“X” MARKS THE SPOT: Classic Comedy

by John S.

“X” Marks The Spot is a series that zooms in on a specific section of the giant treasure map that is the Scarecrow Video floor plan – spotlighting some of the gems (known and unknown) hidden within Scarecrow’s vast collection. Join the hunt.

On the south side of Scarecrow Video’s mezzanine is the Comedy room, containing countless tales guaranteed to tickle your funny bone – or at the very least plant a wry smile on your face. However, just outside of the Comedy Room is the Classic Comedy section. These films are what you might call vintage comedies, as most of them date from the 1960’s and much earlier. So while The Hangover and Wedding Crashers are considered classic comedies, you won’t find them in this section. However, although they don’t feature a naked Ken Jeong leaping madly out of a car trunk or Vince Vaughn tied to a bed, some of these older films are just as amusing in their own, sometimes even loonier, way. Some to check out:

EASY LIVING (1937) Jean Arthur was basically the Julia Roberts of the 1930’s and she shines in this charming screwball comedy about a down-on-her-luck typist who is one day riding on a bus past a rich man’s mansion when he tosses his wife’s super-expensive fur coat out the window – which lands on our heroine’s head. She naturally claims the coat as her own – but this leads to everyone assuming she is his mistress and makes her major tabloid fodder. Enter the tycoon’s son (Ray Milland) who finds himself falling for our lovely lady. Needless to say, complications and yuks follow. Obviously, this was ages before everyone knew a genuine fur coat is nothing but a magnet for bright orange spray paint. Preston Sturges wrote the sharp script, with Arthur and Milland nailing their engaging roles.

CAMPUS RHYTHM (1943) This early tale of female empowerment stands out from a lot of Classic Comedies for its focus on a heroine who willingly turns her back on a successful singing career to further her education and better herself. Of course, this is easier said than done when everyone around her seeks to dissuade her from her plan. Gale Storm plays our idealistic lass who takes on an assumed name and enrolls at a distant college – while everyone back in New York searches high and low for her. Think of Campus Rhythm as an early version of Working Girl – only with a heroine who already has a successful career but wants something more, and won’t let anyone put her in a niche.

IT STARTED IN NAPLES (1960)  Star Power is the name of the game in this enjoyable “opposites attract” tale. Sophia Loren plays a singer/dancer/parade queen/possible hooker living on the isle of Capri who butts head with no-nonsense Philadelphia lawyer Clark Gable who is in Italy to sort out the affairs of his recently-deceased expat brother. Which includes an irascible son named Nino. Except Loren’s character is Nino’s guardian – and she ain’t letting no Americano take her ward back to the US of A without a fight. Of course, our feuding couple falls in love which further complicates matters. Shot on location in Southern Italy and the wonderful paradise of Capri, this flick is both a comedic and visual treat. Loren and Gable make for one combustible couple.

BOY’S NIGHT OUT (1962) Imagine if the guys from The Hangover were a quartet of Manhattan executives and, instead of burning down Las Vegas, settled for Thursday nights tomcatting about town. James Garner plays the sole bachelor in the group who reluctantly aids his married buddies (Tony Randall, Howard Duff, and Howard Morris) in scoring a Lad Pad where they can secretly party once a week. Kim Novak plays the blonde beauty whom they “hire” to entertain them every Thursday. However, she is actually a sociology grad student who is undercover researching the habits (disgusting, obviously) of the Married American Male – and has some tricks up her sleeve. Then the wives start to get suspicious. Hilarity and just desserts ensue. And you thought the guys from The Hangover were dawgs…

COME FLY WITH ME (1963)  If you took the ladies from Sex and the City, put them in flight attendant gear, and zapped them back to the swinging sixties – this flick is what you would get. Dolores Hart, Pamela Tiffin, Lois Nettleton, and Lois Maxwell (the original Moneypenny from the Bond flicks!) play our globe-trotting heroines whose main concern beyond surviving jet lag is landing Mr. Right. Or, in the case of Hart’s icily ambitious character, a ridiculously rich Mr. Right. While some of the gender politics here are a bit dated, the film nicely conveys the vicarious pleasure of glamorous jet-setting which movies used to give audiences. Before 12-hour international flights with sweatpants, fuzzy slippers, and three shots of Z-Quil became the norm. Nettleton is a standout as the most down-to-earth of the ladies – and therefore the most likable.

DEAR HEART (1964) Ah, the joys of the Out-of-Town Conference/Convention. Or in other words: “What happens on Business Travel, stays on Business Travel – don’t call me, I’ll call you.”  Such is the case of this romantic comedy wherein two strangers  played by Geraldine Page and Glenn Ford meet while staying at a New York hotel filled with with folks attending a national conference. Of course, they fall for each other. Of course, there are obstacles in the way. Not the least of which:  they live in different cities and Ford’s character is about to marry someone else. Unfortunately, they don’t invoke the “No Strings Attached” rule which would have saved them tons of headaches. Think of this cute charmer as an early cross between Lost in Translation and Pretty Woman. The script also plays fair by not making our leads 100% likable, giving them imperfections that make them feel less like cookie-cutter rom-com leads – and more like real human beings.

 

NEXT SPOT: Murder/Mystery/Suspense – Film Noir

 

 

John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Theo James in anything, Steve Zahn in everything, Halloween (movie & holiday), South Park (cartoon & neighborhood), and Scarecrow Video – not necessarily in that order.

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