Archive for July 27, 2009

Askey, and you shall receive

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on July 27, 2009 by dcairns


Brought up short.

The first and last word on Arthur Askey, British comedy film star of the ’40s, belongs to Alexei Sayle ~

“Remember, people once laughed at Arthur Askey, and history has proved them wrong.”

I decided to give Arthur a try, having procured by nefarious means a copy of BEES IN PARADISE, which the esteemed Val Guest directed, co-scripted, and wrote the lyrics for. An air force crew bail out over an uncharted island where they find a civilization ruled by women, where men are routinely sacrificed two months after wedding one of the local beauties. Plus, everybody’s always singing. I’m not sure which of the two qualities makes the place, ironically named “Paradise,” less appealing.

The crew consist of Peter Graves — not that one. This one is an amicably hopeless actor, always smiling, whatever the scene, who was also a baronet, which must have been nice for him; Max Bacon, an overstuffed and very Jewish malaprop; Ronald Shiner, a standard-issue cocker-nee cheeky chappie; and our Arthur.

With the body of a ten-year-old and the head of a maths teacher, Askey is a strange looking fellow, but not in a way that immediately inclined me towards laughter. Such a response seemed cruel, somehow. After watching him for ten minutes or so, I did start to feel cruelly towards him, but I was no closer to laughing. There’s definitely a kind of cold-blooded comic skill to the man, but it all seemed very artificial, as did the script. Guest seemed to be under the influence of the Marx Brothers, and no doubt generations of music hall cross-talking comedy acts, and his material, like Askey’s performance, mimics the best of those traditions without ever actually generating the surprise or freshness needed to produce laughs. There’s a lot of meta-textual gags too, confirming Joe Dante’s assertion that breaking the fourth wall used to be a lot more common.

vlcsnap-343180Arthur titters.

I was expecting the sexual politics to provide the laughs, and unintentional ones at that, but in fact there wasn’t very much in the way of dated sexism to raise chuckles. A pity, really. Here’s modern comic Harry Enfield spoofing that kind of idiocy, in one of his best sketches.

There were funny acts in the music hall — Chaplin and Stan Laurel both got their start there, and what I’ve heard of Dan Leno’s material is whimsical as hell but still funny, at least in places. But for some reason, the main way the medium is recalled today is in parodies of lousy and inscrutable old comedy, by way of spoof comedians like Tommy Cockles, Arthur Atkinson and Count Arthur Strong. And this does seem to represent a definite strain of British comedy.


Coming Soon…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2009 by dcairns

devil d webster

FILM CLUB wants you! After lengthy and mostly sober consideration, I’ve elected to start our experiment in internet confluence, Film Club, off with Arthur’s suggestion, THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (AKA ALL THAT MONEY CAN BUY), a William Dieterle classic from 1941.

Shadowplay requires that every man and woman in the land(s) shall watch along and report their findings next Monday when I blog about the movie. I’m hoping to snap the internet clean in two with the weight of insights generated.

I would be deee-lighted if those of you who haven’t seen the movie bought copies forthwith, pocket money allowing. You won’t regret it, I can guarantee that much. The movie is available from Masters of Cinema in the UK and Criterion in the US: trot along to Amazon and nab a copy now!

(For serious cheapskates, the movie is also on YouTube — but what I suggest you do is, watch the first ten minutes, realize you’re in the presence of greatness, and shell out the necessary simoleons to own your own pristine Digital Versatile Disc of said movie meisterwerk.

Following hard on the heels of CITIZEN KANE, Dieterle’s film employs some of the same German Expressionist tropes, only more German. Editor Robert Wise and compose Bernard Herrmann came fresh from KANE to this one, and I think BH’s score may be his best ever. My scratchy old vinyl recording of it attests to my love of its exuberant oomph.

Cast — Walter Huston — regular readers will know how much I deplore hyperbole, but truly, Mr. Huston is arguably the world’s greatest thing. Edward Arnold — the man has a certain way about him — when he scrunches up his face like an adorable puppy it does kind of make me want to hide behind the curtains, but he’s good. And Simone Simon, being unspeakably French. Nobody has ever been this French, honestly. She makes Maurice Chevalier look Swedish.

Story — an American retelling of Faust. But not like THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, I promise.

Look —

OK, so it’s not a great trailer. The film died. Like a dog. I think people are put off by that kind of “a story so captivating in its winsome uniqueness –” baloney. What we’re talking about is a gripping slice of Cinema Fantastique. You will thrill.

So, a week from now?