Road to Singapore

Road to Singapore. Too many ad libs and not enough sub plots. You can actually tell what’s going on. Plus no CGI. And the jokes work. All these extras could have been perfectly good minor characters within a miasma of irritating subplots. What a waste.

road-to-singapore-1940

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Joan Marshall

(New Year’s Eve, 2016)

Fyl decided her husband is still too sick to be life of the party on a wet, cold night and so we’re sitting home on New Year’s Eve. I didn’t argue. Besides, there’s a Jack Benny marathon on Antenna TV. When the pizza came It was guest star Frankie Avalon singing, so I joined Fyl in front of her TV watching old Sid Caesar shows and munching on a Palermo’s special, thin crust, crispy, anchovies on half. Taking my empty plate into the kitchen later the Benny marathon was still on in the living room and I could hear Robert Goulet. Even an hour apart the difference in timbre, phrasing, range–hell, in sheer quality of everything–with Frankie Avalon was beyond glaring. Plus Goulet was much, much funnier in the follow up bit, a natural. Funniest of all, though, was Joan Marshall, the woman in the sketch and one of the great undiscovered comic talents of the sixties. Alas, she was gorgeous, and in that decade gorgeous and funny were not allowed to mix. In the thirties she might have been a screwball superstar, another Carole Lombard; in the fifties she could have been the female lead in a sophisticated comedy. But in the sixties only Jack Benny recognized how funny she was and let her run riot in a couple sketches. They said it really bothered Joan that she never got choice comedy roles, and she never seemed happy in her career being beautiful. Hollywood is full of beautiful women. It’s not full of naturally funny people. But sometimes what you are really good at and the times you live in don’t coincide. If only you’d been born twenty years earlier.

My Favorite Year of

(Another lost essay…apparently I didn’t care for My Favorite Year…)

I saw My Favorite Year once all the way though. I started watching it again sometime later and gave up after a few minutes. Tonight I tried harder and got about a third of the way though it before I wanted to shout what the hell is Peter O’Toole doing in this loser movie? I mean it stinks. Everything about it stinks except Peter O’Toole. All the other characters stink…I don’t care about any of them, except the ones I actively dislike. All of the infuriating subplots stink…I don’t give a damn about these people’s storylines, their lives, their romances…all I care about is the Peter O’Toole character.

And who the hell told the writer he was funny? He’s not. He’s not a funny guy. He thinks he’s funny, He took a course on how to be a funny. He studied comedy in college. He’s analyzed jokes. But he’s not funny. You wanna know how not funny he is?  Let the writer explain it himself:

K.C.: Do you think there are funny people and not-funny people?

Benjy Stone: Yes. Definitely. On the funny side there are the Marx Brothers, except Zeppo; the Ritz Brothers, no exceptions; both Laurel *and* Hardy; and Woody Woodpecker. On the unfunny side there’s anyone who has ever played the accordion professionally.

The Ritz Brothers? He thinks the Ritz Brothers are funny? And I don’t mean kinda funny, but quintessentially funny, funny as the Marx Brothers are funny.  After sitting through that moronic and utterly predictable Storke Club scene I hear him say Ritz Brothers and bells go off and oh man, yes, that was the Ritz Brothers. I’m watching a movie written by a guy who thought that the Ritz Brothers were, without exceptions, as funny as funny can be.

Good lord.

And then there’s the setting. He is one of the writers for a guy who is obviously Sid Caesar. Which means, in 1954, that he would be writing for the Show of Shows. So he’s set himself up as a writer in maybe the greatest television comedy writing room of all time. Those people in that room were incredibly funny. Crazily funny. Savagely funny. The competition was deadly, the timing perfect. The jokes this fool lays out so predictably here would never have survived that room. Would never have survived Sid Caesar. Sid was not the buffoon portrayed here. Sid Caesar was probably the funniest man in America in the 1950’s.  This kid would never have even got in the door. Not with this material. They would have eaten him alive. Humiliated him. It would scar him till the day he died. So what’s he do? He brings that room down to his level and then makes himself the funniest guy in that room. The egomania is overwhelming.

Ya know, if you’re gonna be funny you better be really fucking funny. There’s no room for mediocrity. What a gem of an idea this movie was. And how perfect Peter O’Toole was for the role. It’s too bad that such a sad script, low brow humor, piss poor casting and hamfisted direction turned out something not much funnier than your average inane sitcom. None of you would watch more than a minute or two if it weren’t for Peter O’Toole. Without him it’s just crap. With him, it’s a treasure since O’Toole made so few film appearances.

Yeah, people will always love My Favorite Year because Peter O’Toole is so funny in it. The movie itself is lousy, but Peter O’Toole sparkles, he really does, he’s wonderful in this. So people will be watching this film for generations long after far, far better comedies are long forgotten.

It ain’t fair, it just is.

My Favorite Year

My Favorite Year

Scotch and wa-wa

So I tell the old Laugh-In joke, Goldie Hawn walks into a bar. Dan Rowan says you sure you’re old enough to be in here? Goldie Hawn says yes I am sure I am old enough to be in here. Dan says OK, what’ll ya have? Goldie says a scotch and wa-wa.

Everyone laughed.

So Helen Keller walks into a bar, I said. Bartender says you sure you are old enough to be in here? Helen Keller says yes I am sure I am old enough to be in here. Bartender says OK, what’ll ya have? Helen Keller says a scotch and waaaaaaaaaah.

Silence.

Shouldn’t that have been Patty Duke? someone asked.

Garry Shandling

Garry Shandling was an incredibly funny guy. They say only the good die young. Or the not exactly old die young. Well, you can’t be old if you die young. But 66, for a comic, if not young, is certainly a couple decades too soon. That’s a lotta untold jokes, a lotta unlaughed laughs. It happens. He’ll live in syndication forever, they’ll say, him and Lucy and Phil Silvers and Bob Newhart, who isn’t even dead, and syndication is almost like never dying, plus somebody else can have your parking space. That’s what death is for a TV comedian, syndication, a big Jewish funeral and somebody you hated getting your parking space. Not that it matters to Garry Shandling. Garry’s up in heaven now, yelling at the birds to shut up.

Too bad. A funny guy.

garry shandling and johnny carson

I’m a Poached Egg

I remember the first time I ever saw Kiss Me Stupid (probably on TCM, who rescued it from the Pauline Kael Home for the Morally Depraved) and Dean Martin (as Dino) runs into a police roadblock and says What’s the matter? That Sinatra kid missing again? I knew Billy Wilder had pulled out all the stops, as the kidnapping had only happened a few months before. I always wondered what Frank said. It was a funny line, after all, and a laugh is a laugh. It was certainly funnier than anything in Robin and the 7 Hoods, which Frank was making at the time, with Dean Martin, and which the critics thought was just fine, even though it’s not especially funny, and they forgot to keep the palm trees out of the shots. Palm trees in Chicago. A lotta laughs. But Frank was distracted with the kidnapping, and who cares about a stray palm tree in a dumb movie anyway

The critics hated Kiss Me Stupid. They hated the story, they hated the script, they hated the cast (Peter Sellers was supposed to play the Ray Walston part, incidentally, but had a heart attack on the set.) I love Kiss Me Stupid. Now Irma La Douce I’m not too nuts about, it kind of drags on about an hour and a half too long, though it might have made a nice two parter sitcom–but at least that didn’t bring about the fall of western civilization like Dino’s hand in Kim Novak’s kleenex box did. The Catholic Legion of Decency went through the countryside, trying to scare up another crusade. By the hand of God the movie flopped, was pulled from the theaters, and Billy Wilder shamed and broken (he made one more minor classic, The Fortune Cookie, and then a string of box office losers), but it was too late. Pretty soon everyone is running around naked and the seventies began in a cloud of cocaine. But we know why. I’m a Poached Egg, that’s why

But then what do I know from movies anyway? I don’t even like Ingmar Bergman films. But I do know funny, and I’m a Poached Egg is funny. Maybe not the way it was intended, not as Ira Gershwin wrote it. George was working up I Got Rhythm. Ira comes in with some lyrics. George is on the melody, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da. I’m a poached egg, Ira sings, without a piece of cheese. I’m Da Vinci, without the Mona Leez. Mona Leez? George yells, and threatens to call Cole Porter.

You had to be there.

KissMeStupidLobbyCard

Bob and Ray

Tom Koch, RIP. Not that I ever heard of him, actually. But I heard him, heard his stuff. Some stuff too. He wrote for Bob and Ray from 1955 on. Thousands of sketches.  Bob Elliott says the material came by mail. Says he met Tom Koch–pronounced Cook–three times. Three times in three decades. Ray Goulding never met him at all. It’s Bob and Ray, who knows if that is true or not, but it’s a great story and that’s what matters.

Bob and Ray were natural improvisers, and their early stuff was free form when jazz musicians were still playing be bop. On NBC the execs demanded order, though, so in 1955 Bob and Ray somehow found Tom Koch. He’d provide sketches for them to take off on. The head arrangement. Be bop. It worked brilliantly. The Bob and Ray Shows on CBS every day from 1959-1960, each a quarter hour long, are hands down the funniest stuff I have ever heard in my life. Seriously weird. Take it from me. I know. I once spent an entire day at work in a silent office listening to Bob and Ray. The ’59-’60 episodes. Eight hours’ worth. That’s like eight thousand shows in dog years. I emerged at day’s end in a post-LSD state. I think it damaged my chromosomes. Soon afterward I quit the LA Weekly and joined the priesthood and no one has seen me since. And no wonder. The human brain is not designed for that much concentrated Bob and Ray. You don’t mess around with that stuff. I was like Cary Grant after 300 acid trips, acting odd on the set. Judy Judy Judy he chanted, scaring the extras. Me, I left the office mumbling like Webly Webster. I should have known. The humor on Bob and Ray is deep. There are sages high in the Himalayas who spend their whole lives trying to get one joke. They say the humor on Bob and Ray is so deep it might be a couple centuries before the rest of civilization catches up with it. We’ll have big throbbing brains and communicate by telepathy and Bob and Ray will be gods. Then the world ends.

–ick Wahl, the Finley Quality Network

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