A Divine Groucho, a Priestly Belmondo

Olive Films has completed its Paramount Preminger trilogy with a fine widescreen transfer of the 1969 “Skidoo” — the first time this marvelously daffy but completely personal zeitgeist comedy has been seen in its proper Panavision format since its original release. The restored color reveals the fine hand of the great cinematographer Leon Shamroy, who here captures the quintessential hues of the late 1960s with the same acuity he applied to the 1940s in “Leave Her to Heaven” and the 50s in “The Girl Can’t Help It.” I have an appreciation of this fascinating artifact in my New York Times column this week, along with a look at Criterion’s new edition of Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Leon Morin, Priest,” starring a fresh-out-of-“Breathless” Jean-Paul Belmondo.

146 comments to A Divine Groucho, a Priestly Belmondo

  • Agreed, HELLZAPOPPIN’ is mind-boggling. I’ve made it mandatory for my students to watch because the hilarious inventiveness is amazing, the nonsense so dazzling it becomes profound. (If you were so inclined you could say that it deconstructs the whole idea of cinema.)

    Here’s the opening sequence: http://youtu.be/b8okW69O4mY

    In Sweden it got the title Galopperande flugan, The Galloping Fly.

  • Correction: the author of “Film and the Anarchist Imagination” is Richard Porton.

  • Gregg Rickman

    X, a fine but valid distinction; the standard critical work on these early 1930s films, which refers to these comedies as “anarchistic” (a third term!), is Henry Jenkins’ “What Made Pistachio Nuts?” (Columbia UP, 1992). Jenkins doesn’t offer a political reading of these films but speaks instead of liberation: “The anarchistic moment does not simply depict the clowns’ refusal of social and bodily restraint; it allows the audience to experience a similar albeit vicarious escape from emotional restraint through its stylistic excesses and energetic performances.” (217) I was speaking in agreement with Dave (Marx Brothers films as “no less unsettling products of the last time America seemed on the verge of a social revolution” July 26 1:14 pm) thinking specifically of Groucho’s address as the new college president in HORSE FEATHERS, and of course DUCK SOUP. More generally there’s a ridicule of all authority in these films (as in the divorce court scene of Wheeler & Woolsey’s PEACH O’RENO, to pick one film at random) as well as the linguistic nonsense that Jean-Pierre speaks of today at 2:35 pm.

  • I see what you mean. Jenkins’ “anarchistic moment” sounds not much different then the “temporary autonomous zone” theorized by Hakim Bey, and then there’s the expression “carnival of the oppressed” to signify revolution itself.

  • Barry Putterman

    Not that I entirely endorse this analysis, but Sarris’ comment that The Marx Brothers were trying to be mad in a sane world while The Beatles (in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT) were trying to be sane in a mad world might be worth consideration as far as how it would relate to SKIDOO and Dave’s claims for its social criticism, as well as the dueling theories put forth here by Gregg and x.

    Olsen and Johnson would certainly fall into the first category in Sarris’ formulation. And, for me, most successfully in CRAZY HOUSE.

  • Alex

    Although I don’t think that SKIDOO has much more to offer as insight into the 60s counter culture than the Three Stooges had to offer on the Herbert Hoover coalition, Fatcat excess or Depression malaise and politics, this correlation between undsettled timess and nonsense comedy is interesting.

    Might Lesters’ The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film, Hard Day’s Night, The Knack, Help! and A Funny Thing Happened on Way to the Forum, as well as Reisz’ Morgan! and Schlesinger’ Billy Liar count as ’60s nonsense comedies of the unsettles ’60s? (Brit though these are, anyone who spend some time in Canada or France during the ’60 knows that the Vietnam War and reactions to it unsettled populations beyond our borders)

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Fredrick, calling HELLZAPOPPIN'(or any other film) THE GALLOPING FLY seems to put whoever had the idea in the forefront of Sweedish nonsense.

    One of the more interesting things about the film is that HELLZAPOPPIN –THE MOVIE is really about those two guys Olsen and Johnson failing to make the film they wanted to make out of their great Broadway show.

    A fascinating thing about the show is that Jerry Lewis worked for weeks and probably months on a revival of it on Broadway in the seventies and then for some reason it didn’t work. It would be interesting to know more about what happened. Perhaps it was not right for the seventies — although in a way the seventies were so open to anything, perhaps it was a good idea.

    Barry, about CRAZY HOUSE — well, we have to talk.

    Barry, the concept that the world was “sane” at the time the Marx Brothers were trying to be mad and vice-versa about the Beatles seems so absurd — the world has never been sane and if it occasionally seems a little bit less mad, it’s probably because you’re not looking the right way.

  • Barry Putterman

    Jean-Pierre, again, I don’t necessarily agree with Sarris’ formulation entirely, but I believe that what he is saying that in The Marx Brothers films, the institutions that they invade such as the upper class dinner party (ANIMAL CRACKERS), the upper class hotel (THE COCOANUTS) and the university (HORSE FEATHERS) are depicted as functioning in the manner and with the effectiveness that we would expect them to until the Brothers take charge and demolish them with their inverted logic. Whereas, on the other hand, The Beatles come to the fashion magazine and the TV station in all innocence with the expectation that they will function as rational institutions only to find them perverted with all kinds of bizarre practices. My question then being, which model is SKIDOO closer to.

    As for CRAZY HOUSE, one man’s giggle is another man’s gaffaw.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Barry, this is a very very tough thing to discuss, if only because I don’t see much if any relationship between the Marx Brothers and the Beatles, except the number of persons both groups there are in (there are also the Three Musketeers who were four, in many different guises). I would agree that the Beatles were totally innocent, while to some extent the Marx Bros. were too but in a somewhat different way — the bottom line was that they all made fabulous amounts of money (which I guess they deserved)and never changed anything (or not much in the case of the Beatles)about the saneness or madness of the world.

    My giggle during the first reel of CRAZY HOUSE tended to turn to guffaw in the following ones, although the music was enjoyable (are we allowed to mention swing big bands?)

  • Barry Putterman

    Jean-Pierre, what can I tell you beyond directing you to Sarris’ entry on Richard Lester in “The American Cinema” and asking you to refer all future objections to him.

    I’d just as soon we discuss Jimmie Lunceford anyway.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Lester’s comedies for the most part are British, but he of course, that resident in the UK, is American.

    I have been doing a complete Lester retro at home (except for Finders Keepers, which I lack), and would hardly call the Beatles in either A Hard Day’s Night or Help! innocents. They seemed to me in both of the films as being shown to be wise beyond their years (they were still in their early – mid 20s).

    I can see the idea of Help! being a distant relative of International House though.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Barry, I can’t find my copy of “The American Cinema.”

    I do love Richard Lester though. And I wouldn’t dream of referring any objection to Sarris whatever he wrote.

    As to Jimmie Lunceford, this is just not the place, as you know.

  • Barry Putterman

    Jean-Pierre, well can we agree that we are now about to begin July 29, 2011 on the east coast of the U.S.A?

  • Gregg Rickman

    “Nonsense comedy” is a good term, as it carries no political charge, as do the various permutations of “anarch—“ employed by some of us. (I agree however with Dave that there IS a political charge to at least some of these films, more so in fact than their Nixon-era equivalents: birdshit hitting a newspaper headline about Nixon in BREWSTER MCCLOUD isn’t as strong a statement as Groucho’s changing military outfits in DUCK SOUP.) On the other hand, employing a term like “nonsense” to describe films like HELLZAPOPPIN’ (or WHOOPEE) might be more on point for those.

    I wasn’t considering Lester as part of these movements at all, whatever parallels can be suggested between Groucho and John Lennon. Instead I associate Lester with 1960s modernist play with the medium we find in the Godard of that era, or say Jerzy Skolimowski. (I’ve just returned from a screening of the latter’s WALKOVER, a series of brilliantly composed tracking shots in and around an industrial plant.) I’ve just looked up Sarris’ comment on Lester in “The American Cinema,” and his major complaint regards his fragmented editing. Lester’s roots are not in 1930s nonsense comedies, however, but in 1920s silent comedy, which is driven home by his casting of Buster Keaton in FORUM, as well as by films of his such as FINDERS KEEPERS. I still recall going to see Stanley Donen’s BLAME IT ON RIO and switching to the Lester at the last minute, which I am very grateful for, as Lester’s deployment of shot compositions in that film’s train gags was very reminiscent of Keaton’s train gags in THE GENERAL. (I’ve still never caught up with the Donen!) No matter how rapid Lester’s editing was, in short, his shot compositions were always rock solid, directly conveying the gag on view. A few weeks ago Terrence Malick was being criticized here for the too rapid cutting of TREE OF LIFE, which is of course a matter of taste (to my mind the associational cutting was appropriate for expressing Sean Penn’s reveries). Given that Malick’s grandiosity can be seen paralleled in Murnau’s FAUST, and his love of nature has parallels in SUNRISE and CITY GIRL, I’d go so far as to posit that Malick is to Murnau as Lester is to Keaton.

    X, thanks for the input about the “temporary autonomous zone” theorized by Hakim Bey. Perhaps it can be compared to Bakhtin’s carnival.

  • Robert Garrick

    When I spent a few days with Sarris at my college campus in 1975, he had just written “The John Ford Movie Mystery,” but the director Sarris most wanted to talk about was Richard Lester. “Robin and Marian” had just been released, and Sarris was really taken with it, and with Lester in general. And we haven’t even mentioned Lester’s best film, “Petulia.”

    Let’s switch to music for a moment: I have long considered “A Hard Day’s Night” (the film) one of the most amazing achievements of the last century. Not because it’s so great (though it is very good) but because it was done so quickly, and produced basically as an exploitation film, and turned out so shockingly well. John and Paul wrote the entire score in a few weeks, and for me it’s the best Beatles album. Even if you prefer something else (like “Rubber Soul,” which Brian Wilson thought was the best pop album ever) you have to admit that “A Hard Day’s Night” is an amazingly good collection of pop songs. The film, likewise, was shot in six weeks, with a largely improvised script, in order to capitalize on the Beatles craze, and it turned out to be inspired. What were the odds?

    Even as a kid, I remember seeing the ads for “A Hard Day’s Night” in the L.A. Times and thinking: “This has got to be crap.”

    What’s even more astonishing is that John Boorman’s similar film on the Dave Clark Five, “Having a Wild Weekend,” is also excellent.

    This type of thing just doesn’t happen. See, e.g., “Spice World.”

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Barry, nonsense is always having the last word. I hope you slept well.

    Robert G: Although “one of the most amazing achievements of the last century” may seem somewhat exagerated to some, I tend to agree. It’s a very unique film, absolutely exhilarating, and the Beatles couldn’t have found a more appropriate director for their first movie. It’s indeed a small miracle that everything worked so well but such miracles do happen sometimes. HELP! was a much more elaborate, costlier production and it’s a fine movie, but to me it doesn’t have the unique, seemingly slapdash charm of HARD DAY’S NIGHT.

  • Griff

    Gregg: for the record, the newspaper headline defaced in Altman’s BREWSTER McCLOUD actually referred to Spiro Agnew’s famous Summer 1970 comment on how some in our society “should be discarded.”

  • Robert, I second that!

    How original to make such a “downer” film about 60s pop youth in CATCH US IF YOU CAN (European name for the Dave Clark Vehicle). I wasn’t expecting much, just to get to see Boorman’s early style, but it did win one over.

  • Barry Putterman

    Jean-Pierre, every time I open the newspaper I become more convinced of what you say. Thanks for your concern, I slept like a login.

    I also thought that HAVING A WILD WEEKEND (aka CATCH US IF YOU CAN) was quite interesting. Although it might be added that according to Boorman’s autobiography, the making of the film was even more of a downer than the finished film itself.

  • Alex

    Sane world? Well it’s approaching AMERICAN MADNESS levels until Tuesday, and ain’t clearly going to look better for some time –though fixed-annuities, emerging market equities, Canadian dollars (and Gold –if that’s not too close to acceding to the scare language of the people driving this mess) can steady the pulse a bit, if not quell the nonsense.

    Doubt of this Hollywood will compensate us with any real quality nonsense comedy.

  • Dave Kehr praised Benjamin Stoloff.
    Here is a starter checklist:

    Common plot elements in Benjamin Stoloff films:

    Amateur detectives (amnesiac hero and woman: Two in the Dark, movie detective tries to solve real crime: Super-Sleuth, society lady vs. the mob, ex-crooks get deputized: The Lady and the Mob, doctor, Bart: The Mysterious Doctor)
    Characters getting dressed up in fancy new clothes (hero shops for suit after murder: Two in the Dark, Oakie and Berle lure Bob Burns into wearing tails: Radio City Revels, heroine gets Hymer chauffeur’s uniform, new dress for Lupino: The Lady and the Mob)
    Characters tend minor injuries (hero after attack at start: Two in the Dark, good guys after fights: The Lady and the Mob)
    Openings of mystery films set in misty darkness, out of which the hero emerges, as out of nothing (Two in the Dark, The Mysterious Doctor) related (rain outside the night club: Super-Sleuth)
    Amnesia (hero: Two in the Dark, Bart: The Mysterious Doctor)
    Characters write at desks (villain writes threatening letter: Super-Sleuth, doctor keeps small concealed journal: The Mysterious Doctor)
    Country inns (Palooka’s Country Inn: Palooka, Running Horse pub: The Mysterious Doctor)
    Jails (The Lady and the Mob, The Mysterious Doctor)
    Tiresome, dull comedy relief – the low point of some Stoloff films.

    Story Construction:

    Use of character actors and comedians as his leads, rather than conventional leading men and stars (Jimmy Durante: Palooka, Hugh Herbert, Helen Broderick: To Beat the Band, Walter Abel: Two in the Dark, Jack Oakie: Super-Sleuth, Jack Oakie, Bob Burns: Radio City Revels, Fay Bainter: The Lady and the Mob)
    Comedy scenes of actors in dual roles (Jimmy Durante as baby: Palooka, Hugh Herbert as aunt: To Beat the Band)

    Visual Style:

    Highly geometric sets, featuring circular forms (fountain, with a circular sidewalk: Two in the Dark, reception area, nightclub circular ceiling: Super-Sleuth, spiral staircase, circular sunken lounge, rugs: Radio City Revels, elliptical drive: The Lady and the Mob)
    Circular objects and props (sphere-and-cone puzzle: To Beat the Band, umbrella with circular hole in center: Super-Sleuth, gas mask openings, cylindrical gas mask containers: The Mysterious Doctor)
    Art Deco sets (To Beat the Band, film studio: Super-Sleuth, Radio City Revels)
    Occasional overhead shots, used for staging action (Two in the Dark)
    Symmetrical balance of groups of characters in spectacles on the left and right side of the screen (perhaps due to the choreographers) (finale with male and female orchestras: To Beat the Band, “Take a Tip from the Tulip”: Radio City Revels)
    Looking through obstacles to sets (witness peering through crack in screen, through umbrella: Super-Sleuth, heroine observing night club through window: The Lady and the Mob, looking through small jail window with curved bars: The Mysterious Doctor)
    Multi-level sets and groups of people arranged on them (band stands at end: To Beat the Band, pub landing inside, pub porch outdoors: The Mysterious Doctor)

    Costumes:

    Evening clothes (To Beat the Band, Super-Sleuth, Radio City Revels)
    Dressy uniforms (Ward Bond as cop at start: Two in the Dark, Warren Hymer as chauffeur: The Lady and the Mob, Bruce Lester as officer: The Mysterious Doctor)

  • Gregg Rickman

    Mike, am unfamiliar with Stoloff’s directorial career, but the name rang a bell and checking my research I discover that he was an assistant director for Al St. John’s comedies at Fox in 1923, and co-scenarist with writer-director St, John on the St. John comedy HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (1924). (This was during the period in which Roscoe Arbuckle seems to have been ghosting the writing and directing of his nephew’s comedies.) In any event this would explain his use of comedians as his leading actors, if not perhaps “tiresome, dull comedy relief.”

  • joe dante

    My favorite Ben Stoloff picture is NIGHT OF TERROR (1933), a cheap but beautifully shot (Joseph Valentine) Columbia potboiler about a maniac knocking off heirs who’ve been summoned to a seance at the family estate. Bela Lugosi is a red-herring swami who drugs the cops with “oriental cigarettes”, Wallace Ford is a wisecracking reporter (is there any other kind?) and Loretta Young’s gorgeous sister Sally Blane is charming and funny as the heroine. Edwin Maxwell, made up to look like a cartoon anarchist, is the mad killer who tells the audience that if they dare give away the ending he’ll “tear you limb from limb!” It’s all a lot of fun–except when you get to Oscar Smith as the most egregiously stereotyped terrified black chauffer in early talkies. Smith, seemingly not an actor, is simply jaw-dropping as he trembles, twitches and bugs his eyes while blowing nearly every line reading. He gets no billing. This was part of one of the Screen Gems “Shock” packages in the early 60s and used to run on late-nite pretty frequently in less enlighted days.

  • Robert Garrick

    “Night of Terror”–now there’s an eephus pitch right in my wheelhouse.

    This was a key film for little Robert Garrick in the early ’60s. It was the first film ever shown on “Jeepers Creepers,” a legendary late-Saturday-night horror show in Los Angeles, with a live horror host. Back then I was well-schooled in the classics (“Frankenstein,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” etc.) and I could handle them OK. The films that scared the hell out of me were “House on Haunted Hill,” which screened on another show called “Chiller,” and “Night of Terror.” There’s a scene at the very end of “Night of Terror” that gave me nightmares for years. Joe Dante will know what I’m talking about.

    The “maniac” in the film was obviously based on the Lon Chaney make-up from “London After Midnight.” There was a subplot involving a tunnel and some greedy heirs that led to an ambiguous ending, possibly allowing the actual maniac to get away–a shocking and horrifying pre-Code event. The whole film, back then anyway, seemed thoroughly disreputable and unsettling, and not in sync with prevailing rules of horror film etiquette.

    Ten years later, Lugosi was back as another butler/swami/red herring in Universal’s “Night Monster” (1942, directed by Ford Beebe), one of the best and most underrated of all the Universal horror films. (Word is that Alfred Hitchcock was a fan.) Back when I was a kid it scared the hell out of me too, and it still gives me the creeps. You don’t ever want those frogs to stop croaking.

  • Alex

    Nice description of reigning 50s movie culture and the emerging auteurist sensibility—from Chile, indeed small town Chile, of all place – in this morning’s “ E. O. Scott article on Raúl Ruiz in “A Mild-Mannered Maniac” (NYT Sunday Magazine):

    “There were two movie houses in our village: one showed Mexican films for grown-ups, Italian neorealist dramas and didactic French movies. The other specialized in American films for children. That was where we went, and even though there were some of us who occasionally went to the first theater in the hopes of seeing a naked woman, we far preferred the movies for kids. Even after we stopped being kids, we still liked those films better.”

    Scott continues with “Those films were Flash Gordon serials, cowboy programs and bathing-beauty musicals starring Esther Williams. Though there were also masterworks by Howard Hawks and Fritz Lang, which Ruiz encountered, as his North American counterparts did, as entertainment rather than as art.”

    (Don’t know what small town Chilean film culture was like in the 50s but I doubt if there were four urban areas in the U.S. as widely attentive to film around 1958-62 as the Santiago I know back then as a middle schooler).

    Good to see a little PR for forthcoming U.S. distribution of “The Mysteries of Lisbon.”

  • Rick K.

    I just had the opportunity to browse through an early issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland, from 1962, and found an article entitled Dante’s Inferno, written by one Joe Dante Jr., venomously exposing the 50 worst horror films ever made. Noting that there was no sign of Stoloff’s oft-maligned NIGHT OF TERROR on that list, combined with evidence from this site, my Sherlockian deductions have concluded that there is indeed a prodigy of film criticism here in our midst, though perhaps prone to mellowing harsh words of youth towards B movie auteurs with the wisdom that some 50 years (! … quite a record, and still counting) has brought to his perspective.

  • joe dante

    Ouch!
    This was a letter I wrote when I was 13 in my unending quest to get my name in the magazine (a common reader goal at the time) following my unpublished stream of letters about the best, weirdest, scariest, etc. pictures I’d seen. The one that got published (amazingly, as a full fledged article, and heavily rewritten in the bargain) was the one listing the “worsts”– which began to haunt me once the Medveds’ wrongheaded “golden turkey” books appeared. What was doubly embarrassing was that at the time I hadn’t even seen some of the movies I listed, many of which I actually like! We all have our skeletons in the closet,and Rick has pulled out one of mine.
    But I gotta admit, it sure was fun to come home from school and get that surprise envelope from Forry Ackerman with my “article” in it!

  • Rick K.

    Joe, your skeleton in the closet ranks alongside Bill Castle’s in the acid pit in terms of impressive feats (yours a published investigative film critique at such an early age, and Bill’s, of course, actually emerging from the screen), but the fact that you were actually disseminating opinions of film history in 1962 when the province for similar discourse was still well within groundbreaking stages, obviously positions you among the pioneers of the field. Thus my discovery of it was one of sincere admiration. As for the Medveds, there is no comparison … Famous Monsters was all about an affection for genre films, knowing that many of them were imperfect, while the Medved approach was little more than a series of cheap shots, with too many misguided entries to mention.

  • Gregg Rickman

    So… Mr. Dante… what ARE the 50 worst horror films ever made?

    A reprint of your 1962 essay will suffice!

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, considering the almost staggering number of bad horror films which have been made since 1962, wouldn’t such a list now be hopelessly outdated?
    (No need to thank me Joe. I’m sure you’d throw me a line if positions were reversed.)

  • I bought that issue at the first Famous Monsters convention in NYC, in 1974 I think it was (well, my dad did). My nine-year-old self thought it was an excellent piece. I still have the issue in my parents’ basement.

  • joe dante

    Boy, I’m sure glad this thread is about over!

  • Robert Garrick

    A critical piece by Joe Dante in an early issue of FM? That’s Eye-Popping News.

    It’s the July, 1962 issue, No. 18, with Dwight Frye (painted by Basil Gogos) on the cover. Joe Dante has done many great things in his still-young life, but getting published by FJA at age 13 might head the list.

    As for the list itself–there’s plenty to quibble about. Among the “fifty worst horror films,” young Joe includes a Joseph H. Lewis film (“Mad Doctor of Market Street”), an Edgar G. Ulmer film (“The Amazing Transparent Man”) and a number of titles that that have since been enshrined in the Cult Hall of Fame (“Attack of the 50-Foot Woman,” “The Blob,” “Bride of the Monster,” “The Leech Woman,” etc.) Back in 1962, who knew?

    But the real headline here is that the director of “Matinee” includes William Castle’s breakthrough horror film “Macabre” among the fifty worst. Oh, the humanity. It’s like Andrew Sarris writing a piece entitled “The Trouble With Hitchcock” back in the mid-1950s.

    The breadth of Dante’s teenage film knowledge was impressive. How many kids that age would know about “S.O.S. Coast Guard”?

    A legitimate subject for this board might be “The Cat Creeps” (1946), directed by Erle C. Kenton (and on Dante’s list). I have only seen Kenton’s horror films, which include “Ghost of Frankenstein” (1942–it’s a talkie), “House of Dracula” (1945), and “House of Frankenstein” (1944). The Universal horror factory was winding down, but these are well-crafted projects, delightful to look at, well-directed. I’m not sure how much of it was Kenton and how much was the Universal crew, but there were other films coming out of Universal at that time (“Pillow of Death,” for example) that are not close to the Kenton standard.

    In the very first conversation I ever had with Barry Putterman–which he won’t remember–Erle C. Kenton’s name came up. This would have been 1976. Putterman wondered if Kenton had done any interesting work and I said he had.

  • Barry Putterman

    Possibly Robert. However, since, unlike Joe Dante, I left no paper trail, it won’t stand up in court. All I can say is that if Albert Brooks got it right in DEFENDING YOUR LIFE, we are all going to have a lot to answer for.

    By the way, Kenton’s name is on a highly enjoyable Andrews Sisters musical at Universal called HOW’S ABOUT IT. And traditionalists will point to ISLAND OF LOST SOULS and YOU’RE TELLING ME at Paramount as his noteworthy titles

  • Gregg Rickman

    Let’s see, Erle C. Kenton was in the cast of THE SUMMER GIRLS (Eddie Cline/Sennett, 1918) and by 1923 was directing Lew Brice comedies (who? even I must ask) at the same time Benny Stoloff (as he is listed in credits) was AD’ing for Al St. John at the same studio, Fox. In short, like Stoloff (and the more celebrated Capra, LaCava, McCarey) he was an all-rounder who apprenticed in silent slapstick. Moving out of my research files (on Cline and St. John) on to IMDB he directed Ben Turpin, Harry Langdon and Raymond Griffith in the silent era before long stints at Paramount and then Universal (directing as noted above A&C — Abbott & Costllo, not ADVISE AND CONSENT — and Universal’s all-star horror HOUSEs of the mid-1940s). He wound up directing TV episodes. As I recall the films of his I’ve seen are crisply, highly competently directed; YOU’RE TELLING ME is a particularly pleasing (and relatively little known) W.C. Fields vehicle, where the emotions ring as actually real and a slapstick interlude with an ostrich seems intrusive.

  • Robert Garrick

    Kenton seems to have worn out his welcome with A&C. He directed several films for them, but then was fired from “Hit the Ice” and (according to the IMDB) did some work on “In Society” (1944) but was not given a screen credit. He never worked with them again as far as I can tell.

    As noted above, Kenton also worked with the Andrews Sisters a few times, so that makes this a good time to observe that Patty Andrews (the tall, blonde one in the middle, who sang lead) is still alive. She’s 93, and was not on that excellent list supplied by Robert Regan a few weeks ago.

  • Robert Regan

    Thanks, Robert G. My apologies to the talented and charming Patty Andrews.

  • joe dante

    Kenton also directed WHO DONE IT, which is one of the best and most stylish of the A&C’s…and the only one with no musical numbers.

  • Robert Regan

    Speaking of Abbott and Costello, in Keep ‘Em Flying Martha Raye sings The Boy with the Wistful Eye, the title line of which is interpolated into Them There Eyes by Billie Holliday, an avowed movie fan.

  • jbryant

    For those interested, TCM has the following titles coming up soon:

    8/6 – Benjamin Stoloff’s THE AFFAIRS OF ANNABEL (1938), part of Lucille Ball day

    8/9 – Erle C. Kenton’s STRANGER IN TOWN (1932), part of Ann Dvorak day

  • Gregg Rickman

    Jbryant, thanks for the scheduling advice. I looked up Kenton in “Abbott & Costello in Hollywood” (Bob Furbanek and Ron Palumbo, 1991) and noted that Kenton was unhappy with the team’s refusal do to second takes. “The minute a shot was done, Erle Kenton might say ‘I think you could do that a little better, Lou.’ And Lou would say ‘That’s good enough. Come on, Bud.” (84) The two directors who didn’t “accept the team’s method of working… did their assignments and moved on” were Kenton… and William Seiter. (27)

    Just as a query, I havent watched any of the massive sets of A&C comedies Universal put out on DVD. I understand that some of them (at 2-3 features a disc) are so compressed there are playing problems on those discs, as with some of U’s horror sets and perhaps their Ma & Pa Kettle series discs. Has anyone had problems with the sets?

  • mike schlesinger

    I picked up on Kenton’s style in college, particularly his signature bit (in the horror films) of outsize shadows. He also did a lot of nice Columbias in the late 20s and early 30s. Someone oughta do a book on him. Versatile and visual–a fine combo.

    And yes, WHO DONE IT is top-notch A&C; I think it’s their best film (despite the botched ending).

  • Shawn Stone

    STRANGER IN TOWN is kind of a dud, more of a Chic Sale picture than an Ann Dvorak picture.

  • jbryant

    Chic Sale was quite a character though. Earlier this year, I read excerpts from his 1929 bestseller “The Specialist,” which was basically a collection of monologues for a character he played, an outhouse builder (you can check ‘em out at chicsale.net). Its success led to Sales’ name becoming a euphemism for an outhouse, which wasn’t exactly what he had in mind. I enjoyed him in Wellman’s THE STAR WITNESS as Grandpa. He often made himself up to play old codgers, but he was only 51 when he died.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Chic Sale had a long career as a monologist and character actor. His last film was YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE. I’ve seen a silent feature, HIS NIBS (Gregory LaCava, 1921), a tour-de-force in which Sale played seven roles, all of them in and around a small town movie theater. It’d be an interesting companion piece to SHERLOCK JR. A highlight is a film-within-the-film, projected by a grumpy Sale, starring Sale in a send-up of silent film melodrama. (Various other characters, also played by Sale – including an old woman – are in the audience.) I understand that this film-within-the-film was an unreleased comedy made by LaCava and Sale a couple of years earlier. Thrifty recycling!

  • For those still interested in Skidoo I recommend a career interview with Austin Pendleton that appeared in Shock Cinema a few years ago, issue No. 33. Pendleton talks at length about Preminger and the genesis of the film. From the interview the reader learns that Doran William “Bill” Cannon wrote Brewster McCloud especially for Pendleton, but then Altman cast someone else, of course. Altman later asked Pendleton to appear in M*A*S*H, but the actor preferred to work with Mike Nichols on Catch-22, which apparently led to a lifelong enmity from Altman. Altman wanted him to play Radar. Cannon also wrote Skidoo with Pendleton in mind, and Pendleton was dismayed that Preminger was to direct it. Cannon ended up upset with the direction of the film, and Pendleton refrained from saying, “I told you so.” He got along well with Preminger, though, and they only had one – amusing – blow up. Pendleton describes working with Gleason and Marx, and shows some appreciation for Preminger’s “objective” style, which he feels doesn’t work in this film – in fact, he doesn’t like Skidoo at all, and has an amusing story of the premiere in Florida. The entire interview is well worth reading, especially his thoughts on how hard comedy is to do, especially the kind of comedy Bogdanovich does, though he praises Bogdanovich for using long shots over extensive cutting. If no one can find it and really needs the interview for their one-volume monograph on Skidoo I suppose I could make a PDF of it, if that doesn’t break a copyright restriction. Just email me. Pendleton also goes into great detail about what it was like to work with Welles, whom he saw up close for about two weeks. Pendleton’s observations run contrary to other comments or received opinion about Welles’s attitude to other directors.