Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Comedies - Laird Jimenez ""

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Favorite Underrated Comedies - Laird Jimenez

Laird is awesome. He's one heckuva an outstanding regular contributor here and I am very grateful he's always game for a new list.
Follow him on twitter here:
an Letterboxd here:
also, read him here:

Hellzapoppin' (1941)
The title song promises "Anything can happen, and it probably will!" and the movie makes good on this claim a hundred times over. By the time a Frankenstein hurls a bear at a ballerina, you will know this to be the truth. Adapted from a popular stage show led by the Vaudeville duo of Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson, the movie version immediately announces its individuality by destroying the fourth wall spectacularly when the projectionist of the movie you're watching is introduced as a main character (played by Stooge royalty, Shemp Howard). It's a total gag factory that is only ever momentarily delayed by some passing lip service to the "story." The only thing it's comparable to is Tex Avery or Looney Tunes at their wildest. Probably more under-seen than it is underrated, it's in desperate need of a quality home video release.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
The closest the 1990s ever got to Hellzapoppin'. I always liked Gremlins 2 as a kid, but when I watched it last year for the first time as an adult, I realized how previously underrated it was by me and just about everyone else. If it suffers in comparison to Gremlins, it's only if you think of it as trying to achieve the same ends. More so than Gremlins, the sequel feels like a personal film. One gets the feeling that Joe Dante made a list of everything he found amusing throughout the history of cinema, then threw caution to the wind and included everything on that list in this movie that is more of a satire of corporate culture and the entertainment industry than it is a rehash of the events of the first Gremlins. Infused with cartoon lunacy but grounded by real values, this is a masterpiece that deserves reevaluation by movie buffs that share Dante's passion.

The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (1955)
Luis Buñuel's pitch black comedy is about a mentally disturbed man with a Giallo-esque origin story who one day decides he's going to become a serial killer. As the saying goes, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." Luis Buñuel, devout atheist, did not believe in God, but he does find hilarity in the absurd situations people find themselves in when their desires are constantly frustrated. This one also needs a decent home video release in the U.S . (as does most of Buñuel's Mexican output).

Let's Go Native (1930)
Leo McCarey (whose Ruggles of Redgap I almost included on this list too) directed this Pre-code musical comedy that stars Jeanette MacDonald and Jack Oakie and features Kay Francis and Eugene Pallette in supporting roles. It's about as bawdy as 1930 allowed and continually interrupts its own forward momentum with what are essentially slapstick and gag-laden skits. Oakie steals the show as a cab driver named Voltaire McGinnis. Everyone he meets says, "You don't mean you're the French philosopher?!" By no means a masterpiece, but (surprise!) another title in need of a home video release.

The Great Garrick (1937)
David Garrick, star of the British stage, has been invited to perform at the Comédie-Française, but when word reaches the French troupe that Garrick plans to "teach them how to act," they decide they're going to prank him so hard that he'll learn some humility. What ensues is a prank war between actors that shows how funny it can be when real-life talented actors portray less than talented actors on-screen. James Whale's direction is elegant as always. This one is available through Warner Archive.

A Thousand Clowns (1965)
This film adaptation of a popular stage play doesn't overcome its "staginess," but what it lacks in cinematic quality it makes up for in pathos. Adapted for the screen by the playwright, the story depicts a shiftless manchild (portrayed by Jason Robards in one of his finest performances) who is tasked with raising his 12-year-old nephew despite his own apparent inability to take care of himself. There's something very Wes Anderson-esque about the characters, so... recommended if you like his movies. This one is available through MGM's MOD library.

Burn After Reading (2008)
While the Coen brother's ridiculous, satirical skewering of the intelligence community was not roundly ignored, I feel like it sort of slipped through the cracks by being sandwiched between the far more popular No Country for Old Men and the far more personal (though arguably underrated) A Serious Man. I'll admit I was a bit underwhelmed the first time I saw it, but it has gotten better with each subsequent viewing. Everyone is superb in it, but Richard Jenkins' tragically pathetic dope role stands out more and more for me. "You think I am a loser?... You know, I wasn't always the manager of HardBodies...let me show you something:" *produces photograph of himself as a Greek Orthodox priest.

In the Loop (2009)
If your eyebrow is raised at my inclusion of this on a list of "underrated" comedies, let me just say that no matter how well received this movie was, it wasn't enough. Possibly the closest my generation will get to an era-defining, political satire that is as funny as it is pointed (see for instance, Dr. Strangelove for the Cold War nuclear race era). Writer/director Armando Iannucci's gift for vulgarity is unparalleled. If you disagree, you can ram your opinion up your shitter with a lubricated horse cock.

Friday (1995)
Maybe not underrated, but probably under appreciated. Cinematic portrayals of the "ghetto" in the 90s that received widespread kudos from white audiences tended to depict urban, black neighborhoods as a hell of gang violence and misery (Boyz in the Hood, Menace II Society, etc). Friday doesn't necessarily reject that depiction, but it at least shows that within these neighborhoods, in addition to poverty and violence, there are also normal, working families with wholesome values and great senses of humor. Maybe the moral grandstanding at the conclusion is heavy handed, but also, maybe this movie was sincerely trying to reach an audience that, well, isn't you. I found this to be one of the most endlessly quotable comedies of the 90s. MVP: John Witherspoon.


Ned Merrill said...

Saw LET'S GO NATIVE a few years ago on 35mm. Great one!

Anonymous said...

You are correct, sir. One cannot tout IN THE LOOP loudly (or more often) enough! Sure, it got some critical notice and a screenplay Oscar Nomination, but, it was largely set aside as a quaint little British indie that made a pathetic $2M at the box office.
It's a terrific film!

garv said...

Faint of heart, beware! HELLZAPOPPIN' is available in its entirety on YouTube: