Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Comedies - Spenser Hoyt ""

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Favorite Underrated Comedies - Spenser Hoyt

Spenser Hoyt works at Scarecrow Video, the Seattle Public Library and helps out at The Grand Illusion Cinema. He contributed a bunch of reviews to Destroy All Movies!!! and sometimes does stuff on the internet when he’s not busy watching movies or listening to records.

Allegro Non Troppo(1976)- Italian animator Bruno Bozzeto’s riff on Fantasia has been a favorite of mine since I stumbled onto it as a kid. The animated bits are simply wonderful and alternate between extremely silly and downright sad. The live action framing scenes are broadly played and involve a bombastic director who has never heard of Walt Disney (“Who is this guy Prisney?”), a cruel conductor, an animator who is kept in chains and an orchestra comprised of elderly women.

The Big Bus(1976)- Even though it beat Airplane to the cinemas by a few years most people have forgotten about this disaster parody. Directed by the hard working James Frawley the film’s cast alone makes it worth watching but, for me, it comes down to Joseph Bologna and Stockard Channing—two highly underrated performers who liven up just about everything.

Foul Play(1978)- Poor Colin Higgins, he died way too young and really should have a better reputation as a screenwriter and director. He wrote the scripts for Harold and Maude and Silver Streak then went on to direct 9 to 5 and this underrated gem. Sure Chevy Chase is kind of a smarmy schmuck but the rest of the cast is outstanding with Dudley Moore’s swinging weirdo a stand out. My favorite scene involves two old ladies playing an all dirty word game of Scrabble.
Andy Warhol’s Bad(1977)- This black comedy isn’t nearly as well know as the other “Andy Warhol’s” and I guess that is because it isn’t on DVD, it isn’t directed by Paul Morrissey and Joe Dallesandro isn’t in it. Carroll Baker runs an electrolysis hair removal business from her home. To help make ends meet she rents out rooms to a trio of female assassins. Into her life comes Perry King portraying a sociopathic drifter whose general disposition is not much different than the students the actor would encounter a few years later in the Class of 1984. Bad has a very grim view of human nature and the comedy is pretty extreme, for example a baby getting thrown out a window is played for laughs. This is definitely not for all tastes, but I like it and that’s why it is on this list.

The Gazebo(1959)- I loved this movie as a kid, though I only understood about half the jokes. It also made me a fan of Glenn Ford and for that I am eternally grateful. It’s a lightly hued dark comedy about a screenwriter who hides a corpse under a backyard gazebo. The cast is a blast and includes Debbie Reynolds, Carl Reiner, John McGiver, Bert Freed, Martin Landau and Herman the Pigeon. The Gazebo was released by Warner Archives on DVD last year.

Vernon, Florida(1981)- Some people criticize this early Errol Morris documentary as being condescending but I disagree. Admittedly film makes the citizens of a tiny town in the panhandle of Florida look pretty weird but I think it is put together with a lot of affection and really doesn’t go out of its way to put anybody down. For a few years it was one of my most quoted movies and we would play it almost daily at a video store I worked at. There is a monologue about turkey hunting as a cure for diarrhea and a preacher gives a sermon about the word “therefore.” If those scenes don’t make you laugh then I don’t know what to say.

The Runnin’ Kind(1989)- This one falls into the dramedy category. I’d seen its neon pastel cover on the shelves of video stores for years and dismissed it as some sort of John Hughes knock off. It’s actually an enjoyable representation of the Southern California punk rock scene of the late 80s and presents the tale of a yuppie maggot from Ohio who travels to LA with a rocking chick drummer. Our hero soon discovers the coolness of punk rock but his friends and family back home don’t approve. It features a real all-girl band (The Screaming Sirens) and has a pretty fun cast. The front woman for the band is Pleasant Gehman who was a big part of the LA punk landscape and she helped write the script giving the whole thing a lot more credibility than similar films.

Love Crazy(1941)/I Love You Again(1940)- Since they both star Myrna Loy and William Powell these pictures are doomed to live in the shadow of the Thin Man (that’s a joke, son). Loy and Powell make a nearly unmatchable on-screen couple and both of these films are pretty damn funny (Double Wedding is good too). I Love You Again pushes along a forced plot and doesn’t give Loy enough to do but Powell proves himself to be game to all sorts of ridiculous situations and spends the final reel in drag. Love Crazy makes better use of Loy’s charms and the film has an efficient pace thanks to veteran director W.S. Van Dyke (who also did the Thin Man movies). Both showcase the stars chemistry and all these movies and more can be seen in TCM’s Myrna Loy and William Powell Collection. I wonder how these films would be regarded in an alternate universe where the Thin Man movies don’t exist?

The Glass Bottom Boat(1966)- This later FrankTashlin film is often overlooked but I think it’s one of his best (Susan Slept Here is another nifty neglected Tashlin offering) and I’m typically not a big Doris Day fan but here she is goofy and charming plus she is a mermaid! Actually it’s just a suit she wears to entertain the passengers who ride her dad’s (Arthur Godfrey) titular boat. Rod Taylor plays a rocket scientist who falls for the mermaid’s charms but, after a few misunderstandings, starts to suspect his new girlfriend is a Russian spy. There are tons of goofy gags involving reliable sources of humor like vacuum cleaners, banana cream pies, nosy neighbors and Paul Lynde in drag just to name a few. While the plot is a bit formulaic it definitely succeeds as a fun breezy movie and that’s all it tries to be. Pretty much every time I put this on the in-store monitor at Scarecrow Video somebody either rents it or wants to buy it. As a bonus feature the DVD also contains the Oscar winning Chuck Jones/Maurice Noble cartoon The Dot and the Line.

That Darn Cat!(1965)-I really wanted to pick a Disney comedy for this list. As a kid I could count on at least one amusing G-rated comedy from Disney every summer and, thanks to The Wonderful World of Disney TV show, many Sunday nights as well. There were a few nostalgic favorites like the Dexter Riley films, The Absent Minded Professor, Gus and The Apple Dumpling Gang that don’t quite hold up but I think That Darn Cat! is really good and it is also historically important in the Disney cannon as it is Haley Mills last Disney film and Dean Jones first Disney film. The plot centers around a mischievous Siamese cat named D.C. who helps solve a crime. The film mostly avoids any cutesy-pie kitty antics and finds most of its humor from its plot and characters. The supporting cast is outstanding and includes Neville Brand and Frank Gorshin as kidnappers, Elsa Lanchester and William Demarest as nosy neighbors plus Roddy McDowall waves a shotgun around. I guess there was a remake but I’d rather just watch this version again.

Evil Roy Slade(1972)- Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson originally conceived Evil Roy Slade as a TV series about a bad guy who killed a different good guy every week. Their concept was reworked into this laugh packed stand alone western parody that was made a couple of years before Blazing Saddles. The jokes are relentless and range from silly to surreal and the cast is packed with all sorts of reliably funny folks (Henry Gibson, Dick Shawn and Milton Berle to name a few) but much of the hilarity belongs to the criminally underrated John Astin who has never been funnier. He stars as the titular “meanest villain in the west” who makes an attempt at reforming his ways after he falls for a schoolteacher. Astin portrays Slade as strange and childlike with a disposition towards casual violence and eyebulging. I loves me a good made for TV movie and this is probably the funniest and, therefore, best.

Runner Ups: The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Used Cars, Get Crazy


Robert M. Lindsey said...

Love Crazy probably has the thickest atmosphere of sex in it's opening scene of any film I've seen. Oh my word, I couldn't believe it, all done with words, and words that could get by the censors. Just fantastic.

Foul Play is a great one too.

I need to check out The Big Bus, The Gazebo, The Runnin' Kind, and The Glass Bottom Boat.

I saw That Darn Cat at the drive in as a kid but I fell asleep.

Kev D. said...

Foul Play! Classic. I grew up on that movie.

The Taxi Driver said...

Three cheers for Vernon Flordia.

Ned Merrill said...

What they said about FOUL PLAY.

SteveQ said...

Evil Roy Slade is a roadrunner cartoon with live action... and that's a good thing! The making of Vernon Florida has become legendary, as Morris was shot at by people that may or may not have been committing insurance fraud by intentionally losing limbs - odder than anything in the film itself.