It’s the Only Woman We Got: Margaret Dumont in Duck Soup (1933)

This post is the SBBN entry for the Funny Lady Blogathon, going on now at Movies, Silently. Check out the other entries today! *** Duck Soup (1933) is a tight little 68 minutes of absurdist, anarchic comedy featuring the Marx Brothers and a cast of constantly befuddled straight men and women. One part old-fashioned musical comedy and two parts political satire, Duck Soup was a box office failure on its release, and the Marx Bros’ final film for Paramount. The wealthy widow Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) agrees to sponsor the small country of Fredonia to the tune of $20 million, but on one condition: That Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) be made the new leader. Firefly is a scoundrel and a cad, insulting everyone who wields power while remaining steadfastly unimpressed with his own. He quickly decides to woo the widow Teasdale — for her money or not, we’re never sure; that’s part of the fun — competing with Trentino of nearby Sylvania (Louis Calhern) who also wants her money. Hell-bent on causing a war, Firefly insults Trentino so many times conflict cannot be avoided. Meanwhile, two Sylvanian spies, Chico and Harpo Marx, join in on the antics in ways that really can’t be explained. If someone tells you they can explain everything that happens in Duck Soup, they are lying to you. The title is the first head-scratcher. Though allegedly based on the American slang phrase “duck soup,” with a meaning similar to “easy as pie,” Groucho once explained … Continue reading

Sincerely Yours (1955)

Liberace’s brief stint as a leading man was preordained to be short lived. Loathed by critics of both cinema and music, the flamboyant Liberace was more entertainer than actor and could hardly carry a feature length film. That’s why Sincerely Yours (1955), his first and only starring vehicle, spends most of its nearly two-hour runtime with Liberace at the piano. Yet even in a lesser performance such as this, he’s a captivating cultural figure and undeniably fun, and Sincerely Yours is a must watch for Liberace fans and lovers of 1950s musical extravaganzas. Released to coincide with Steven Soderbergh’s biopic Behind the Candelabra, Warner Archives has released Sincerely Yours as a MOD DVD in a lovely restored transfer. Long out of print on VHS and almost never shown on television, Sincerely Yours has been labeled, probably by people who had never seen the film, as “campy” and awful. In truth, it is neither. Sincerely Yours is an updated remake of the George Arliss film The Man Who Played God (1932), which long-time SBBN readers will remember as bizarre, wrong-headed and thoroughly freakish. In the 1932 film, a master pianist is rendered deaf by an explosion, losing his ability to play music, leading him to becoming bitter and reclusive. Eventually, he learns to read lips and parlays this into a strange obsession with spying on strangers in the park below his penthouse. The Liberace version follows a similar plot with only moderate variations, all an improvement on the Arliss version. The … Continue reading

Elsewhere: The Blogathons, Doughnuts and Doris Days Edition

Here are some things around the web you should be reading, doing or otherwise participating in while I recover from the Raiders of Ghost City-induced ennui. SBBN will be participating in a couple of blogathons this summer: The William Castle Blogathon will be hosted by The Last Drive-In and Goregirl’s Dungeon on July 29 through August 2, 2013. Movies Silently is hosting the Funny Lady Blogathon June 29 and 30, 2013. There are several more blogathons in the near future, which you can read about at Ivan’s place in this helpful post — and if you have a blogathon coming up or know of any others, feel free to mention them in the comments! Speaking of Ivan, there have been some big doin’s going on at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear. For those who missed it, Ivan’s last Mayberry Monday went up early last week. Mayberry Mondays was immediately replaced with his new serialized television project (pronounced “pro-ject” and not “praw-ject,” because it’s scientifically important) is the wacky Doris Days, a revisit of the bland-o-rama that was “The Doris Day Show.” His first recap is here, and look for more over the next… er, 120-odd weeks, I guess. The man knows commitment. In the Don’t Say I Never Learned You Nothin’ department: The Coudal Archive’s constantly updated page of Stanley Kubrick stuff. Donoview on Instagram has a remarkable series of then-and-now photos of film and television landmarks. If nothing else, at least check out the pics for “Hats Off” (1927). At … Continue reading

Raiders of Ghost City #13: Golden Vengeance

It’s our final recap of the 1945 non-classic Universal serial Raiders of Ghost City, and if my lack of enthusiasm and your lack of clicks are any indication, we were so done with this about five chapters ago. But it’s the glorious final chapter, which picks up just as the last chapter ends. Steve enlists the help of miners to the good guys’ cause, while Alex and Trina gather their henchmen together to get the stolen gold out of town, thanks to the distraction of the nearby Modoc tribe raiding Oro Grande in anger over being tricked — or so they think — when they are unable to speak to President Lincoln as promised. Actually, confession time: I have no idea if the Modoc are raiding Oro Grande or the abandoned Ghost City. I believe this is supposed to be Ghost City, though the shots are all stolen from another film so the buildings don’t match up. We even see homes which are clearly occupied, while Ghost City is a completely empty gold rush town. Also, during this final chapter we see Alex, Buck and a henchman behind the Golden Eagle, which is in Oro Grande of course, so I believe this is supposed to be Oro Grande. On the other hand, the Ghost City mines are clearly very close by, but it doesn’t make much sense to try to prevent the Modoc from burning down an abandoned town. Why waste the resources? Basically, it’s clear the serial has just … Continue reading

Raiders of Ghost City #12: Calling All Buckboards

Last week on Raiders of Ghost City! Steve grabs some papers off the dead Rawhide and discovers Alex is the leader of the nogoodnik Prussians. Meanwhile President Lincoln has the poor taste to get himself assassinated, which leaves the U.S. Army in the lurch, as he was scheduled to speak with the Modoc tribe to try to keep the peace. Between Lincoln’s untimely death and a Prussian provocateur in the Modoc’s midst, tensions are high, which is why Idaho Jones, with neither the ability to speak Modoc nor any experience as a diplomat, rides right into their village to do… something. The provocateur, named Burke because of course his name starts with a “B,” has Idaho’s legs attached to some bendy branches which will ostensibly rend him in twain once they are released. But Cathy sees the peril he is in — it’s a lot of peril — and rides for help. Body count so far: Jeff-Jim, Capt. Clay Randolf (noooo), Count Manfried von Rinkton, Rackerby, Bill, Hank, and Rawhide. And how many of them have had their stuff rifled through by Steve after their deaths? All of them, except Clay, but only because he just handed his shit over to Steve’s friends before he died to save them the trouble of digging through his pockets. Let’s see how many more people we lose in this episode, shall we? Follow along here on YouTube, if you dare. But you probably won’t, because we’re almost done with this serial already, I … Continue reading

The Secret Garden (1949)

Mary Lennox (Margaret O’Brien) is a young British girl living in India during a cholera epidemic. Her parents and servants have died, and Mary is left alone in the house. When she’s found by a British officer, she hardly seems to realize anything is wrong; her parents were barely part of her life and, though missing, they were never missed. Sent with other orphans across the ocean to relatives in America, Mary is thrust into a frightening and confusing world. Her uncle (Herbert Marshall) is an angry, unhappy man, his spooky home a direct reflection of his own dark memories. Servants are cold and distant, there are no other children to play with, and a series of gut-wrenching screams issue forth throughout the mansion at various times of day or night. Mary has questions but no one is willing to answer. The mysteries of the grown-up world propel the 1949 MGM film The Secret Garden, based on the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. We can all relate, of course, to being a child and not understanding the adults that control us, and also being the undeserved recipient of frustration borne out of some very screwed-up adult issues. When Mary arrives at her uncle’s home, she’s regarded with sighing resignation over not being “beautiful.” This is an 11-year-old girl, mind you, and several people, including her own uncle and, reportedly, her mother, were upset with her lack of beauty. That’s hardly the only example of adults transferring their issues onto … Continue reading

June Movies on TCM to Watch For

Ivan at Thrilling Years of Yesterdays has all the deets on TCM in June, which is featuring Eleanor Parker as their Star of the Month. For those of you who don’t like the content, helpfulness, intelligence or information TDoY provides, here are a few of my own picks of TCM flicks this month. All times Eastern. Check TCM’s main site to make sure films are shown in letterbox if applicable — Underground movies tend to be in pan & scan, so you’ll want to double check before wasting a DVD on a copy. I tell you this because I am your friend. *** Gribiche (1925) June 2 (early morning June 3) at Midnight Jacques Feyder silent about a young boy and his hatred for his step family. Recently restored and only shown on TCM occasionally. Le Combat dans l’ile (Fire and Ice) (1962) June 2, 2:00 AM A New French Cinema political thriller by Alain Cavalier, with Jean-Louis Trintignant, Romy Schneider and Henri Serre. The Great Lady Has an Interview (1954) June 4, 11:50 PM A short segment from an hour-long NBC special from 1954 to celebrate MGM’s 30th anniversary. This is the number Judy Garland had performed in Ziegfeld Follies just a few years earlier, a movie that also starred Lana Turner; therefore, it is made of delicious camp. Watch for actors Steve Forrest and John Ericson in small chorus roles early in their careers. June 7: Dashiell Hammett films 8:00 PM The Maltese Falcon (1931) 9:30 PM City … Continue reading

The Elsewhere Files

Things you should be doing instead of checking SBBN: Fitzcardboardaldo: Herzog’s classic rendered in cardboard. Follow it up with the making-of documentary The Corrugation of Dreams. Charles Laughton spent time in Texas in 1953 with his one-man show, as well as working on a revelatory new interpretation of Othello. The BFI has more, as well as some footage from a local TV station doing a special on Laughton. Elaine May and Mike Nichols gave an interview to Vanity Fair back in January, and it was amazing. If you missed it a few months ago, read it now. You won’t regret it. W.B. Kelso at 3B Theater embarked on a Glenda Farrell Project a few months ago, and it is fabulous. Classic film lovers do not want to miss this. Raymond De Felitta’s post at Movies ‘Til Dawn about then-famous, now-forgotten torch singer Helen Morgan. And finally, from several months ago, Slashfilm’s article about the original photo doctored for the final scene of The Shining. I would have loved to have seen the whole photo and not just a detail, but why ask for the moon when I have the internet? *** Some recent posts of mine at Spectrum: Revisit: Under the Volcano (1984): The more I see this film, the more I love it. A flawed masterpiece, certainly, but Finney’s performance is indescribable, yet the exact definition of why I love film. Yeah, there’s your oblique faux film criticism for the day. Bask in it. Remake/Remodel: Out of the Past … Continue reading