So long, Mickey Rooney

For we classic movie fans, it is impossible not to know and appreciate Mickey Rooney, who we lost yesterday at age 93. I sometimes lament that none of the big stars from Hollywood’s golden age that I like are still alive –only the ones I tend to very much dislike. But Rooney did not fall on the list of disliked stars.

Mickey Rooney 1920-2014

Mickey Rooney 1920-2014

I cannot say I have ever been a big Rooney fan, but it is impossible not to respect him. I’ve been exposed to a good number of his work –though a comparatively small portion of the list of 200+ flicks he made–because of the other people he starred with. I think I’ve seen all of the Andy Hardy and other movies he made with Judy Garland, and those films are a good representation of the lighthearted work he did. Then there’s Boys Town and Captains Courageous, which were among those that proved Rooney’s talent for serious performances. Even before he became a box office draw, Rooney made small appearances in comedic and dramatic spots in movies such as Riffraff and Manhattan Melodramarespectively.

His acting preparation backs up his talent. He was not just some cute kid who was cast in movies because he seemed to have a knack for it. Although his family had a vaudeville background and put him on stage reportedly before he could talk, Rooney also attended the Hollywood Professional School, which was also responsible for training Judy Garland and other future stars.

Even as he aged and stopped playing the lovable teenager trying to catch a girl, Rooney made us laugh. Everyone remembers his unrecognizable role as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’sHis career in the later years went up and down but he kept on working in films and on stage.

History will never forget Mickey Rooney, though it will probably remember him best for those films of his youth. But I think in some ways those movies have a universal appeal and can continue to entertain future generations of children, just ask I enjoyed National Velvet as a kid.

Feature: Liebster Award

MacGuffin Movies has received its first form of recognition: A Liebster Award from R.C. at  The Shades of Black and White.

The requirements for receiving such an honor include sharing information about myself and selecting others to also be honored. This all happens in sets of 11. So to start, 11 things you might not know about me:

  1. I love cats and am borderline crazy cat lady.
  2. I’m getting married next year on Oct. 12 to that Ryan guy I sometimes mention in my posts.
  3. I tend to hold grudges over silly things, especially of celebrities. It took me a long time to get over creepy pictures The New Yorker ran of Katharine Hepburn upon her death and finally accept the woman as a great actress.
  4. I ideally would like to name my children after favorite actors. Marlene is at the top of my list.
  5. Eric Blore is my favorite character actor, followed by Edward Everett Horton.
  6. I love kissing scenes and am always disappointed in old movies when they end without sealing the romance with a smooch.
  7. I’ve gotten really into birding recently, and love that movie The Big Year.
  8. I’m an avid shopper of ModCloth.com where I can actually find fashions that remind me of those I see in classic movies.
  9. I watched Bridesmaids constantly this spring when it was playing on HBO. The same is starting to be true of What’s Your Number.
  10. As possibly indicated in the previous note, I have a slight guilty pleasure streak with crappy and predictable romantic comedies.
  11. I have what might be deemed a collection of hats. I can’t help but buy cloche-style and other bygone-style hats from places such as Goorin Bros. I only wear them in the winter.

The next task is to answer 11 questions posed by my nominator, R.C.

  1. Who is your least favorite actor? Clint Eastwood. Although I admit I have avoided his movies like the plague, I think his performances have always appeared to be rather the same, and annoying.
  2. Despite the fact that you don’t like the actor, do you have a film that you really like with him starring in it? I can’t name any performances, but I do love Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which he directed.
  3. A popular film that you’ll never be able to understand why it’s so popular? Any of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and West Side Story.
  4. A film that you really, really want to see, but haven’t yet had the chance to? Up until recently the answer would have been Wings, but its release on Blu-Ray has meant DVD access for me. Now that distinction goes unexcitedly to the Audrey Hepburn movies that are out of print, such as Love Among Thieves and Bloodline, which are necessary to complete my viewing of all her movies!
  5. What film of your favorite actress is your least favorite? Audrey Hepburn’s The Unforgiven. Her prim French-English accent does not work for her half-white-half-American Indian character.
  6. A favorite actor or actress who didn’t make as many films as you wished that they had? Grace Kelly, no question.
  7. Do you have a film that, if not anything else, you love the dialogue? Probably Charade. It’s full of wit and romance. Any of the Thin Man movies are also dialogue gems.
  8. Favorite film composer? Bernard Hermann. He did a lot of Hitchcock flicks, and who doesn’t love those scores.
  9. Do you have a film that you love, but didn’t like the way it ended, and so you wish you could remake the ending to suit what you believe should have happened? I know Splendor in the Grass had to end with Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty unable to get back together, but did it HAVE to be that way!?
  10. In your opinion, who do you think is the most underrated actor and/or actress? Joseph Gordon Levitt. I think people are starting to catch onto his talent now that he is doing more mainstream flicks. I’ve been watching his indie stuff for years, and he’s picky enough with his role selections that you know you’re in for a good movie if he’s in it.
  11. A film that no matter what, you’ll never watch it? Any of the follow ups to Paranormal Activity. The first one destroyed me for any horror movie involving demon-like creatures.

Now for my 11 picks to receive the award:

  1. Tales of the Easily Distracted
  2. Classicfilmboy’s Movie Paradise
  3. The Lady Eve’s Reel Life
  4. Via Margutta 51
  5. The Great Katharine Hepburn
  6. Backlots
  7. My Love of Old Hollywood
  8. Carole & Co.
  9. Classic Film and TV Cafe
  10. Silver Screenings
  11. vinnieh

And the questions they must answer:

  1. Who is your favorite character actor and your favorite movie of his/hers?
  2. If there is one locale from a movie you could visit or live in permanently, where would it be?
  3. What is your least favorite movie genre and what is your favorite movie that falls into that category?
  4. Is there any movie star whose offscreen life you would want to lead?
  5. Which actor/actress’ life outside of movies do you find the most tragic?
  6. What is your favorite biopic/docudrama?
  7. What fashion seen in classic movies do you wish would resurface?
  8. Have you ever met a celebrity, and if not, who would be a priority person to bump into?
  9. What movie do you love but would like to recast.
  10. Are there any actors whose films you avoid? If so, why?
  11. If you could live your life inside a movie, what genre would it be?

Thanks, R.C. and best of luck to my honorees!

One Wild Oat

Gasser

One Wild Oat (1951)

     Old movies provide wonderful insight to many social aspects of the past, in particular concepts of romance and marriage. I will be getting married next year to a man whom by then I will have been dating for nearly nine years. In One Wild Oat a 17-year-old girl and an only slightly older young man endeavor to wed after a few encounters.

     Watching classic movies, people are often diving into a quick marriage after swiftly falling in love. Not only that, but there is no drawn out wedding planning or engagement period. All the preparation and hoopla around nuptial ceremonies today look nothing like these purported customs of the past. One can cite a variety of social changes that have transpired since 1951 when this movie came out. Concepts of premarital sex and ill thoughts of unmarried people living together surely drove couples toward marriage faster than today. In perhaps a backward way, however, as divorce has moved from taboo, to mainstream to about half of cases, people today seem to move more slowly to wedlock.

     In One Wild Oat, however, the story has very little to do with that young couple. Although Cherrie Proudfoot (June Sylvaine) seeks to marry Fred Gilbey (Andrew Crawford), it is their parents who will occupy the screen for the majority of the flick. Father Humphrey Proudfoot (Robertson Hare) loathes upstairs neighbor Alfred Gilbey (Stanley Holloway). The two lead different lives, one a solicitor, the other a greyhound racer/gambler, respectively. Humphrey most resoundingly dissents to the marriage and because Cherrie is underage she must have parental consent for the wedding.

     As the wives (Vera Pearce and Constance Lorne) generally get along, the men feud over the course of a couple days and dig up dirt to blackmail each other toward’s their whim. Humphrey works to expose Alfred’s extramarital affair to convince him to oppose the wedding while Alfred discovers Humphrey’s “one wild oat” before he was married who may have a son for which he is responsible.

     One Wild Oat is full of comical jabs as these adult men make fools of themselves and dither between feuding and assisting each other in avoiding the awkward situations that arise between they and their wives. Hare and Holloway are supremely entertaining as a timid office worker and a raucous gambler. Making a minor appearance is Audrey Hepburn, who plays a hotel receptionist and gives us about 30 minutes of on-screen gold. Although Hepburn’s novelty might be the only reason to watch this flick, it is not a bad oat by any means, just nothing particularly special.

Roman Holiday

Wowza!

Roman Holiday (1953)

     I far less often rewatch movies as I do search out new ones, but I’m starting to realize that when I do revisit an old favorite, it tends to be much better than I remembered. So goes Roman Holiday for me. Who could count how often I watched it when at the start of my Audrey Hepburn obsession, yet it had been a few years since I’d reunited with the actress’ first starring role.

     Roman Holiday is sort of the full package in cinematic storytelling. It is adventurous, innocent, cleverly humorous and throws in a bit of romance and heartbreak for good measure. In truth, who would not want to live Princess Anne’s adventures through an exciting foreign city with a handsome stranger?

     Hepburn is this princess who stops in Italy as part of a goodwill tour of Europe. We learn from the opening scene where she greets and endless line of diplomats while dressed in a white ball gown complete with regal medals that she is not so different from any other young woman. Standing for what feels like hours, Anne pulls her foot out of her shoe to give it a break only to fail to get it back into the high heel. When Anne finally sits, the shoe is left lying in front of her while she maintains her poise.

     That night, Anne suffers a nervous breakdown after comparing the fun-loving Italians partying on the street beyond her window to the meticulously scheduled day ahead where she again must let her royal persona supersede her natural behaviors. A doctor is summoned to sedate the princess, but as soon as her caretakers leave the room, Anne sneaks out of the Colosseum and onto the Roman streets.

     Once the sedative catches up to her, Anne reclines on a street bench, which is where foreign correspondent Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) finds her. He has no idea who she is but realizes quickly she is well read. Not wanting her to be arrested, he tries to arrange a cab ride home but instead is stuck hosting the young woman in his apartment where the innocent sexual tension begins.

     The next morning, Joe heads to work after missing an appointment to interview Princess Anne, not knowing the press conference was cancelled because of her highness’ “illness”. When he spots a photo of the princess in the paper, he realizes she is asleep in his room. Arranging with his editor to score a hefty bonus for an exclusive interview, Joe dashes home to ensure he keeps the young woman with him.

     Anne, who has introduced herself as Anya Smith, wakes with all the surprise and reservation a princess should when finding herself in a strange bed and in men’s pajamas. She departs Joe after borrowing money and the man lets her go, but ensures he runs into her later. The two then start a day full of exploration and adventure that is joined by Joe’s photographer friend Irving (Eddie Albert), who discreetly snaps photos using a cigarette lighter camera.

     The adventures culminate in dancing by the river where royal secret service spot the young woman. The ensuing calamity results in a brawl and Anne hitting one of her pursuers over the head with a guitar. When Joe falls in the water, Anne dives in as well and the two swim to the opposite bank where they share an unexpected kiss. Both are in love, but both know Anne’s duty to her country will outweigh any feelings the two have. She returns to the Colosseum and her caretakers a new woman, more mature but more in control of her movements than ever before. The princess’ meeting with the press is rescheduled for the next day where she discovers Joe and Irving’s true identities and realizes they knew her’s all along.

     Perhaps the most emotional scene in Roman Holiday is this last one. Anne is still reeling from her romance and in any other setting would have run into Joe’s arms upon the joy of seeing him again. Instead, she must maintain the deliberate and restrained facade any princess must and takes questions without allowing her gaze to be fixed on her love. Breaking protocol, however, Anne announces she will meet a few members of the press and walks down the row of men and women shaking hands and offering calm greetings. She deliberately starts at the end opposite Joe and Irving so as to linger with them last. We are privy to all that passes between the couple during their slow handshake through the shots of their faces that to all else look perfectly normal. We can feel the tension and how difficult it must be for both parties to keep from embracing one another.

     Hepburn was perfectly cast as Anne, although her perpetually youthful look creates some question as to the age difference between the princess and the reporter. The young actress, however, naturally had the poise, accent and upbringing that easily painted her as royalty (her mother being an actual baroness). Her performance brings all the spontaneity we would want to see in a sheltered young woman living life on her own for the first time. The well-written dialogue rolls well off Hepburn’s tongue, such as in her sedated state when she instructs Joe to help her undress for bed.

     Peck, too, fills the role aptly. He lets the awkwardness of the original meeting with Anne play comically without having to be a funny actor himself. He also makes clear to us from the outset that Joe is not the sort of man who is really looking to exploit a girl for his own profit, so we can relax and know nothing sinister will befall Anne.

     William Wyler directs this high comedy. The master was given two options by the studio for shooting. He could either film it in color on a soundstage or in black and white on location. We can all be assured he made the correct choice. Rome itself becomes another character to the story as we experience some of her most famous sites and culture. The Italian extras also add another level of realism as they patter off half their dialogue in their native tongue.

Feature: A Movie Through Its Posters — Love in the Afternoon

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Ring a Ding Ding

Billy Wilder’s international appeal does not surprise me but I had no idea his 1957 Love in the Afternoon was so widely distributed around the world. When I search for movie posters to accompany my posts, I usually find a couple different versions for any given movie and sometimes a foreign one. When I looked for a visual for Love in the Afternoon, however, I found these:

 I frankly had a hard time finding the American poster (it’s the black curtain one; bottom row, left) as every other country seemed to name the movie after its protagonist: Ariane. The wide variety of styles illustrate how other countries thought they could best market this movie about a young woman’s romance with an international playboy.

The countries of origin are (from left to right, top to bottom): Denmark, France, France, France, Germany, Italy, Italy, Italy, Italy, America, Poland, Spain.

The French posters vary greatly in their style whereas the Italian ones all have the same feel to them. Although it is similar to the American poster, the German version using the drawn shade is my favorite. Its colors are beautiful while still capturing the same symbolism as the American take. Which do you prefer?

Despite the curtain, however, there are no such concealing devices used in Love in the Afternoon to hide this secret romance. Cello student Ariane (Audrey Hepburn)  lives in Paris with her father Claude Chavasse (Maurice Chevalier), a private detective specializing in illicit affairs. His latest subject is American businessman Frank Flannagan, played by Gary Cooper, and the jealous husband of a client is prepared to gun the man down for sleeping with his wife. Hearing this, and admiring Frank’s photograph, Ariane takes matters into her own hands. She ultimately finds herself climbing into the playboy’s suite and switching places with the woman so that the gunman has no cause to shoot.

Intrigued by this woman, Frank desires to see her again, but because of her father and her cello lessons, Ariane can only visit him in the afternoon. After one brief encounter, the American hits the road, but when he returns next year Ariane has a game of her own going. She offers false stories of a long list of lovers thus making Frank extremely jealous. Lucky for her, when the man finally discovers her true nature he is not dissuaded.

Being an Audrey fan, I love this movie unceasingly. Despite looking like a teenager and playing a character not far gone from that age, Audrey was 28 but still plenty shy of Cooper’s 56. The relationship should seem obscene, yet it does not. Audrey manages to play the alluring woman Cooper’s lover could easily desire while still maintaining some innocence. To those wanting to think their relationship consisted merely of some afternoon chat time, Wilder inserts hints that suggest otherwise. The passage of time, often preceded with something like the shedding of a fur coat, indicates the relationship spent plenty of time in the bedroom, whether we want to believe that of Audrey or not.

Wilder did a great job with Love in the Afternoon of catching Audrey in the finest lights. There were a handful of shots throughout when I thought, wow, she’s gorgeous. One could collect numerous artistic snapshots by freezing on certain of this woman’s expressions as she laughs, cries and loves.

The Divorce of Lady X

Gasser

The Divorce of Lady X (1938)

     I had not planned to watch a movie when I turned on The Divorce of Lady X, yet somehow I got sucked in. For one, this was my first time seeing Laurence Olivier in color, which took me by a somewhat delighted surprise. Also I was intrigued by the Merle Oberon character’s brash forwardness –all while wearing a hoop-skirted dress of Civil War-era style.

     When a fog traps a large party of women attending a fancy ball in a hotel where barrister Everard Logan (Olivier) is also stranded, a brazen young woman (Oberon) talks her way into sharing this stranger’s two-room, two bedded suite. Before Logan knows what has happened, this Leslie has taken his bed and his pajamas and forced him to sleep on a mattress in the sitting room. He is quite furious, but by breakfast the two are getting along swimmingly.

     The trouble starts when Mr. Logan, a divorce attorney, goes to work the next day and meets with a client/friend (Ralph Richardson) who says his wife stayed the night in another man’s suite and at the same hotel where Logan had just rested. Naturally, the barrister assumes his mysterious Leslie –who wore a ring on her third finger– is this Lady Mere and he has just destroyed a marriage. In actuality, Leslie Steele is the daughter of Judge Steele (Morton Selton), who often presides over Logan’s cases. When Leslie visits the man’s office to return his pajamas, she realizes his confusion and goes along with the ruse. The two continue to court as Logan ensures the witness to Lady Mere’s indiscretion is unable to identify him as the correspondent and as he learns that Lady Mere has had quite a few ex-husbands. Leslie even gets the actual Lady and Lord Mere to go along with the charade as she prepares to reveal the truth, but the woman will not get the reaction she expects.

     The Divorce of Lady X  was not much more than a cute romantic comedy. Olivier and Oberon are well-suited together as they will again prove a year later in Wuthering Heights. Our sympathy easily rests with our male protagonist who is being taken for a ride by a somewhat snotty and inexperienced woman. The story actually reminded me some of Love in the Afternoon in which Audrey Hepburn‘s Ariane conceals her name and concocts a false and extensive list of ex-lovers to make her more desirable to Gary Cooper‘s loverboy Frank. Both these women think that being a bad woman makes them more appealing to their mates. Although Ariane’s experience drives Frank wild with jealousy in the 1957 movie, it causes a cringe for Mr. Logan who cannot seem to stop himself from loving the troublesome dame regardless of her past.

Feature: Movie Posters from Italy

I have noticed through my searching for movie posters to accompany the 150+ movies I’ve blogged about so far that the Italians produced much more appealing posters than the American-created ones. I cannot be sure why this is. Are the Italians more artistic? More risqué?  Or is it just that the look of an Italian movie poster for a picture made in the U.S. is just different than to what we are accustomed? Below are a few examples I’ve stumbled across with the Italian images on the left. If you have spotted any other examples let me know, as I’m likely to come across others requiring a follow-up post down the road.

ITALY vs. AMERICA

Perhaps a semi-nude Rita Hayworth would have been too scandalous for American movie-goers, but this Italian poster for Salome is simply striking not only because of the actress’ gorgeous form, but the color scheme is simply beautiful.If you didn’t know what Dark Victory is about, you might just be confused by the foreign poster, but knowing that the woman faces blindness, that wispy shadow across her eyes is telling versus the expressionless Bette Davis in the American poster.I purchased this Italian version of Funny Face after I was frustrated to find no U.S. version featured the famous “funny face” photograph of Audrey Hepburn that inspires the title song. I was also always disappointed to find that no original poster for Citizen Kane featured the memorable image of Orson Welles standing in front of the picture of himself. Granted the Italian poster does not offer this either, and perhaps it is not your cup of tea, but it’s pretty cool.

Now, there is little difference between these two Chinatown posters but what strikes me the most –and what inspired me to recently purchase the Italian version– is that Faye Dunaway‘s eyes in the clouds are much more vibrant and obvious in the foreign poster.

Cinematic Shorts: Wait Until Dark

Ring a Ding Ding

Wait Until Dark (1967)

     I realize for someone who professes to hold Audrey Hepburn as her favorite actress, I have failed to review many of her films here. The trouble is, I have seem them all, at least those that are in print and obtainable, and I am not huge on watching stuff I have already seen when there is such a wide expanse of new-to-me flicks to be consumed.

     Nevertheless, Wait Until Dark crossed my mind this week and I thought it essential to blog about. This “horror” flick –although it is not THAT scary– came late in Audrey’s career when she was no longer sporting her signature clothing or hair-do looks. In fact, she is deliberately plain in this movie because she plays blind woman Susy Hendrix. Audrey really was a master at playing the vision-impaired married lady, who attends “blind school” and adeptly makes here way through a basement apartment in New York.

     The story is an additional gem on top of Audrey’s work. By some sort of mix up at an airport, Susy’s husband Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) brings home a doll some woman forced on him. The husband pretty much exits the picture for the remainder of the action as he’s off being a photographer somewhere. The first shocker moment comes when Susy opens a closet and a woman’s body hangs in a garment bag from the door, but Susy is totally unaware. Next, Susy begins to get a number of visitors. Three men, played by Richard Crenna, Jack Weston and a masterful Alan Arkin, upon finding the place is occupied by a blind woman, begin to put on an act to get what they want: a doll filled with heroin. Susy mistakenly trusts one of the men, but is able to detect inconsistencies with the others and suspicious activities she cannot see but can hear.

     Susy solicits the help of an obnoxious neighbor girl to hide the doll and track down her husband, but ultimately Susy must defend herself. The result is a high-stress survival scene in which Susy breaks all the light bulbs in the house, dumps flammable photo-producing fluids on the villain and holds matches before him.

     The trailer for Wait Until Dark warned that the theater would go completely black at one point and that it would be highly frightening. They were not lying. There is one instance in the film that will make anyone jump the first time they see this (watching the movie with friends last summer I got quite a bit of amusement from this). Alan Arkin might outshine Audrey here as the criminal we begin to realize might just be out of his mind.

     Wait Until Dark was produced by Audrey’s first husband Mel Ferrer but at the end of that union when they were already facing marital troubles. The couple had appeared together first on Broadway in “Ondine” and later in the dreadfully long War and Peace. Ferrer, who was not a great actor, would go on to do more directing work. They had a son, Sean, who goes with the last name Hepburn Ferrer.

     The music for Wait Until Dark was done by Henri Mancini would also did Audrey’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s  and Charade.

I can't see you, but I lit this match so you could see how crazy my face is right now.

What to Watch: Friday

The royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton holds no great appeal for me unlike many in America, however, the grand event, set for Friday, brings with it a cinematic celebration of sorts on Turner Classic Movies. That evening, the channel will air a number of royal-themed films, all of which happen to be good flicks.

Royal Wedding (1951)

First up at 8 p.m. ET is Royal Wedding starring Fred Astaire, Jane Powell and Peter Lawford. I have never been in love with Astaire but usually watch his films anyway. This one, however, is among my favorites. Astaire and Powell are a brother and sister musical duo on tour in London for Elizabeth II’s wedding. Powell meets Lawford and the two have an adorable romance. Meanwhile, Astaire tries to court a dancer. The musical contains the famous “Dancing on the Ceiling” number whereby a trick of simultaneously rotating camera and set make it seem as though Astaire is actually walking on the walls and ceiling (the same effect was used in certain scenes of 2010′s Inception). This is also the first solo directing credit for Stanley Donen.

Roman Holiday (1953)

 
Next on the schedule is Roman Holiday airing at 10 p.m. Given that Audrey Hepburn is my favorite actress, I naturally love this flick directed by William Wyler. It was her first major role and she won her only Best Actress Oscar. Hepburn plays Princess Ann who runs away while visiting Rome and is rescued by American reporter Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck, after sleeping pills have her adopting a street-side bench as a bed. The young princess explores the city anonymously, although Bradley has figured out who she is. No one could have played the free-spirited Ann like Audrey.

The Glass Slipper (1955)

A new take on a classic princess story, Cinderella, is the subject of the 12:15 a.m. airing of The Glass Slipper. Leslie Caron plays the pauper who is lucky enough to attend the prince’s ball. This flick is not as great as the previous two, but it is a nice live-action musical with one of the greatest musical stars of France: Caron. It also offers a realistic take on the fairy godmother character, who is a crazy old lady that fell from a prominent position in society after “reading too many books”.

The Swan (1956)

Finally, if you can make it to 2 a.m. you will be entreated to a romantic Grace Kelly flick that predicts her eventual royalty. The Swan casts Kelly as a princess whose family has fallen out of the good graces of a greater sect of the family that includes the queen. To save the family, Kelly’s Alexandra must win over a distant cousin (Alec Guinness) and marry him. The trouble is, she is in love with her tutor (Louis Jourdan). It is one of the less memorable of Kelly’s roles but a great one anyway.

 

The Great Race

Ring a Ding Ding

The Great Race (1965)

     With the death of Blake Edwards last week, it was a lucky coincidence I had recorded The Great Race recently. What Edwards had hoped to be “the funniest movie ever” is a great example of the writer/director’s work and one that I imagine will continue to entertain audiences of all ages for decades to come. Edwards was best known for his comedies — The Pink Panther movies and Operation Petticoat – but also contributed significant dramatic films — Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Days of Wine and Roses.

     By re-teaming the duo seen in the wildly successful Some Like it Hot from 1959 (not his film), Edwards might not have made THE funniest movie of all time, but he sure crammed a load of laughs into this nearly three-hour saga. The relationship between Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in The Great Race, however, is quite different from the pals who sought Marilyn Monroe‘s affection in their previous on-screen pairing. Curtis plays the Great Leslie, a stunt man of sorts who arranges an automobile race from New York to Paris (moving westward). Lemmon plays Professor Fate, the villain who seeks to foil Leslie’s stunts and to defeat him in the race. Natalie Wood is the suffragette who in this early 20th century time period seeks equality for women. She wrangles herself a test job as a reporter who will participate in and cover the race.

     The story is just a device by which Edwards was able to insert gag after hijink and slapstick galore onto the big screen. Wood is beautiful if not utterly annoying, Curtis is his usual dry, handsome, not-contributing-a-whole-lot sort; and Lemmon steals the show with sidekick Peter Falk as Max. Lemmon is almost unrecognizable with black hair and mustache, hunched back and smarmy villanous laugh. What he is recognizable as, however, is the bad guy from the Wacky Races cartoons that Hanna-Barbera premiered not long after this movie. Dick Dastardly and his canine sidekick Muttley (who really does resemble Falk) starred in the race-based cartoons that I remember watching as a kid in the ’80s and ’90s. This would be yet another example of when Edwards managed to create such absurd and memorable characters that they were equally suited to the world of animation as they were in live-action (the other being Pink Panther, of course).

Max & Prof. Fate/Dick Dastardly & Muttley

     I regret that I only became aware of Edwards over the course of the past months through the Pink Panther movies. Even as an Audrey Hepburn fan, I was not aware he was the brains behind possibly her most famous role. His sort of comedy is the type that really appeals to me — it is stupid, easy laughs over which a person of any age or intelligence level can crack up. Although it is long, The Great Race is the sort of movie you can pick up and leave off anywhere in the film because, as I mentioned, it is not about the story or the climax but rather is important for the fun one has along the way.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

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