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September 6th, 2004

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05:05 pm - ...and this positively infantile preoccupation with bosoms!
I didn't think I was gonna be home today but apparently in an attempt to keep from paying out holiday pay, $COMPANY has graciously decreed I get today off, but I'll have to go in tomorrow, my usual day off. That I don't really mind except that on my schedule the day tomorrow is listed as a "FORCED DAY." Hey, fellas, could you dehumanize us any more?

So to celebrate having nothing to do today I've gone and hooked up the VCR, which had been languishing on top of the fridge since April 2003. I'm watching some movies on VHS, movies that I haven't seen in a very long time. When I got my DVD player in January 2003 I made a rule not to re-buy any films on DVD that I already had on VHS. I think I've only purchased three 'repeat' films since, and two of them were to replace broken videocassettes. Last night I watched The Kentucky Fried Movie, some Soupy Sales highlight tapes, and Diner (which inspired me to bring back the piece I'd written in December of 2001, the last time I saw the film.) Today so far I've started out with It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

I love this stupid movie. I really do. The sheer amount of comedians in the film is staggering. Oh, all the leads are great, what with Spencer Tracy going nuts, Milton Berle actually playing with the team for once, Sid Caesar filling in for Ernie Kovacs and falling into some yellow, Terry-Thomas giving an incredible rant about the state of American society and the "preoccupation with bosoms", Buddy Hackett doing some of his best facial mugging ever (just watch him in the plane after Jim Backus tells him to fly) and, my favorite, Jonathan Winters destroying a gas station run by Marvin Kaplan and Arnold Stang (I do a pretty decent Stang impression when I feel like it, and it usually starts with "Oh, Irwin...") Sure, the story may be weak, but honestly, do you need it right now?

Do you need it when you've got almost four minutes of Dick Shawn go-go dancing with a stone-faced model? Phil Silvers doing his usual scheming schtick? Doodles Weaver at the hardware store? Stan Freberg, known for his radio voice, in a silent background role, leaving the speaking to Andy Devine? Buster Keaton in a speaking role? Jimmy Durante literally kicking the bucket? (The bucket joke, by the way, gets me every time. No matter how stupid it is. I also admit, however shamefully, to laughing at Berle's reaction when Ethel Merman asks where she can put a cactus. He doesn't need to actually tell her where she can put it, nor does he even have to say that he has a response. All he has to do is snort, and I'm on the floor.)

The stick-loads-of-celebrities-in-the-money-chasing-comedy was, of course, duplicated to some degree of success in Rat Race (right down to the twist chase at the end) but really, the only thing the recent film had going for it was the brilliant squirrel gag. Ok, and the I Love Lucy impersonator bus. But Rat Race is ultimately doomed, and the one thing that dooms it is the one thing that Mad Mad Mad Mad World explicitly denies its characters.


(You don't have to keep reading if you don't want to know the endings of both films, but hey -- if you're worried about spoilers for a 1963 and a 2001 film, now's your chance to stop and avoid the horror. But anyway.)

Nobody in either film gets the money, that much we can expect. These films are object lessons in greed. We learn how money and the love of it can turn ordinary, good people into complete, raving lunatics, no matter how pure their stated motives are. By the end of a money chase movie, the characters should be so completely despicable that all we want to see is them getting their comeuppance.

Mad accomplishes this pretty well. The money gets spilled over a large crowd as the men hang for dear life on a fire escape (and then a firetruck ladder.) The wealth is distributed to the masses as the men are flung off the ladder, and it's no surprise they all end up in full body casts at the hospital, awaiting their court fates. Ethel Merman in the shrill mother-in-law role gets hers, too, with the most tried-and-true film pratfall of them all, but the men's reactions make it out to be a lot funnier than it is nowadays in these jaded times. And the lesson is learned -- be greedy like that, chase the riches like that, screw over your fellow man like that, and you're gonna end up in a cast laughing at Ethel Merman until your ribs crack again.

Comeuppance. It's what they deserve and it's what they get.

In Rat Race the group of greedy, vicious, backstabbing people get the money, divide it up into shares, and for some reason end up onstage at some charity concert for disadvantaged youth or cancer kids somesuch bullshit. In fact, you can pinpoint the exact moment the film turns to sheer and utter crap with one line:

"Hey, it's Smashmouth!"

Why so it is and there they are, the media darlings of the early 21st century, performing at this stupid charity concert for stupid disadvantaged youth or cancer kids or somesuch bullshit. And wouldn't you know, our money-chasing characters, one by one, agree to give in and toss their share of the money in some giant donation sack or something while the crowd cheers around them. Why should the crowd care that these bozos just appeared onstage? They don't know who they are, or how much money they're tossin in the ol' donation sack. I'll bet you three to one most of the people in the concert audience don't even care about stupid disadvantaged youth or cancer kids or somesuch bullshit, they're just there to see Smashmouth. Whatever.

All it says is that somewhere down the line somebody took a look at the story and said "Oh whoa whoa whoa wait one second, we need these people to be likable at the end of all this, they need to perform some sort of gesture to redeem themselves." Maybe that's true in most stories, but in this kind of tale, really, it's not needed. We haven't had to like these characters the entire film. I mean, sure, we have to have enough of an interest in them to want to know what happens next to them, and there should be at least one person or group in the film we identify slightly with so we root, however unconsciously, for them, but goddammit, there shouldn't be this fakey happy tacked-on ending with redemption and whatnot.

And it especially should not have Smashmouth in it.

Ok, that's the film. I think next I'm going to either watch Chinatown or Pecker. Some choices, eh?

(7 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:September 6th, 2004 02:33 pm (UTC)
I can't image why I've never seen IAMMMMW. Got to put that on my list.

I got a new DVD player today -- my old one seems to have died -- and watched Torch Song Trilogy, with and without Harvey Fierstein's commentary, and am now on the extras disk for Beauty and the Beast. God love long weekends and media.
Date:September 6th, 2004 02:36 pm (UTC)
If you've never seen it, you should check out One, Two, Three. It's a 1961 Billy Wilder movie, adapted by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond from a Molnar play. It stars James Cagney in his last starring role (and nearly his last role, until he was coaxed into appearing in Ragtime 20 years later) as a fast-talking, sharp-tongued Coca-Cola executive in West Berlin who ends up having to chaperone the boss's daughter, a flighty Southern belle who quickly falls in love with an ardent Communist from East Berlin.

It doesn't have anything particular in common with It's a Mad... except being from the same period and having a similar spirit of comic anarchy. It sounds like something you'd like, though, and Cagney gives kind of the quintessential portrait of the fast-talking schemer confronting a situation that actually challenges the limits of his considerable chutzpah. The scene where he orders shirts (which Wilder made him rehearse endlessly until he could do it in one take) is particularly brilliant, as is the way he manages to get Starr's boyfriend arrested by the Stasi.
[User Picture]
Date:September 6th, 2004 05:26 pm (UTC)
Well I'll be damned if it isn't Spatch! Didya see me all bein' glad you were still alive on the Fark comments? Eh? :)
[User Picture]
Date:September 6th, 2004 09:42 pm (UTC)
I certainly did, and that was one of the bright moments of the whole Fark incident, indeed!

So how've you been?
[User Picture]
Date:September 6th, 2004 09:57 pm (UTC)
I'm wonderful! Since we last chatted on DALnet several years ago, I graduated college and such. Now I'm turnin' the world on with my smile, makin' it after all, y'know, like Mary Tyler Moore. I prefer to think of it in those terms, anyway. :)

I still listen to the County DPW song at Christmas time. I think I might've lost the mp3 in the Great Hard Drive Crash of '04, though. :(

So, how's by you, m'dear?
[User Picture]
Date:September 7th, 2004 10:18 pm (UTC)
I'm doing all right. While I can't say I'm throwing my hat up in the middle of the street all the time like you seem to be, it's only because I just don't have enough hats to keep that going for as long as necessary. I am, however, working a day job to support the writing habit, making fun of pictures of cats in people clothes IN ALL CAPS, acting on the side for fun and, uh, more fun, and enjoying a Boston summer as best as one can. I'm so glad the County DPW song remains a Christmas tradition! If my webserver were up at the moment I'd point you to the songs I've done since, well, 2000, but that'll just have to wait.

Oh, and I also seem to sleep every now and then, but I hear that's just an aberration.

Date:September 7th, 2004 08:57 am (UTC)
Forget it, Spatch ... It's Chinatown


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