Friday, July 29, 2011

Just Good Clean Fun (No Freckles Mentioned)

If you don't understand the title, go HERE. Or, considering the reactions of some, don't.

Anyway, this is just recommendation for a trio of old movies you might want to check out when you have some spare time and nothing better to do. They are some of my favorite entertainments, but seem relatively unknown by the general populace. I consider them hidden comedic gems.

The Sin Of Harold Diddlebock

This was the last starring film for Harold Lloyd, the celebrated silent film comedian of the 1920's. It is NOT silent, however, and was made in the decidedly talk-filled year of 1947.

Preston Sturges (Hail The Conquering Hero, Sullivan's Travels, The Lady Eve, among others) wrote and directed this sequel to Lloyd's The Freshman (1925). It picks up the story of Harold Diddlebock, Lloyd's unlikely football hero, 20+ years following his heroics in the big game.

To say that Diddlebock's life has not lived up to his high expectations would certainly be an understatement. I won't give away any subsequent events, except to say that the first alcoholic drink of his life changes his life extraordinarily (and hilariously.)

A wonderful hybrid of the "screwball" genre of comedy so popular during the 1930's and 1940's, and of Lloyd's own particular brand of daredevil slapstick, it is populated by an amazingly good cast of veteran character actors. Particularly brilliant are Jimmy Conlin as Wormy, the racetrack tout who befriends Diddlebock, and Edgar Kennedy, as the bartender who mixes Harold his first drink. Others in the cast include Rudy Vallee, Franklin Pangborn, Lionel Stander, Margaret Hamilton, Raymond Walburn, and a lovely young thing named Frances Ramsden (for whom this was a wonderful theatrical debut and then - probably due to the poor box office results - she dropped from the face of the earth and was never heard from again.)

[Note of warning, and interesting trivia: The film was pulled from distribution after playing in only three cities. Co-Producer Howard Hughes, over the objections of Sturges, decided to drastically edit and then re-distribute the movie. This re-distribution finally took place almost four years later, with the film shortened by 13 minutes, re-titled Mad Wednesday, and with additional scenes of a talking horse inexplicably added. In my opinion, the lengthier original is much funnier, and that opinion was shared by Harold Lloyd himself, who felt that Hughes excised the best bits in the film. I suggest you be sure that the print you watch runs 89 minutes. That is the original.]


Today, if you ask someone who Wheeler & Woolsey were, you're just as likely to get a blank stare as anything else. That's a shame. In their day, they rivaled such teams as The Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy in box office appeal.

The specialization of the team was snappy (and somewhat risque) patter, interspersed with sappy (but still entertaining) musical numbers, and a bit of gentle physical schtick thrown in for good measure. Typical exchange:

Girl [trying to flatter Woolsey, king of a mythical country]: Your royal highness is so cute!

Woolsey [after checking her out]: Yeah, well, yours isn't so bad, either.

The one with the glasses and cigar is Woolsey. The "cute" one is Wheeler.

(As might be inferred from the above photo, the boys were known for a bawdiness not usually associated with older films these days. Much of their output came during pre-Motion-Picture-Film-Code days, and for a great dissertation on the subject, check out Bright Lights Film Journal.)

The plot of Diplomaniacs, such as it is, involves Wheeler and Woolsey as utterly incompetent diplomats for an American Indian tribe. They drink themselves blotto when they are the guests of honor at a dinner; reveal their secrets to anyone who will listen; dress in wholly inappropriate manner for functions; get into trouble with pretty girls at every opportunity; and give serious thought to embezzling money they’ve been entrusted to protect. You needn't pay attention, though. Just enjoy the amazingly corny one-liners and routines, as well as the singing and eccentric dancing. It's fluff and nonsense, but very funny fluff and nonsense. I like it, anyway.

[Warning for those of a P.C. nature: The movie includes grossly-caricatured Native Americans and has one scene wherein everyone does a song-and-dance in blackface. Personally, I feel that Wheeler & Woolsey are reprehensible enough white men to offset any slights to other races and peoples.]

Robert Woolsey died from kidney disease in 1938, otherwise the team likely would have continued putting out very profitable films for another 15 or 20 years. Even so, they made 21 features between 1929 and 1937, so they deserve better than to be forgotten.

The Milky Way

One more from Harold Lloyd.

The Milky Way is the story of Burleigh "Tiger" Sullivan, a milkman who accidentally KO's the middleweight boxing champion and is then set up (by a crooked fight promoter who involves Sullivan in a series of fixed bouts) to have an actual title shot against the champ.

Lloyd is brilliant as the milkman-turned-fighter, but Adolph Menjou, in the role of the fight promoter, is downright magnificent, and Lionel Stander, as the stupendously-dimwitted Spider Schultz, cracks me up in almost every scene in which he's involved.

Lloyd, Menjou, Stander, and William Gargan as "Speed" McFarland, the champ

The movie was remade, almost scene for scene, by Danny Kaye, some fifteen years later, as The Kid From Brooklyn. That was a good one, too, but I prefer the original.

[Final trivia note: It was not common knowledge that Harold Lloyd was missing part of his right hand. In an unfortunate accident during his silent film days, what was believed to be a prop bomb turned out to be a real one and Lloyd lost his right thumb and forefinger when it exploded in his hand. For the remainder of his film career, he wore a glove prosthetic that gave the appearance, at least in long shot, of his having all of his digits. Considering the physical nature of much of his slapstick - for instance, his most famous silent scene, from Safety Last, hanging from a clock above a city street, with no process shots or stuntmen involved - his work becomes even more spectacular in retrospect.]

Here's hoping you get to enjoy these films some day. I envy you your first viewing of them.

Soon, with more better stuff.


Buck said...

The FIRST thing that comes to mind is "they don't make 'em like they used to." The second is "Thank God," but I'm sure that doesn't apply here. I'll have to look these up.

Daryl said...

Sturges was a master .. they truly dont make them like him anymore .. and his movies live on as perfect peeks into a period past but a time that was very like this one .. economy in the toilet, people out of work .. escapism was what movies were all about .. Hooray for Sturges and the others like him!

Craig said...

Wow. . .

I'll have to check these out. Thanx.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

So, today would be Freckleless Friday?
Thanks for leaving us with something else on which to dwell.

notactuallygod said...

I've never heard of these guys. I'd assumed (along with many people) that Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Bros and Abbott & Costello were 'it' for this type of flick.

You truely are a font of knowledge.
Long may your spigot flow. (or drip, as the case may be. Ha!)

lime said...

ok, ya got me. i never heard of any of them. i have been educated and that maybe completed if i ever get a chance to see these flicks.

silly rabbit said...

I love, love love Harold LLoyd! I don't know how many times I have watched The Freshman and Safety Last. But I was unaware of The Sin of Harold Diddlebock. Thank you!!!

I do not know Wheeler & Woolsey, but thanks to you, I will soon.

Great stuffs here Suldog.

Lisa Johnson said...

Learn something new everyday! And on a random note, seeing the lion reminded me that last night I had a dream that I saw a lion. Then I realized I was dreaming and woke up!

messymimi said...

Going to try to get the kids to watch these, it's time to expand their horizons and get some laughs at the same time.

Hilary said...

Well thanks for these.. I'm one of those who hasn't heard of them. I know exactly what you mean though.. by "I envy you your first viewing of them." That alone tells me they're worth finding.

Eddie Bluelights said...

Love these old films - I remember seeing Harold Lloyd and seem to recall Safety Last. Must try to get some DVDs since they are a riot and just my kind of humour. I like Buster Keaton and his Keystone Cops as well, going back a bit further. Wonderful how these guys did their own stunts. Wish today we could do some more pie throwing. Love it when someone ducks and some innocent person suddenly gets a pie in the face LOL. I could spend hours watching these.

Jeni said...

Even though I am darned near old enough to have been part of the audiences watching the silent films, the only stars I've ever watched and knew about were good old Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello. Well, I do recall having heard the name Harold Lloyd but don't recall ever seeing a film that he was in. Interesting triva though that you posted about here. Always trying to educate us, aren't you -and overall, doing a damned good job of that too!

Anonymous said...

My (ex) brother-in-law saw it as his divine duty to educate me on old movies - yet I don't believe I've heard of any of these! He'll be hearing from me tomorrow. Thanks for the tips - love those old gems!

CiCi said...

Thanks for leaving out the freckles today. Ha.

You really do know your old movies. Down to the minutes even. Howard Hughes was not as talented in the movie business as he thought he was.

I like old movies so this was great reading.

Clare Dunn said...

Guess I am in the majority here -- these are all "new" to me!

Looking forward to your envying me!

xoxoxo, cd

Chris said...

I will most definitely have to check these out. Never heard of any of 'em!

Michelle H. said...

I never heard of these either, although the last photo sorta rings a bell. Thanks for the trivia-filled post.

Shrinky said...

Aww, this puts me in mind of my Sunday afternoons watching a TV double-bill of either Laurel and Hardy or The Marx Brother's, with my da - it was a weekly ritual (smile).

I haven't heard of ANY of these, but you've convinced me they are well worth keeping an eye open for.

Mich said...

OMG, The Milky Way?!? I totally forgot that film existed!! I have to go find it and watch it again. :)

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

Haven't heard of any of them but occassionally a slapstick or two have been known to grace my TV and funny bone! Thanks for the suggestions.