Mark Schenker continues “How to Read a Film” series on screwball comedies with “The Awful Truth” on Sun., Nov. 17, at 2 PM

In this ninth installment of his series “How to Read A Film,” Mark Schenker, Dean of Academic Affairs of Yale College, turns this time to screwball comedies. Like the gangster movie, the Western and the Hollywood musical, the genre of screwball comedy films originated in the United States. The new satirical spin (hence “screwball”) on romantic comedy stressed witty dialogue and zaniness over sentimental love, and placed big name stars in odd situations. As with gangster movies, horror films and lavish musicals, the genre found a ready audience with Depression-era filmgoers who were eager for escapist fare.

The second lecture with film in this series will be on Sun., Nov. 17. The series skips Nov. 24 and winds up on Dec. 1 and Dec. 8. Admission to each lecture is $7. The series continues on Nov. 17 with the 1937 movie “The Awful Truth.” (The series began with the 1934 “It Happened One Night” on Nov. 10.)

Schenker will consider three such films from the “classic” period of the genre, and then turn to a masterpiece of the form from the late 1950’s, when its heyday had passed. The remaining schedule:

Nov 17, 2 PM: The Awful Truth (1937)

Dec 1, 2 PM: Ball of Fire (1941)

Dec 8, 2 PM: Some Like It Hot (1959)

From Bosley Crowther’s 1937 New York Times review of “The Awful Truth”:

To be frank, “The Awful Truth” is awfully unimportant, but it is also one of the more laughable screen comedies of 1937, a fairly good vintage year. Its comedy is almost purely physical- like that of the old Avery Hopwood stage farces- with only here and there a lone gag to interrupt the pure poetry of motion, yet its unapologetic return to the fundamentals of comedy seems, we repeat, original and daring.

Its obvious success with a modern audience is also rather disquieting. Just when it began to appear that an excellent case had finally been made out for spoken wit and adultness of viewpoint on the screen, the mercurial Mr. McCarey, who only a few months ago saddened us to the point of tears with his “Make Way for Tomorrow,” shocks us with a comedy in which speech is subsidiary, and maturity exists only to be deflated into abject juvenility.

Click here for the complete list of upcoming events.

Mark Schenker launches next “How to Read a Film” series on great screwball comedies Sun., Nov. 10, at 2 PM

In this ninth installment of his series “How to Read A Film,” Mark Schenker, Dean of Academic Affairs of Yale College, turns this time to screwball comedies. Like the gangster movie, the Western and the Hollywood musical, the genre of screwball comedy films originated in the United States. The new satirical spin (hence “screwball”) on romantic comedy stressed witty dialogue and zaniness over sentimental love, and placed big name stars in odd situations. As with gangster movies, horror films and lavish musicals, the genre found a ready audience with Depression-era filmgoers who were eager for escapist fare.

All four lectures will be held on Sunday afternoons at 2 PM, starting on Sunday, Nov. 10. The second lecture will be on Sun., Nov. 17. The series skips Nov. 24 and winds up on Dec. 1 and Dec. 8. Admission to each lecture is $7. The series kicks off with the 1934 multiple Oscar-winning “It Happened One Night.”

Schenker will consider three such films from the “classic” period of the genre, and then turn to a masterpiece of the form from the late 1950’s, when its heyday had passed. The schedule:

Nov 10, 2 PM: It Happened One Night (1934)

Nov 17, 2 PM: The Awful Truth (1937)

Dec 1, 2 PM: Ball of Fire (1941)

Dec 8, 2 PM: Some Like It Hot (1959)

Roger Ebert’s capsule take on “It Happened One Night,” from 2009:

The surprise success of “It Happened One Night” made Frank Capra one of the screen’s top directors and provided the prototype for a decade of screwball comedies. Romantic comedies like “When Harry Met Sally…” and “The Sure Thing” draw on the rapid banter, outrageous comic situations and sexy road trip of “It Happened One Night.” The movie even provided inspiration for one of the screen’s most enduring characters, Bugs Bunny.

Mark Schenker’s lectures are accompanied by clips from the films to illustrate the points he is making. His previous lectures on the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Billy Wilder (among others) and the historical context in which the TV series “Downton Abbey” took place were erudite and entertaining.

Click here for the complete list of upcoming events.

 

Rob Harmon’s recommendations 10/22/13

ROB HARMON’S RECOMMENDATIONS 10/22/13

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksI MARRIED A WITCH (dir. René Clair, 1942) — World War II-era movie audiences, perhaps weary from the life-or-death struggles swirling around them, seemed to embrace fantasy with fervor: take stories of the afterlife or angelic happenings like HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, HEAVEN CAN WAIT, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, and THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT as proof of the popularity of escape. Furthermore, few comedic fantasies, then or since, can approach the sheer, delicious gauziness of French émigré director René Clair’s I Married a Witch (its title a winking play on the 1938 Rodgers and Hart musical “I Married an Angel”), released in 1942 towards beginning of the war but at about the height of the popularity of its bombshell star, Veronica Lake.

The story begins in 17th century Salem where a witch about to be burned at the stake casts a spell on her Puritan accuser (a blond-wigged Fredric March!) that he and his descendants will be forever unlucky in love. A tree is then planted over the site of the fire in order to trap the spirits of the witch, Jennifer, and her devilish father Daniel—also burned—in its roots. A quick montage follows the hapless and hen-pecked Wooleys (all played by March) through the years up to the present, when a lightning bolt cuts through a tree limb and at last releases the two witches into the world, initially in the form of vapor-like essences with dissipated voices.

Recognizing the latest in the cursed line Wallace Wooley (March, once again), a weak-willed politician about to be married to his shrewish fiancée (Susan Hayward)—the daughter of the local newspaper magnate—as a publicity stunt on the eve of the upcoming election for governor, they decide to take physical form in order to better wreak havoc: Daniel as the roly-poly, velvet-voiced Cecil Kellaway and Jennifer as Veronica Lake, she of the peekaboo blond tresses! However, an errantly-applied love potion soon throws a wrench into their plans as Jennifer accidentally forces herself to fall in love with Wallace, ensuring that the traditionally goofy complications of “meeting-cute” screwball-style are compounded: this is one witch who will not be denied!

I Married a Witch is as delicate and effervescent a romantic comedy as there is. Fredric March was as reliable a leading man as Hollywood ever produced; Kellaway is fiendishly entertaining; Robert Benchley provides reliable comedic support as Dr. Dudley White, Wallace’s best friend; and Veronica Lake is an ideal screwball heroine: strong-headed, a little dizzy, sexy, and, yes, totally bewitching. If you ever wondered what Lake was like at the height of her powers this movie will give you a good idea. Edith Head’s gowns are gorgeous and the rest of the production is solid, ably crafting a totally fantastic and studio-constructed – as only Hollywood (Paramount, in this case) could do it – storybook version of New England.

Director Clair (who has his own section at Best Video) was a famed early innovator in sound and surreal comedy in his native France, heavily influencing Chaplin among others. His deft touch is evident everywhere in these fast-paced, zippy proceedings, which successfully manage to intermingle the paranormal and politics, the battle of the sexes and American history, love and witchcraft. If you are in the mood for a Halloween film which is fun (and does not feature chainsaws, machetes, or body counts) then look no further than this delightful comedic bonbon.

Hank’s Recommendations 05/07/13

hank_paperJACK REACHER — This film got terrible reviews; The New York Times hated it.

But I liked it (so did IMDB, with a 7.0 rating). True, you might have to be in the mood for this thriller (I was—long day). And it’s true, Tom Cruise is no longer so fresh-faced but simply grimly determined; the fuzz is off the peach. Co-star Rosamund Pike wears an expression of constant, mouth-opening alarm and both Robert Duval and Richard Jenkins are a bit long in the tooth. But the film, itself seeming from the 70s, has bite. The movie’s more than formula and less than cheesy. It’s a good adaptation of a Lee child thriller (which I read), hitting all the sweet spots. Werner Herzog plays the heavy with restrained and eloquent menace, helping to anchor a film that moves along with a pleasingly energized pace. Tom Cruise’s best thriller remains COLLATERAL (with Jamie Foxx). But this one’s satisfying.

If you had a hard day, take a Cruise at Best Video.

Devil_and_Miss_Jones_DVDTHE DEVIL AND MISS JONES – Now here’s a formula that’s fresh as the day it was born—a Depression-era comedy from 1941.

A wealthy New York City magnate takes umbrage to the headlines with a photograph of himself being hung in effigy by disgruntled employees of a large department store he owns – as well as does his sycophantic board of directors. So he takes matters into his own hand by infiltrating the store’s ranks as a lowly shoe clerk in order to unearth the unionizing rabble-rousers.

The movie is exquisitely paced (especially without intruding background music) and acted with exuberant aplomb by a cast that includes Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn, Robert Cummings, Edmund Gwenn and Spring Byington. This socially conscious classic comedy, back when—unlike today’s Depression—there was an actual vision of the future, has wit and charm and heart.