Ack-Ack

MARRY ME AGAIN may be the first romcom snuff movie. Early on, we see hero Robert Cummings flying his plane in WWII, a big picture of his fiancee, Marie Wilson in his cockpit. He scores off his kills on this pic, all part of the movie’s cartoony approach (it’s by Frank Tashlin, a former Warner Bros animator).

What slightly chills the marrow is the way Cummings’ activity is intercut with real WWII aerial combat footage — real exploding aeroplanes, real death.

When later on Marie Wilson dreams of her honeymoon, we see a Spanish bullfight with a real, bloody beast, spears sticking from its sides.

There’s funny. And then there’s NOT funny.

In general, the movie has a stop-start quality stemming from Tashlin’s tendency to think only of getting from one gag to the next in the shortest possible time. Only later would he master feature-length story structure and pacing so that his great features, like WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? don’t appear like a series of black-out sketches, but as coherent narratives — even with all the whizz-bang visual gags exploding in every corner. The jokes become architecture rather than decoration.

Marie Wilson, whose work I didn’t know, is very cute and endearingly goofy, but maybe she and Cummings are trying a little too hard. Cummings certainly is. When somebody isn’t a natural comedian, but they want to show how keen they are, the results are apt to get a little gruesome. I think of Jeffrey Hunter’s efforts in Tashlin’s final, misbegotten abortion of a film, THE PRIVATE NAVY OF SGT O’FARRELL*, and can scarce suppress a shudder. Every time Hunter pulls a funny face a Japanese fighter pilot explodes.

*Although this last film is indeed bad — horribly, savagely bad — it is not entirely devoid of interest. When a plane full of women is flown in to satisfy the libidinous grunts in Bob Hope’s unit, Tashlin cranes in on each of the expectant faces, awaiting the disembarkation of Lollobrigidian lovelies. Hatchet-faced Phyllis Diller appears and Hope’s erect bouquet promptly wilts. It’s not exactly witty but it’s served up with surprising filmic gusto for such an arthritic comedy. (Bob Hope, at this stage in his life, has acquired a crinkled, harsh, cruel face which does not inspire laughter, ever.)

Joe Dante, a Tashlin fan, rightly disparages this last movie, but that didn’t stop him quoting the mass-crane-in sequence above in THE ‘BURBS, during what is nominally a Sergio Leone parody. What it actually is, is a Tashlin swipe. Dante trumps the maestro’s hand by tracking in on not only all of the main characters, but also the dog.

15 Responses to “Ack-Ack”

  1. Marie Wilson was most famous for My Friend Irma and My Friend Irma Goes West — which introduced Dean and Jerry. But she had a considerably career that included Albert Lewin’s lovely The Private Affairs of Bel-Amiwith George Sanders, the Maltese Falcon revamp Satan Met a Lady, and my favorite James Whale film The Great Garrick.

  2. Garrick is lovely, and not well enough known. I have a rather erratic VHS which I keep hoping to upgrade. Need to watch it again to check her out, obviously. First time I only had eyes for Olivia DeH. And Ahearne and Horton make a very good team.

    Bel-Ami has been sitting in my to-watch pile for FAR too long.

  3. The Great Garrick is Jacques Rivette avant la lettre. It has the most sttunning camera movement I’ve ever seen in the cinema. The Comedie Francaise Players who have disguised themselves as servants at an inn David Garrick is stopping at, performing from a script by Beaumarchais designed as a kind of theatrical practical joke on Garrick are standing in front of the door to his room. The make fake noise to get him to come outside (“How dare you sir!” stomp, stomp stomp) But there’s no reaction. Then one of the actors pushes against the door, which isn’t locked. It opens and the camera moves from the hallway into the room, re-focusses itself, then moves forward again to peer outside the window where it re-focusses yet again to take in a garden at night (a set) in which we see Brian Aherne chasing a laughing Olivia DeHaviland across a small hill, as she waves a piece of white chiffon in the air.

    This is all one shot!

  4. Hate to break it to you, but in my copy it’s not — although in that sequence there are some considerable long takes, and the move through the window is incredibly beautiful and utterly artificial.

  5. Really? I recall it as one shot. have to search for my VHS copy. That film deserves lavish Criterion or Masters of Cinema treatment.

  6. I’ll look again in case there’s another, similar scene, but this one looks too close to your description. A proper release for this would be great, and have you ever seen By Candlelight? I loooong to see that one.

  7. Haven’t seen that what, but I have seen the very loopy Remember Last Night ? — which is all about the joys of drinking to excess.

  8. “Hatchet-faced Phyllis Diller appears and Hope’s erect bouquet promptly wilts.”

    I hope the appropriate penny-whistle sound was also included!

  9. Tashlin is a very distinctive auteur whose career traverses extreme highs (The Girl Can’t Help It, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter, The Disrerly Orderly) and extreme lows (The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell) Here’s a really great book about him (which includes a contribution from yours truly.)

    It’s a shame he never got to making his dream project: A film of Alexander King’s May This House Be Safe From Tigers starring the great Tony Randall.

  10. No penny-whistle sound effect — they’re aiming for class!

    That is indeed a fine book, and I was lucky to find an affordable copy. Lots of great-sounding unmade projects, and the pages reproduced from his script for MTHBSFT make it seem like the third in the increasingly self-reflexive trilogy begun with The Girl Can’t Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? with added autobiographical resonance. I picked up the Alexander King book that inspired it and was pleased to see that it in no way appeared filmable!

  11. One Tashlin-connected film I’ve always wondered about is “The Scarlet Hour” — namely because it’s so atypical, being a melodrama rather than a comedy and being a Tashlin script directed by Michael Curtiz.

    Anyone ’round here seen it?

    Points of interest include that (1) it’s another central role for Carol Ohmart of “House On Haunted Hill”; (2) Nat Cole introduces the Livingston & Evans song “Nerver Let Me Go” in it; and (3) it was Elaine Stritch’s film debut.

  12. Sounds fascinating. I HAVE seen Five Against The House, but Tashlin’s script for this caper thriller was completely rewritten by producer Sterling Silliphant. One can’t know for sure what Tashlin’s version would have been like, but the movie that resulted from the rewrite sure sucks.

  13. It is a shame you consider Marie Wilson endearingly goofy and not…endearingly goupi!

    Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.

  14. That would have tied things together nicely, wouldn’t it? That’s the troubel with writing posts weeks apart and then posting them on the same day, you miss those little connections.

  15. That would have tied things together nicely, wouldn’t it? That’s the trouble with writing posts weeks apart and then posting them on the same day, you miss those little connections.

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