of Shows, realized that one of the cast members was born 100 years ago today. That would be the prolific actor, comedian, cartoon voice artist, comedy writer, producer and director Howard Morris (September 4, 1919 – May 21, 2005).
Many of us of a certain age first became familiar with Howard Morris via his memorable pop star character Jet Screamer on The Jetsons.
The Brooklyn-born comedian and director began his career onstage as a classically trained Shakespearian actor.
As a troupe member on Your Show Of Shows and Caesar's Hour, he contributed incendiary performances to dozens of incredibly funny sketches.
Howard's gonzo performance as the indescribable yet quite enthusiastic "Uncle Goopy" is a highlight one of the most celebrated comedy sketches in television history,"This Is Your Story," from Your Show of Shows.
Duo pieces on Your Show Of Shows and Caesar's Hour featuring Howard and Sid Caesar are frequently hilarious. The sheer physical contrast between the two is amazing.
In addition to his numerous performances as an actor and comedian on stage, screen and TV, Morris directed feature films. One of his most memorable was the 1967 comic whodunit Who's Minding The Mint, chock full of wonderful comedians.
Although Mr. Morris directed dozens of TV shows and voiced countless cartoon characters, he is very likely associated most with his portrayal of Ernest T. Bass, the backwoods nut job he played with great relish and enthusiasm in a handful of memorable episodes of The Andy Griffith show. Like Uncle Goopy, the character is funny!
Monday, September 02, 2019
As this blog tends to be very comedy-centric, it's difficult to even come up with a very short list of favorite Hollywood feature films about Labor Day. Documentaries (Barbara Kopple's 1976 film Harlan County, USA) on labor movements, yes, absolutely, but Hollywood movies, besides Martin Ritt's Norma Rae, Paul Schrader's Blue Collar, Norman Jewison's F.I.S.T. (co-written by its star, Sylvester Stallone, with Joe Estherhaus) and John Sayles' Matewan, not so much.
Thinking of "jobs and working conditions you hate", sequences involving assembly lines in Chaplin's Modern Times and the René Clair flick that inspired it, À Nous la Liberté, immediately come to mind.
Thinking of the working conditions and the 19th century style approach to employees' rights that spawned the labor movement in the first place, a certain sketch from Your Show Of Shows comes to mind. It's a spoof of the kind of movies made in the first decade of the 20th century, the heydey of Florence Lawrence, the Biograph girl. It both parodies the earliest American narrative movies in a very funny way and points out the kinds of abuses that led to the formation of the labor movement. As usual, the cast of Imogene Coca, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris is hilarious.
While the 1978 film Norma Rae, starring Sally Field and Beau Bridges, is certainly a stellar flick about the labor movement, here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we like this sendup from SCTV, "My Factory My Self," more. It manages to skewer a bunch of then-trendy movies from that era (including Kramer Vs. Kramer and An Unmarried Woman) and 1970's pop culture cliches mercilessly. Andrea Martin, arguably the greatest living comedienne not named Carol Burnett, is particularly brilliant here.
Early 1930's Warner Brothers/First National features such as Heroes For Sale and Wild Boys Of The Road, gritty Great Depression films about a society in which there were no jobs, tend to be my personal picks for this weekend. Happy Labor Day - and we sincerely hope those of you who are working today are either getting time-and-a-half or double time.