Archive for the ‘author Brian’ Category



by Brian E. Wilson

Here in Chicago a film critic named Mark Caro has been running an ongoing monthly film series called “Is It Still Funny?.” He screens a comedy movie from the past at the good ole Music Box Theatre and asks people via ballot if the humor still holds up. He has shown such movies as Harold and Maude, Airplane!, Being There, among others. Caro posts the results on the series’ Facebook page. So far audiences have agreed that most of the comic gems can still be still considered comic gems even if the humor seems a bit, oh, of its time. Proof that in the best of cases, humor is timeless after all.

I thought of Caro’s experiment as I approached writing this essay on I Love Lucy, a monumental task that I am sure to mess up, but hopefully in the endearing way Lucy messes up. This show will be turning 66 years old on October 15 (it premiered on CBS on a Monday night at 9pm EST in 1951). This comedy classic immediately became a huge success, drawing amazingly high Nielsen ratings for its entire six season run. The show has lived on in reruns ever since. People still cherish this delightful slapstick-packed series about Lucy Ricardo (played with sheer brilliance by Lucille Ball) who craves fame and the spotlight, to break out of her role as housewife and make it in show business. The “I” in the title belongs to her husband Ricky Ricardo (the invaluable Desi Arnaz), a Cuban-American bandleader perpetually rattled by his wife’s schemes, plans, quest for stardom, and habit of spending too much cash. Joining in the fun is another married couple from upstairs, grumpy Fred (a properly crusty William Frawley) and busybody Ethel Mertz (the flawless Vivian Vance), former vaudevillians now landlords who get caught up in and/or cause the Ricardos’ comical meltdowns.

I loved loved loved this show as a kid addicted to reruns in the 1970s. An unabashed comedy geek at an early age, I could not wait until I Love Lucy would pop up on the New York City-based TV station specializing in showing reruns of old favorites. Of all the classics on repeat for our enjoyment, I Love Lucy emerged as the show that made me laugh hardest. Watching Lucy getting drunk on Vitametavegamen, squashing grapes in Italy, hanging out with Superman on a ledge, or doing a mirror routine with Harpo Marx had me doubled over with laughter every time. Thanks to Lucille, Desi, Vivian, and William, the sharp writers (Bob Carroll, Jr., Madelyn Pugh Davis, Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf), and witty directors (mostly William Asher, but also James V. Kern and Marc Daniels), the show has provided so many wonderful memories. (more…)

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by Brian of Classic Film Boy

The magnificent 1958 film “Gigi” is based upon Collette’s novel about a young woman who is schooled in the finer ways of becoming a mistress. It was turned into a French film and then a Broadway play – a non-musical – featuring the North American debut in any medium of Audrey Hepburn. The play and Hepburn were a hit in 1951.

The great MGM producer Arthur Freed saw “Gigi” in Los Angeles and decided to buy the rights so he could turn it into a musical. When it came to film it, he wanted Hepburn, but she turned down the role. However, Leslie Caron had played the role on stage in London and was cast in the film.

But one of my all-time favorite pieces of movie advice came when Freed was working with Alan Jay Lerner. Lerner and Frederick Loewe are responsible for “My Fair Lady,” but before that monster hit made its debut on Broadway, Freed told Lerner that he had one more movie to make under his contract and that “Gigi” would be that film. Lerner, dealing with out-of-town run-throughs for “My Fair Lady,” was too distracted to think of much else and simply said OK. (more…)

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By Brian, a.k.a. Classicfilmboy

I love her funny face, to steal a line from the title track of “Funny Face,” because I adore Audrey Hepburn.

And this, her first musical, combines everything an Audrey fan would love: romance, comedy, a debonair leading man and Audrey’s stunning wardrobe, an array of late 1950s couture by her favorite designer, Hubert de Givenchy.

As for Givenchy, Hepburn once said: “I depend on Givenchy in the same way that American women depend on their psychiatrists. There are few people I love more. He is the single person I know with the greatest integrity.”

And why talk about clothes? Because it’s a musical about a fashion photographer and the mousy bookstore clerk he turns into a beautiful model. It’s actually pretty amazing that this 1957 film turned out as s’wonderful as it did, considering how many changes it went through from start to finish.

The original musical “Funny Face,” with songs by the Gershwin brothers, was on Broadway in the late 1920s and starred Fred Astaire and his sister, Adele. The Arthur Freed unit actually began developing this musical as a film at MGM but ended up selling it to Paramount. Most of the songs and the plot from the original were dropped, Gershwin songs from some of their other shows were added, and new music was written by Roger Edens and Leonard Gershe. (more…)

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by Brian (a.k.a. Classic Film Boy)

Casual Walt Disney fans may be aware that “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was his first feature-length animated film, but they are unsure how to place it within his career.

The enormous and ongoing success of Mickey Mouse can overshadow Disney’s tremendous output during the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, and some just think he came up with Mickey and followed it with “Snow White.”

In reality, you can chart Disney’s progress as an innovator during the decade before “Snow White.” That film wasn’t a happy accident – although detractors called the notion of a full-length animated film “Disney’s folly” – but a natural extension of what Disney was producing since the beginning of his career. To fully appreciate “Snow White’s” impact, it’s important to understand his career leading up to that achievement.

Before Mickey Mouse made his auspicious debut in 1928, there were Alice and Oswald. And between Mickey Mouse and Snow White, there were the Silly Symphonies. All told, Disney made hundreds of short animated films between 1924 and the release of “Snow White” in late 1937.

Did you know, for example, that Walt Disney was the first recipient of the animated short film Oscar in 1932? And, did you know he would go on to win that category for eight consecutive years, through 1939? Most of those winning shorts were Silly Symphonies, and it’s here that Walt honed his studio’s storytelling flair, animation techniques and use of music that led to “Snow White.”

But let’s start with the Alice comedies. Perhaps, in a very general sense, Alice is Disney’s first princess. In 1923, influenced by Max Fleischer and his “Out of the Inkwell” series, in which animation was inserted into live action, Walt began working on “Alice’s Wonderland” and reversed the situation by inserting a live action little girl into a world of animation. At the age of 21, Disney wrapped up his completed film, grabbed a train and headed to California. (more…)

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