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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Slate: Baseball’s First Black Player Lived His Life as a White Man

The William Edward White story…

Until she was contacted last month, White’s only grandchild, Lois De Angelis, said her family had been unaware of White’s role in baseball history, and of his racial background. De Angelis, who is 74 years old and lives in Grayslake, Ill., said she knew that her grandfather worked as an artist and had been published in the Saturday Evening Post or another magazine, and that he was separated from her grandmother, who worked as a secretary for Sears. Beyond that, De Angelis said she knew nothing about William Edward White.

White’s wife, Hattie, lived until 1970. De Angelis doubted that Hattie would have known White was one-quarter black, at least before they were married. “My grandmother was very prudish, very English,” she said. Neither Hattie nor De Angelis’ mother, Vera, ever mentioned why Hattie and White had separated, De Angelis said. Perhaps, she speculated, White left the household because Hattie discovered his racial history. “That’s funny when I think of my grandmother,” De Angelis said. “She would die if she knew it.”

So where does that leave William Edward White? Baseball pioneer or baseball footnote? When he trotted out to first base at Messer Street Grounds in Providence, White may have been the only person who knew that a black man was playing in the big leagues. And even that assumes White thought about the fact that he was black, or even partly black. In the racially bifurcated America of the times, “you were black or you were white,” Hobbs says. If no one else knew—if society couldn’t respond and react—it’s reasonable to question whether White should be recognized as the first African-American major-leaguer.

Or maybe that’s a distinction without a difference. American history and its precision-loving subset of baseball history are filled with the sort of ambiguity that complicates the search for convenient, ironclad “firsts.” This much is indisputable: On June 21, 1879, a man born a slave in Georgia played in a major-league baseball game. A black man named White played for the Grays. Factually and figuratively, that seems right. And it seems worth celebrating.

Repoz Posted: February 05, 2014 at 08:57 AM | 740 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history

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   401. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 11, 2014 at 04:57 PM (#4655029)
As usual, you've got a molehill of a legitimate point, but then you try to make a mountain out of it.

--------------------------------------------------

I love how Morty has gone from arguing subtitles ruin a movie (or words to that effect) to subtitles are mostly inferior to understanding the native language.

Morty's all in favor of subtlety and nuance as long as it's not required of him.

--------------------------------------------------

The problem, Morty Causa, is that, I think, you're using a cudgel when you should be using a scalpel.

The problem here, as nearly always, is that Morty gets his back up about something, stretches what everyone else is saying beyond recognition, and then tries to drown them out with references to the The Wit and Wisdom of John Ford and everyone else associated with films whose opinions happen to coincide with his. And always accompanied by an insistence that we have to justify our private preferences, as if there's some sort of objective criterion that commands any intelligent monolingual American to get more out of The Searchers than Tokyo Story, simply because we grew up in Cowboy Nation or something.

Morty, you like what you like, and I'm sure you have a million very good reasons for your personal preferences, all backed up by quotes from Agee, Kael, and my main man Otis Ferguson. You're a font of cinematic information, and I respect you for that, but you're still speaking only for yourself when you issue all these grand proclamations about "game, set and match". That's the kind of rhetoric we get from Ray just before he picks the Eagles to win the Super Bowl, and it's not winning you many converts.
   402. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: February 11, 2014 at 05:00 PM (#4655033)
Only wish Pesci's character had gotten a more gruesome death. He deserved worse than a shot in the back. I guess in the book he was tortured to death.


DeSimone's body was never found, a couple of guys have taken "credit"

Henry Hill has claimed that John Gotti did it personally (Batts was a friend of his) - oddly enough Gotti (or a Gotti analogue) was written out of the movie because at the time the "Dapper Don" was extremely well known to the general public and Scorsese didn't want people watching the film to go, "hey isn't that supposed to be John Giotti?" In the book Gotti doesn't appear a lot, but he's kind of ever present as the primary antagonist to Hill and his Friend's crew.
   403. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: February 11, 2014 at 05:07 PM (#4655039)
**How many current Americans (median birth date 1977; nearly 30% non-white) have "grown up" in a culture that's remotely like the one depicted in American movies of the TCM era, where minorities are largely invisible and the solution to every romantic problem is marriage in the final reel?


What I love about some of those films from the 40s/50s, is you really will have a fadeout after a dinner party scene, and the next scene opens up with a train entering a tunnel, or a view of a construction site (centered on the guy with the jackhammer)... followed by the protagonist being late for work because he overslept for some unexplained reason...

   404. Greg K Posted: February 11, 2014 at 05:15 PM (#4655046)
I find silent and sub-titled movies basically un-watchable.

I once had a project going of setting up a playoff bracket of movies and watching two every scheduled movie night to see who advanced. We had five to seven people in the group (depending on who showed up any given night). But two of the participants are absolutely unable to watch subtitled films, so we had to go with the dubbed version of Das Boot. Talk about unwatchable.

I guess I've just gotten used to subtitles. The one time I found them distracting was when I saw In Bruges in Paris. English with French subtitles that I kept reading to see if my barely existent French comprehension could make out what they were translating it as. It was like trying to sleep when someone is having a conversation in the other room. If they are loud enough that I can make them out clearly I can sleep ok. But when they are just quiet enough that I can understand them if I focus, I'll never get to sleep.

I also watched Joyuex Noel once with a Romanian guy who spoke German fluently. He kept pointing out that he would have translated the subtitles they used for the German soldiers differently.

But for me the most remarkable translation job will always be Asterix and Obelix. How you can translate humour, especially humour that relies so much on puns, will forever be a mystery to me. I'm sure there's some simple explanation, but please don't tell me, I'd rather have the awe.
   405. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 11, 2014 at 05:16 PM (#4655047)
Is the third movie dead in the water, Monty? Have you heard or seen anything about it?


I've heard nothing. But the director seems to have moved on to the greener pastures of Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
   406. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 11, 2014 at 05:19 PM (#4655049)
What I love about some of those films from the 40s/50s, is you really will have a fadeout after a dinner party scene, and the next scene opens up with a train entering a tunnel, or a view of a construction site (centered on the guy with the jackhammer)... followed by the protagonist being late for work because he overslept for some unexplained reason...

To me the real beauty of the movies of the 10's through the 50's is that even when they're B-movies or potboilers, they provide a great look into the culture and the cultural assumptions of the ruling majority of the times. To take an extremely obvious example, how many noirs were ever made in the late 40's and early 50's that don't feature an interlude with a nightclub singer? And even with those relatively uncensored pre-code dramas, how many of them didn't wind up with the dude and the dame falling into each other's arms in the last scene and deciding to go to the altar, no matter what sort of lowlifes they've acted like for the first 99% of the movie?
   407. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 11, 2014 at 05:21 PM (#4655050)
I find silent and sub-titled movies basically un-watchable.

I'd react to that, except that you'd probably say the same thing about movies that feature pre-marital sex and unmarried cohabitation. (smile)
   408. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 11, 2014 at 05:23 PM (#4655052)
I'd react to that, except that you'd probably say the same thing about movies that feature pre-marital sex and unmarried cohabitation. (smile)

Don't understand the connection, as I'm no prude, but I guess the smile covers that.
   409. Greg K Posted: February 11, 2014 at 05:24 PM (#4655053)
**How many current Americans (median birth date 1977; nearly 30% non-white) have "grown up" in a culture that's remotely like the one depicted in American movies of the TCM era, where minorities are largely invisible and the solution to every romantic problem is marriage in the final reel?

Since I fall more or less in this demographic (1983, in a neighbourhood that was about 75% non-white...though I guess not American, but may as well be the same thing when it comes to movies)...

I think I'm familiar with the world of TCM movies, but it has nothing to do with the experience of my day-to-day life. Whether through the movies themselves, or the many, many forms of media I grew up with which were influenced by them (The Simpsons obviously, but the culture we're talking about is far more pervasive than explicit spoofs or references). So I'd say it's a world most of us (or maybe I should just speak for myself) are very familiar with, and one we can intelligibly engage with.

But when movies or TV shows come along that are more familiar because of their connections to our everyday lives, rather that connections to the long-running world of movie and literary culture, it's a bit...I don't know if jarring is the right word. But strikes a different note.
   410. Lassus Posted: February 11, 2014 at 06:45 PM (#4655129)
The AGH SUBTITLES IT BURNS GOD IT BURNS is a common argument. I've never gotten it. Obviously some suck. A lot don't. I'll take the chance and not miss brilliance like "El Crimen Ferpecto" (Perfecto) every time.
   411. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 11, 2014 at 06:54 PM (#4655133)
The AGH SUBTITLES IT BURNS GOD IT BURNS is a common argument. I've never gotten it. Obviously some suck. A lot don't. I'll take the chance and not miss brilliance like "El Crimen Ferpecto" (Perfecto) every time.

What's even weirder is that some people take it beyond foreign films and use the same excuse for not watching silents. I think that a simple case of low attention span is the underlying problem in most of these cases; it's hard to multitask when you have to pay full attention to the screen.
   412. Greg K Posted: February 11, 2014 at 06:57 PM (#4655136)
What's even weirder is that some people take it beyond foreign films and use the same excuse for not watching silents. I think that a simple case of low attention span is the underlying problem in most of these cases; it's hard to multitask when you have to pay full attention to the screen.

I have a friend who texts during movies. It's particularly annoying 10 minutes later when they ask what's going on.
   413. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: February 11, 2014 at 07:40 PM (#4655154)
I have a friend who texts during movies. It's particularly annoying 10 minutes later when they ask what's going on.


The fact that you apparently haven't killed, or at least soundly thrashed, him/her does not speak well of you, I'm afraid.
   414. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 11, 2014 at 07:48 PM (#4655158)
What's even weirder is that some people take it beyond foreign films and use the same excuse for not watching silents. I think that a simple case of low attention span is the underlying problem in most of these cases; it's hard to multitask when you have to pay full attention to the screen.

I don't multi-task while watching movies, unless I'm watching it for the 12th time b/c nothing's on. I just find it very distracting to have to focus on the bottom of the screen. Maybe it's because my eyes suck.
   415. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: February 11, 2014 at 08:00 PM (#4655165)
I don't multi-task while watching movies, unless I'm watching it for the 12th time b/c nothing's on. I just find it very distracting to have to focus on the bottom of the screen. Maybe it's because my eyes suck.


My kids play with the TV remote a lot, so every now and the the closed captioning shows up- and when it's on I find I tend to read that instead of actually listening to the dialogue...
   416. Greg K Posted: February 11, 2014 at 08:17 PM (#4655174)
That's true, English subtitles for English films is very, very distracting for me.
   417. Bitter Mouse Posted: February 11, 2014 at 08:37 PM (#4655178)
That's true, English subtitles for English films is very, very distracting for me.


Third. Partly because I read really fast and finish well before the dialogue is done. Very weird.
   418. Morty Causa Posted: February 11, 2014 at 08:49 PM (#4655188)
I just find it very distracting to have to focus on the bottom of the screen. Maybe it's because my eyes suck.

It may be that your eyesight exacerbates the problem, but that problem is innate to the way the brain works. With subtitling, you cannot avoid having your attention divided, if not downright distracted. It's no different than texting while driving, or, indeed, just listening to the radio or having a conversation with someone while driving. I not saying we should outlaw all those things (how could you?), but don't kid yourself into thinking that it doesn't create concentration problems. And has an effect in fully appreciating the work in question. Subtitles are no different than texting or using the cell phone--how often do you get mentally lost in doing that? It's hard to read while watching a film, and it's difficult to watch a film while reading. This is not mystical, and it can't be remedied by just setting your mind to do so. It's like the platoon differential.
   419. Morty Causa Posted: February 11, 2014 at 08:57 PM (#4655192)
To me the real beauty of the movies of the 10's through the 50's is that even when they're B-movies or potboilers, they provide a great look into the culture and the cultural assumptions of the ruling majority of the times.

That's one of the joys, especially if you have the sensibilities of a social worker, but the purpose of all those years you spent in school (at least) studying poems, novels, essays, and other literary art forms, was to rise above all that and see the larger template. As I remember Dwight MacDonald in On Movies sees this as Pauline Kael's major failing as a critic. She's great at the social implications, but deficient in esthetics. Since you apparently have the book handy, you can correct me if that's wrong. Being a big Kael fan at the time, I didn't much like that, and I guess that's why it stuck with me. But, yeah, correlating Scarface or The Public Enemy to their times is both instructive and fun. But it isn't, and shouldn't be, an end in itself when it comes to appreciation of classics.
   420. Morty Causa Posted: February 11, 2014 at 09:07 PM (#4655195)
Aristophanes is ####### hilarious, especially when it's presented dramatically (as was intended).

To name some others:

So is Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. Indeed, so is Kaufman and Hart (or Kaufman & X)--and so is the play The Front Page. So are a number of Neil Simon's plays.

I find silent and sub-titled movies basically un-watchable.

I've already commented on this, but let me add that silent films don't have sub-titles really. The movie stops for a separate prose interpolation.

Watch Keaton's Seven Chances. If you don't find that funny and touching, okay, then forget about silent movies.
   421. Morty Causa Posted: February 11, 2014 at 09:23 PM (#4655202)
396:

Sorry, I forgot about your previous post. In fact, I almost forgot about this one. That is a good post with a number of keen observations, and I mostly agree with it, both the positive and the negative, assertions and the reservation. Contrary to the static that almost always accompanies some people's opinions and responses, I have never said that you can't appreciate a foreign work. I said at the beginning, and I emphasized that the deficiency may be all mine, that I don't see how someone not native to a culture can fully appreciate a work the way a native would. That foreigner starts with a big handicap. That doesn't mean handicaps can't be worked around. Just as I can't see how a translation of Huck Finn can do substantial justice to the original, I think this applies to movies. There's a warp and woof to the fabric of a culture that a work of art reflects, encompasses even, and a foreigner can't see, much less tune into that, unless, of course, he becomes knowledgeable, and even then there are limitations. But isn't an either/or, a yea/nay; it's a continuum. Hey, individuals can deeply immerse themselves in a culture. Not being familiar with a people's language, though, is starting with a big handicap.
   422. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 12, 2014 at 09:26 AM (#4655333)
To me the real beauty of the movies of the 10's through the 50's is that even when they're B-movies or potboilers, they provide a great look into the culture and the cultural assumptions of the ruling majority of the times.

That's one of the joys, especially if you have the sensibilities of a social worker, but the purpose of all those years you spent in school (at least) studying poems, novels, essays, and other literary art forms, was to rise above all that and see the larger template.


Except that what the filmmaker intends to be the "larger template" is often mediocre at best, and what you're left with is what I mentioned: An unintended stolen glance at the times and values** of that period of moviemaking. You can call that the sensibility of a social worker, but I just call it a fascination with that specific period of history. It's an often crude but entertaining way of "interviewing" the past, unfiltered by our own temporal biases.

**Not always uniform, of course. Obviously within the larger framework of shared assumptions there was often much squabbling.

As I remember Dwight MacDonald in On Movies sees this as Pauline Kael's major failing as a critic. She's great at the social implications, but deficient in esthetics. Since you apparently have the book handy, you can correct me if that's wrong. Being a big Kael fan at the time, I didn't much like that, and I guess that's why it stuck with me. But, yeah, correlating Scarface or The Public Enemy to their times is both instructive and fun. But it isn't, and shouldn't be, an end in itself when it comes to appreciation of classics.

Well, as I should have made clear(er) the first time, the better the movie, the more that what you call "the aesthetics" (which I'd just call the overall quality of the film) come to the forefront.

Or to put it another way: Pretty much all the gangster movies of 1932 and 1983, taken as groups, can tell us a lot about what the Hollywood worldviews of those two years were. But it's the "aesthetic" qualities of the Muni and Pacino films that bring them way above similar genre movies of their time and place.

-------------------------------------------

Contrary to the static that almost always accompanies some people's opinions and responses, I have never said that you can't appreciate a foreign work. I said at the beginning, and I emphasized that the deficiency may be all mine, that I don't see how someone not native to a culture can fully appreciate a work the way a native would. That foreigner starts with a big handicap. That doesn't mean handicaps can't be worked around. Just as I can't see how a translation of Huck Finn can do substantial justice to the original, I think this applies to movies. There's a warp and woof to the fabric of a culture that a work of art reflects, encompasses even, and a foreigner can't see, much less tune into that, unless, of course, he becomes knowledgeable, and even then there are limitations. But isn't an either/or, a yea/nay; it's a continuum. Hey, individuals can deeply immerse themselves in a culture. Not being familiar with a people's language, though, is starting with a big handicap.

All things being equal, it's better to be fluent in the original language of a movie or a book. But somewhat analogous to the point about aesthetics, the better the movie, the less that lack of multilingual fluency becomes a handicap---because a truly great film can overcome such a handicap with its other qualities. If this weren't the case, a significant minority of reviews by all those celebrated critics you like to cite (Agee, MacDonald, Kael, etc.) wouldn't have been devoted to singing the praises of those un-American productions. And unless my memory is faulty, I can't recall any time where any of these critics made a point that they were only able to "fully" understand the movie because they were fluent in the film's original language.
   423. Ben Broussard Ramjet Posted: February 12, 2014 at 11:11 AM (#4655391)
Random subtitle anecdote: Working in Amsterdam, I often took one evening a week to catch up with a movie at the beautiful Pathé Tuschinski near my hotel. Dutch airings of English-language movies are pretty much always subtitled unless aimed at the very young, for obvious reasons. My mistake one evening, however, was going to see 'Apocalypto'. (Although, to be fair, it's not like the movie was hard to follow even in Mayan with Dutch subtitles . . .)
   424. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 12, 2014 at 11:28 AM (#4655411)
I saw a dubbed "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in Amsterdam. Did you know that when off to work they go, Amsterdam dwarfs sing "Hey ho, hey ho"? I assume "hiho" in Dutch must mean "scrotum" or something.

And of course, because of the eternally unbridgeable "hey" vs. "hi" cultural gap, I had no understanding of whether I was watching a fairy tale, a documentary on miners' rights, or a Werner Herzog Saturday morning cartoon about decadent midgets.
   425. Ben Broussard Ramjet Posted: February 12, 2014 at 11:57 AM (#4655436)
It was also thanks to watching subtitled TV in Amsterdam - specifically, an old episode of 'Spin City' - that I learned that the Dutch word for 'urine sample' is, apparently, 'urinemonster'.
   426. PreservedFish Posted: February 12, 2014 at 12:28 PM (#4655468)
I saw Star Wars II, whatever it's called, in Amsterdam. This was fine until aliens began to speak.
   427. Morty Causa Posted: February 12, 2014 at 01:54 PM (#4655560)
422:

Except that what the filmmaker intends to be the "larger template" is often mediocre at best, and what you're left with is what I mentioned: An unintended stolen glance at the times and values** of that period of moviemaking. You can call that the sensibility of a social worker, but I just call it a fascination with that specific period of history. It's an often crude but entertaining way of "interviewing" the past, unfiltered by our own temporal biases.

COME BACK, ZINC! ZINC, COME BACK!

But it's the "aesthetic" qualities of the Muni and Pacino films that bring them way above similar genre movies of their time and place.

But you never go into what that would be. It's always, well, that's just the glamour of Cagney, or that just appeals to white racists. That's fan magazine talk. That's neither overarching strictures, nor reductive distillation. Yet, you seem to think engaging in superficial truisms is a way of analyzing and judging film (or any art). Opinion is fine, but It doesn't, and shouldn't, just end with, well, it's all comes down to opinion. That's the essence of philistinism.. What your opinion is based on is what makes that opinion worthwhile.

And unless my memory is faulty, I can't recall any time where any of these critics made a point that they were only able to "fully" understand the movie because they were fluent in the film's original language.

That's where I drink their milk shake.

EDITed
   428. Morty Causa Posted: February 12, 2014 at 02:38 PM (#4655621)
Graham Greene compares Shirley Temple to Marlene Dietrich

Miss Shirley Temple’s case, though, has peculiar interest: Infancy is her disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult. Already two years ago she was a fancy little piece (real childhood, I think, went out after The Littlest Rebel). In Captain January she wore trousers with the mature suggestiveness of a Dietrich: her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap-dance: her eyes had a sidelong searching coquetry. Now in Wee Willie Winkie, wearing short kilts, she is completely totsy

He lost that case for libel, and didn't take it well:

Greene fled to Mexico—a trip that would inspire The Power and the Glory—and he wasn’t happy about having to go on the lam for a movie review. In a 1938 letter to a friend (reprinted in Graham Greene: A Life in Letters), Greene wrote, “I found a cable waiting for me in Mexico City asking me to agree to apologise to that little ##### Shirley Temple—so I suppose the case has now been settled with the maximum publicity.” Ultimately, a judge found in the studio’s favor—agreeing with the lawyer defending the plaintiffs who called Greene’s review “one of the most horrible libels that one could well imagine”—and ordered a settlement of £3,500, of which £500 came out of Greene’s pocket.
   429. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 12, 2014 at 02:47 PM (#4655634)
COME BACK, ZINC! ZINC, COME BACK!

Morty Causa, the Boswell to Matt Groening's Johnson.

But it's the "aesthetic" qualities of the Muni and Pacino films that bring them way above similar genre movies of their time and place.

But you never go into what that would be. It's always, well, that's just the glamour of Cagney, or that just appeals to white racists. That's fan magazine talk. That's neither overarching strictures, nor reductive distillation. Yet, you seem to think engaging in superficial truisms is a way of analyzing and judging film (or any art). Opinion is fine, but It doesn't, and shouldn't, just end with, well, it's all comes down to opinion. That's the essence of philistinism.. What your opinion is based on is what makes that opinion worthwhile.


My opinion on a movie is based on: the story it has to tell; how well it tells it; the vividness of the characters; the quality of the acting; the time and setting of the movie; if the movie purports to be about real events, the degree to which the movie's message corresponds with the facts; and so on.

What I care very little about, unless they become distractions, are loud soundtracks, special effects, and other flashy visual gimmicks. These may impress you, but they either put me off or put me to sleep.

What I also have preferences for are certain genres over others. I make no rational defense of these choices, and you can shred them all you want by invoking your cartoon images of what you think I am. Westerns bore me**. So do "adventure" movies which are little more than variants of Cowboys and Indians set on other continents. So do space epics or science fiction movies made after about 1956. So does the sacred "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington". So do costume dramas of any sort, especially including Biblical epics with casts of thousands. So do most (though not all) Hollywood war movies. So do films where the only discernible point is "pushing the envelope" in some market-certified direction, be it factory-scale sex or conspiracy theory paranoia.

You read and worship Big Name critics. I read those critics in the light of their known biases and preferences, and add salt as needed. I would likely be the world's worst movie critic ever, but I've somehow managed to find a fair amount of value and meaning in many hundreds of movies over the years, movies that span the entire scope of cinematic history from the 1890's through the present day. This isn't a ####### contest to see whose critical dick is bigger, which is what you seem to want to engage in. It's just people expressing opinions about movies, based on their own particular set of values and life experiences.

And unless my memory is faulty, I can't recall any time where any of these critics made a point that they were only able to "fully" understand the movie because they were fluent in the film's original language.

That's where I drink their milk shake.


Oh, please elaborate on what that pithy comeback is supposed to represent. We're all dying to put it in our own private Bartlett's, next to "Kenneth, what is the frequency?".

**Exceptions duly noted in most of these categories, e.g. The Naked Spur and The Violent Men for Westerns.

   430. Morty Causa Posted: February 12, 2014 at 06:14 PM (#4655867)
Et Tu, Sid. Only Mickey is left of the principals.

Couldn't find a clip of my favorite bit with Caesar, which is where he and his wife Edie Adams are locked in the basement of the hardware store. As he progressively gets more extreme in his attempts to break out of the place, she tries to get him to calm down. He's having none of it: "They locked us in," he says throbbingly, as if that were complete justification.
   431. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 12, 2014 at 07:14 PM (#4655899)
So did we need John Crosby to appreciate Gallipacci? And did we need to grow up speaking pidgin Italian?
   432. Morty Causa Posted: February 12, 2014 at 07:26 PM (#4655906)
At ease. You can quite grasping at straws. You've demonstrating beyond all doubt that you're hopeless. Let's just bask in nostalgia until that Lord of the Rings-like Flying Freedom Bus arrives to take us from Middle Earth.

At the Movies. Every once in a while the Sid show got kind of brutal with its farces.
   433. Greg K Posted: February 12, 2014 at 07:48 PM (#4655915)
At the Movies. Every once in a while the Sid show got kind of brutal with its farces.

I was really expecting that giant wad of gum to make its presence known again at the end of the sketch.

Reminds me a bit of the Key and Peele sketch with the girlfriend manipulating the boyfriend into fighting her battles.
   434. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 12, 2014 at 09:30 PM (#4655953)
Et Tu, Sid. Only Mickey is left of the principals.

Hey, I didn't know until a few minutes ago that Sid Caesar had died. Guess that's what you must have meant by "Et, Tu, Sid." What a loss, but we'll always have YouTube to remember him by.

I used to devour Your Show of Shows along with my parents when I was knee high, and ran 16mm bootleg copies of some of the Caesar's Hour sketches with Nanette Fabray (including Gallipacci) along with many other vintage TV shows to practically every Big Ten, SEC, and ACC school from Chapel Hill to Baton Rouge to Minneapolis. If you were a Cajun turned Tiger at LSU in the mid-70's, you might have even caught it there yourself. I never cared much for Forum, but those two TV series of his were pure gold.

And BTW by linking to that last clip you're officially pardoned for all your prior transgressions. I don't think there's ever been a funnier human being than Sid Caesar, a funnier TV show than Your Show of Shows, and a better supporting cast than Coca, Reiner, and Morris, who sneaks in at the end of that particular skit to land the crowing insult.
   435. Morty Causa Posted: February 13, 2014 at 12:51 AM (#4656053)
I came late to Sid Caesar. We didn't have a TV until 1956, I believe it was, when I was about eight. And then for a couple of years at least, the NBC station (Lake Charles or Baton Rouge) gave us poor reception, so we were stuck watching a lot more CBS (Lafayette) stuff, then later ABC (Lafayette also), too, my home town being a significantly closer to the CBS and ABC towers. And I only went to LSU for law school, so unfortunately I would have missed the 70s presentations.

   436. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 17, 2014 at 04:40 AM (#4657910)
I've never met a single person, young or old and everything in between, who's seen Fernandel's The Sheep Has Five Legs, and hasn't said it was in the top half dozen comedies they'd ever seen


For what it is worth, I have just finished watching this, and I didn't laugh once. I could barely tell which spots were intended to be amusing. The internet informs me that at one point, big laughs were supposed to be derived from a reference to Fernandel's other movies, but they were lost on me.
   437. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 17, 2014 at 09:06 AM (#4657917)
For what it is worth, I have just finished watching this, and I didn't laugh once. I could barely tell which spots were intended to be amusing. The internet informs me that at one point, big laughs were supposed to be derived from a reference to Fernandel's other movies, but they were lost on me.

Monty, all I can say is that your sense of humor leaves something to be desired. The first part with the lazy and hypochondriac window washer, and the mortician who's hovering over him, just waiting for him to die? The segment with the sea captain who gambles everything he owns on which lump of sugar a fly will land on? I wouldn't think you'd need an internet prompting to see the humor in those, at the very least.

But to each his own, I guess. I have the same "This is supposed to be funny?" reaction to Blazing Saddles (way too jokey) and Young Frankenstein (ditto), and pretty much every single comedy made in the 60's and 70's other than The Producers, Animal House**, Annie Hall (overrated but still okay) and Up in Smoke. Humor is still pretty much an individual thing, in spite of all of the attempts by comedians to mass-produce our reactions.

**Plus what I saw of SNL
   438. Publius Publicola Posted: February 17, 2014 at 10:03 AM (#4657933)
I never thought Sid Caesar was that funny, kind of like a rich man's Charlie Callas. Coca and Reiner I thought were funny though.
   439. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 17, 2014 at 01:09 PM (#4658032)
The first part with the lazy and hypochondriac window washer, and the mortician who's hovering over him, just waiting for him to die? The segment with the sea captain who gambles everything he owns on which lump of sugar a fly will land on?


Both left me absolutely cold.
   440. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 17, 2014 at 02:41 PM (#4658078)
The first part with the lazy and hypochondriac window washer, and the mortician who's hovering over him, just waiting for him to die? The segment with the sea captain who gambles everything he owns on which lump of sugar a fly will land on?

Both left me absolutely cold.


So out of curiosity, what movies have made you surrender your poker face?
   441. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 17, 2014 at 02:49 PM (#4658080)
So out of curiosity, what movies have made you surrender your poker face?


Well, my favorite movie is His Girl Friday. I'm also very fond of the Monty Python movies (not counting And Now For Something Completely Different, which doesn't really count) and Of recent comedies, I liked The Heat, 21 Jump Street (much better than it had any right to be), and Black Dynamite a lot. My favorite Marx Brother is Harpo.
   442. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 17, 2014 at 03:04 PM (#4658086)
I have the same "This is supposed to be funny?" reaction to Blazing Saddles (way too jokey) and Young Frankenstein (ditto), and pretty much every single comedy made in the 60's and 70's other than The Producers, Animal House**, Annie Hall (overrated but still okay) and Up in Smoke.

Other 1960s comedies I think are superior: "The Nutty Professor," "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," "A Shot in the Dark," "Dr. Strangelove," "A Hard Day's Night," "The Graduate," and "Take the Money and Run."

And the 1970s: "M*A*S*H", "Sleeper," "Love and Death," "Monty Python & the Holy Grail," "The Return of the Pink Panther" and "The Pink Panther Strikes Again," "Network," "Slap Shot," "Manhattan," "The Jerk," "Life of Brian," "The In-Laws," and "Being There." Along with a few quasi-comedies like "The Sting," "The Bad News Bears," and "Paper Moon." You can throw in "The Apartment," "Pierrot le Fou" and "Butch Cassidy & SK" for the 1960s' quasi list.

I've had "The Sheep Has Five Legs" in my Amazon basket for maybe a year now, based solely on your frequent championing of it, but I haven't pulled the trigger. Your thoughts about Mel Brooks in 1974, and the adequacy of Annie Hall next to the praise for Cheech & Chong are worrisome to me as a prospective consumer.
   443. Lassus Posted: February 17, 2014 at 03:11 PM (#4658092)
Is this the thread where we can talk about True Detective? Because it is damned impressive, but still always ever-so-close to self-parody.

   444. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 17, 2014 at 03:15 PM (#4658094)
Is this the thread where we can talk about True Detective?


Let's do it!

Because it is damned impressive, but still always ever-so-close to self-parody.


The acting of Harrelson and McConaughey is fantastic. And no matter how the plot shakes out, the decision to limit it to eight episodes means there will at least be a conclusion, which is pretty rare in television. I think it's a great show, and I'm already looking forward to its next season.
   445. Morty Causa Posted: February 17, 2014 at 03:58 PM (#4658120)
I would add a few Jack Lemmon and James Garner movies to start off with, like How To Murder Your Wife and Irma la Douce and The Great Race for Lemmon, and support Your Local Sheriff/Gunfighter and Americanization of Emily and Boys' Night Out and Skin Game for Garner.

The Daring Young Men in their Jaunty Jalopies (first time I saw Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) is really good along the lines of a Mad...Mad World. McLintock and Dononvan's Reef are nice little real comedies that leave you with a good feeling. Help is almost as good as the first one.

Billy Liar. Cat Ballou and maybe my favorite comedy western, The Hallelujah Trail. Many consider What's New, Pussycat, the quintessence of 60's at the breaking point comedities. Charade and Alfie. Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and Bedazzled. The Italian Job. Play it Again, Sam. Sleeper. Shampoo. Family Plot. Heaven Can Wait (not to be confused with Lubitsch's HCW in the '40s, a totally different very great movie).
   446. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 17, 2014 at 08:14 PM (#4658239)
So out of curiosity, what movies have made you surrender your poker face?

Well, my favorite movie is His Girl Friday. I'm also very fond of the Monty Python movies (not counting And Now For Something Completely Different, which doesn't really count) and Of recent comedies, I liked The Heat, 21 Jump Street (much better than it had any right to be), and Black Dynamite a lot. My favorite Marx Brother is Harpo.


So you can't figure out the greatest comedy ever, but your favorite comedy ever is also one of my all time favorites. That's what I mean by subjectivity. (smile) I also like Python, but nowhere near as much as Fawlty Towers.

------------------------------------------------

I have the same "This is supposed to be funny?" reaction to Blazing Saddles (way too jokey) and Young Frankenstein (ditto), and pretty much every single comedy made in the 60's and 70's other than The Producers, Animal House**, Annie Hall (overrated but still okay) and Up in Smoke.

Other 1960s comedies I think are superior: "The Nutty Professor," "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," "A Shot in the Dark," "Dr. Strangelove," "A Hard Day's Night," "The Graduate," and "Take the Money and Run."

And the 1970s: "M*A*S*H", "Sleeper," "Love and Death," "Monty Python & the Holy Grail," "The Return of the Pink Panther" and "The Pink Panther Strikes Again," "Network," "Slap Shot," "Manhattan," "The Jerk," "Life of Brian," "The In-Laws," and "Being There." Along with a few quasi-comedies like "The Sting," "The Bad News Bears," and "Paper Moon." You can throw in "The Apartment," "Pierrot le Fou" and "Butch Cassidy & SK" for the 1960s' quasi list.

I've had "The Sheep Has Five Legs" in my Amazon basket for maybe a year now, based solely on your frequent championing of it, but I haven't pulled the trigger. Your thoughts about Mel Brooks in 1974, and the adequacy of Annie Hall next to the praise for Cheech & Chong are worrisome to me as a prospective consumer.


Yeah, I don't think we've got much in common in comedy taste. Out of that entire list, the only passably good ones are Dr. Strangelove (tries too hard but still pretty damn good), Paper Moon, Monty Python and The Sting (the best of the bunch), although I'd probably like to see Slap Shot.

But I can't for the life of me understand how anyone could sit through 10 minutes of Jerry Lewis. It's like watching Bing Crosby play a singing priest, or listening to "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" in the middle of a Western.

For someone who's constantly accused of "living in the 60's", I never could much warm up to the comedies of that decade, or to most of its iconic movies for that matter. Probably it's just because I knew so many people in real life at the time who were infinitely funnier than anyone I saw in the movies.

------------------------------------------------

So what's the common link among the films on this short list, which at some point a few years ago I figured were my 20 favorite comedies ever?**

The Gold Rush (1925) (silent version only)
Sons of the Desert (1933)
Bombshell (1933)
It’s a Gift (1934)
Reefer Madness (1936)
Libeled Lady (1936)
Easy Living (1937)
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
The Women (1939)
The Great McGinty (1940)
His Girl Friday (1940)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Lady Eve (1941)
The Sheep Has Five Legs (1952)
The Producers (1968)
Animal House (1977)
Tin Men (1987)
The War of the Roses (1989)
Night on Earth (1992) (the New York segment with Rosie Perez and "Helmut" in particular)
Short Cuts (1993)

About all I can see is that other than Fernandel and The Producers, there's a black hole between 1941 and 1977, which is the period when comedies were simply trying too hard, and too much under the influence of joke writers rather than characters and actors. When Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope are considered among the greatest comedians of an era, you know there's something wrong with the era. Sid Caesar (along with his core crew) was easily the best of the entire lot, but his genius was strictly confined to television. It's a shame that other than The Producers (all time top 10), Zero Mostel never got a true showcase vehicle, because that was one seriously funny man.

**With an honorable mention to If I Had a Million (1933), for the W.C. Fields "road hog" segment.
   447. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 17, 2014 at 08:54 PM (#4658253)
About all I can see is that other than Fernandel and The Producers, there's a black hole between 1941 and 1977,


I don't know if it's that, as much as there's a big concentration in the 1930s. Let's break your list down by decade:

1920s: 1
1930s: 9
1940s: 4
1950s: 1
1960s: 1
1970s: 1
1980s: 2
1990s: 2

Especially since the 1940s movies were all 1940 or 1941, I think this just reflects a strong preference for one era of movie comedies. If over half the list is made up of movies from 1933-1941, there just aren't that many slots available for other eras.
   448. Morty Causa Posted: February 17, 2014 at 09:32 PM (#4658269)
The '30s and the early '40s represent the golden age of comedy (thus far). It's therefore natural that there would be more, a good bit more from that era, no matter who's doing the listing, if that person has seen a good representation from across all eras. Say that there are no classics except a couple since 1977 doesn't seem to me to be believable. Lubitsch by himself has three or four or five in the 1940s.

Then there are a few Billy Wilder in that period in question, Post WWII-1977. Not to mentions B movie surprises like The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter. And the heyday of the British comedies from the late '40s to the early '60s. Kind Hearts and Coronets has to be on any list of the best of the period (or of all time), as well as some other Alec Guinness movies, like The Ladykillers, and movies with Ian Carmichael or Peter Sellers or Terry-Thomas: Hobson's Choice,l The Naked Truth, Brothers in Law, I'm All Right, Jack.

I consider the '50s and '60s the decadent phases of screwball comedy, but a turnaround happened in the mid to ;ate '60s with the infusion of overt sex elements and the anti-establishmentarian into the mainstream. These are notable exceptions to the stolid and conventional. There are other offbeat, more modern, black comedies, like The Trouble with Harry (the early, 1938 The Lady Vanishes, is a beautiful blending of suspense thriller and screwball). And some good adaptations, with memorable performances: Mister Roberts and No Time for Sergeants, to name a couple.
   449. Howie Menckel Posted: February 17, 2014 at 09:48 PM (#4658279)

"I never thought Sid Caesar was that funny, kind of like a rich man's Charlie Callas."

was my impression as well, though I might be able to be talked out of it. don't like when someone tries to reach down my throat to try to pull out a laugh, like a magician. again, can't claim to have seen all of Caesar's best by any means, though. just enough to - have that same vibe.
   450. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 17, 2014 at 09:58 PM (#4658284)
On the subject of changing tastes in comedy.

I have a copy of an Esquire magazine from 1976, where a bunch of famous people insist that the funniest person in the world is...Harry Ritz. You know, the Ritz brother? Don't worry about which one. Just soak in the idea of one of the Ritz brothers being considered the funniest guy in the world. It's a pretty long article, and it goes into detail about how great Harry Ritz was. It mostly relies on descriptions of him speaking in fake-language gibberish and limping around a restaurant in the fashion of various famous people. The overall effect is that being around Harry Ritz when he was on must have been exhausting.

Conveniently for me, someone has transcribed the first couple of pages, so I can share this quote without much effort:

Indeed, some of the bits of business Harry created were so strong that they have survived wholly independent of the Ritz Brothers. There's a guy in New York, a small-time impressionist named Will Jordan, who can go on for twenty minutes, ticking off the shtick others have appropriated from Harry: Danny Kaye's Russian gibberish, Milton Berle's way of walking on his ankles, Jerry Lewis' crossed eyes and dumb look, Jackie Gleason's "And away we go" walk, everyone's German professor.


Just consider that list of schticks. And imagine somebody doing all of them, all the time.

Exhausting.
   451. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 17, 2014 at 10:06 PM (#4658289)
I don't know if it's that, as much as there's a big concentration in the 1930s.

I think it's more that the comedy genres changed than anything else. The 30's had my all time favorite comedienne (Harlow) at the beginning**, and one of my favorite comic directors (Sturges) at the end, with Fields and Laurel & Hardy in between***, along with the sublime pairings of Grant and Hepburn and Grant and Russell.

In the late 70's you began to get the influence of the National Lampoon style of humor, which got humor out of lame genre sendoffs and into the semi-real world. Enter the great Danny DeVito, who could crack me up just by reading a menu or a weather announcement. Enter Eddie Murphy and Spike Lee. Enter black comedies like Short Cuts. And so on.

And in between you had the equivalent of the Kansas City A's, with the handful of stars (Gleason, Silvers) being sent off to the Yankees. It's not that there wasn't a fair amount of great comedy in that period, but it was mostly all being funneled off to night clubs (Lenny Bruce), radio (Stan Freberg, Jean Shepherd) or TV (Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, Jackie Gleason). The films of that era, unlike the pre-war years, were mainly left with the dregs.

But again, it's all a matter of taste that's largely shaped by circumstance, and if I'd kept reading MAD magazine after my 14th birthday and never been exposed to The Realist, who knows, I might be laughing at Jerry Lewis like a goddam Frenchman. I might even think that Blazing Saddles was funny.

**I'll give you a pass on Fernandel due to the subtitles barrier, but if you can honestly say you don't find Bombshell or Libeled Lady almost weepingly funny, you're not fully human. Though if His Girl Friday is your favorite movie, I don't think you're likely to be exposed as a pod person.

***Not to mention William Powell and Myrna Loy (The Thin Man series), along with a couple of the Marx Brothers' better efforts.
   452. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 17, 2014 at 10:12 PM (#4658290)
Indeed, some of the bits of business Harry created were so strong that they have survived wholly independent of the Ritz Brothers. There's a guy in New York, a small-time impressionist named Will Jordan, who can go on for twenty minutes, ticking off the shtick others have appropriated from Harry: Danny Kaye's Russian gibberish, Milton Berle's way of walking on his ankles, Jerry Lewis' crossed eyes and dumb look, Jackie Gleason's "And away we go" walk, everyone's German professor.

That last long sentence alone is enough to make me feel grateful that my only exposure to The Ritz Brothers was in about five seconds of an early Mickey Mouse cartoon. Five seconds was more than enough.
   453. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 17, 2014 at 10:16 PM (#4658291)
I'll give you a pass on Fernandel due to the subtitles barrier


I don't think it could have been the subtitles, because there's a lot of miming in the movie. The fly scene is basically without dialogue. I will say that the VHS tape was made from a bad print. I've never seen a home video that contained a screen saying "Please wait while we change reels" before! And it was up for like five seconds, followed by ten seconds of blackness.

but if you can honestly say you don't find Bombshell or Libeled Lady almost weepingly funny, you're not fully human.


I don't think I've seen either of them. I'll get around to it at some point. If you're looking for a reason to look askance at me, I will offer up that I don't like Bringing Up Baby as much as I ought to. I just prefer suave Cary (His Girl Friday, Philadelphia Story, Holiday) so much more than frantic Cary (Bringing Up Baby, Arsenic and Old Lace) that I get annoyed when he's freaking out.
   454. Greg K Posted: February 17, 2014 at 10:20 PM (#4658294)
On the subject of changing tastes in comedy.

I once saw a panel discussion with Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Ricky Gervais, and Louis C.K. It was astounding to me pre-historic Seinfeld and Rock came off. Not that I'm slagging them, Seinfeld is one of the three pillars upon which my sense of humour was built as a kid, along with Monty Python and The Kids in the Hall. I still return to Seinfeld and it is just as funny as it ever was.* And to a lesser extent, I thoroughly enjoyed Chris Rock's specials in the late 90s. But the way Louis C.K. and Gervais were talking about comedy they made Rock and Seinfeld sound like amateurs who hadn't put any thought into their work. Again, not to slag off guys who I consider all-time greats (or one of them at least), but Seinfeld's just very much of the 90s, and good for him, he did excellent work and just isn't focused on constantly honing his comedy these days.

*Though I do wonder, in another 10-15 years, will a twenty-something find Seinfeld (substitute any childhood favourite) funny? A part of me thinks, of course they will, there is such a thing as universalism in humour...but sometimes I don't know.
   455. bobm Posted: February 17, 2014 at 10:27 PM (#4658297)
But for me the most remarkable translation job will always be Asterix and Obelix. How you can translate humour, especially humour that relies so much on puns, will forever be a myster to me. I'm sure there's some simple explanation, but please don't tell me, I'd rather have the awe.

If you change your mind, I recommend http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/books/review/is-that-a-fish-in-your-ear-translation-and-the-meaning-of-everything-by-david-bellos-book-review.html

It is a great book on how "translation" works.
   456. Morty Causa Posted: February 17, 2014 at 10:29 PM (#4658298)
I remember that piece on Harry Ritz, and could only shake my head. Esquire was a great magazine in the '70s, but every so often they would pull something like that piece. This was the magazine, though, that had Thomas Berger as a film critic for about a year. Instead of reviewing the mainstream movie fare, he would write long discursive essays on movies (as I remember) like Frogs and Bad Barbara. They were strictly thematic pieces. I wish I had cut them out and saved them. As far as I know, they have never been collected.
   457. PreservedFish Posted: February 17, 2014 at 10:37 PM (#4658300)
Though I do wonder, in another 10-15 years, will a twenty-something find Seinfeld (substitute any childhood favourite) funny?


Don't you think that younger people are already finding Seinfeld to be unfunny? Observational comedy can't have much of a shelf life.
   458. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 17, 2014 at 10:48 PM (#4658307)
I'll give you a pass on Fernandel due to the subtitles barrier

I don't think it could have been the subtitles, because there's a lot of miming in the movie. The fly scene is basically without dialogue. I will say that the VHS tape was made from a bad print. I've never seen a home video that contained a screen saying "Please wait while we change reels" before! And it was up for like five seconds, followed by ten seconds of blackness.


Spring for the Amazon DVD-on-demand at $9.99, and if you still don't like it, send me the bill.

but if you can honestly say you don't find Bombshell or Libeled Lady almost weepingly funny, you're not fully human.

I don't think I've seen either of them. I'll get around to it at some point. If you're looking for a reason to look askance at me, I will offer up that I don't like Bringing Up Baby as much as I ought to. I just prefer suave Cary (His Girl Friday, Philadelphia Story, Holiday) so much more than frantic Cary (Bringing Up Baby, Arsenic and Old Lace) that I get annoyed when he's freaking out.


I probably like His Girl Friday the best of the above four, but I'm so completely in love with the Hepburn of Bringing Up Baby that it's my favorite of the other three. I can see your point about Grant, though one of the main reasons he's way up on my overall list is because of his versatility. Actors who can play both great drama and great comedy aren't all that common a breed.

------------------------------------------------------------

*Though I do wonder, in another 10-15 years, will a twenty-something find Seinfeld (substitute any childhood favourite) funny? A part of me thinks, of course they will, there is such a thing as universalism in humour...but sometimes I don't know.

That's a very good question, and hard to answer with much assurance. I didn't watch Seinfeld until it went to re-runs, since I never watch much TV outside of sports, news and TCM, and anyway it conflicted with my pool tournament night. I was in my early 50's when I began my fandom, and I got hooked on the characters, especially all the "others" outside the Core Four. They're all such classic human types that I can't really imagine that their appeal is connected to a particular decade, but then who knows how taste will evolve (or devolve) over the coming decades.

And of course there are some people who just don't like New Yorkers, or what they think of as "mean" humor. I've heard some of that from people who don't like Seinfeld or CYE.
   459. Greg K Posted: February 17, 2014 at 10:50 PM (#4658308)
It is a great book on how "translation" works.

I actually bought that book for a plane trip a little while back (thought about linking to it earlier in this thread but couldn't remember the name). I should dig it out, because while I enjoyed what I read of it, it kind of got lost in the shuffle once I arrived at my destination.

One passage I recall noted that the word "barbarian" comes from some neighbouring tribe on the Greek peninsula who the Greeks called "varvars" because that was their mocking sound for what their gibberish language sounded like.
   460. Greg K Posted: February 17, 2014 at 10:51 PM (#4658309)
Don't you think that younger people are already finding Seinfeld to be unfunny? Observational comedy can't have much of a shelf life.

It probably is happening faster than I realize...I don't really know that many people younger than me, though I had a girlfriend three years younger than me that thought Seinfeld sucked. Though she also never liked the Simpsons, so perhaps she's just humourless.
   461. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 17, 2014 at 10:52 PM (#4658310)
Don't you think that younger people are already finding Seinfeld to be unfunny? Observational comedy can't have much of a shelf life.

Funny, I never thought of the show as "observational" so much as it was a neverending lampoon of certain New York archetypes.** The "observational" humor seemed to me to be more in Seinfeld's night club clips that often served as introductions to the show. They never grabbed me all that much, but then I was always more amused by the other characters more than Jerry himself.

**Though now that I think about it, many of these characters may be being killed off by Manhattan's relentless gentrification, which would make much of the Seinfeld milieu largely an anachronism. And of course by the 90's very few recent slacker arrivals like Kramer could have ever afforded to live on the Upper West Side.
   462. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 17, 2014 at 11:20 PM (#4658316)
Spring for the Amazon DVD-on-demand at $9.99, and if you still don't like it, send me the bill.


I already watched the movie once. A better transfer isn't going to save it.
   463. Poulanc Posted: February 17, 2014 at 11:31 PM (#4658317)
Don't you think that younger people are already finding Seinfeld to be unfunny?



I'm 35 and have never found Seinfeld to be funny.
   464. Greg K Posted: February 17, 2014 at 11:33 PM (#4658318)
**Though now that I think about it, many of these characters may be being killed off by Manhattan's relentless gentrification, which would make much of the Seinfeld milieu largely an anachronism. And of course by the 90's very few recent slacker arrivals like Kramer could have ever afforded to live on the Upper West Side.

This does give me a bit of hope, because I've never been to New York and that show still somehow spoke to me as a 14 year old in suburban Canada. The four of them treated each other the way me and my friends treated each other (or perhaps we learned how to treat friends from Seinfeld). I think there are universal elements to the show, about insecurities and selfishness. I do think that perhaps the dating world of Seinfeld may quickly, or has already, become unfamiliar to the twenty-somethings of today. Except, perhaps, Jerry's relationship with Elaine. It may just be my own experiences I'm drawing this from, but I think it's increasingly common to be very close friends with former girl/boyfriends these days.
   465. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 18, 2014 at 01:25 AM (#4658332)
Disorganized responses to the last 20+ posts:

"The Nutty Professor" is a good movie. Jerry Lewis doesn't have a second.

I agree with Andy that the 1960s were largely a black hole for film comedy. With the exceptions I listed in #442, plus "The Producers" which is the best of all of them. I haven't seen "Boys Night Out, "Skin Game," or "Hallelujah Trail" from Morty's list of 1960s additions (#445), but I feel the others are flat or mannered or otherwise don't measure up for various reasons. Things like "Charade" or "Bedazzled" or "How to Murder Your Wife" have a mustiness to them that doesn't dissipate; they too often seem like they're about comedy or have an interest in comedy, rather than being the actual item. I considered "Odd Couple," which is probably the best of Neil Simon's scripts, but Neil Simon seems overrated to me. I can't imagine how overrated I would have thought Simon was if I'd been watching his hit movies during his heyday.

Some of the later movies cited (e.g. "The Trouble With Harry," "The Ladykillers") suffer from the same problem, I think-- they cruise on their premises well past the point where a punchline or three should have popped up.

Andy's complaint about joke writing taking too much precedence in comedies is an absurdity. It all depends on the level of the jokes, of course. Bob Hope's 1950s and 1960s movie garbage is unendurable. His first three "Road" movies are delightful. Then you've got one or two pedestrian comedies like "The Paleface," and after that, the abyss. His filmography is truly Bill Bergen-esque. This doesn't change the fact that Bob Hope was a great, great standup comedian. He spent decades driving his Bob Hope persona into the ground and then some, while his natural glibness became soullessness-- but those 1940s radio shows of his are out there and available.

To tie up the three preceding paragraphs, Lee Marvin’s screaming drunk cartoon in “Cat Ballou” wears thinner way faster than Dudley Moore’s screaming drunk cartoon in “Arthur” because Moore was given several A+ gags. Character-driven comedy can be fabulous, obviously, but it's easier to write an A+ situation for someone to mime and mug in than it is to write an A+ joke. It's easier to be Blake Edwards or Frank Capra than Woody Allen.

Baffled how Andy has nine comedies from the 1930s in a Top 20, but they're not "Midnight" and "The Awful Truth" and "My Man Godfrey" and "Trouble in Paradise" and "City Lights" and "Duck Soup" and "Nothing Sacred" and "Modern Times" and "Horse Feathers"... he got "Bringing Up Baby" right, though.

W.C. Fields never made a great movie. But his clip reel is as good as anyone ever.

Not a fan of the dialect/gibberish comedy that was so huge in vaudeville, as later practiced by Harry Ritz, Sid Caesar and others. Albert Brooks, who's hilarious and has done some good film work, had a father who did this stuff; the gulf between their styles of humor is fascinating. Oh, and Danny Kaye is a toothache.

"Animal House" is unimpeachable, but the idea that the National Lampoon style took American film humor out of lame takeoffs and into semi-real worlds is peculiar. This terrible, awful list of Lampoon-branded product doesn't support that theory, nor do the Stripes/Caddyshack/Ghostbusters followups that were non-Lampoon but had something of the feel and personnel.

Andy, you should have kept reading MAD after your 14th birthday. But then, if you honestly compare it to Jerry Lewis, maybe it was over your head.

“Bombshell” and “Libeled Lady” are not weepingly funny, but Jean Harlow rules and Morty should definitely watch them. Andy, do see "Slap Shot." It's a very unusual comedy, and very 1970s in that exhausted, oppressive way that so many of the good dramas of that period were.

The Seinfeld/Rock/CK/Gervais summit mentioned by Greg K (#454) cannot be recommended highly enough.
   466. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 18, 2014 at 02:19 AM (#4658339)
Jean Harlow rules and Morty should definitely watch them.


Monty and Morty are different people!

Anyway, I've got nothing against Jean Harlow. She's great in Dinner at Eight.
   467. Morty Causa Posted: February 18, 2014 at 02:38 AM (#4658341)
The Bank Dick is a great movie. It doesn't allow itself to be adulterated by sentimentality; nor is Fields humanized in that movie by having a daughter he dotes on. The plotting is wild, yet organic, not conventional, something which mars some of his other starring vehicles.

I forgot: Burt Lancaster's The Scalphunters is also a superb comedy western adventure. Lancaster and Ossie Davis play off each other brilliantly. Kind of a comedy drama that goes back to James Stewart and Destry Rides Again.

If you don't like Charade or The Trouble With Harry, substitute the magnificent North By Northwest and the only slightly less sublime To Catch a Thief. I like Grant's collaboration with Joe Mankiewicz, People Will Talk. In the '40s Hitchcock had Foreign Correspondent, too, which is full of comic dialogue and incidents. McCrea also starred in another genuinely great screwball, one of the last classic screwballs of the period, The More the Merrier, with Jean Arthur.

I probably saw Bombshell and Libeled Lady for the first time around the time you left your mother's basement the first time. From around that same period I'd include Blessed Event, It Happened One Night, and Twentieth Century from the early 1930s as well. I love Libeled Lady, it's great, but it's hardly perfect. Mainly, it suffers from having to do justice to too much talent--and the resolution is weak: Harlow gets shriller, and Tracy becomes more of a milquetoast as the movie progresses. The repartee loses its tightness. I prefer The Richest Girl in the World and Hands Across the Table.
   468. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 18, 2014 at 08:54 AM (#4658358)
Gonfalon, one thing I'll say about you and Morty: Both of you have seen many more movies than I have, or probably ever will. This may or may not be a good sign of a well-spent life, a point I'm just beginning to realize after five years of virtually non-stop TCM saturation. (smile)

Andy's complaint about joke writing taking too much precedence in comedies is an absurdity. It all depends on the level of the jokes, of course. Bob Hope's 1950s and 1960s movie garbage is unendurable. His first three "Road" movies are delightful. Then you've got one or two pedestrian comedies like "The Paleface," and after that, the abyss. His filmography is truly Bill Bergen-esque. This doesn't change the fact that Bob Hope was a great, great standup comedian. He spent decades driving his Bob Hope persona into the ground and then some, while his natural glibness became soullessness-- but those 1940s radio shows of his are out there and available.

The problem is that I "grew up" (that may not be the word) with standups like Lenny Bruce and Clay Tyson and Redd Foxx (not the TV version) before I first encountered Hope. After hearing Bruce on his LP's, and seeing Tyson and Foxx live at the Howard Theater in DC, as warmup acts for an infinite number of "Soul Revue"s, a whitebread like Hope never had a chance. And I've heard some of his radio shows on Ed Walker's Sunday night WAMU old time radio show. Again, nothing but the same recycled material, aided and abetted by the omnipresent censors of the period. (I've never heard the X-rated Hope, which I've heard was actually funny.)

Baffled how Andy has nine comedies from the 1930s in a Top 20, but they're not "Midnight" and "The Awful Truth" and "My Man Godfrey" and "Trouble in Paradise" and "City Lights" and "Duck Soup" and "Nothing Sacred" and "Modern Times" and "Horse Feathers"... he got "Bringing Up Baby" right, though.

Trouble in Paradise would probably make my Top 20 the next time around, and I also love Nothing Sacred. As for the the rest of them: Never seen Midnight, but those others? Meh.

W.C. Fields never made a great movie. But his clip reel is as good as anyone ever.

I like Fields a lot less than I did BITD, but It's A Gift is still pretty damn strong, and many of his shorts are sublime.

"Animal House" is unimpeachable, but the idea that the National Lampoon style took American film humor out of lame takeoffs and into semi-real worlds is peculiar. This terrible, awful list of Lampoon-branded product doesn't support that theory, nor do the Stripes/Caddyshack/Ghostbusters followups that were non-Lampoon but had something of the feel and personnel.

Okay, I admit I overshot my wad by making that claim about National Lampoon style movies, since in truth Animal House is the only one I can think of I cared for until Eddie Murphy's Trading Places---and by that time I'm not sure if he'd belong in that category.

Andy, you should have kept reading MAD after your 14th birthday. But then, if you honestly compare it to Jerry Lewis, maybe it was over your head.

Or maybe MAD's bland and utterly predictable sense of humor paled in comparison to The Realist, which was what replaced it. You should acquaint yourself with the link to that magazine in #451 before dismissing the point. Krassner became somewhat insane once he started latching on to conspiracy theories, but before that there's never been any humor magazine on that level. The Realist was to humor what Dwight MacDonald's Politics magazine (1944-49) was to politics: Unmatched both in inspiration and in its all-star cast of contributors.

As for Jerry Lewis, can 40 million Frenchmen ever be wrong? Maybe.

“Bombshell” and “Libeled Lady” are not weepingly funny, but Jean Harlow rules and Monty should definitely watch them. Andy, do see "Slap Shot." It's a very unusual comedy, and very 1970s in that exhausted, oppressive way that so many of the good dramas of that period were.

My Netflix queue is hopelessly backed up, but Slap Shot is now on it.
   469. Greg K Posted: February 18, 2014 at 10:55 AM (#4658411)
It is perhaps sacrilegious to mention it in the same breath as Slap Shot, but Goon was a surprisingly funny movie.
   470. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: February 18, 2014 at 11:46 AM (#4658441)
But the way Louis C.K. and Gervais were talking about comedy they made Rock and Seinfeld sound like amateurs who hadn't put any thought into their work.

That does not fit with my recollections of that show; interesting.

FWIW, I regard Rock's "Bring The Pain" as an inner-circle HOF standup special. At minimum.

Andy, do see "Slap Shot." It's a very unusual comedy, and very 1970s in that exhausted, oppressive way that so many of the good dramas of that period were

I like that description!

   471. Morty Causa Posted: February 18, 2014 at 12:02 PM (#4658456)
I will have to see Slap Shot again sometime. I hardly remember it. I just wasn't that impressed and don't remember it as being particularly funny.
   472. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: February 18, 2014 at 12:07 PM (#4658460)
I thought it was more interesting than funny, but still both. A-.
   473. Lassus Posted: February 18, 2014 at 01:22 PM (#4658508)
Also, partially filmed in Utica.
   474. Greg K Posted: February 18, 2014 at 01:33 PM (#4658515)
FWIW, I regard Rock's "Bring The Pain" as an inner-circle HOF standup special. At minimum.

I must have spent an entire week at work just repeating every line from that one with another guy. Very quick week that was.

I haven't seen a ton of specials lately, but Louis C.K.'s are always good...haven't thought about how I'd rank them, they're all pretty close. Stephen Merchant had a really good one "Hello Ladies", though oddly enough his HBO series "Hello Ladies" I find a bit meh. I think Simon Amstell is a genius and I'm absolutely in love with him. "Do Nothing" is probably the closest thing to a comedy special changing my life. If I were the type of person that would ever change anything about their life.
   475. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 18, 2014 at 01:42 PM (#4658523)
Just one (very late) example of what made The Realist unique:

My Acid Trip With Groucho Marx, by Paul Krassner

"Krassner not only attacks establishment values; he attacks decency in general."

---Harry Reasoner

"I predict that, in time, [Krassner] will wind up as the only live Lenny Bruce."

---Groucho Marx
   476. Morty Causa Posted: February 18, 2014 at 01:53 PM (#4658532)
Maybe you had to see him perform live, but Lenny Bruce doesn't translate well to other mediums. To my senses, he has no more prevailed than Bob Hope. I can't believe anyone ever thought Redd Foxx funny. Verbally, he was about one notch above Pigmeat Markham as rubber pig's bladder.

I do remember Mort Sahl as being good at acerbic social/political commentary.
   477. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 18, 2014 at 02:26 PM (#4658544)
Maybe you had to see him perform live, but Lenny Bruce doesn't translate well to other mediums. To my senses, he has no more prevailed than Bob Hope. I can't believe anyone ever thought Redd Foxx funny. Verbally, he was about one notch above Pigmeat Markham as rubber pig's bladder.

Lenny Bruce wasn't consistently at top form in his later years, when he was dodging the law right and left on an assortment of "obscenity" charges and was also strung out on heroin. And of course a lot of his humor was topical, and by this time the context has been lost. But at his best he was right up there.

Foxx and Markham and Clay Tyson and Petey Greene and Moms Mabley all had one thing in common: They were only at their best in African American venues, where they could really let go. If you'd ever seen any of them performing live at the Howard in DC (where I saw Foxx, Tyson, Markham and Greene**) where they didn't have to worry about offending anyone, or "going too far", you wouldn't be making those comments. The only comedian who's been mentioned in this thread who could match any of them would have been Caesar at his peak, and that's a compliment to both them and to Caesar.

Of course I might also say the same thing about Bob Hope if he'd ever been recorded at a stag party or a speakeasy. He certainly didn't lack for a sense humor; it may be just that his best stuff never survived the evening.

I do remember Mort Sahl as being good at acerbic social/political commentary.

I never heard that much of his stuff, but from what I did hear I'd definitely agree with you.

**One typical Petey Greene moment, well before he became a minor local TV celebrity: Right after the Washington riots, he emceed a show at the Howard with a slew of classic R&B acts (The Manhattans, Inez & Charlie Foxx, Linda Jones, The Dells, etc.), but before the show began he first went into this long and seemingly solemn riff about the events of recent weeks. The crowd didn't know quite what to make of it, and you could have heard a flea fart.

So after a minute or too, he ended up preacher style, with "I don't want NO MORE SHOOTIN....NO MORE LOOTIN....and most of all....NO MORE MESSING AROUND IN THE MAN'S FACE". Again, total silence.

And then up in the back of the balcony, a tiny 10 or 12 year old boy, whom he'd planted up there, stood up and shouted out in this little falsetto voice:

"DON'T KNOW ABOUT THAT"

The whole damn place didn't quiet down for a full five minutes, with Greene just staying up there on the stage, taking it all in with an enormous grin on his face. The groups that followed were great as usual, but that setup gig was the highlight of the evening. And all for two bucks.



   478. Jay Z Posted: February 18, 2014 at 03:10 PM (#4658566)
I probably like His Girl Friday the best of the above four, but I'm so completely in love with the Hepburn of Bringing Up Baby that it's my favorite of the other three.


As a guy, I have zero attraction for Hepburn's whole persona. Either unapproachability, or "you must tame her" - no interest. As a guy, hard for me to have interest in an actress when there's no attraction. A more recent example would be the Mary character on Downton Abbey, and I can't stand that character either.
   479. Morty Causa Posted: February 18, 2014 at 03:24 PM (#4658574)
Nice anecdote, that.

Every artist has an optimal audience, and it's not the wider audience of general appeal. Pauline Kael somewhere mentions that the sense of how refreshing and original the Hope/Crosby give-and-take in those Road pictures (or Hope independently in other movies) was when it first came out has been lost. It's not enough to be topical, especially topically outrageous. What's true is what lasts, and what's true has to do with character and human relations. (There weren’t any in those Road pictures.) Shibboleths and taboos become out of date, then passé. They cease to delight with their daring. For longevity you need a story with characters in conflict along the lines of a universal them that we instinctively relate to. Fields and the Marx Brothers are slowly becoming old hat, except for their very best stuff. His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, The Lady Eve, The Shop Around the Corner—that never grows old. At least not until the relationship between the sexes changes (and the essential conflict that is the object of comedic resolution no longer is artistically mandate)
   480. Morty Causa Posted: February 18, 2014 at 03:36 PM (#4658580)
As a guy, I have zero attraction for Hepburn's whole persona. Either unapproachability, or "you must tame her" - no interest. As a guy, hard for me to have interest in an actress when there's no attraction. A more recent example would be the Mary character on Downton Abbey, and I can't stand that character either.

I have to agree. I really don't like her most of the time, yet she's often interesting despite that. A good part of Hepburn's appeal, at least in comedies, is that we (and not just men) instinctively want to do to her what Cary Grant almost did at the very beginning of The Philadelphia Story. As an actress she dared to extend herself, sometimes beyond her capabilities, but it worked often enough that she vindicates that approach. She dared to go mano a mano with Grant and Stewart and Tracy and Bogart, and their seeming attraction to her made her seem worthy of attraction. But, all too often, she's what Holden Caulfield might call too goddam much of a princess.

She should have made more movies with Stewart (or Grant, for that matter, although she made about five with him) and Bogart, and added McCrea or MacMurray or Milland, and maybe ditched some of those Tracy teamings.
   481. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 18, 2014 at 04:11 PM (#4658607)
I probably like His Girl Friday the best of the above four, but I'm so completely in love with the Hepburn of Bringing Up Baby that it's my favorite of the other three.

As a guy, I have zero attraction for Hepburn's whole persona. Either unapproachability, or "you must tame her" - no interest. As a guy, hard for me to have interest in an actress when there's no attraction. A more recent example would be the Mary character on Downton Abbey, and I can't stand that character either.


Downton Abbey is a show I dutifully record for my wife, so that she can watch all 89 seasons and 1,009 episodes over and over to her heart's delight, but the few times I've peeked in over her shoulder it just creeps me out. But then so do most of those "MAWSSterpiece Theatre" shows. I like the real life Brits I've met much better than the TV version.

Katharine Hepburn is one of those actresses I love in spite of the fact that I can't stand many of her movies. In fact I loathe every one of them before Holiday and Bringing Up Baby, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? is just cringeworthy. But those three comedies with Grant are sublime, the ones she made with Tracy have their moments, and some of her later non-costume dramas (except for The African Queen) I like quite a bit. I don't have the same love of her films as I do for those of about half a dozen or more other actresses, but as a person she seems as interesting as any of them, if for no other reason than that she never played the Hollywood celebrity game.

But beyond her films, I just love who she was: Opinionated, fiercely independent, and willing to take men both on her terms and theirs. A classic feminist in the very best sense of the word. My late Greenwich Village aunt (1896-1989) was acquainted with her during her New York stage days, and never had anything bad to say about her.
   482. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 18, 2014 at 04:37 PM (#4658628)
The Bank Dick is a great movie. It doesn't allow itself to be adulterated by sentimentality; nor is Fields humanized in that movie by having a daughter he dotes on. The plotting is wild, yet organic, not conventional, something which mars some of his other starring vehicles.

For the shambolic attributes Morty lists, I prefer “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break,” which doesn’t even pretend to follow convention. Fields may not have a precious daughter to dote on in “The Bank Dick,” but neither does he have any other interesting characters to work with. They’re all stock types who exist only for Fields to bounce his lines off. It’s a funny movie and must be watched, but it’s like those Busby Berkeley musicals where you have to wait out the arid stretches of the film to get back to the good stuff Busby does. I’ll watch W.C. Fields fold an umbrella or open a window all day long, but he’s like Mae West in that his movies aren’t great filmmaking or stories or ensembles or arcs or structures. They’re just a tray upon which to serve up the feast.

Yeah, I don’t think “Trading Places” counts as a Lampoon legacy, unless Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” does too (both were 1983 releases directed by “Animal House”s John Landis). "The Blues Brothers" is a better example of a movie following in "Animal House"s stylistic wake, except for the being funny part.

Humor is always a personal reaction, Andy, which must be why you think MAD is sophomoric, and that gag-based comedy is wearying, but that Redd Foxx’s gag-based sophomoric comedy was terrific. That combination of reactions is an interesting juggle.

I’m well acquainted with The Realist. Did you know that MAD’s longtime art director John Putnam was a contributor? When MAD said he had to stop dividing his energies by freelancing for another publication, he said in that case, he’d quit. And MAD said, oh fine, go ahead. Cartoonist Wally Wood’s infamous Disney Memorial Orgy drawing is a Realist highlight, but he had dozens of them for MAD. Paul Krassner was a longtime associate and occasional contributor to MAD, and in fact lost his virginity on the couch in Bill Gaines’ office. I do not agree that The Realist was “unmatched both in inspiration and in its all-star cast of contributors.” MAD and the early 70s Lampoon both have it beat, and I think Esquire had a bigger all-star cast (including many of the same names) with better writing, scope and production.

Like The Realist, Redd Foxx’s reputation was very much dependent on his time and place, in which four-fifths of the fun was that he wasn’t “supposed” to be making double entendres about “come” and “pussy” and so forth. You absolutely have to acknowledge and appreciate pioneers, but transgression fades and material endures. Lenny Bruce is another example. From what I’ve seen and heard, stage trooper Moms Mabley was funnier than all of them.

Chris Rock’s “Bring the Pain” is astonishingly good, especially when you consider Rock’s nondescript body of work to that point. It’s an explosion. And “Bigger and Blacker” is more of the same.

“Slap Shot” is not funny jokey ha-ha in an “Airplane!” sense, except for certain characters who Andy shouldn’t hear about in advance.

Pauline Kael somewhere mentions that the sense of how refreshing and original the Hope/Crosby give-and-take in those Road pictures (or Hope independently in other movies) was when it first came out has been lost. It's not enough to be topical, especially topically outrageous. What's true is what lasts, and what's true has to do with character and human relations. (There weren’t any in those Road pictures.) Shibboleths and taboos become out of date, then passé. They cease to delight with their daring. For longevity you need a story with characters in conflict along the lines of a universal theme that we instinctively relate to. Fields and the Marx Brothers are slowly becoming old hat, except for their very best stuff. His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, The Lady Eve, The Shop Around the Corner—that never grows old. At least not until the relationship between the sexes changes (and the essential conflict that is the object of comedic resolution no longer is artistically mandate)

There’s some truth in this-- specific one-liners about Crosby’s horses or Paramount’s logo aren’t going to resonate with the same zip today, and breaking the fourth wall isn’t such a novelty. But the “Road” movies are basically two funny guys in a buddy picture mistreating each other while being pursued by dangers, and “The Hangover” made almost $500 million. I know a 10-year-old kid who laughed her ass off at Bob Hope’s “No food! No water! AH HA HA HA! We’re done for!” ending of “The Road to Moroco.”

And while I can’t think of a bad thing to say about the never out of date FridayBabyEveShop movies you cited, there’s no way that Groucho Marx’s image and cadence isn’t fifty times better known to modern audiences than any of them. Also, some of the underpinnings of those genius comedies (e.g. for heaven’s sake, why don’t they just fuck already?) are more outdated today than Harpo’s surrealism or Fields’ irascibility will ever be. That is, if you can get enough new people to watch them.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? is just cringeworthy

I forget whose line it was, but someone wrote that “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” asks audiences to believe the impossibility that any parents could be upset when their daughter brings home Sidney Poitier.
   483. zenbitz Posted: February 18, 2014 at 04:46 PM (#4658639)
This seems apropos, but it's quite long...1975 Playboy Interview with Mel Brooks
   484. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: February 18, 2014 at 04:53 PM (#4658648)
Chris Rock’s “Bring the Pain” is astonishingly good, especially when you consider Rock’s nondescript body of work to that point.

Agreed. Two notes:
* I had so many CB4 v. Fear Of A Black Hat discussions back in the day.
* He and Meadows had a none-too-successful recurring bit on SNL that I was really fond of: "Tales From The Barbecue". I've never heard anyone else mention it, probably for good reason (there's almost nothing to the sketches), but - well - there's some love.

Brooks is a great interview.
   485. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 18, 2014 at 05:00 PM (#4658653)
* I had so many CB4 v. Fear Of A Black Hat discussions back in the day.


Who on earth was on the CB4 side? Fear of a Black Hat outshines it in every possible way.
   486. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: February 18, 2014 at 05:04 PM (#4658655)
Not box office, but yeah.
   487. Morty Causa Posted: February 18, 2014 at 05:30 PM (#4658673)
I know a 10-year-old kid who laughed her ass off at Bob Hope’s “No food! No water! AH HA HA HA! We’re done for!” ending of “The Road to Moroco.”

The appeal of some movies is sometimes very much due to a time in your development. When I was a kid I loved the Bowery Boys. And I had reasons. I have to work hard to recall them, and can only place myself artificially back where I was.

Also, Hope at the beginning of his movie career had a real edge. His career could have taken a somewhat different turn. See The Big Broadcast of 1938 where he has the acerbic leading man part. But it's like a baseball player who as he ages husbands that which he is best at, and which garners him money and fame. Before he gave in entirely to being strictly Bob Hope, public institution, he returned dabbled more than once in doing a piece of real acting, in The Facts of Life and Critic's Choice, both with Lucille Ball, who once possessed a pretty sharp edge herself, even to the point of it being intimidating enough for her to do film noir and melodrama.


   488. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 18, 2014 at 05:37 PM (#4658680)
Humor is always a personal reaction, Andy, which must be why you think MAD is sophomoric, and that gag-based comedy is wearying, but that Redd Foxx’s gag-based sophomoric comedy was terrific. That combination of reactions is an interesting juggle.

MAD wasn't so much sophomoric as hopelessly tame. Redd Foxx needs no defense from me.

I’m well acquainted with The Realist. Did you know that MAD’s longtime art director John Putnam was a contributor? When MAD said he had to stop dividing his energies by freelancing for another publication, he said in that case, he’d quit. And MAD said, oh fine, go ahead. Cartoonist Wally Wood’s infamous Disney Memorial Orgy drawing is a Realist highlight, but he had dozens of them for MAD. Paul Krassner was a longtime associate and occasional contributor to MAD, and in fact lost his virginity on the couch in Bill Gaines’ office.

Be that as it all may, there were hundreds of lampoons, cartoons, photo montages, etc., that made the pages of The Realist---including that famous Wally Wood Disneyland Orgy---that wouldn't have made it past the editor's desk at MAD. I can just imagine, for example, William Gaines giving thumbs up to "The Parts That Were Left Out of the Manchester Book", or the sublime cartoon of Mao Tse-Tung telephoning Governor Wallace to inform his of his mass miscegenation plans. In a way it's an unfair comparison, since MAD was a mainstream publication aimed primarily at slightly rebellious teenagers, and was itself famously shredded by The National Lampoon, while The Realist was aimed at the borderline insane.

I do not agree that The Realist was “unmatched both in inspiration and in its all-star cast of contributors.” MAD and the early 70s Lampoon both have it beat, and I think Esquire had a bigger all-star cast (including many of the same names) with better writing, scope and production.

The early 70's Lampoon and Esquire under Harold Hayes were themselves sui generis, and completely different from The Realist, totally apples and oranges.** Esquire was basically mainstream journalism taken to a much higher level; the National Lampoon was an X-rated MAD on steroids with 100 times the bite; and the Realist was a unique mix of serious writing, scatological parody, and whatever else happened to come across Paul Krassner's desk. Since Krassner was himself borderline insane, you couldn't open up the latest issue and know you'd find Bernie ("My Meter Is Running") X, the foul-mouthed stream-of-consciousness Jewish nationalist cab driver in the National Lampoon. Consistency wasn't Krassner's strong point. And of course the production values of both of those slick, ad-filled magazines left The Realist in the dust. But during its true heyday of the late 50's through the mid-60's, before Krassner got completely sidetracked by exposes of Scientology and 1001 conspiracies, there wasn't anything like it anywhere.

Like The Realist, Redd Foxx’s reputation was very much dependent on his time and place, in which four-fifths of the fun was that he wasn’t “supposed” to be making double entendres about “come” and “pussy” and so forth. You absolutely have to acknowledge and appreciate pioneers, but transgression fades and material endures. Lenny Bruce is another example. From what I’ve seen and heard, stage trooper Moms Mabley was funnier than all of them.

I never saw the unexpurgated Moms perform, but from everything I've read you may well be right. But don't sell Foxx short; his humor was largely X-rated, but like many of his successors (notably Richard Pryor) he also touched upon racial themes that may seem "dated", but not in the way that jokes about Crosby's golf game are.

And while I can’t think of a bad thing to say about the never out of date FridayBabyEveShop movies you cited, there’s no way that Groucho Marx’s image and cadence isn’t fifty times better known to modern audiences than any of them. Also, some of the underpinnings of those genius comedies (e.g. for heaven’s sake, why don’t they just #### already?) are more outdated today than Harpo’s surrealism or Fields’ irascibility will ever be. That is, if you can get enough new people to watch them.

I'm not so sure about that, at least when it comes to exposure to their movies among those "new people". Those Grant/Hepburn films are a staple on PBS, and while admittedly that's perhaps our leading geezer network, where on Earth these days (outside of TCM) are you ever going to find Duck Soup or A Night at the Opera? The few classic repertory theaters that remain are usually featuring far more esoteric material, since to their target audience the Marx Brothers are no more of a discovery than a Simpsons rerun.

**Although I suppose you could say the same thing about The Realist and MAD, which kind of blunts my previous point about those two mags.

   489. Morty Causa Posted: February 18, 2014 at 05:39 PM (#4658682)
And while I can’t think of a bad thing to say about the never out of date FridayBabyEveShop movies you cited, there’s no way that Groucho Marx’s image and cadence isn’t fifty times better known to modern audiences than any of them. Also, some of the underpinnings of those genius comedies (e.g. for heaven’s sake, why don’t they just #### already?) are more outdated today than Harpo’s surrealism or Fields’ irascibility will ever be. That is, if you can get enough new people to watch them.

It's not the audience in general that makes something live as a classic, it's a particular, specialized audience, a cognoscenti if you will. I may be wrong, but I think the Marx Bros and Fields (and others of course) peaked sometime back and are on a downgrade, whereas with the best screwballs it is the reverse.

As for why don't they #### already, that's for the same reason Astaire and Rogers didn't kiss. The dance does that. The dance of the screwball comedy fully substitutes for the overt sex that could never be at the time. (It's also kind of the same reason Ford didn't let the Indians shoot the horses in Stagecoach--"I wouldn't have a movie then." We'll see in the future how it works for those movies that subsequently became explicit, wrt classic status wise. Besides, romantic comedy, romantic screwball comedy, is not about sex--it's about the battle of the sexes, and for it to be a comedy, it has to resolve itself in an equilibrium between the sexes.

EDIT: for emphasis and clarification.
   490. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 18, 2014 at 06:44 PM (#4658722)
It's not the audience in general that makes something live as a classic, it's a particular, specialized audience, a cognoscenti if you will.

The same cognoscenti that recognizes The Sheep Has Five Legs as a sublime comedy. (half smile)

I may be wrong, but I think the Marx Bros and Fields (and others of course) peaked sometime back and are on a downgrade, whereas with the best screwballs it is the reverse.

I don't know about the general audience, but my own shift in appreciation pretty much parallels what you're saying. The truth is that both the writing and the acting in the best screwballs (though hardly all of them) leave both Fields and the Marx Brothers in the dust, even though in many ways this is yet another case of apples and oranges.

As for why don't they #### already, that's for the same reason Astaire and Rogers didn't kiss. The dance does that. The dance of the screwball comedy fully substitutes for the overt sex that could never be at the time. (It's also kind of the same reason Ford didn't let the Indians shoot the horses in Stagecoach--"I wouldn't have a movie then." We'll see in the future how it works for those movies that subsequently became explicit, wrt classic status wise. Besides, romantic comedy, romantic screwball comedy, is not about sex--it's about the battle of the sexes, and for it to be a comedy, it has to resolve itself in an equilibrium between the sexes.

Much as I prefer the blunter pre-codes to their later models, I think your point is well taken. Although I have to admit that a scene with Grant and Hepburn going at it on top of that brontosaurus skeleton might have added an extra dimension even to that already great movie.
   491. Morty Causa Posted: February 18, 2014 at 08:51 PM (#4658768)
The same cognoscenti that recognizes The Sheep Has Five Legs as a sublime comedy. (half smile)

Yes, if there is one, and if it remains so, as long as it remains so. It doesn't matter that I, or whoever, don't like it. If a class of knowledgeable appreciators sustain it on esthetic terms in the collective conscious of the culture, and establish structures and institutions to further that, then it is.
   492. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 19, 2014 at 01:18 AM (#4658835)
FWIW Fernandel was every bit as popular in France as the Marx Brothers ever were over here, and then some, on a level with Jean Gabin, for whom there's never been a true American counterpart.

And for awhile he (Fernandel) was even featured in several American TV commercials for White Owl cigars. In one of them he plays the stereotyped lecherous Frenchman who gets so distracted by a pair of perfect legs walking by his cafe table that he throws his sponsor's product on the floor and crushes it, on the way to pursue la femme.

As to why some foreign stars "translate" while others don't, who knows? Much as I love Fernandel, the films of Jacques Tati, which enjoyed a certain vogue over here for awhile, leave me totally cold. I'm sure others might feel the exact opposite.
   493. PreservedFish Posted: February 19, 2014 at 01:33 AM (#4658838)
Much as I love Fernandel, the films of Jacques Tati, which enjoyed a certain vogue over here for awhile, leave me totally cold. I'm sure others might feel the exact opposite.


Still in vogue. They pop up on critics' lists all the time. I think they're charming but I don't see the brilliance.
   494. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 19, 2014 at 01:53 AM (#4658841)
Still in vogue. They pop up on critics' lists all the time.

What I meant by "in vogue" was that they used to show up "rediscovered" a lot in repertory movie houses, much more so than in recent years. I realize the critics have always liked him for whatever reason.
   495. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 19, 2014 at 02:19 AM (#4658847)
FWIW Fernandel was every bit as popular in France as the Marx Brothers ever were over here, and then some, on a level with Jean Gabin, for whom there's never been a true American counterpart.


He reminded me of Cantinflas, in a way. You know how sometimes there's someone HUGE in another country and they have a huge filmography and then you watch them and... nothing?

(Also, I realize they were both in Around the World in Eighty Days, which was kind an ideal cameo for a beloved French comic, regardless of what I thought of him. Why wouldn't you fill that movie with beloved people from around the world, right?)
   496. Morty Causa Posted: February 19, 2014 at 02:49 AM (#4658852)
Jolly Old, have you seen Nais?
   497. Gotham Dave Posted: February 19, 2014 at 07:34 AM (#4658859)
I think a big part of Seinfeld/Rock vs. CK/Gervais dichotomy - which DID exist in that chat show, although I wouldn't describe it as Rock or Seinfeld seeming "amateurish" or thoughtless - is that Gervais and CK both really wear their insecurities on their sleeves in their comedy, whereas Seinfeld and Rock are just "pros" who pretty much keep up a facade of cool professionalism whenever they're on camera. Neither approach is really "better" or "worse"; in the case of Seinfeld I think that's how he really is (borderline psychopathic, really, but in a harmless and funny way).

Part of that is roots in 80s standup vs. the more writerly early careers of Gervais and CK. But I also think Rock and Seinfeld are guys who have been exceptionally comfortable for at least 15 years whereas the other two, while well established now, probably at least remember worrying about their careers at some point. It was kind of "yesterday's guys" vs. "today's guys" and I think it was great to see them all interacting honestly like that.
   498. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 19, 2014 at 08:30 AM (#4658863)
FWIW Fernandel was every bit as popular in France as the Marx Brothers ever were over here, and then some, on a level with Jean Gabin, for whom there's never been a true American counterpart.

He reminded me of Cantinflas, in a way. You know how sometimes there's someone HUGE in another country and they have a huge filmography and then you watch them and... nothing?


And yet aside from The Sheep Has Five Legs, which did fairly well over here when it was released in 1952, Fernandel was also the featured subject of this bestselling photography book, in which the renowned Philip Halsman took pictures of him wordlessly "responding" to questions in a way that reinforced every possible stereotype about the lecherous French skirt chaser. I'm old enough to remember when he was seen fairly often in those White Owl commercials, and during my book shop years I sold many used copies of The Frenchman. So at some point in the early 50's there was at least a certain segment of the U.S. public who "got" Fernandel, but since he never came over to star in any Hollywood feature films, it was one of those 15 Seconds of Fame deals rather than anything more lasting. Similarly, Jean Gabin never made it out of the art house circuit over here (though he did make one Hollywood feature with Ida Lupino), even though worldwide his fame for many decades was fully the equal of that of any American star.

P.S. I also notice FWIW that Taschen has reprinted that Halsman book. It's a minor classic in the literature of comic stereotyping.

Jolly Old, have you seen Nais?

Never seen it, and unfortunately Netflix doesn't have it, either. The only other feature film of Fernandel's I've managed to get is his 1938 film Le Schpountz (directed by Marcel Pagnol), about a small town oaf who's convinced he's got a calling in the movies. I loved it, but if you don't like the Fernandel schtick to begin with, it might not do much for you.

And BTW that Cantinflas comparison isn't a bad one, though I haven't seen any of his movies for a long, long time.
   499. Morty Causa Posted: February 19, 2014 at 10:30 AM (#4658903)
There are clips of Nais on youtube. One long one with Fernandel and Jacqueline Pagnol, the leading lady. Pretty impressive.

Marcel Pagnol's The Baker's Wife and the Marius trilogy are well-known in art house circles. They star Raimu, who Orson Welles called the greatest actor who ever lived, and Pierre Fresnay, who starred in one of my favorite films, Clouzot's Le Courbeau [The Raven]. I haven't seen the Pagnol's films, though, nor anything with Raimu, not in their entirety, anyway.
   500. Morty Causa Posted: February 19, 2014 at 10:36 AM (#4658908)
BTW, there are also bits of Tati on youtube--and one entire movie, I think. He doesn't do that much for me, but some of those excerpts are fairly funny, especially the one from Mon Oncle with the rich woman compulsively dusting everything as her husband leaves for work. His work is interesting as a unique reassertion of silent movie aesthetics into modern films.
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