Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Comedies - Todd Liebenow ""

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Favorite Underrated Comedies - Todd Liebenow

Todd has now become a regular contributor here and I am very pleased about that. He runs the wonderful Forgotten Films Blog which I am a big fan of:
He has also just recently started a Forgotten Films podcast which I was honored to be a guest on. Here is the 1st episode, where Todd and I discussed THREE O'CLOCK HIGH(see below also!):
Based on my experience with Todd and the direction he's going with the podcast, I know it's going to be good stuff and a regular listen for me for sure. Keep an eye out for more episodes!
also, follow Todd on twitter!

You know, when it comes to comedy there’s just no pleasing everyone. A movie I find hilarious may not even register a chuckle for you. Still, there are certain movies I am amazed that more people don’t appreciate...or haven’t even seen at all. So here a few of my pics for underrated comedies you need to check out.

Quick Change (1990)
Wait a minute!! Bill Murray directed a movie!?!? It always surprises me how many people have never seen Murray’s lone directorial effort (co-directed by Howard Franklin). Murray, Gena Davis and Randy Quaid play bank robbers who pull off a flawless heist, but then getting out of New York City proves to be problematic. Coming a few years after “Ghostbusters” and a few years before “Groundhog Day,” this is an often overlooked film in Murray’s filmography. Though not well known, I could easily rank this as one of Murray’s best performances. Davis and Quaid are also at the top of their game, but some of the film’s funniest moments come from an, at the time, unknown actor named Tony Shalhoub.

Three O’Clock High (1987)
Director Phil Joanou’s debut film is one of the most unique of the 80’s teen comedies. This story of an awkward high school kid challenged to an after school fight by the meanest bully in history is actually a pretty dark tale. It’s a funny film, but not in the laugh-out-loud-hilarious way. Much of the comedy, for me, comes from the creative approach to the visuals and the manic pacing of the film. I think part of why this film resonates so much for me is that it is one of the most accurate portrayals of what high school was like in the 80’s to ever be put on film. I love the John Hughes 80’s comedies, but those are fairy tales. This is an innovative film that succeeds in creating both comedy and tension through situations that were all too real to this 80’s teen.

Hollywood Shuffle (1987)
This film generated quite a bit of buzz when it was first released due to director Robert Townsend’s unique approach to financing. Townsend paid for much of the film on his personal credit cards and spread the production out over two years of shooting. The film follows a young african-american actor (played by Townsend) as he deals with the challenges of finding roles other than slaves and gang members. The story features many cut-away skit style sequences including a Siskel & Ebert parody “Sneakin’ in the Movies,” a black and white Sam Spade style mystery, and a commercial for the Hollywood Black Acting School. Several members of the Wayans family also appear, pre-In living Color. Townsend makes the film hilarious while managing to say a lot more about racial stereotypes than Spike Lee ever did.

Noises Off (1992)
Every time I ask someone if they’ve seen this film the answer is “no.” So my wife and I have introduced this one to many friends. A lot of film fans don’t care for it, perhaps because the film has very little in the way of cinematic sensibilities, despite being directed by Peter Bogdanovich. There’s no mistaking that it’s based on a play. As a matter of fact, this is a play within a play. It’s about a troubled theater company trying to get to Broadway with their production of a strange British sex comedy. We watch the performance as they attempt to have a dress rehearsal, and again from backstage after months on the road, and lots of in-fighting among the performers. The cast is top-notch...Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Denholm Elliott, Marilu Henner, Julie Hagerty, Nicolette Sheridan, Mark Linn-Baker...and their grasp of comedic timing is impeccable. It feels a bit more like a night at the theater than a movie, but it’s funny none-the-less.

Brain Donors (1992)
When my college roommate first introduced me to this film, I was very leery. He told me that it was a remake of the Marx Brothers film “A Night at the Opera.” So my first thought was, “you just don’t do that!” I couldn’t imagine that anyone could succeed at remaking a Marx Brothers film. But “Brain Donors” works very well. The story, which really doesn’t matter in a film like this, is about a trio of oddballs helping a wealthy widow realize her husband’s dying wish to open a ballet company with his fortune. John Turturro is in the Groucho part, Mel Smith plays the Chico role, and Bob Nelson takes on the Harpo part. The gags fly fast and furious and I can pretty much guarantee that you will miss half of them on first viewing. The three leads certainly perform in the spirit of the Marx Brothers, but wisely don’t do impersonations of them. Directed by Dennis Dugan (who would go on to helm many Adam Sandler films), written by “Real Genius” co-writer Pat Proft, and produced by the Zucker Brothers, this is a film no classic comedy fan should miss.


SteveQ said...

I can never get anyone to watch "Noises Off" either - though a filmed play, that didn't stop "The Sting" form working, did it? Maybe it's just that Americans don't care for bedroom farce. I remember watching it and thinking, "What happened to Nicolette Sheridan's face?" (guess I've gotten used to it since then).

Roger said...


I worked in movie theatres for almost 2 decades and I never heard a louder gale of laughter than the one coming from "Noises Off" when the other film sold out and it was full to capacity due to the spillover. The timing is brilliant and it just doesn't stop. But like the previous comment said, just try someone to watch it with you.

And thanks for remembering "Brain Doners" as well - a noble if failed experiment for me but pleasant, especially when approached in the right mood.

Cheers, R

Siobhan O'Brien said...

I'm ashamed to say I've never heard of *any* of these, but I am tempted to check out the Marx Brothers remake. I always why people choose to tackle classics like A Night At The Opera, it seems unnecessary. Though having said that, the remake of L&H's Babes In Toyland starring Drew Barrymore is one of my all time favourites.

Robert M. Lindsey said...

Hollywood Shuffle is great and very,very under seen. I love what you say about this an Spike Lee.

I saw Noises Off as a college play many years before the movie came out. I never thought the movie captured the manic energy as well as the play, even though it's very entertaining.

The others are on my watch list.

thirtyhertzrumble said...

I love each of these films. Other than stealing Hollywood Shuffle from my upcoming list, I can find no fault with you, sir.

Brain Donors really is a marvel. How the actors could pull off a sincere homage to the Marx Brothers without coming off as trivial wannabes is no small miracle.

Hal said...

THREE O'CLOCK HIGH was unjustly overlooked back in the day. I suppose it came kinda late in a cycle of similar films, but it was really one of the smartest of the bunch. Looks better and better as the years pass.

Great list.