Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight!

FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, A

To view A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum click here.

During the late 1950s, film adaptations of Broadway productions began to dominate the musical genre. Film historians such as Rick Altman, author of The American Film Musical, grumble about this trend, which often resulted in stilted adaptations or clumsy attempts to “open up” the original. According to Altman, adaptations lacked the freedom “to exploit the versatility of the film medium” compared to original film musicals. He compared Vincente Minnelli’s original musicals (An American in Paris [1951]) to his later Broadway adaptations (On a Clear Day [1970]) to make his point, which is valid.

I find A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) to be an exception. It’s light, breezy surface belies its modernist approach to production numbers, clever verbal humor and well-researched production design, making it a unique adaptation of the Broadway hit. Forum is currently streaming on FilmStruck along with other films by director Richard Lester.

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Orson Welles, The Immortal Story (1968), and Television

The Immortal Story (1968) directed by Orson Welles shown: Orson Welles

To view The Immortal Story click here.

In his conversations with Peter Bogdanovich, Orson Welles was often derisive towards television, or at least he was in the 1960s. Back then, television hadn’t reached the levels of sophistication it has today and someone like Welles couldn’t see how leaving film for TV could ever be a viable move. Of course, it should be noted that he and Bogdanovich also have a lengthy discussion about the only aspects of color film they like (how snow photographs being near the top) so it’s fair to say that no matter how inventive and ahead of the curve Welles was most of the time, there was clearly a limit to his vision. In 1968 he adapted Isaak Dineson’s The Immortal Story for French television and, clocking in at just 60 minutes, with an economy and efficiency of an expert old hand, shows that perhaps Welles and TV may have been the best match of all.

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William Wyler’s Wuthering Heights (’39)

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To view Wuthering Heights click here.

Following the success of Dead End (written about here) in 1937, director William Wyler headed over to Warner Bros. to direct Jezebel (1938), a romantic drama set in the antebellum South, starring Bette Davis and Henry Fonda. The film was a critical and commercial success, and earned Davis her second Academy Award for Best Actress. Jezebel marked the first time that Wyler had tackled a period drama; one that is often held up against the more popular Gone with the Wind (1939), with many considering Jezebel the superior film—myself included. Thanks to Jezebel, Wyler proved that he could hold his own as a director outside the control of producer Samuel Goldwyn.

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“He Don’t Believe in Anything” – Mr. Freedom

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To view Mr. Freedom click here.

There’s a scene in Arthur Miller’s American Clock, a lesser known and not very successful later work of his, where a father and son go to a government office during the Depression to try and get the son a work voucher since the father won’t let him live at home. The government worker doesn’t believe the son needs assistance because he doesn’t believe the father would keep his own son out of his house. As the father becomes more agitated, explaining that he, the father, makes only a tenth of a cent per sale at his job, the government worker asks, “So you won’t let him in the house?” “I won’t let him in my house!” the father screams, “He don’t believe in anything.” The father walks away and the son gets his voucher. I thought of this scene while watching Mr. Freedom (1969) and I may be the only person in history that thought of that scene while watching Mr. Freedom (hell, I might be the only person in history who’s actually seen both!). Mr. Freedom is the satire written and directed by William Klein that critic Jonathan Rosenbaum called “conceivably the most anti-American movie ever made” before also stating it was “hilarious.” Clearly, Mr. Rosenbaum and I have very different concepts of hilarity. But more importantly, is it the most anti-American movie ever made? Not really. Mainly, it’s just the most childish.

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Taking Issue with A Boy and His Dog (1975)

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A guest post provided by former TCM intern, Alexandra Greenway.

To view A Boy and His Dog click here.

A Boy and His Dog follows 18-year-old Vic (Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog, Blood (voiced by Tim McIntire), as they scavenge for women in the dystopian Wild West in the year 2024. The film is directed by L. Q. Jones, who is probably best known as a member of Sam Peckinpah’s troop of stock actors, appearing in his Klondike series (1960–1961), Ride the High Country (1962), Major Dundee (1965), The Wild Bunch (1969), The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973). Peckinpah was known for his violent films, some of which including Straw Dogs (1971), garnered controversy based on their content. It follows then that Jones would take the same violent approach to his own filmmaking, as A Boy and His Dog is equally gruesome. It opens with Vic finding a woman after she’s been raped and beaten to near death. Vic, despondent, makes no effort to save her and instead whines that the previous party could have at least left her alive so that he, too, could rape her. So despite the innocuous title, Jones’s film deals with some disturbing material, especially with regard to its treatment of women.

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A Roar, Not a Whimper: The Wind and the Lion (1975)

WIND AND THE LION, THE

To view The Wind and the Lion click here.

A stunning epic adventure that would have been a massive hit had it been released ten years earlier, The Wind and the Lion (1975) is one of those movies I always look forward to revisiting every few years. Its unusual, clear-eyed look at global relations and the weirdness of national politics hasn’t dated a bit, and in fact, I’d say time has helped this film look even better and more relevant than when it was originally released to respectful but muted reviews and box office sales. Additionally, it was only nominated for two Oscars, Best Sound and Best Music (Original Dramatic Score) for one of the best scores Jerry Goldsmith ever wrote. (However, Goldsmith would have to wait a year to bring home his first and only Academy Award for The Omen.) Despite the modest initial reception, I’m here to announce it’s a film worth exploring. [...MORE]

The Swashbuckling Lover: Bardelys the Magnificent (1926)

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To view Bardelys the Magnificent click here.

By 1926 director King Vidor and star John Gilbert were one of MGM’s most bankable duos, thanks to the massive success of their WWI drama The Big Parade (1925). They were immediately thrust into the similarly high-minded period piece La Bohème (1926), and were cast in The Glory Diggers, about the construction of the Panama Canal. But MGM had to drop the latter project, and to keep them working swiftly re-assigned both of them to Bardelys the Magnificent (1926) instead, a tongue-in-cheek romantic adventure in the Douglas Fairbanks mold. It was a departure for the duo, but they proved to have the appropriately light touch, and Gilbert flies across the screen as if sprung from a trampoline. Gilbert pokes fun at his “Great Lover” persona, here pushed into a seducer caricature of Casanovian proportions. Once thought lost, an incomplete print was discovered in France in 2006 and restored by Lobster Films. The third reel is missing, with that section filled in with inter-titles and stills. It is this version that is on DVD from Flicker Alley and is now streaming on FilmStruck.

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Revisiting On the Waterfront (1954)

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To view On the Waterfront click here.

In a limited engagement on FilmStruck, Criterion is streaming On the Waterfront (1954) through October 31. The offer also includes Criterion’s extensive bonus material package. I hope young subscribers will take this opportunity to watch the film, which should be on everyone’s must-see list. As mentioned by one of my readers recently, fewer and fewer young people are turning to classic films for their viewing pleasure. Unable to see beyond the black and white surface and unfamiliar stars, they assume “old movies” have little to offer them.

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The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

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To view The Decline of Western Civilization click here.

To view The Decline of Western Civilization, Part III click here.

It was in January of 2001 while I was talking to Ozzy Osbourne about David Bradley’s They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1968) that I first met Penelope Spheeris. She and Ozzy were doing press interviews at a posh hotel in honor of her Sundance screening for We Sold Our Souls for Rock ‘n Roll (2001), her documentary about the ’99 Ozzfest Tour. I talked with Ozzy first, Penelope second. The contrast in demeanor could not have been starker. Ozzy was amiable but absent-minded, all twitches and trembles. Penelope was sharp as a razor and extremely relaxed. I should have used my short time with Penelope to dig up details on Ozzfest, but instead found myself talking mostly about her The Decline of Western Civilization documentary trilogy. Of the first two (the original and Part III can currently be seen on FilmStruck), Marc Maron in his podcast with Penelope Spheeris told the director: “You captured the essence of punk, and the essence of what killed it.” [...MORE]

The Bleak Reality of William Wyler’s Dead End (1937)

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To view Dead End click here.

Following the success of These Three and the film adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’s Dodsworth (written about here and here), both released in 1936, William Wyler brought another popular Broadway play to the screen: Sidney Kingsley’s Dead End. Kingsley’s play tells the story of a group of young boys growing up in poverty in the slums of New York. With no clear-cut path to a decent life, the boys have nothing better to do but to find trouble, resorting to a life of petty theft, gambling and bullying. After seeing the play in its original run, both Wyler and producer Samuel Goldwyn were interested in adapting Kingsley’s work to the screen. The characters’ struggles were relatable for a Depression-era audience, and while it was risky to make a realistic film for an audience desperate for escapism, Wyler had proven that he could make a film that was both serious and entertaining. Goldwyn purchased the film rights and immediately began production. Starring Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea and Humphrey Bogart, Dead End (1937) was a relatively faithful adaptation of Kingsley’s play. When casting the gang of young boys, Samuel Goldwyn wasn’t having much luck, so he decided to bring several of the boys from the original stage production, including Billy Halop and Leo Gorcy, to Hollywood, offering them a contract. This marked the beginning of the famed “Dead End Kids.”

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