Rupert Pupkin Speaks: My Warner Archive Grab Bag: THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT, PENN & TELLER GET KILLED ""

Monday, December 2, 2013


Before I'd ever really heard of Raoul Walsh or the greatness of his comedies, I was a young college kid flipping through the pages of Danny Peary's amazing Guide For the Film Fanatic. It was a book they changed my life. It had a lovely checklist in the back with a ton of movies and the only indication as to why is a two-letter abbreviation after the title. When I came across THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT on that checklist I had to quickly look for the abbreviation after it. Peary had labeled the film with two abbreviations, a 'CM' and also a 'PR'. A quick check of Peary's abbreviation guide indicted that this meant he considered this film to not only be a 'Cult Movie', but also gave it a 'Personal Recommendation'. These two letter combos together usually indicated that the movie in question was certainly interesting and worth a look. 
It was my first exposure to Jack Benny (outside of some voice over in some Looney Tunes cartoons - unbeknownst to me), and he was amusing here for sure. I wouldn't feel the full force of his comic brilliance until some time later when I saw him in Lubitsch's TO BE OR NOT TO BE. Regardless, THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT is a good time and a charming fantasy comedy in and of itself. Its depiction of 'heaven' is one of the more humorous that I've seen and there were a lot of films around this time attempting to portray "up there" in one way or another. There's almost a certain philosophical bent to it in its treatment of Esrth and just how much of an afterthought it is to the "Chief" (Guy Kibbee) and all his angels. Jack Benny plays an accidentally 'fallen' angel who has been assigned the task of blowing a very special horn at precisely midnight on Earth. This bugle blow will bring about the end of the planet as its inhabitants know it. Two of said inhabitants are a couple of other fallen angels and they will do a thing they can to stop Benny from blowing that apocalyptic note. There is much zaniness in the adventure that follows and Jack Benny is an enjoyable straight man.
I am kind of fascinated by the fact that there were a string if this type of comic fantasy films around this time. Reminds me of the fantasy film boom if the 1980s, though those films were obviously a lot less 'heavenly'. Another amusing thing about this film in particular is that I guess Jack Benny didn't care for it too much. Apparently it bombed at the time of its release and became an endless source of ribbing for Benny for years afterward (especially on his radio show). Just another example of the difference between what a movie is thought of at the time it comes out versus many years later when it can find a life as a classic to many film fans.

PENN & TELLER GET KILLED (1989; Arthur Penn)
"When the Velvet's playing, I like to watch the Three Stooges.."

Here sits another example of me being kind of a moron and ending up not seeing a film for dumb reasons. When I used to work in a video store in college, I distinctly remember us having this film on VHS. If I recall, we had it slotted into the "Special Interest" section. This lead me to believe it was just some kind of performance video and not a narrative film proper, so I never bothered to see it. It wasn't until just recently when I noticed that Warner Archive had it in their "Cult" section that I decided to give it a go. I've always been drawn to cult films and am kind of a sucker for the moniker. Further investigation into this movie made me realize it was directed by Arthur Penn who I am a big fan of. His film NIGHT MOVIES is among my all-time favorites. That combined with cult status got me on board. Now the film itself is kind of a performance-sploitation narrative, but it's still a good time. There are lots of instances of Penn and Teller being put into situations where they are demonstrating their particular brand of 'bad boy magic'. Sometimes it comes out of a scene and sometimes they are just performing on stage in the movie. Either way, they are entertainers at their core and they do absolutely entertain. It's perhaps obvious, but I couldn't help but think of the Marx Brothers when watching this movie. The ever-silent Teller is nothing if not an impish Harpo stand-in. And Penn in his oft aggressive and smart-assy way is a bit of a Groucho type himself. Add in their specific magic shenanigans and it makes for a fun film and one I can understand having a cult following. It even features another nutjob performance from cult actor David Patrick Kelly. And the movie is absolutely boosted in my estimation too by the fact that it features 'Scary German Guy' from THE MONSTER SQUAD in a prominent role. Love that guy (the late Leonardo Cimino).

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