Archive for Frank Tashlin

Strangely Beautiful

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 19, 2010 by dcairns

From A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA. Harpo waits for his big scene to begin. While, in the background, shadows from a gizmo known as a kookaloris (or cucaloris, cookaloris, cookalorus) suggest a vaguely North African mileu. And the outsize urns add something important too.

A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA is good fun, obviously not great like A NIGHT AT THE OPERA or God knows DUCK SOUP, but very agreeable. It’s also the movie that had Warner Bros threatening to sue over the use of the word “Casablanca,” leading Groucho to threaten a countersuit over Warners’ use of the word “brothers.” There are some good verbal gags, some by gagman Frank Tashlin, so there’s a particularly cartoony feel to Harpo’s schtick, and some good verbal gags:

Groucho: “I’m crazy about her: I’ve completely lost my head!”

Chico: “Well, put your hat on your neck and get out!”

Also Sig Rumann, progressively deprived of hair, beard and moustache. The beard ends up on Groucho, transforming him into  a dead ringer for Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, although the cigar also recalls Castro.


Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2009 by dcairns

Agnes Varda and Chris Marker, the cat.

Forgot to mention how much I enjoyed THE BEACHES OF AGNES, an autobiographical essay-film by Agnes Varda. An 18 Certificate warned us of “strong sexual imagery,” which turned out to be one shot of man with an erect penis. I almost asked for my money back, then remembered that ten or so years ago the film probably couldn’t even have been shown uncut in the UK with such an image. So I guess it qualifies, barely, as a strong sexual image.

But it isn’t all penises, the film is charming and moving and produces regular striking images of the kind Varda has specialized in throughout her career, but which have been rarer in her recent tiny-budget documentaries, because houses made of film-strips and beaches decorated with mirrors require a little bit of time and money to set up. Somebody’s apparently given Agnes a bit of cash to make this one, and about time.

What else have I seen that I’ve forgotten to tell you about? There was THIRST, by Chan-Wook Park (OLD BOY), which Fiona liked a lot more than me. The borrowings from THERESE RAQUIN (previously filmed by Marcel Carne) sat oddly in a vampire movie, and the lead character’s moral decline never became as obvious to him as it needed to, in order to provide a dramatic catharsis. Lots of icky imagery and some beautiful visuals. The idea of a modern vampirism arising from an experimental treatment for an AIDS-like illness struck me as a bit tacky, though. (Although this disease afflicts celibate men, which at least is original.) OLD BOY is still this guy’s best movie by a squid-s length, although I’M AN ANDROID (BUT THAT’S OK) has considerable charm and oddity value.

Finally tracked down BACHELOR FLAT, Frank Tashlin’s widescreen bedroom farce with Terry-Thomas, Tuesday Weld, Richard Beymer and Jessica Dachshund (a dachshund). The stand-out scene is the one everybody talks about, Jessica dragging a dinosaur bone along a beach (the shot CinemaScope was invented for), but T-T is on great form, Tuesday is as cute as a whole row of buttons, and there are some nice visual tropes. The only Tashlin left for me to see now I think is THE LIEUTENANT WORSE SKIRTS.

Been enjoying the 1930s Perry Mason films with Warren William (and later a couple other dudes), a widely disparate series of “thrillers,” some of which are pure slapstick and some of which rely a little more on drama. Mason’s secretary, Della Street, seems to be played by a different actress in every film, whereas Allen “Office Dibble” Jenkins turns up playing different characters. Michael Curtiz’s super-snappy THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE is the stand-out. Thanks to regular Shadowplayer mmedin for the discs.

Also, time for an update on the strange quest known as See Reptilicus and Die…


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2008 by dcairns

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.


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