Category Archives: Comedy

And They Woke Up In The Morning (2003)

“Siberian people are required to be examined–they are so wacky.”

And They Woke Up In the Morning (I’ve also seen the film called And in the Morning They Woke Up), is a Russian comedy from director Sergei Nikoneko. The film, based on the novel by Vasili Shukshin, explores the-morning-after-the-night-before through the sorry tales of drunkenness told by eight inmates of a detox centre. The men wake up with hangovers in a communal-type ward, and there’s the unspoken idea that for most of the men, this is a frequent event. Some of the men remember all too well what they did; some have a partial version of events, and some of them have no idea whatsoever what about what happened. If this sounds like great comic material to you, then you probably won’t be disappointed.

Since the film involves eight different stories about just how these men ended up in a detox centre, the film’s structure is very straightforward. While the story’s top layer concerns itself with what these men actually did, there’s a second layer of drama here as the men interact with one another and very quickly establish a social hierarchy. The film begins with the cell bully, Urka (Sergei Garmash) telling  a first-time offender (Yevgeni Stychkin) that he killed someone. Eventually what happened is revealed and this has to be one of the funniest scenes in the film. In one story, a man (Igor Bochkin) takes his daughter to the supermarket and doesn’t understand why he meets with such hostility–until his past actions are explained to him. Another man is arrested for drunk driving a tractor.  

Most of the men’s wild stories of drunkness and bad behaviour build in terms of social transgression, but the last few stories fell just a little flat. That was unfortunate, but overall the film was really funny (I laughed in the film’s opening scene) and it’s well-worth catching if you’re interested in Russian film.

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San Ferry Ann (1965)

San Ferry Ann, the title of a 1965 silent British comedy film, is a play on words and refers to the French phrase ça ne fait rien. If I’m translating it correctly–it means it doesn’t matter. The French phrase became bastardised by the British during WWI and ended up as San Fairy Ann–similar to murky buckets (merci beaucoup). San Ferry Ann is a further bastardisation and refers to the ferry that ships British holidaymakers over to France. My impression of French cinema that explores the behaviour of the French on holiday is that the films provide opportunities to the fictional characters to reshape their lives amidst philosophical discussion. At the same time I’ll admit this impression is drawn mainly from watching the films of Eric Rohmer. But when it comes to exploring the British on holiday, the emphasis seems to be on the worst sort of bad, boorish behaviour accompanied by an adverse reaction to foreign food–well a resistance to anything foreign. And of course the underlying question is why go abroad in the first place if you want everything to be the same?

The film follows the exploits, trials and tribulations of a handful of British holiday makers in France, and the plot taps into a number of British and French stereotypes, but it’s all great fun and the comic gem makes for a pleasant 55 minutes of nostalgia with a lot of familiar faces of British comedy.

The film begins with the British tourists in line to board the ferry to France. There’s a camper van with husband (David Lodge) and wife (Joan Sims). They bring along a set of parents, Grandad (Wilfred Brambell) and his Mrs. There’s an amorous honeymoon couple (Rodney Bewes and Catherine Feller) and a couple of hitchhikers (Barbara Windsor and Ronnie Stevens).

Since this is a silent film (apart from a few unintelligible phrases), the comedy is strictly visual. There’s boozing in the ferry’s duty-free pub, seasickness, driving on the wrong side of the street, and more than a few hassles with a French gendarme and a bicycle-riding Frenchman wearing the stereotypical onions around his neck. French toilets also come in for some ribbing. Grandad Wilfred Brambell is one of the best characters is the film–he strips off to sunbathe, finds every excuse to ditch his boring family, and strikes up a hilarious relationship with a former German soldier he meets in a war museum. 

Of course, since the subject is British tourists abroad, there’s more than one scene in a restaurant, and Joan Sims’s disgust at French cuisine had me in stitches. She’s only happy with a pint of beer and a plate full of chips. Keep an eye open for Warren Mitchell as the snotty maitre d’.

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The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950)

“A woman’s bookshelf is an infallible guide to her character.”

The title of the film The Happiest days of Your Life refers, of course, to the nonsense that is told to children who are unhappy about attending school for a range of reasons. What the teachers don’t say is the happy part is not the school–but perhaps the innocence of childhood, and even that’s arguable depending on the sort of childhood you had. This classic British comedy is directed by Frank Launder of the marvellously funny St Trinian’s films, and you can see the same hand at work in The Happiest Days of Your Life. Launder started his career as a scriptwriter, but it was with Sidney Gilliat that the highly successful St Trinians films were created. For The Happiest Days of Your Life, Launder teamed with playwright John Dighton to adapt his play for the big screen.

The Happiest Days of Your Life is set during WWII. During the Blitz, children from the city were evacuated to the countryside, and in the film, an all-girls school, St Swithin’s, is evacuated by the Ministry of Education to the village of Nutbourne with the expectation that St Swithin’s will ‘share’ with the all-boys boarding school, Nutbourne College. Wetherby Pond (played by the wonderful actor Alastair Sim) is headmaster of Nutborough College. The film begins with the arrival of a weary professor, Arnold Billings (played by Richard Wattis, who later appeared in the St Trinian’s films) and the brand new English professor, Richard Tassell (John Bentley). Billings notices that the college looks a bit tidier than usual, and as it turns out, this is due to the fact that Wetherby Pond is hoping to win a new, better position as headmaster at a much more prestigious, Harlingham School.

Just as the term seems on the verge of beginning as usual, all hell breaks loose with the arrival of an entire girl’s school, their headmistress, Muriel Whitchurch (Margaret Rutherford) and her complete entourage of mistresses. A battle begins over resources, and the females, led by the cunning, strategic planning of Muriel Whitchurch soon dominate. Under the insufferable conditions, Wetherby Pond tries his best to get the Ministry of Education to correct this error, and Whitchurch resorts to blackmail in order to gain an uneasy truce.

The fun really begins when a passel of St Swithin’s parents descend upon the Nutbourne College to witness the new environment for themselves. As bad luck would have it on the very same day, a team of inspectors from Harlingham School arrive to witness Wetherby Pond’s school management. It’s in the vested interest of both Pond and Whitchurch to cooperate with each other to create an atmosphere of normalcy at the school, and that means that the girls and the boy’s school both pretend that there are no members of the opposite sex on the premises.

Alastair Sim is, as always, pure joy to watch–from his long-suffering submission, to his moral outrage, his performance is perfect. Margaret Rutherford, as his administrative opposite is equally excellent. She plays an indomitable force–she sees men as superfluous and contaminants. The battle (and attraction) of the sexes plays throughout the film. Of course, the boys cannot concentrate on lessons when the older girls wiggle by in their PE outfits, and the male English master falls in love with his female counterpart. And then there’s the outrageously wonderful Joyce Grenfell (who also later appeared in St Trinian’s). Here she plays the gauche Miss Gossage (“call me Sausage“) and she rather incongruously sets her cap at the suave wolfish games master, Victor Hyde-Brown (Guy Middleton), who’s also known as “Whizzo.” Hyde-Brown does his best to avoid Miss Gossage–he’s much more interested in the 17 year-olds and their botany lesson. George Cole also appears in a miniscule but memorable role as a caretaker in the Ministry of Education.

Quotes:

Wetherby Pond (when asked how he will vote): “You can tell your lady that if there is a male candidate whether he is conservative, socialist, communist or anarchist, or for that matter, liberal, he may have my vote.”

“There appear to be no depths to which you will not sink.”

“I don’t want your sympathy, man, I want action. I want these women removed, bag and baggage.”

“There are only two types of schoolmistress, chum, the battle-ax and the amazon.”

“Cards, the race horse,gaming, nicotine, fisticuffs…we’re moving in a descending spiral of inequity.”

“I once won thirty bob. It’s led me astray ever since

 

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Are You Being Served? The Movie (1977)

“You were beckoning and waving your y-fronts.”

Jonathan at Ruthless Culture recently popped over here for a few minutes and took the trouble to recommend a film based on the popular comedy series Are You Being Served? I haven’t seen all the episodes in the series, but when I heard that there was a film version of the series set in the Costa Plonka, well I knew I had to see it. Films that show the British abroad often make good comedies (Carry on Abroad), and then there’s that idea that the British go a little mad when set loose on a beach under a baking sun (Shirley Valentine).

Are You Being Served? The Movie  begins in the familiar environment of the Grace Brothers department store. With renovations about to take place that will necessitate the closing of the business, Young Mr. Grace decides that all employees will be given the incentive to take their holidays during the shop’s closing, and the incentive underwriting this whole deal is an all-expenses paid package tour to various exotic destinations. While the departments are selected for different destinations, the Ladies Wear and the Men’s Wear departments are collectively slated for the Costa Plonka and the Don Bernardo Palace Hotel.

The film starts off a bit slowly as the back ground for the Costa Plonka adventure develops. Mrs Slocombe (Mollie Sugden) doesn’t want the necessary vaccinations, Captain Peacock (Frank Thornton) stalks Miss Brahms (Wendy Richard), and Dick Lucas (Trevor Bannister) hopes the holiday will yield sexual opportunities. The fact that Mrs. Peacock won’t be accompanying her stuffy husband, opens up perceived opportunities to both Captain Peacock and Mrs. Slocombe, but unfortunately not towards each other.

The only person who seems to really enter into the spirit of things is Mr Humphries (John Inman) and his liberation from the Men’s Wear Dept. allows him to reveal a colourful, imaginative wardrobe. His eye-catching pink leisure suit and matching hat are worn for the plane trip.

The arrival at the Don Bernando Palace hotel begins the holiday-from-hell scenario. The film was made during a period when many British holidaymakers were adventuring abroad for the first time, and returning home with nightmare stories of unfinished hotels that lacked plumbing. A similar sort of situation awaits the Grace Bros. staff when they arrive and are greeted by Don Carlos Bernardo (Andrew Sachs, who played the role of Manuel in Fawlty Towers). Difficulties with the language and a handy mispronunciation leave the Grace Bros. staff in their individual ‘Pent-a-houses.’ And they’re not what you’d expect.

During dinner, the shenanigans take place with a love note addressed to “Dear Sexy Knickers,” and this is where the misunderstandings begin. As the night arrives and the moon rises, assignations and unexpected interruptions begin to take place between the Pent-a-houses. Part bedroom farce and part Shakespearean Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, bed-hopping takes place at a furious rate. Whipped into a frenzy by an outhouse toilet, a randy revolutionary and the promise of Mrs. Slocombe’s knickers, the Grace Bros staff spend a restless night in the torrid Costa Plonka

Are You Being Served? The Movie is not subtle humour. It’s lowbrow and crude at times, and the humour doesn’t really take off until the Costa Plonka. The script is full of double entendres–some really funny and some a bit tired and worn, but overall there were certainly enough laughs for me. Part of the film’s success can be found in showing how the holiday in the Costa Plonka liberates some of the characters from their usual Grace-Bros-bound behaviour, while others still try to assert the hierarchy so firmly established within the workplace. The opportunistic union man Mr Harman (Arthur English) ever harking on about the rights of working man, masquerades as a lord to get the best room. And this brings up the general inadvisability of going on holiday with people you also work with….

And then of course, there’s even a drag scene and a fake drag queen.

Some quotes from the film:

Oh don’t they get bold in the tropics?

I hardly think that 2 mussels and a shrivelled up prawn will effect my libido.

She needed a father figure.

You’ll give the British a bad name.

Here have you been showing  ’em your knickers again?

Just tell them we’re British and they’re spoiling our holiday.

Look at that crumpet around the pool!

Those are false booby-doos.

I object to being ravaged.

What are you going on about? Bet that’s not the first time you’ve lost your knickers in the tube?

You’ve got no authority over me, so get stuffed.

I’d be halfway to Paris by now if the electric blanket hadn’t caught fire.

Ride off into the sunset and try to forget you ever met me.

So thanks for the recommendation, Jonathan!

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Bombshell (1933)

bombshellI’ve never seen a Jean Harlow film I didn’t enjoy, but I think Bombshell may very well be my favourite, and that surprises me a bit as I really enjoy the pairing of Harlow-Gable in some of her other major films. Perhaps the film’s success lies partly in the fact that it’s pre-code, and the perfectly timed performances mesh with a sparkling script that matches Harlow’s talents. Bombshell is a thinly disguised homage to Harlow and the cult of celebrity, yet at the same time, Harlow so seems to enjoy taking a sly dig at her own real-life career.

Bombshell begins with images of actress Lola Burns (Jean Harlow) and then clips of Harlow’s real-life films mingle with shots of adoring, fixated fans as they stare at the big screen. Quickly establishing the way in which Burns is seen on the big screen and how she is idolised by her fans, the film then cleverly leads into the way Lola Burns really lives.

The film opens with a very typical day-in-the-life of Lola Burns. It’s morning and she wakes up in her splendid mansion in a bedroom complete with frills, silk and feathers for that despotic harem-brothel look . Even though she’s a wealthy woman and surrounded by servants, Lola’s life is a mess. Both Lola’s drunken brother and her obnoxious gambler father sponge off her while trying to manage her career, and this translates to ensuring she stays in harness, earning the money they spend. To make matters worse, she’s surrounded by out-of-control servants who take advantage of her good natured generosity. Lola’s chaotic life even follows her to the studio, and the fact that everywhere she travels she’s accompanied by her three Old English Sheepdogs doesn’t exactly help matters. If she’s not tripping over dogs, she’s juggling interviews, fans and gossip-hungry reporters. And on top of all this, the studio’s publicist, E.J. “Space” Hanlon (Lee Tracy) exploits every angle of Lola’s personal life in order to keep her on the front page. There is literally nothing that Space wouldn’t sink to in order to get a headline. 

Merging real-life with fiction, Lola is filming Red Dust with Gable while she has a romance with slimy Hugo, the Marquis Di Pisa Di Pisa (Ivan Lebedeff). The Marquis, a notorious gigolo (also called a “fungi,” a “rummage sale Romeo,” and a “glorified barber“) sponges off of vulnerable female Hollywood stars who are impressed with his foreign accent and his title. Of course, to the Marquis, Lola is a perfect target.

The plot follows Lola’s romance with the Marquis, her various whims (such as adopting a baby) and her romance with snotty poet Gifford Middleton (Franchot Tone). Meanwhile Space subverts snd sabotages Lola’s decisions about her life turning everything into a smutty headline for the studio. While the film keeps an even beat and a steady stream of comedy, some of the film’s funniest scenes occur when Lola meets blue-blood Gifford and his family. Tone’s romantic lines are priceless: “Your hair is like a field of silver daisies. I’d like to run barefoot through your hair!” Tone, of course, gained a great deal of notoriety a few years later in 1951 when he was in a fight with actor Tom Neal over the beautiful, self-destructive actress Barbara Payton.

The very lovely, luminous Jean Harlow is marvelous as the blonde Bombshell. She was just 22 when the film was released and tragically died just four years later in 1937. She’s so young in Bombshell and yet she delivers the performance of a confident, seasoned performer, never missing a beat, full of life, and simply perfect for this role.

This precode film includes a few hints at sex. For example, early in the film, Lola wonders what happened to the negligee she just gave to her maid, and the following exchange takes place:

Lola: I didn’t give you that for a negligee. That’s an evening wrap.

Loretta: I know Miss Burns, but the negligee you gave me got all tore up the night before last.

Lola: Your day off is sure brutal on your lingerie.

And in another scene, Lola is planning to adopt a baby but Space jumps to the wrong conclusion and thinks that Lola is about to be an unwed mother. Then horror of horrors, the dialogue leads Space to think that Lola doesn’t know who the father of her baby is. It’s a funny scene and of course the audience is on the joke, but when the Hays Code came into power, this exchange simply wouldn’t have happened.

Anyway, if you want to watch a Harlow film and don’t know where to start, Bombshell is a marvellous film and showcases Harlow at her glittering best. Directed by Victor Fleming.

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Hold Your Man (1933)

“You know you wouldn’t be a bad-looking dame, if it wasn’t for your face.”

hold your manSet during the depression, the 1933 film Hold Your Man from director Sam Wood begins by focusing on the feet that pass by on a street corner. A wallet lands in the middle of the feet and two men begin to argue about who found it. This scene is the introduction to the film’s rogue with the “crooked smile,” Eddie Hall (Clark Gable).

On the lam from the police, ladies’ man and smooth-talking grifter, Eddie Hall meets wise-cracking, tough-as-nails, good-time-girl Ruby Adams (Jean Harlow). The sparks fly between these two major Hollywood stars as they verbally spar back-and-forth in Ruby’s apartment, and although they both try to come out on top from the exchange, it’s a draw. Eddie’s good looks and charm don’t get him far with this dame, and Ruby makes it clear that she’s not a sap to be taken advantage of. Inside Ruby’s apartment, Eddie catches sight of a photo from one of her male admirers, but then as he walks around, he sees a large collection of photos of men all signed with good wishes. The implication is clear: Ruby has been around. Eddie and Ruby meet once again at the Elite Club. Ruby is there on a date with the aim of getting some money for her pain and suffering. While she’s  obviously bored to tears by her date, Ruby comes to life when Eddie shows up masquerading as an old friend. The film’s best, witty scenes occur early in the film as the two main characters get to know each other.

The film sinks after the second half as the plot morphs into a maudlin tale of redemption. The script, written by Anita Loos, sparkles for the first half, but then the dialogue loses its pep and slides into the ordinary with the result that the film’s great first half was as funny as its second half was disappointing. Ruby’s image of the wise-cracking dame fades rapidly just as it seems she needed her claws the most, and the tale’s conclusion comes wrapped up tightly with a conventional, saccharine-sweet final scene.

Hold Your Man is one of six films made by Gable and Harlow, and it follows on the tail of Red Dust. While the first half of Hold Your Man matches Red Dust for entertainment value, the second half did not. This is not Harlow’s best by any means as she just doesn’t make a very good victim and she’s at her tenacious best when unleashed in a role that’s worthy of her.  Hold Your Man, by the way, is a pre-code film. The Hays code wasn’t enforced until 1934, but even so the redemptive ending and conversion by domesticity really smacks of someone trying to keep those censors happy.

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The Big Job (1965)

“How many times do I have to tell you we’re not going to dynamite the wall. It’s a police station. They get funny about that sort of thing.”

Of course I’m not going straight.”

“I joined the police force for a bit of action.”

“What are you all of a sudden? Britain’s best dressed jailbird?”

“When a man has to stay in bed, that’s the time he really needs a woman, I think.”

“Won’t you get into trouble taking the sergeant’s trousers off?”

“”What nit would want to climb into a police station?”

“Anybody’d think you haven’t seen a harpoon gun before.”

“Go on, buzz off to bed.”

“We’ve far more serious things to worry about than suspicious incidents.”

“Don’t run away from her, you nit. Give in.”

 Crime certainly doesn’t pay, but at least it provides a few laughs in the British Comedy, The Big Job. Although the film’s box cover brags that “The CARRY ON gang star in a cracking comedy caper film,” the film isn’t as funny as the best of the Carry On films. Directed by Gerald Thomas (who directed the Carry On films) it does feature a few of the Carry On stars–most notably Sid James and Joan Sims. The Big Job (aka What a Carry On: The Big Job) is an amusing film, and it certainly takes the viewer on a pleasant nostalgic trip to the 60s days of film.

big jobThe film begins in 1950 with gang leader, George aka The Great Brain (Sid James) planning a bank robbery with his criminal pals. The gang consists of Frederick “Booky” Binns (Dick Emery), Timothy “Dipper” Day (Lance Percival), and Myrtle Robbins (Sylvia Syms), who’s also George’s moll. The plan is to knock off a small bank, but the heist is bungled from start to finish. Prior to his capture, George hides the loot inside of a tree located in the countryside. George, Frederick and Timothy are all captured and sentenced to 15 years.

15 years later, Myrtle is at the prison gates for a reunion, but the first order of business is to go get that money. While George does manage to relocate the tree, it’s now standing in the middle of a police station. Undeterred George decides to book everyone in to a boarding house that stands opposite the police station. Here, he reasons, since he will be able to see the tree, he can work out a way to break into the police station and get the loot.

Lonely widow Mildred Gamely (Joan Sims) owns the boarding house, and the gang members check into her home as Professor Hook, Dr. Line, Mr. Sinker. There are a couple of problems; lanky policeman, Harold (Jim Dale) also lives in the house, and Mildred sets her beady eyes on one of the male gang members.

Some of the comedy comes from the gang’s complete ineptness, but Sid James isn’t at his best here. We only get the signature chuckle a couple of times, and Sid as an inept crook isn’t as funny as most of his other, better roles which usually involve some sort of craftiness (Carry On Camping, Carry On Girls). Sylvia Syms doesn’t quite fit in the role of gang moll Myrtle. Although she dons a working class accent for the role, she doesn’t quite carry off the part, and it’s in the moments that she’s silent that she seems most out-of-place. During breakfasts around the landlady’s table for example, the rest of the gang pass themselves off as birdwatchers, and of course, given the gang members’ behaviour and mannerisms, that’s a ludicrous notion. But when Sylvia Syms sits at the table eating and minding her own business as the conversation rages around her, she makes a believable professor’s wife. It’s just that all three professors are obviously not who they say they are. I kept imagining Carry On’s Barbara Windsor in the role of Myrtle–a bit tarty, cheeky and cockney–and it was a good fit.

Ultimately, Joan Sims steals the film as Myrtle Gamely. There’s one scene in her bedroom with “Prof Link” that displays this talented actress’s wide range. Watching the scene, it feels like being in the room as she coyly parries questions, hides her pleasure, and tries to act as though she isn’t being propositioned. The comedy here comes from the fact she really isn’t being propositioned but she thinks she is.

Another funny subplot involves the policemen’s choir led by the local Sgt (Deryck Guyler). He’s so engrossed in the choir, crime rages rampant outside of his very front door, and to him it’s just a big bother and a distraction from his main interest. He has the bureaucratic demeanor down pat.

For fans of British comedies from the 60s, this is a satisfying film–not wonderful, but it’s certainly a great pleasure to watch some many familiar faces again.

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