Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Films Series - Comedies ""

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Underrated Films Series - Comedies

I know the term "underrated" can be met with some measure of uncertainty as it is difficult to determine which films qualify for this moniker. In this series I propose to highlight several different genres and offer up, to the best of my and my contributor's abilities, our idea of what movies need a little boost in your attention. As I've been in a mode of comedy lately, I thought I'd kick off with that. Everybody loves comedies right? Below is a list of films(old favorites and more recent discoveries) that I think get short shrift.

Ridiculously charming film. Please check out what my friend Ned Merrill had to say in his mention of it on his film discoveries of 2011 list. Yet another great recommend I got from him. The film has this freewheeling feeling that was just so perfectly expressed in many 30s comedies I've come across. This movie is absolutely one of my favorite discoveries in the past few years and one that got me started on a(still ongoing) Raoul Walsh retrospective. Really really hoping for a dvd release of this soon...

BLUEBEARD'S EIGHTH WIFE(1938; Ernst Lubitsch) A Lubitsch film written by Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder?! Yes please! My favorite discovery of 2012. Just as wonderful as you'd hope it would be based on all the folks involved. Claudette Colbert & Gary Cooper are just delightful. Add to that David Niven and Edward Everett Horton and it's a "can't miss" scenario. Cooper is an actor I had really underrated over the years. I've never been a huge HIGH NOON fan and I always found his acting a bit too wooden when I was first getting into older films. Boy has he turned me around. Especially his comedic performances. He's just not a guy you would think could pull off comedy, but he does it so spectacularly well. He's comic collaborations with Lubitsch and Hawks are just outstanding.

WHO'S MINDING THE MINT(1967; Howard Morris)
On paper, it doesn't necessarily feel like I should enjoy this movie as much as I do. First off, it's in the vein of IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD, which is a "classic" of the 1960s that I pretty much hate. Anyway, somehow this thing charms me. Jim Hutton plays a mint worker who accidentally destroys a bunch of money and then gets into some serious wackiness trying to replace it. This all-star comedy cast includes Milton Berle, Bob Denver, Walter Brennan, Joey Bishop, Jack Gildford, Jamie Farr and the lovely Ms. Dorothy Provine. I was very excited when this finally arrived on Sony MOD. Larry Karaszewski featured in on Trailers from Hell a while back:

 NEIGHBORS(1981; John G. Avildsen)
I remember hearing Stephen Spielberg once say in an interview that he challenges anyone to put on any Kubrick film and not watch the whole thing. I do have that reaction to some Kubrick films, but oddly NEIGHBORS is one of those films for me. Once I put it on I end up watching at least half of it if not the whole thing. I find it a mesmerizing concoction of strangeness that is just so compelling and kinda brilliant somehow.

KENTUCKY KERNELS(1934; George Stevens)
I've heard it said that Wheeler and Woolsey are less known amongst other famous comedy teams of the same period because their films were never sold into syndication for TV. I guess this makes sense, but it is an unfortunate thing because they are quite a funny duo indeed. In this film they inherit a southern estate through Spanky(of The Little Rascals), but find themselves embroiled in a Hatfields/McCoys type feud when they arrive to move in. Fun times. Directed by THE George Stevens and it shows. One of my favorite W&W films for sure. Out from Warner Archive as is a lovely new 9-film collection (worthy of any Eclipse set Criterion has ever released).
Available from Warner Archive: HERE 

RUSTLER'S RHAPSODY(1985; Hugh Wilson)
Wonderful, silly spoof of 30s & 40s B-westerns with a comically underappreciated Tom Berenger at the center. This film lands tonally somewhere between BLAZING SADDLES and THE BIG LEBOWSKI for me as far as genre bending comedies go. Apparently a passion project for POLICE ACADEMY director Hugh Wilson and it shows. The "good guy" standoff is quite memorable. I'm also a big G.W. Bailey fan so seeing him as the town drunk/narrator was quite welcome. I was first turned onto this film by Mr Beaks(Jeremy Smith) of Ain't It Cool News and I thank him for it.

LOVE ON A BET(1936; Leigh Jason)
A working class SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS-esque screwball road trip comedy with charm to spare. Got me started on Gene Raymond who I was relatively unfamiliar with prior to this. Adorably clever script by P.J. Wolfson(who also scribed the equally adorable VIVACIOUS LADY(see below)) & Philip J. Epstein(CASABLANCA).
Available from Warner Archive: HERE 

SAFE MEN(1998; John Hamburg)
I've been waiting for many years for John Hamburg to fulfill the promise of this, his first feature. I've heard some call it BOTTLE ROCKET-lite and that comparison is probably apt. It is a great little quirky comedy that found something of a cult audience on VHS. I feel like I hear it spoken of less and less recently and that is disappointing. The cast here is ridiculous(Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Paul Giamatti, Mark Ruffalo & Michael Lerner) and the script is a geeky esoteric mix of silliness and offbeat references. Right up my alley. Also worth a look is Hamburg's student film TICK, which is included on the dvd.

Really enjoyable double role by Edward G. Robinson. Jean Arthur gives this even more charm. A rare John Ford comedy that has become a favorite for me over the past couple years. My son really loved this one too which was neat to see. I initially was turned onto it via The Horn Section.No DVD as of yet.

Would make a delightful Edward G. Robinson double feature with  (also underrated) Capra-esque crime comedy BROTHER ORCHID.

TALL STORY(1960; Joshua Logan)
Perhaps most notable as Jane Fonda's first film, this ambrosial college comedy is quite appealing. It finds Ms. Fonda in a single-minded marital pursuit, much to the surprise of star basketball player Anthony Perkins(her intended target). Can she turn his head away from the free throw line long enough to convince him they walk down the aisle? Watch and see. This sort of late 50s/early 60s view of campus life has always been enormously appealing to me and I cannot even explain why. It's all very 'Leave it To Beaver-the College Years' in a lot of ways, but with an undercurrent of sexuality that is pretty cute. Those who are mostly familiar with the Perkins from PSYCHO need to do themselves a favor and check out his remarkable career beyond that film. The day I first saw PRETTY POISON and PLAY IT AS IT LAYS truly opened my eyes to what an amazing actor he is. This film is a bit more of a candy-coated confection, but he does well here too. As for Fonda, she's quite irresistible to say the least and it's easy to see that she was going places. Supporting cast includes Ray Walston and Murray Hamilton. Title song by Bobby Darin.

VIBES(1988; Ken Kwapis)
Ken Kwapis has been directing movies and TV for a quite a spell, but I believe the first time I really noticed his name was when he directed two episodes of one of my favorite shows: FREAKS & GEEKS. From then on I was on 'Kwapis alert' and started to go back and look at his older stuff. I love Bob Zemeckis' 80s output, and this film is very much in a similar "adventure comedy" vein to ROMANCING THE STONE, but I prefer VIBES. For one thing, Jeff Goldblum is in full Goldbum here and that's always a good time for my money. And Cyndi Lauper is much better here than you'd expect from a pop singer taking on a one-off acting gig. Writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel(NIGHT SHIFT, SPLASH, SPIES LIKE US) did the script and I have to give them some credit as it has some very clever comedic moments dealing with psychics.
Watch VIBES for free on Crackle Right now: 

ALIAS JESSE JAMES(1959; Norman Z. McLeod)
I am really quite a big fan of Bob Hope. Ever since I heard Woody Allen mention him as an influence, I've sought out his films. His classic comedic persona injected into a western makes for a spoofy good time. I should expect nothing less from director Norman Z. McLeod who is responsible for some of my favorite comedies(IT'S A GIFT, HORSE FEATHERS).

MYSTERY MEN(1999; Kinka Usher)
I am fascinated by high budget failures. Just to see any large-scale vision realized is often compelling to me. Many of these flops are floppy for a reason(i.e. they suuuck), but occasionally there are those films that, had been released 5-10 years later, might have really found an audience. MYSTERY MEN is not wholly successful as a super hero film or a comedy, but there is really a lot to like here. From all the oddball heroes and villains(and the comedy derived therein) to the very stylish production design, I see more and more worthwhile stuff with each viewing. It feels like the love child of Terry Gilliam and McG or something. The frenzy for super hero movies being what it is right now, I really can't imagine that this one wouldn't have garnered much greater success if it'd come out in 2012.

VIVACIOUS LADY(1938; George Stevens) George Stevens a reliable director to be sure(see above). I expect to find a few more unheralded classics like this in his fimlography before I've finished exploring it. An assistant biology professor(Jimmy Stewart) falls for a big city night club singer(Ginger Rogers), but when he attempts to introduce her to his conservative father things go awry. Ginger does her best to make a good impression, but fails quite comically. Charming screwball comedy(and another of my top favorite discoveries from 2012). Needs a dvd!!
(But is viewable on Youtube - Here

FANDANGO(1985; Kevin Reynolds)
The year is 1971 and a group of University of Texas fraternity boys called 'The Groovers' make one final pilgrimage to go and get their friend "Dom". A screwball-roadtrip-adventure comedy from the director of WATERWORLD.  It's a film that shows a great deal of love and affection and features great performances from a young Kevin Costner & Judd Nelson. Put out by Amblin.
A Tarantino favorite. He was quoted in Empire as follows: "Fandango is one of the best directorial debuts in the history of cinema. I saw Fandango five times at the movie theater and it only played for a fucking week, all right."

GOING IN STYLE(1979; Martin Brest)
I kinda can't shut up about this movie. It is one of my all-time favorites. Back in late 2010, I picked it to be covered on The Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite cinema podcast( I know there are a lot of MIDNIGHT RUN fans out there(also directed by Brest) and rightly so, that movie is amazing, but I wish there were more folks checking out GOING IN STYLE as well. I know Zack Carlson got a chance to give it a look last year as it ended up on his 'Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012' List( It's just a neat little movie about some old guys(George Burns, Art Carney & Lee Strasberg) who decide to take up a life of crime. It's got laughs, it's got heart, it's got some stellar older actors giving stellar performances. Track it down people. I also wish Brest's 1st film HOT TOMORROWS was more widely available as I am a big fan of that one too.

IT'S A GIFT(1934; Norman Z. McLeod)
This is currently my favorite comedy film, just edging out DUCK SOUP for that top spot. I know folks are certainly aware of W.C. Fields, but most that I encounter haven't seen this one. It's a good gateway for Fields as it exemplifies his comedic paradigm of humor derived from people annoying each other. It's an oddly paced film, but all the set pieces work very well for me. If you see the film and like it then start working your way through Field's others starting with THE BANK DICK, MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE and MILLION DOLLAR LEGS(a zany comic cousin to DUCK SOUP). He's a damned funny dude. 
(I also selected IT'S A GIFT for GGTMC coverage back in 2010. If you wanna hear me talk about it, listen here:  

THE 'BURBS(1989; Joe Dante)
Joe Dante  is one of my favorite directors. Period. This is not only for his remarkable body of work, but for his attitude about films in general. People have called Quentin Tarantino a walking film encyclopedia and I am quite sure he is, but Dante is quite certainly that kind of encyclopedic resource. He also of course runs Trailers From Hell, which is a site I love and one which shares my personal goal of keeping older films in the public consciousness. Anyway, of all Dante's excellent films, THE 'BURBS is my personal favorite. I have seen it countless times and it amuses me to no end with every viewing. His love of films and filmmaking comes through in spades in every scene of this wonderful, farcical tale. I have told Mr. Dante in person that I would camp out for a Criterion Blu-ray of this film and I would. I'd just settle for ANY Blu-ray release though. If you've never seen this film or have in some way written it off, do yourself a favor and watch it again. Tonight. Follow it up with GREMLINS 2(which is also a bit underappreciated in my opinion but quite brilliant).

(P.S. -  I have interviewed Dante on a couple occasions for the GGTMC. If you are interested, listen here:
and here:


Robert M. Lindsey said...

Some great stuff here! A bunch I need to add to my watchlist. Are you going to make these into lists on Letterboxd? That'll make it easy for me to add to my watchlist. I've got a few (i.e. those very few Netflix has available) in my queue.

You didn't mention the fabulous Andy Griffith as the bad guy in Rustler's Rhapsody. It was great to see him in that role. I saw the movie when it came out and then in college we watched it several times. I'd forgotten about it though, thanks for reminding me.

I just watched Alias Jessee James earlier this year. I too love Hope, as do the kids, but my wife doesn't care for him.

Vivacious Lady is a good one too.

I had some friends who loved Fandango, but I only saw it once and it didn't' grab me.

I'd add Peeper with Michael Caine as a hard-boiled detective, Zorro, the Gay Blade with George Hamilton, and Radioland Murders as some of my favorite underseen/underrated comedies.

SteveQ said...

Wouldn't consider "It's a Gift" as underrated, but that's why you had the disclaimer.

I saw "Who's Minding the Mint" in the 1960's and I've enjoyed it ever since, but "Neighbors" and "The 'Burbs" are interchangeable in my mind - in fact, I often confuse them.

Rupert Pupkin said...

Robert- I'm making a letterboxd list right now, good call. Re: Andy Griffith, I'm starting a new column that RHAPSODY will be a part of so I will cover the film a touch more in-depth then.
Can't wait to see your whole list!

Steve-NEIGHBORS and the BURBS would make a nice double.

Brittani Burnham said...

That's funny you mentioned Safe Men, I just watched that a few weeks ago and wondered why I had never heard of it before.

Myster Men was pretty awesome! It got a little long, but I enjoyed it. Plus I always wanted a bowling ball with a skull in it after seeing that.

thirtyhertzrumble said...

Great list. I do have to wonder how I've never even accidentally seen SAFE MEN. It starts three of my favorite people. Also, now I'll have to watch VIBES. You had me at "Kwapis alert".

Ned Merrill said...

So glad you've enjoyed SAILOR'S LUCK so much. It would probably go on my own such list.

Ed South said...

First off, Rustlers Rhapsody has been a favorite of mine since it came out. Great comedy, one of the few to come close to that Airplane! style of zanny without being a clone or just stupid!

Vibes is also one of my life-long favorite films which I saw upon its release. Another great Kwapis film that might easily get overlooked is "Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird" which easily transends it's children's television roots into a very funny road picture. The Muppets are all great in it, and there are some fantastic human cameos as well. Definatly worth checking out if you're a fan of Ken Kwapis or just want to see a really well done based on a TV show movie!

Rupert Pupkin said...

Brittani-I wanted a bowling ball like that too and I may some day get one!

30HZ-glad you're a fellow Kwapis fan!

Ned-yeah I owe you big time for turning me onto SL. Here's hoping Fox Home ent puts out an MOD in the next couple years!

Ned Merrill said...

Re: SAILOR'S LUCK. I don't trust we'll see a Fox MOD, or that if we do, it will look decent. Hoping the fact that it's Walsh and pre-Code will qualify it somehow for a package / box set, either of Walsh films or Fox pre-Code titles.

Rupert Pupkin said...

Ed- FOLLOW THAT BIRD was a favorite of my little girl's for a while last year. Saw it a bunch. I am a fan for sure.

Ned-yeah a boxset seems more likely indeed. Maybe an Eclipse set?

Ned Merrill said...

Yes, an Eclipse set is sort of what I was thinking of, as Criterion has licensed Fox titles before. They did a Lubitsch musicals one...why not a Walsh pre-Code @ Fox one?

Anonymous said...

NEIGHBORS is a classic example of NOT giving the audience what they want - and, then risk having it be called a failure. Everybody was expecting another ANIMAL HOUSE or TRADING PLACES, but, instead got this weird Twilight Zone like off-the-wall comedy. Belushi further confounded audience expectations by switching roles with Ackroyd so that he played the uptight straight-man. I haven't seen it in many many years, but, I'm sure some of its oddball charm still works.

Hal said...

Quite a few that I like a lot here; WHO'S MINDING THE MINT? is one of my all time favorites. Just love the oddball cast and Howard Morris' direction of it all.

GOING IN STYLE is one of those films that I end up watching all of anytime I run across it. 3 really rewarding performances here. I especially get a kick out of Carney in Vegas and interacting with the street musicians.

Forgotten Films said...

Great list, as always, Brian!

Speaking of "Vibes, you know what Ken Kwapis movie I love..."Sesame Street Presents Follow that Bird"

Of course I'm somewhat biased because of my work as a puppeteer, but the movie is well made and like most of the things that the Sesame folks do, it's very enjoyable for adults. Quite funny actually.

SteveQ said...

I was going to do a response post, but it's surprisingly hard to decide what's underrated! Short list: Drop Dead Gorgeous, Night of the Creeps, Support Your Local Sheriff!, The In-Laws, Malcolm, Evil Roy Slade (good twin-bill with The Villain).

Caftan Woman said...

Loved this piece. You've given me a lot of titles to check out.

"Who's Minding the Mint?" is, for me, THE comedy of the 60s. My late dad never saw Joey Bishop but that he would reference the "sewer guy".

One of my sisters is a great fan of Wheeler and Woolsey and I got to see "It's a Gift" in a theatre a couple of years ago. My sides ached.

My son is crazy about "The Whole Town's Talking". Wonder what it is about that movie. We suspect Jean Arthur has something to do with it.

An 80s film that never fails to leave me weak with laughter is the Sherlock Holmes spoof "Without a Clue". Just thinking about it can get me going.

Rupert Pupkin said...

joestemme-yeah NEIGHBORS' oddball charm still works for me. Very much a "Twilight Zone Comedy" of sorts.

HAL-I love that Vegas moment with Carney too!

Todd-FOLLOW THAT BIRD is a fun family film for sure. My daughter went through a heavy phase of watching it a lot at one point last year.


CW-"The sewer guy", I love that! Re: Wheeler and Woolsey, I've only really started to dig into their filmography in the past year or so. Just finished watching all the films in the new Warner Archive set and that was fun.
I'd love to see IT'S A GIFT in a theater, I know Joe Dante is a fan and almost ran it here in LA at the New Beverly a while back, but I guess there was some issue getting a print then.
So funny, I watched WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING the 1st time with my son and he really liked it too!
I must check out WITHOUT A CLUE!!

sherpstein said...

I very much love THE BURBS and had never seen that one sheet before. Thanks.