Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"The Devil with Bobby Watson"

Why screen "The Devil with Hitler" (1942)?

Well, there are a number of reasons, it is a comedy very much in the wartime vein of "The Three Stooges" and it stars Bobby Watson an actor whose resemblance to the late Reichs Chancellor is nothing short of uncanny. The photo herein does him no justice, and is posted mostly for comedic effect. When mocking the Fuhrer, Watson gets his essential parvenue essence, the cheap theatrics the cowardice and most of all, a bizarre uncalled for, undeniably funny, and slightly fey Brooklyn accent.
Let the record show that Moe Howard was the first Hitler impersonator to effect a Brooklyn patois, Watson knew a good thing when he heard it.
And let us not forget our supporting cast Joe Devlin as Mussolini a sadly forgotten character player from Hollywood's golden age with more than a touch of Oliver Hardy to him and Alan Mowbray a perpetually exasperated Brit considered good enough to do a few comedy relief turns for John Ford in his day.
Channel Zero screens films like "The Devil with Hitler" in part because they are loaded with a now forgotten Golden Age Tinseltown aristocracy of funny looking character players who one and all had acting chops. Joe Devlin, Bobby Watson, Skelton Knaggs, Rondo Hatton, Shemp Howard, Franklin Pangborn the list could go on for days. All actors heavily typecast but where nonetheless good at their typecasting, we have no comparable modern day phenomenon save SyFy's weekend movie schedule which largely the province of Dean Cain, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson and C. Thomas Howell.
There is a line thru modern history and it's called "The Holocaust", we are on the wrong side of it (although no one can claim to be on the right side of it). Prior to that great barbarous slaughter, it was still possible to see Hitler as "a cheap ham", a blusterly parvenue who had some luck at the outset of the war. Until 1945 or so, you could place Hitler in the same category as say, Louis Napoleon, an arrogant faker whose stupidity was destroying all Europe.
This is the comedic approach that everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Moe Howard and Bobby Watson would take to Hitler.
Then of course, the Final Solution's true nature was exposed to the world, and making Hitler out to be silly seemed naive at best and woefully crass in the worst degree.
In time some other comic versions of Der Fuhrer have come forward, John Cleese or Helge Schneider's neurotic bed wetter from 2007's "My Fuehrer...but its always done with a nervous laugh and a backward glance to 1945.
So it's useful to see how we saw the great enemy of civilization circa 1942, how we mocked him and his cause, what we got right, what we got wrong and what still makes us laugh.
So tell your friends, we are screening "The Devil with Hitler" this Friday, July 22nd at 8pm in the Somerville Theater's video screening room, 55 Davis Square Somerville Ma. 617) 625-5700 Admission $5

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I think I owe the Harvard Film Archive an apology

I've been kidding them about "holes" in their schedule this month, to be filled up with notional Charlton Heston or Ray Harryhausen retrospectives (BOTH very goodish ideas still).
But nonetheless the HFA is clearing the boards old school come August and September with a comprehensive Joseph L. Mankiewicz retrospective including a rare big screen revival of "Cleopatra" (1963) (the film that all but annihilated 20th Century Fox), "Suddenly Last Summer" and the original "Quiet American" with Audie Murphy...Among many many others this is the HFA after all they miss but little.
But wait, there is MORE!
A Monte Hellman retrospective which for everyone who wants to see "Two Lane Blacktop" on the big screen along with more eccentric fare like "CockfIghter" and "Iguana" (which is NOT a giant lizard flick trust me!).
Great stuff but it gets even better, when the HFA actually revives "1860" (1934) Alessandro Blasetti's ode to Italian Unification produced under the auspices of Benito Mussolini to get the masses riled up with nationalist fervor. Channel Zero would Kill to screen this movie or any other propaganda films produced during the Italian Fascist era...HFA beat us to it, can't be envious of them either since they know the real worth of the work.
Our only reservation is the notion in the current HFA calendar to the effect that "Blasetti was the most significant Italian film maker to emerge during the 1930's", Channel Zero thinks pride of place belongs to Roberto Rossellini who got his start as the directorial protege of Vittorio Mussolini, Il Duce's mook of a son. But tis' a minor quibble congrats to the HFA for another superlative summer schedule.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sherwood Schwartz, R.I.P.

The producer behind Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch sure loved his cliches and his stereotypes didn't ?
In fact that pretty forms the crux of his humor through out the arc of his career, pound home the orthodoxies like ten penny nails.
Still I admire his work ethic, Bob Denver claimed in his memoirs that he went up to Schwartz's office to discuss some trivial matter on the last day of production during the first season of Gilligan's Island. There he found thirty odd scripts to the second season of Gilligan's Island already written bound and ready to shoot.
And then there is the famous story of the two casts to the Brady Bunch, distaff brunettes and male blondes versus female blondes and brunette men. The latter cast won out, but my ghod it's a prussian file clerk's approach to comedy casting isn't it?
No thought of "Geez I like the brunette Marcia better, lets move her over.."
No, Schwartz survives because of the ubiquity of his re-runs on afternoon television here he is in a very exclusive club along with Gene Roddenberry, Irwin Allen, Barbara Eden, Lucille Ball and Elizabeth Montgomery. Sheer exposure made his programs a paradise for ironyists and retrosexuals, certainly the comedy content was no guarantor of longevity.
So it's unintentionally hilarious to think that local commentator Jon Keller devoted congressionally regulated airtime last night to the argument that Sherwood Schwartz, that Stakhanovite of cliches, was someone a champion of women's rights.
Ironyism indeed.
Still and all that, who knew that puny whiny Bobby Brady had "family annihilator ideations", my money was always on Cindy gotta watch those girls in curls.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ironclad (2011)

Whoever got the idea to cast skinchy dorky bug-eyed Yank Paul Giamatti as King John of the "Magna Carta" fame, deserves a medal. If you've ever wondered how Paul Giamatti a reliable method actor would play "Ming the Merciless" look no further than "Ironclad" the man rants, raves and chews the scenery like he has gone mad on crystal meth.

I haven't had so much fun watching a berserk historical impersonation since the Glory Days of Rod Steiger playing Napoleon in "Waterloo".
The film itself is lugubrious dreck wallowing in the infamous "First Baron's War" in Englandback in the 1200's. All the battle scenes are ruined by shakey-cam histrionics, Ty Burr got that much right in his review in Friday's Globe, but in Giamatti's performance an over the top gem can be found. "Ironclad" is up at the Danvers Mall, likely it'll be gone by next Friday see it if you can...

The Green Lantern (2011), an autopsy.

If your idea of a superhero extravaganza is two hours of close ups of Ryan Reynold's chin shot in the 3-d with a reverence previously reserved only for Adolf Hitler in "Triumph of the Will", then the Green Lantern is the movie for you.

If your idea of a slam bang summer tentpole franchise is built on a good first act, a middling second act and a third act that depends on a cosmic shitstorm that grunts and groans like Charlie Callas, then the Green Lantern is the movie for you.

If your idea of a great thrill ride night at the movies is watching DC comics botch another no-brainer, where all they had to do was COMPETENTLY rip off Iron Man...then the Green Lantern is the flick for you.

Honest to Rao, I give up, DC Comics seems to be on the Biblical high road to annihilation, they can assemble a good cast around a sure fire property (as was the case here, outwardly Ryan Reynolds was born to play Green Lantern) but then the script and the direction just auto destruct...Every god damned time!
Now I hear the geniuses behind this film are tasked to "Re-Launch" DC's line of comic books in September, all starting with new #1's, even Action Comics (til now in continuous publication since 1938!), with brains like this at work, they'll be on relief by Christmas.
DC probably makes a million dollars a month off of comic book sales in total, maybe one and a half, if I'm to be generous. So it just makes me laugh that a misfire like "Green Lantern" made more money in one day (and will be marked down a failure still) than the whole of the DC comic line makes in a year.
Comics aren't dying but they are becoming a niche market, and in the case of super hero comics, it is a niche market with an aging fan base. Now those characters all have universal appeal (put up a billboard to Green Lantern or Batgirl in Moscow or Buenos Aires or Johannesburg and everyone will recognize those characters immediately)...but the primary means to consume said universally known characters is limited to floppy comics with sales in the range of 20 to 50,000 books per month. So I'm thinking this is not a sustainable situation, not when you are producing misfires like "Green Lantern" and depending on them to pull along your staggering line of floppies a few more years.
What comes next I do not know I doubt I will like it whatever it is.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Punchlinez Part II

"I keep tryin' ta think, but nuthin' happens!"

"Remember you are fighting for this woman's honor which is more than she ever did!"


"Watch out for that Tree!"

"If I could walk that way I wouldn't need talcum powder!"

"Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!"

"It Ain't Wendell Willkie!"

"It was a woman that drove me to drink and I never had the common decency to thank her!"

"You knew this job was dangerous when you took it".

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying."