Writes a Novel
I Love Lucy
A satire of Joycean epiphanies. The characters are starved caricatures, Nicky Nicardo the Cuban ham, Mr. and Mrs. Nertz (funny old coot, he), a heroine brushes her naturally red hair out against the lot.
Nabokov dismantled one of these wretched productions in his story, “The Admiralty Spire”. The great moment here occurs when the manuscript is rejected, torn to bits by its author and sent to the furnace, whence it is rescued by a last-minute call from a second publisher. The bits are retrieved and assembled on the basement floor, Lucy stops Ricky from sneezing on them but finally succumbs herself, undoing the careful rearrangement.
The first publisher sends her an acceptance, but it’s all a mistake, his newly-married secretary’s mind was drifting. The second wants excerpts only, for a chapter (called “Don’t Let This Happen to You!”) in a book on writing.
I Love Lucy
The ladies of the Wednesday Afternoon Fine Arts League want to discuss a man who gave his wife a black eye. The treasury is in a state of emergency, therefore it is moved that a fundraising dance be held. Ricky won’t play, so the ladies form their own ensemble, a quintet that plays “12th Street Rag” like a lugubrious cortege.
Lucy joins them, bringing Ricky to conduct. The sextet (saxophone, trumpet, trombone, violin, piano and drums) is hopeless. Lucy wonders what the difference is between F and F-sharp (not the empty round one but the one with a squiggly tail). It’s a question of “lopsided tic-tac-toe”.
Ricky’s orchestra is brought in to demonstrate. The ladies respond cheerfully as ever, without effect. The press is notified, Ricky is corralled. There is nothing to be done except put the men of the orchestra in women’s dresses for the dance.
The punchline is set up with Lucy and Ethel cutting the story out of the back pages of the New York Gazette, where Ricky is reading about a boxing match. He and Fred go to the newsstand only to find every copy similarly mistreated, and Lucy dressed as a paperboy.
I Love Lucy
Ricky loses his love of show business, owing to a string of
contretemps down at the club. It’s all the same to him, any line of work will
do. He and Fred open a diner.
“You got the know-how, and I got the name,” says Ricky. Ethel cooks, Fred works the counter, Ricky and Lucy greet the plentiful customers. It’s a great success until the know-how bows out.
They split the diner right down the middle, fighting a vexatious price war over the solitary customer, a drunk, who remains after Lucy’s attempt to run the kitchen. Pies are thrown, they agree to sell out at a loss.
I Love Lucy
It’s not enough that Lucy wants to emulate the style of a character in an Italian film they’ve all seen, and cut her hair against Ricky’s objections, or failing that at least borrow a wig from the beauty parlor and try, in an Italian dress, to fool him into thinking she’s another person entirely.
She arranges a double date with Ethel and Fred, at which Ethel appears dressed as a geisha from the chin up, an Eskimo down to her ankles, and an American Indian underneath.
The beauty parlor proprietor puts Ricky wise at the first, who marvels at his wife in Spanish. The proprietor, a married man, commiserates with him. “Those feelings transcend all language barriers,” he says with the utmost gravity in his intent and sober countenance.
I Love Lucy
The painter Lee Mullican has a way of representing sunlight out West that definitely resembles this. The girls are dismayed by the brightness of Hollywood sunshine, even with a tan they’d be “toasted marshmallows in marshmallow wrappers,” so they go to Don Loper’s house of fashion, to improve the wrapper.
The simplicity of this is bold and direct, the de luxe establishment floors them with its prices and the cordiality of its dignity. Oppenheimer, Pugh and Carroll have the brainstorm here for the crowning achievement, Loper’s charity fashion show modeled by stars’ wives, at which Mrs. Ricky Ricardo appears sunburned and stiff in a Loper original.
Loper’s stunning creations complete the effect. The writers’ transitions are as interesting in their very technical aspect as the gags are funny.
Hedda Hopper Story
I Love Lucy
“Hedda Hooper,” Ricky calls her. He never gets publicity, so Metro sends out a man to size him up for a campaign. Meanwhile, his mother-in-law has met a newspaperwoman on the plane coming in, so “Mickey Mikado” needn’t have bothered.
It comes down to the swimming pool, where the publicity man gets rid of an intrusive lifeguard by promising him producers’ attentions. Ricky is called away by Bobby the bellhop, so Lucy jumps in fully clothed for the publicity gag followed by the lifeguard and then Ricky in coat and tie. Hedda’s hat advancing along the hedge “was just an old potted plant,” laughs the publicity man after it is carried past the pool beside which Ricky and Lucy stand dripping wet. They push him in with the lifeguard.
Hopper is upstairs in their hotel room with Mrs. McGillicuddy, who explains to Mickey, “you didn’t ask.”
This complicated masterpiece by Oppenheimer, Pugh and Carroll is in two parts, punctuated by the mother-in-law’s laugh at a comparison of Mickey to Valentino, and Hedda’s great take on leaving the hotel room, the Good Witch among wet people.
The Twilight Zone
A surd, a nebbish, is offered the rationality of the angels, and rejects it for his impeccable self. So, they’re on his side.
The sheerness of the writing and the skillfulness of the direction almost mask, if that’s the word, how it’s done, but the carrot and stick are admirably poised in the limbs of a single divine and dictatorial being played by Henry Jones and Charles Lane. Browbeaten Orson Bean smiles away the one and drinks deep to efface its alter ego, before driving off like Pnin in a historic vehicle.
The rite is interrupted for want of clergy, up there steps Tartuffe, or rather he descends upon the surf-dwellers.
The vacuum of the interrupted rite is filled by storm troopers who are quelled by Tartuffe’s shamanism, but the battle still must be joined. Tartuffe finds true religion, and all ends happily.
Robert Cummings as Prof. Sutwell has on Bernard Shaw’s beard for the purpose, Shaw was a critic who also wrote plays.
The secret communication of the film (“Secret Surfin’ Spot”) has always been just that for critics, who are sent to Ingmar Bergman’s film, The Rite, and Alain Resnais’ later elaboration of the theme, I Want to Go Home.
Sutwell’s study is sure to be snapped up by American International, says his ignored assistant (Dorothy Malone).
Muscle Beach Party
Jack Fanny’s war on surfers, incited by a Contessa who loves Flex Martian, “Mr. Galaxy”, but throws him over for Frankie. Her gold offers the young singer a wave higher than Waimea, he is shunned by the beach crowd and returns to his Dee Dee.
The Contessa used to be someone else, now she is a rich widow with a business manager to buy things like half of Sicily (the rest is Sinatra’s) or build them—a Space Needle in her Iowa cornfields, “whole cities”—to make her day. She buys Mr. Galaxy and all the other musclemen in Jack Fanny’s Gym, having come five thousand miles on the love she bears to a magazine picture of Flex.
The surfers fight back with Candy, who shimmies men off their feet. Fanny’s silent partner, Mr. Strangdour, ends the war as a resort to violence that is an infraction of the strong man’s code.
All is peaceful at the outset, more or less, a couple of musclemen use a surfer’s head to draw a line in the sand. Then the Contessa, from her yacht anchored just off the beach, flies in by helicopter to claim the man of her latest dream.
The sight of Frankie singing at night in a yellow wet-suit top against a red boat upended on the sand brings a cartoon cherub trumpeting in her ear.
Little Stevie Wonder sings “Happy Street”, finding the source of this much-imitated film (Animal House, etc.) in Sam Wood’s A Day at the Races if not even earlier, in Chaplin and Keaton.
An even more severe test of Southern California culture, and still more revealing.
The attack is led by Harvey Huntington Honeywagon III and His Eminence the Potato Bug, the Ratz are again on the scene.
The apeshit surfers (school’s out) are no more than that, says Honeywagon, his pet monkey Clyde can surf and drive and dance and even paint (Jack Fanny, now “out of the Fanny business,” is called Big Drag and owns the Pit Stop and a dragstrip and is an action painter on the side, his styles include Sam Francis).
The British invader sells eighteen million records on a “slow day”, beats everything but Clyde on the strip, and is stunningly sent up.
In the end (by way of Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry), no defense is possible or needed beyond secret weapons like “Himalayan suspenders”, either you dig the scene or you don’t.
“A horrible juvenile comedy” (Eugene Archer, New York Times).
“Mindless youth nonsense with flashes of satire” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).
Beach Blanket Bingo
A poem of sea and sky.
A phonybaloney ad campaign drops down from the sky into the sea. All are sky-mad, under the paid tutelage of Big Drop.
Lorelei rises from the sea, unto Deadhead.
Von Zipper and South Dakota Slim unto the pop singer, The Perils of Pauline.
Buster Keaton’s lesson in the art of painting, with a further session on the minuet, a regular entertainment.
Asher’s unbeatable designs answer the superb joke (“Surf’s up” to formal problems) in a constant address.
How to Stuff a Wild Bikini
Art Clokey goes to town with the titles, Jack Kinney animates the feature article. Buster Keaton cooks up a brew so Frankie Avalon can see his girl from South Seas duty with Irene Tsu.
Cassandra wears the two-piece leopardskin to bait the wolves, ad-man Peachy Keane (Mickey Rooney) wants her for The Girl Next Door, Eric Von Zipper adores her.
Another exec woos Dee Dee at his beach pad in the Japanese style. A cross-country motorcycle race determines who’ll run up the flagpole. Von Zipper’s Ratz sabotage the course in vain, poor Cassandra (beautiful but clumsy, except with the boss of the Ratz), loses out to Dee Dee.
Charming songs, Brian Donlevy as Big Deal of Mad. Ave., Harvey Lembeck in gray flannel suit and derby as The Boy Next Door, Dwayne Hickman reversing the Touch, and fulsome Annette Funicello. That’s how.
The pivotal gag is from Hamilton’s Goldfinger, Ripley’s Thunder Road is tacitly acknowledged. A stock-car driver from California hits the circuit in the South, where a track-owner puts her drivers to work running moonshine and already has a very popular star.
Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography could hardly have been improved upon, but there is the race track in its primary colors, the great cast (including Chill Wills jawdroppingly brilliant as the showman) and songs and a continuous score of motoring music—and the very same hospital steps climbed by Bette Davis to visit her fool husband at the end of Green’s Dangerous.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker
By surrealistic processes an amazing force of circumstance attends the basketball scholarship won by an Arizona high-school kid. It’s a life-or-death struggle with a father not really his father who’s convinced the boy is a fag, and a mother really his mother who will not have him leave her for anything.
These performances rise out of the mass as psychic bulwarks and terrors, Bo Svenson and Susan Tyrrell. He is inflexible, granite, dogmatic, and absolutely fatal. She is mercurial, consuming, desperate, and progressively mad.
The structure is like a sequence of jokes, her attempt to seduce the TV repairman, for example, and resist his advances so that the son should know he’s needed at home. The man’s a homosexual and, though no-one knew any of this, the lover of the boy’s basketball coach, who proffers the scholarship. The seduction ends in murder, the boy is suspected, and so it goes, a chain of catastrophes that grows and grows until the break is made.
The people of Hooterville are persuaded, on rumors of impending disaster, to sell their property to Mr. Haney, who is acting as a middleman for the Armstrong Development Corporation.
The writing is, if that were possible, the original honed to a finer point of surrealistic ecstasy. Here is Brad Armstrong, the Yuppie scion of the firm, at Drucker’s General Store mailing off his deeds: “I’d like to send this Express Mail.” Mr. Drucker, who is literally wearing his Postmaster hat, replies, “What’s that?” Brad, surprised, explains, “Overnight.” No response from Drucker. Brad tries again. “Gets there the next day.” Drucker is agog and says, “Get out!”, meaning “you don’t say,” but he’s interrupted by a noise at the front of the store. “Thelma,” he hollers to her, “will you quit thumpin’ on that gumball machine?” Turning to Brad Armstrong again he says, “What she won’t do to get a licorice.”
E. Mitchell Armstrong (Henry Gibson) is a shocking, scrupulously accurate depiction. Of course, he tells the outraged Hootervillians when they come to New York, it’s all a big mistake, and as soon as they’re out of his office he picks up the phone. “I want those bulldozers over to Hooterville immediately. Yep, level it.”
Noo Yawk is just an outsized Hooterville. The gallery man from the Bronx returns Lisa’s paintings with a short critique. “Not enough density! Too mundane!” Arnold steps into a cab for a revival of Pygmalion, plays harmonica with a street musician, and is pignapped by a Chinese restaurant. “Chef darling,” says Lisa, “do you shpeak English?” The chef with a cleaver in his upraised hand shouts back at her in Chinese, but she continues unruffled, “Do you do takeout?” She points across the kitchen at Arnold sampling an apple. “Ve’ll take that one.”
Oliver can’t find a loophole. “If there vas a vay,” Lisa tells him consolingly, “you vould have found a vill.” It comes to a demonstration in Hooterville, the townspeople with picket signs facing the bulldozers and Armstrong’s blackshirts, who are heavily armed. Eb speaks up, Armstrong orders him arrested as an organizer. “He’s not the organgrinder,” Lisa objects, “I am!”
Young Brad is in love with a girl he met at the town’s farewell barn dance. He tries to persuade his father to change his mind. “I’ve waited twenty years for you to stand up to me,” says the father proudly. “Then you’ll do it,” says Brad. “Not on your life,” says Armstrong, “now you get out of here before I call the state troopers!”
A very charming scene early on has Mr. and Mrs. Douglas wondering, like John Wayne and Patricia Neal at the front, if they haven’t “lost their spark.” That’s when they decide to pack up and move to New York, which sets the whole thing in motion. Oliver returns to his old law firm, where a computer now assigns cases, and one of them is a lawsuit against Mother Teresa with the firm acting for the plaintiff.
Armstrong is persuaded to abandon his project when, with a ruse more than once employed by the Impossible Missions Force, the disaster is made to seem more than impending. He is chauffeured away in a fit of pique. “Why, you’re a bigger liar than I am, Haney!”
Lisa gives a painting to Oliver, not a New York skyline but their home and farm, Green Acres. He’s quite impressed, how did she do it? Before, she tells him, “I vasn’t painting from my heart. That’s vere my shpark plugs are.”
And so, Mr and Mrs. Douglas return home, which they have to buy back from Mr. Haney. He wants triple the price, owing to his “major improvements.” What improvements? New skylight, landscaping... No, the roof fell in, he drove a bulldozer across the front yard! Nevertheless... But did he have the permits? Could be serious fines involved, Mr. Kimball agrees. “Oh, yeah. Well, a lot more than serious. Costly! Well, not costly...” Mr. Haney has to sit down, flabbergasted in the utmost.