“Duck Soup” (Paramount, 1933). A crazy satire that rips on politics, dictators, war and everything else in room. Groucho Marx plays the newly appointed leader/dictator of the country of Freedonia. Harpo and Chico Marx play spies (masquerading as peanut salesmen) from the neighboring country of Sylvania. And the subdued (at least on screen) Zeppo Marx plays advisor to brother Groucho. (How did the quiet, calm Zeppo ever survive being in this family?) The jokes, gags and insults are non-stop. I read from multiple sources that Mussolini banned the film in Italy, much to the Marx Brothers’ delight. Written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Directed by Leo McCarey. “I didn’t come here to be insulted.” “That’s what you think.”
“Some Like It Hot” (United Artists, 1959). Set during the Prohibition era in 1929 Chicago, two musicians (played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) witness a gangland murder, disguise themselves as women and travel to Florida as new members of an all-female band to hide from the mobsters. They both fall for the band’s lead singer (played by the breathy and sexy Marilyn Monroe), but the disguises and the mobsters get in the way. Racy, witty, and really funny. Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. Directed by Billy Wilder. “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
“Young Frankenstein”(20th Century Fox, 1974). A hilarious parody of the Boris Karloff/James Whale horror films of the 1930s. Gene Wilder plays Dr. Frederick (Freddy) Frankenstein (pronounced “Fronkonsteen”), grandson of the infamous Dr. Victor Frankenstein whose previous efforts to reanimate dead human tissue, as we all know, met with mixed results. When Freddy finds out that he is the inheritor of his grandfather’s estate, he journeys to Frankenstein Castle in Transylvania, meets Igor (pronounced “Eye-gore”), Inga (“Roll, roll, roll in zie hay…”), and Frau Blucher (“Neeeeeiiiighh”), and is awakened to the potential of his grandfather’s experiments. The ensemble cast couldn’t be better–Marty Feldman as Igor, Teri Garr as Inga, Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher, Kenneth Mars as Inspector Kemp, Madeline Kahn as Freddy’s debutante fiancé Elizabeth, and the fantastic Peter Boyle as The Monster. So funny…I’m still laughing about it. Filmed in glorious black and white. Written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. Directed by Mel Brooks. “Walk this way.”
“The Princess Bride” (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1987). This much loved and oft-quoted romantic comedy adventure is as charming and funny as ever. As the grandfather in the film (played by Peter Falk) says, the story has “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” etc. Inconceivable! The terrific ensemble cast also includes Fred Savage, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane and Christopher Guest. Music is by guitarist Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame. Screenplay by William Goldman; based on his book of the same name. Directed by Rob Reiner. “No more rhymes now–I mean it.” “Anybody want a peanut?”
This year’s film watching project is all about laughs. I’ll be viewing 52 classic film comedies and writing short reviews here on my website every week. Some of these films I’ve never seen before (“Duck Soup,” “Sullivan’s Travels,” “Ball of Fire”); some of them I’ve seen multiple times (“The Pink Panther,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Airplane!”); all of them, I hope, will be funny.
The 52 films were selected from multiple sources, including the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Laughs” list (www.afi.com/100years/laughs.aspx), the Turner Classic Movies website (www.tcm.com), and recommendations from friends. I’ve also thrown in some personal favorites for good measure. Surely, I hope you’ll join me (and “don’t call me Shirley”).