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.
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.
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.
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.