Archive for Ted Healy

A Gentlemaniac

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2017 by dcairns

MAD HOLIDAY (1936) is a quite pleasant THIN MAN knock-off (one of MANY) with wisecracking Edmund Lowe (a stoutish cover with a Grouchoesque delivery) and elegant, playful Elissa Landi sharing rather good chemistry. Also, the premise is very nice — Lowe plays a Hollywood star who’s sick of playing a sleuth in a popular movie series and runs off on an ocean cruise so he can “walk into a room without barking my shins on a corpse.” Landi is a glamorous lady who turns out to be the pseudonymous author of the books he’s been starring in adaptations of. If you’ll allow me a sentence ending in a preposition (I’ve checked, there isn’t actually a rule against it, but it does sometimes look funny.)

Also appearing is Edgar Kennedy as the baffled and irritated policeman, because it can’t ALWAYS be Sam Levene or Jame Gleason, you know. Plus Zasu Pitts, Edmund Gwenn, Gustaf Von Seyffertitz…

And also also starring is Ted Healy, the man who originally convened the Three Stooges, before perishing after a series of barroom brawls staged over a single night with such participants as Cubby Broccoli and Wallace Beery. Healy is accompanied by an unfamiliar stooge in this one — Healy plays a publicity man and Richard Hakins plays his photographer, and they engage in a lot of Stooges-type knockabout roughhouse stuff, Healy continually slapping Hakins’ forehead etc.

Who is this Hakins? He has the role of a Stooge but isn’t Moe, Larry, Curly, or one of their relatives. It turns out he’s a member of the Gentlemaniacs, a group Healy formed after the original trio left his act because he was a souse. He developed his new team, then summarily dismissed them after the Stooges expressed a willingness to return to the fold. The Gentlemaniacs trundled along without him for a while, developing trick musical instruments that could be used as weapons, to distinguish themselves from their rivals, and briefly engaging in a lawsuit with the Howard/Fine combo over who originated the name “Three Stooges.” The guys we remember as the Three Stooges won that one by producing a legal document establishing their use of the name. What a wondrous document that must be.

The Stooges really look as if there’s something wrong with them. Other comedians were funny-looking in ways they could drop when off-stage or off-screen. It must have been a joy for Groucho to wipe his moustache off and go unrecognized. But Moe must have had that bowl-cut all the time, unless it was a wig. And Hakins has an equally unfortunate barnett, a sweeping nest of hair coiled around a head that suggests arcane African skull-binding practices. He’s a bit like Robert Woolsey, who always looked like he’d suffered some debilitating childhood illness (he hasn’t).

Still, I developed some appreciation for Healy and Dakins. Healy is a loud, surly type, but he has a unique walk, a strangely fey stagger, combining a feeling of ungainly drunkenness with an odd, pansified daintiness, surprising in such a big, paunchy and loud man. He’s only occasionally funny, and almost always tiresome, but students of performance may get something from looking at him.

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Christmas Quiz

Posted in FILM with tags , , on December 25, 2008 by dcairns

YES! A proud tradition is begun. The first annual Shadowplay Christmas Quiz. It’s all about your powers of observation. Just watch this short clip and answer the questions below. Remember, the answers are all in the clip.

1) What is the name of Charles Foster Kane’s pet shadow-rooster?

2) Giraffe, elephant, rooster… what comes next?

3) What is Susan Alexander concealing in her left hand?

4) Ted Healy, of Three Stooges fame, is hiding behind the divan (you can just see his thumb). But why was he there, and who is sewing up his pants?

5) What colour is Susan’s wallpaper?

6) The oval portrait above the radiator depicts which famous hockey player?

7) The rug on the wall is Welles’ homage to dialect comedian El Brendel, of course, but what about the lamp?

8) What is the triangular, patterned object with the white stick projecting from it, mounted on the wall above the chair? Seriously, it’s driving me nuts.

9) The sounds of a kazoo and an iron lung can faintly be heard from next door. What did Welles hope to convey with this?

10) The subliminal image about 7 seconds in: why a bus station?

Remember — the answers are all in the clip. Merry Christmas!

Pouncing Lady

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2008 by dcairns

So, here’s the set-up: Clark Gable has fallen asleep, drunk, in a nightclub. He awakens, woozily, to see the kindly countenance of —

AAAAAAAAAHHH! Shit! Get it away from me!

This is DANCING LADY, from an unimaginable bygone age when M.G.M. didn’t know how to make musicals. So they borrow Fred Astaire from R.K.O., concoct some faux-Busby Berkeley visuals in the manner of Warners, and apply them both to a backstage story likewise lifted from Warners.

The reckless randomness of the musical numbers actually make you appreciate Busby Berkeley for his LOGIC.

Robert Z. Leonard directs, showing a lack of aptitude for framing dance that basically sinks the terpsichorean aspects of the production, but on the plus side we have Slavko Vorkapich on montage, linking nearly every sequence with peppy visual effects, swish-pans and wipes. “A wipe up Joan’s legs!” exclaimed Fiona. “They probably needed it,” I rejoindered. We decided that Slavko was the film’s true auteur.

Clark Gable, whom I regard as kind of a nightmare from which the world has finally awoken, is actually pretty good as the brusque and rowdy musical director. Franchot Tone is the Other Man, in the film and in real life: Joan was bigamously engaged to both Tone and Tom Neal, who beat the crap out of Tone when he found out. Ted Healy, he of the Stooges, gives the best performance, hovering in some strange hinterland between dyspepsia, blind panic and incipient homosexuality. He’s a fascinating case study in something-or-other.

Incidentally, why, in these putting-on-a-show things, does the show never have a graspable plot? Gable is supposed to be staging a musical epic on the Spanish-American War (co-written by a hissily “artistic” Sterling Holloway), but rejects the old-hat concept for something “modern”, concerning factory girls and city life — but what we see in the end is Fred and Joan on a flying carpet, landing in Bavaria and drinking beer. WTF?

“Here in Bavaria / They take good care o’ ya.”

And at last I find something Joan Crawford can’t do. I was a little wary of her for years, then finally gave in. I had assumed that, given her air of terrifyingly sincere, demented fakeyness (especially in interviews — ugh, creepy!) she wouldn’t be able to convince or move me in drama, but she proved me wrong. I still felt I would never find her actually sympathetic, but then found I did. I was positive she wouldn’t be able to do comedy, but in SUSAN AND GOD she manages it, and seems to be parodying herself (fakey, humourless and egomaniacal), with too much skill for it to be entirely unconscious.

But. She. Can’t. Dance.

I know she WAS a dancer, but now that I’ve seen her effortful, heavy, gangling perambulations in this movie I know they mean that the way they say “Oh, but Richard Gere was a chorus boy for years,” as if that proved the silhouetted figure glimpsed in two-second shots in CHICAGO was (a) Gere and (b) dancing in a way that we could actually SEE. I mean, Joan Crawford dances better than I do, but so do Robby the Robot, Herbert Marshall and Manoel de Oliveira.

People who dance better than Joan: Lionel Barrymore, Donovan’s Brain, and Baragon.

Still, she’s pretty awesome at everything else.