"The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" ... Bogart, Shakespeare, The Maltese Falcon, Those Great Movies

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Airplane! ...and don't call me Shirley!

This article is my contribution to the Classic Movie Blog Association's Blogathon, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles."  Click here to find all the wonderful bloggers and their articles!  http://clamba.blogspot.com/2015/10/its-time-for-cmba-fall-blogathon-trains.html

Sitting in the audience for the 1980 premiere of Airplane, waves of laughter began with the first few seconds and continued throughout the whole movie.

(I didn't realize until my second viewing that the jet airliner was making propeller noises!)

Airplane is one of the best comedy films ever made -- every one of us at that premiere laughed so hard we all had sore throats at the end ... those of us who stayed through the credits got even more laughs, particularly with the ending threats of penalites of prison and all that, which ends with "So There!"

Airplane was a first of its kind -- the types of jokes and slapstick comedy it created have been copied many times over the years.  I wonder if it isn't rather difficult for generations of kids since that time to understand just how funny this movie was.  A great deal of it is dated with references to politics and culture of the time, which subsequent generations would probably not understand unless they had a mother like me who raised my kids with the classics and the best of the modern.  Another huge part of the film's comedy which younger audiences would not understand, was seeing previously famous leading men and women, none of whom had ever done comedy, appear in these roles.  A particular favorite of mine is Robert Stack, one of the most straight-backed, monotonal, stiff upper lip actors ever.  I loved him as Eliot Ness on TV, and he was always a straight drama man.  It took just a few seconds to change his persona forever with one of the biggest laughs for me....

Robert Stack

The handsome, straight-laced, Leslie Nielsen found a new and prolific career simply by appearing in Airplane.  He went on to do Naked Gun, Dracula Dead and Loving It, and many more comedies.....

Peter Graves, another actor who had never done comedy, had made his mark also hosting TV series.  It was such a fabulously funny shock to see him play the role of Captain Oveur....

Lloyd Bridges, father of Beau and Jeff, known to TV audiences from Sea Hunt, with a prolific film career behind him, all drama, was another wonderful pick....

The jive guys and Barbara Billingsley--June Cleaver, the Beaver's mother!  Who knew?  Another huge laugh...

Kareem Abdul Jabbar -- sports fans everywhere still know about this one!

And a very, very special appearance by the fabulous Ethel Merman!  What a treat!

To end this tribute to a wonderful movie, here's a shout-out to the relatively unknown young stars, Julie Hagerty and Roberts Hays, performing one of the best known scenes -- disco love in a sleazy waterfront bar!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Bride of Frankenstein ... 'Til Death Do Us Part

To kick off the month of Halloween ghosties and ghoulies, I want to re-introduce my take on Bride of Frankenstein.  It was originally posted in 2010, when I had about 4 followers.  I'm pretty sure I have a few more now, and I hope you enjoy it.
Elsa Lanchester of t he big eyes, cupid's bow mouth
and the ultimate bouffant hairdo.
Since 1931, when director James Whale brought his own unique film-making vision to Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein has spawned many, many remakes, sequels, mini-series and comedies.  Everyone wants to put their own personal stamp on this seminal horror story, some quite good, a lot just plain awful.  Bride of Frankenstein is different. There has only been one attempt of which I am aware at re-making it, a really dreadful movie called The Bride, with Sting and Jennifer Beals. (Mystery Science Theatre 3000 would have had a hey-day with that one!)

Lanchester with her iconic highlights, and Boris Karloff as the monster.
I think it would be impossible to re-capture in a remake the wonderful dark humor infused into the original bride story that was mostly responsible, in my opinion, for its unique nature. Bride of Frankenstein was born in the mind of director James Whale and his brand of side-glancing, off-beat humor which was his personal stamp. When I was a kid, I thought the story was deadly serious, and believed I should see it that way. After I had a few years under my belt, I realized how really funny this movie is. It still has the pathos of the poor monster’s loneliness and solitude, it has the wonderful eerie atmosphere of light and shadow, that fabulous laboratory, and lots of lightning. But it also has Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Praetorious with his little human menagerie, the violin-playing blind hermit, and of course Elsa Lanchester with the hair!

O.P. Heggie as the Hermit
As for the storyline, the monster is back on the rampage, frightening people everywhere, being misunderstood in his intentions, and longing for someone like himself to be his friend. He comes upon a hut in the woods and hears the music of a violin. The hut is inhabited by a blind man who welcomes the monster without fear since he can’t see him. The monster has learned to talk in rudimentary language, and the two men sit down together to eat dinner. When the blind man strikes a match to light a cigar, the monster screams because of his fear of fire. The blind man explains to him that fire is good, and offers him a cigar. “Smoke is good!” the blind man says, and the monster inhales and says “Smoke….good.” (In these days of political correctness, we may yet see this scene cut out, although the rampaging and killing will of course be left in.) The two are happy to be friends, but of course the villagers that populate every Frankenstein movie break up the friendship.  Some men stop by the hut and since they are not blind, they panic and attack the monster.  To the hermit's dismay, his new friend leaves and the villagers burn his house down accidentally.  Oh yes, they were a big help.

The wonderful Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Praetorius
Meanwhile, Praetorius is insinuating himself into Dr. Frankenstein’s life (Colin Clive reprises his role, looking a bit the worse for wear since the original Frankenstein). Ernest Thesiger is wonderful as the mad Praetorius, with his long, skeletal face and clipped British accent. He plays Praetorious in a threatening but gleeful way, prancing at times and clapping his hands together. Dr. Frankenstein is not interested in trying to re-animate dead tissue anymore, but Praetorius piques his interest by showing him his new brand of re-animation, or rather, creation of life. Praetorius displays his collection of tiny people kept in glass jars, a king, a queen, a bishop, a ballerina, alive and well and playing pranks. When the tiny people speak, it is with tiny squeaks like cartoon mice. Dr. Frankenstein is horrified, but interested. At one point, the monster finds Praetorius sitting in what looks like an open-air crypt, drinking gin and relaxing. When the monster realizes that it would be possible for Dr. Frankenstein to create a female, he hounds and threatens, with the help of Praetorius, until the doctor agrees.

The gang is all here ... Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester,
Boris Karloff and Ernest Thesiger
The female is created in the same laboratory (that’s pronounced laBORatory) where the monster was brought to life. Her shroud is much more stylish, though, well-fitted and displaying a fine figure. She opens her eyes – the next scene shows her standing, dressed in a widely-shaped, floor-length, long-sleeved white dress. Her hair is done up in a very chic updo, dark with lightning-shaped white hair on either side. She sees Dr. Frankenstein and likes him, sees the monster and hates him, and utters a few creepy, distinctive echoing cries. The monster sees that she refuses his overtures, and decides he has had enough rejection in his life. He grabs a lever. Praetorius cries “Don’t touch that lever. You’ll blow us all to atoms!” Why such a lever would be installed in the first place is never explained. The monster, in an unusual mood of love for his creator, tells him to leave – “You live! We belong dead!” Then of course, he pulls the lever, and Praetorius’ warning comes true.


Rosalind Ayres as the Bride and Ian McKellan as Dr. Frankenstein
I cannot write about Bride of Frankenstein without paying tribute to two movies where it plays major roles. The first is Gods and Monsters starring Ian McKellan as James Whale. In a flashback for Whale, we see him shooting the bride's creation scene. The actor who plays Praetorius turns to Whale and says “Are Colin and I supposed to have done her hair?” Gods and Monsters is a tremendous movie and you shouldn’t miss it.

What a fabulous bunch ... Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman,
Terry Garr, Peter Boyle and Madeline Kahn.
The second movie is, of course, Young Frankenstein. For any lover of the Frankenstein movies, this is a must. It takes elements from Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein. It is one of the greatest comedy films I have ever seen. The wonderful Madeline Kahn plays the woman who becomes the bride, and the scene where she comes out of the bathroom to her new husband, with her hair in that style, is not to be missed. Frankly, I can never watch any of the Frankenstein movies anymore without the hilarious Young Frankenstein always in my mind.  Create a really fun, binge-watching October weekend for yourself – watch the aforementioned original Frankenstein trio. Then watch Young Frankenstein and Gods and Monsters. It will be an experience you won’t forget!