Hook Line and Sinker

Whelan takes a hand in the screenplay, Musuraca is the cameraman for war in the lobby of a grand hotel fought over by opposing hordes of gangsters, the Hotel Ritz de la Riviera, Floralhurst (cf. Cukor’s Her Cardboard Lover).

Wheeler and Woolsey have fixed it up from a moribund condition, it’s a young heiress’s only fortune.

Her mother’s lawyer has been using it as a hideout for his gang, rivals move in when the cream of society become guests.

Tommy guns (“Acme Machine Gun Company”) and heavy machine guns litter the lobby in a thunderstorm during the grand finale, through which the hotel dick (Hugh Herbert) sleeps by the rifled safe.

A great, calm comedy.

 

Million Dollar Legs

In which Cline et al. invent Mel Brooks for the Los Angeles Olympics, complete with Mata Machree the Yiddishe hot mama, Jean Vigo’s cabinet, goats and nuts, and Baldwin’s Brushes (“They Brush!”).

 

My Little Chickadee

Who teeters and totters like Guinevere between the Masked Bandit who runs the town and the Sheriff her husband and the crusading young editor of the Greasewood Gazette.

The work was admired by Blake Edwards in The Pink Panther, and by Pollack in The Scalphunters, to say the least.

Frank S. Nugent pronounced against it in the New York Times, and because critics nearly always run nose-to-tail, his deprecation (“with the best will in the world, it just isn’t funny”) is the byword of reviewers who have never seen the point.

 

 

The Bank Dick

Many great names are invoked from the silent days, but the material is Keaton mostly, used as a chassis on which Fields can place the very excellent expression of his versatile comedy, which is not so much in the gags or the story as it is in an American counterpart of the boulevard comedy, the Main Street comedy, because as Fields explains in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, the film directed by Egbert Sousť (the “accent grave” is actually an “accent aigu”) is The Bank Dick, about a very average fellow who just happens to be there like the salt of the earth he is.

It’s all very well for a director from the Sennett days to turn “an English drawing-room drayma” into a circus-and-football picture on spec, but then you have to deal with the two bank robbers.

One cancels out the other, as it happens, and peace reigns for a time, sufficient to borrow from the bank unsecured funds with which to purchase mining stocks from a fly-by-night for pennies a share.

At the Black Pussy Cat Cafe, affectionately called the Black Pussy, the bank examiner is introduced to Michael Finn.

The other robber, known as Repulsive Rogan, strikes again and takes one hostage on a thrilling ride as far as possible, to Lake Sho-Sho-Bokomo.

A bonanza is recorded, the haunting family of dames in every category of aversion turn meltingly sweet, one perseveres.

 

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

W.C. Fields plays himself trying to get a picture made at Esoteric, and you may be assured that every bit of it is true (pace T.S. of the New York Times, who observed that “there is quite a clutter of unnecessary extras... some parts of the film you will find incomprehensibly silly”).

It’s on Woody Allen’s list of the greatest films, and Kubrick emulates Uncle Bill’s mountaintop landing in 2001: A Space Odyssey, flawlessly.

The surreal gags, each precisely weighted with some significance vital to the film, are often quicker than a description would be, which is an artistic economy. Take the two teenage couples out joyriding in a convertible, one couple up front and one in the rumble seat. At the approach of the hook-and-ladder unwittingly assisting Fields to transport a lady (a perfect stranger, mind you) to the maternity hospital, the couples turn around to look and dive down to avoid an accident, the couple in the back close the rumble seat after them. The punchline comes a moment later, when both couples emerge from the engine compartment.

The Criblecoblis story is “tied together in disjointed fashion”, according to Variety, but a supreme work, a magnum opus of this caliber is meant to endure a long time anyway, its meanings are inexhaustible.

“More perverse than funny,” says Time Out Film Guide, a respectable English publication.

An even greater institution, Halliwell’s Film Guide, considers it “stupefyingly inept” but “often irresistibly funny”, an expert opinion if ever there was one.

 

Private Buckaroo

Western crooner Dick Foran joins up, along with Harry James & His Musicmakers, in a construction that served as the model for Stripes, among other films. The opening is a beautiful duet for Mary Wickes (not often seen in this leading position) and Shemp Howard. A running gag has Harry James struggling to learn the bugle.

Two surreal gags command attention, one quiet and one stupefying. First, the old guy digs traps for the recruits on maneuvers, and one by one, and then by twos or threes, they disappear into the ground when Sgt. Shemp’s back is turned—they even speak to him from below the grass. Then, Patty, Maxene and Laverne have a great deal of trouble hauling that apple tree out on stage.

This is early days in the war effort, and a modest production, but Cline snaps it to, in a very considerable performance under the circumstances.

 

Crazy House

Olsen and Johnson are not Abbott and Costello, and besides they wreak destruction when they work, so when they arrive at Universal in a parade of their own, N.G. Wagstaff throws them off the lot. They take their last assistant director with them, muster up a lot of talent, find a financial backer, hire a rental studio and equipment and make this picture.

They sign Cass Daley in her Universal dressing room, only it’s her stand-in, Sadie Silverfish. To break the contract, they work her to exhaustion in rehearsal. Comes the number, Daley fills in for her double and cousin, but they’ve taken the film out of the camera, an “old gag” Tony Richardson used more than once. Thus the artist trumps the trouper and the technical side is paramount.

The backer is bats, the crooks they rent from attach the print, everything depends on a preview for selling the film to recoup costs (the judge who gives them one week is Edgar Kennedy).

In that grand optimism with which some Manhattanites think they are graced, Bosley Crowther of the New York Times opined that this film is “without wit”, a confirmed expert, an authority.

“Lame sequel to Hellzapoppin,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide, which had no idea what it was all about, either.

David Butler utilizes the material in It’s a Great Feeling, where Jack Carson is the offending article and director for dough.

 

Ghost Catchers

The theme is how to get to Carnegie Hall from a haunted house with Olsen and Johnson’s next door, a nightclub where “the customer is always right.”

This made no sense and wasn’t funny to T.M.P. of the New York Times, “according to this department’s laugh meter... without rhyme or reason.” Variety was quite aware that “this film has a plot” and pronounced it “a tuneful, screwy concoction, brief and zippy.” For Tom Milne in Time Out Film Guide, “saddled with too much plot. Funny, though...”

The analysis conducted by Lumet in Running on Empty from a slightly different angle is very much to the point.

In Halliwell’s Film Guide, so much genius, wit and surreality is “lower-class farce.”