Archive for Jack Benny

The Sunday Intertitle: The Gag Man

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2018 by dcairns

This is, I think, the only funny intertitle in THE GENERAL, the only one that even attempts to be funny. And even then, it’s just alliteration, not some kind of wisecrack.

It’s a shock to see Keystone films after watching mature Keaton or Chaplin, because at Keystone they tried to cram gags into every title. I think the idea was to take what had been filmed and punch it up with another layer of comedy. Whereas Buster and Charlie knew what they’d got was good enough. Harold Lloyd would do funny titles — “When the man with the mansion met the miss with a mission…” — really witty ones. And they seem to be more intimately connected to the story — that one, from FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, was going to supply the movie’s original title.

Keaton does gag titles in his shorts, but again, they’re plot-based, as with the boat’s name in THE BOAT. “Damfino.” “Well I don’t know either.”

Weirdly, the writing credit on THE GENERAL names directors Buster and Clyde Bruckman, but adds, “Adapted by Al Boasberg and Charles Smith.” Smith was an actor, who plays the heroine’s dad in the film. And Boasberg was a joke writer from vaudeville who had helped shape the personae of everyone from Jack Benny to Milton Berle and Burns & Allen. Keaton referred to him as an example of how that kind of verbal humour wasn’t needed on his films, and the credit seems likely to be a compensation to Boasberg for not having any of his work used. The straightforward, purely functional titles of the film could be entrusted to a minor actor with, I suspect, Keaton more or less dictating ~

 

Smith.

Boasberg’s trumped-up credit reminds me of H.M. “Beany” Walker, who got writing credit on all the Laurel & Hardy shorts, despite the fact that the story was already in place when he came on, and so he’d write a dialogue script full of one-liners which the boys basically ignored. Those titles at the start of many L&H talkies would end up being his major contribution.

But it’s nice Boasberg got a credit because his name goes unmentioned on a lot of films he DID contribute to — notably A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, where he seems to have originated the legendary stateroom scene, a scene dependent on his speciality — verbal quips which not only fit the situation, but the speaker’s unique comic personality.

Info from Ben Schwartz’s amazing bio essay, The Gag Man, available in The Film Comedy Reader.

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The Christopher Movement

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2018 by dcairns

This is the only film Leo McCarey shot between GOOD SAM in 1948 and MY SON JOHN in 1952.

It’s a sort of documentary made for the Christopher Movement, a Catholic organisation dedicated to, I guess, getting more Catholics into government, education and labour organisation. It’s not, I would argue, a very distinguished piece of film. Although it’s meant to be factual rather than entertaining, it’s entirely staged. A bunch of Hollywood types discuss the movement with Father James G. Keller. Notes follow ~

  1. The best thing about the film is the wonky telecine job performed on it by the uploader or his associates. We keep zooming and panning in sudden drunken lurches at every edit, giving the conversation a woozy, drugged-out quality.
  2. William Holden may have become McCarey’s opponent on SATAN NEVER SLEEPS but he was happy to donate his time to this thing.
  3. Normally, a film with these people would be bound to be interesting, though it’s hard to think up a plot that could realistically incorporate roles for Holden, Paul Douglas, Jack Benny & Rochester, Ann Blyth, Loretta Young and Irene Dunne.
  4. Who invited the mermaid?
  5. It’s not really fair to judge Keller on how he comes across here since he wasn’t a trained actor. But I find him damned sinister. Also, he looks a good bit like McCarey. Great cheekbones.
  6. Paul Douglas’ rendition of the Declaration of Independence is not as effective as Charles Laughton’s* in RUGGLES OF RED GAP. Context is key.
  7. Despite everything, Irene Dunne gets a laugh around 13.30. She was one of McCarey’s regular visitors when he was dying, as he is here.
  8. Jack Benny gets some laughs at around 23.
  9. Bob Hope might have gotten a laugh but the sound effect is timed badly.
  10. Oh Leo, Leo, Leo.

*See comments for correction.

 

In the beginning…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on January 1, 2011 by dcairns

Fred Allen introduces IT’S IN THE BAG in his best pre-post-modern style.

Fred didn’t really make it to the UK — our loss, clearly. We did get Jack Benny, but only through his movies and live appearances, and the fame those brought him didn’t last much longer than their first release. It’s ironic, since one of his favourite jokes, trundled out again during his cameo in IT’S IN THE BAG (Rudy Vallee, Don Ameche and William Bendix also guest), is that his movies are terrible. Which isn’t true, as Lubitsch and Walsh fans can testify.

JB: “Twelve members for a Jack Benny fan club? Are you being too exclusive? Do you keep out the riff-raff?”

FA: “If we kept out the riff-raff we’d only have three members.”

JB: “What about my movies?”

FA: “Ah, even the riff-raff don’t go to see those.”

JB: “Have you tried giving away dishes?”

FA: “Yes, they threw them at the screen.”

JB: “Have you tried not giving away dishes?”

FA: “Yes. They bring their own dishes and throw them at the screen.”

(Benny’s jokes at the expense of his Walsh movie, THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT — and what a great title that is! — are echoed today by Jon Stewart’s dismissive references to his own efforts in DEATH TO SMOOCHIE — which is, itself, not an uninteresting movie.)

Anyhow, IT’S IN THE BAG is just about as entertaining as this opening suggests. Gags which break the third wall are used sparingly, so the film does have a little bit of reality left to disrupt. In general, no joke is too corny or too laborious to be included, but some of the worst ones are some of the best. Alma Reville, power behind the Hitchcock throne, co-wrote, which is fascinating: I don’t exactly know what to make of it, but it’s fascinating.

Here’s an earlier Fred short, just because.