Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos Show

"The average AP usually works 6 days a week for 60 - 80 hours per week."

Aren't these the kind of shows that could/should be pulled together on a part-time basis?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Screwball or Not

"Screwball Comedy:  A Genre of Madcap Romance" by Wes D. Gehring has been a useful starter/foundation/guide toward studying Screwball, but it's time for this study to extrapolate and run some of its own theories up the flagpole.

As noted in an earlier post, Gehring's key elements of screwball are:  a male antihero, the leisure class, pursuit of the "right" romantic partner (not the one that is expected or will maintain an image, please the family or keep a business flourishing), an urban setting, a premium placed on (and rewards doled out for) a child-like perspective, little interest in politics (though moral stands are taken), and a baseline dissatisfaction with the status-quo.

The thing is, there are films that don't hit all of those marks and feel more screwball than comedy, but aren't worthy of the screwball label.  Screwball is something special.  It's a genre, but it's also an honorary title.  For example 20TH CENTURY is fully screwy, but the characters are more childish than child-like, class doesn't play much of a role (if any), and there isn't any discernible dissatisfaction with the status quo.

So, either that definition of screwball is too rigid, or not all movies considered screwball are fully screwball.  For now let's stick with the possibly rigid definition, and sort screwball films into four sub-categories:  classic screwball (Gehring), screwball (20TH CENTURY), romantic comedy and comedy.

Don't get me wrong, they're all still screwball.  I'm not going to start a campaign to pressure Netflix and/or AFI into updating their taxonomy. You don't need to talk me down and coax me to step-back from the ledge reserved for Sci-Fi nerds.  It's just that it feels like sorting all the screwballs out this way might reveal why some of these films are super strong while others are just kind of amusing.

So, of the films viewed so far...


These four titles are paragons of screwball, plus each contains all of the elements noted in Gehring's book.


These are definitely screwy, but are missing some of the elements noted in Gehring's book (and it seems he's onto something because films that don't hit all those marks just don't seem to work as well as the ones that do).  Quality-wise, "20th Century" belongs with the paragons, but it doesn't quite fit the current requirements for Classic Screwball. "To Be or Not To Be" is like a B-side to "20th Century," it's strong but not paragon strong, and it misses Classic Screwball on a few points.


Neither contains any of the elements identified by Gehring, both are simple, inoffensive, and a bit sluggish dialog-wise.

This film has more in common with THE SHAGGY D.A. than MY MAN GODFREY it's unclear how it ever got slotted in with screwball.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

PLATINUM BLONDE | 1931 | Screwball Stew

While chasing a scoop, star reporter Stew Smith (Robert Young) falls for blue blood Ann Schuyler (Jean Harlow).  He charms her, they marry, and then he begins sliding down a slippery slope of self-compromise in the name of love.

Before he knows it, he's Mr. Ann Schuyler, more DIY project than husband, and becoming more and more estranged from himself, his friends, his newsroom buddies, and his best pal Gallagher (Loretta Young).

PLATINUM BLONDE is Classic, as in prototypical, Screwball.  The story is set in a city, Stew is an unlikely hero, he falls for an unlikely girl, he's playful and irreverent, and the crux of the story is love, not class, and not politics (though class divisions are central).  It ticks all the boxes.

It's also solid Capra, right down line.  Smart, funny, and utterly human. Stew is a hero who needs to learn that he's actually perfect, just as he is.  Capra's heroes are often fully formed and do not need to change, but tend toward being almost too open-minded in that they're game to play along and try anything.  Which puts them at risk of becoming lost.  But when push comes to shove and the joke isn't funny anymore, they will push back and return to their core.  

Which could be the link between the screwball anti-hero being both child-like and dissatisfied with life.  Their sense of adventure and/or enthusiasm for life and/or fondness for other people will lead them to get taken for a few rides, but they keep getting in line for the next go 'round because their youthful optimism prevents them from becoming cynical, jaded, serious, dire, dull or rigid.

 When Stew falls for Ann Schyler, he's actually illustrating his dissatisfaction with the status quo.  It's as though he disdains class divisions so much that he's jettisoned them from his reality, enabling him to fall for her.  He makes cracks about blue-bloods to his editor, but he is actually beyond the issue.  He truly believes it's possible for he and Ann to love each other as people instead of symbols or types.  He believes it so much that he bends and bends and bends for Ann, before he finally breaks.

The film could be seen as reinforcing a "stick to your own kind" mentality, or driving home that Stew and Ann never had a chance because the rich really are different, but that's too easy.  If Ann had been as strong as Stew, they'd have been fine.  If it were an alternate reality and it was his buddy Gallagher that had been born with money, they'd have been fine.  It's about the people.

Released: 1931
Writer(s):  Robert Riskin (dialogue), Jo Swerling (adaptation)Harry E. Chandlee (story), Douglas W. Churchill (story)
Director: Frank Capra
Leads:  Robert Williams, Loretta Young, Jean Harlow
Genre:  Screwball, Rom-Com Plot summary and reviews of PLATINUM BLONDE @ Rotten Tomatoes

Friday, March 11, 2011

Howard Hawks' Monkey Business | 1952 | Not funny "ha-ha," but funny "genre"

Barnaby Fulton (Cary Grant) is a chemist working on a youth serum, but has failed to get the results he seeks. A lab monkey secretly starts to create his own concoction, using ingredients from Barnaby's serum.  But when his experiment is interrupted but the custodian, he hides it in the water cooler.  The monkey's mixture actually works, and soon Barnaby, his wife Edwina (Ginger Rogers) and eventually the owner and board of directors become unwitting test subjects, and begin acting like kids, teenagers and very young adults.

Howard Hawks' Monkey Business is not a super-successful comedy, but it's definitely more comedy than screwball.

The word screwball is defined as eccentric or whimsical, and this film seems to fit the bill.  It's a silly concept, a serious scientist thinks he's invented a youth serum when really it's a lab monkey that came up with the formula.  There's a bit of a love triangle in that Hank Entwhistle (Hugh Marlow) is carrying a torch for Edwina (Ginger Rogers) even though she's happily married to Barnaby (Cary Grant), and she doesn't seem to mind that he does and her mother definitely encourages it.  Combine these two elements and you get Edwina regressing, second guessing her choice of Barnaby, and calling Hank and her Mother to tell them Barnaby beats her.  Meanwhile Barnaby recruits neighborhood kids to scalp Hank, and goes out joy-riding with young, gorgeous Miss Laurel (Marilyn Monroe).

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Palm Beach Story | 1942 | Not Screwy Enough

Geraldine and Thomas Jeffers are broke. Geraldine believes in her husband as an architect and recognizes he could invest more time in his art if he didn't have to support her, so she leaves him. On her way to Palm Beach to secure a divorce, a ridiculously wealthy man falls for her and she arranges for him to invest in one of Thomas' projects. Thomas never agreed to the divorce and is on his way to Palm Beach to win her back/prevent her from leaving for good, unaware that his appearance could torpedo the first big break of his career.

"Palm Beach Story" has all of the elements of screwball but doesn't feel screwball.  It's got sharp dialog, city dwellers, cocktails, complicated love relationships involving miscommunications, misunderstandings and schemes that will work as long as no one says the wrong thing; and each element is successful, but the parts are greater than the whole.

The best screwball feels as though it could fly off the rails at any moment, and this one is fairly cautious, deliberate and the leads don't seem greatly invested in what they could gain or lose.

Geraldine (Claudette Colbert) is initially selfless, but the way she handles her new suitor, John D. Hackensacker (Rudy Vallee), makes her a bit unlikeable.  And the fact that Thomas is still after her makes his character a bit questionable too.

Finally, the wedding at the end isn't quite the salve it's meant to be, it fails to match (much less top) the wackadoodle wedding at the beginning.  The film starts with a mysterious montage that is intriguing, but it's explanation is a let down and it's weak as a set-up for the end.

Still, THE PALM BEACH STORY is worth watching for some great scenes (the cop and the suitcase, the train station, the Quail and Ale Club, Mr. Hackensacker's sister and her lover), and because it's Sturges there's plenty of fantastic dialog.

Released: 1942
Director: Preston Sturges
Leads: Cladette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Rudy Vallee, Mary Astor
Writer: Preston Sturges