Mon Oncle (1958)

The charming, pre-modernized streets of France.

In the list of most beautiful comedies, Mon Oncle may very well steal first place. This is simply one of the most imaginative, feel-good films I have ever seen. It is not only a feast of ingenious physical comedy, but it is also a statement against modernization and its overwhelming subsequent effects.

Now, usually, when I watch a comedy, I do not expect an abstract philosophical observation. If I do expect something of that sort, I usually enter the viewing a bit wary. But this satire is brilliantly executed; the statement is wrapped up in good-hearted humor, sublime music, and fantastic set pieces (all of which I’ll explain in detail below).

Jacques Tati, the film’s writer, director, producer, and starring actor, is often regarded as France’s comedy master. An obvious precursor to Rowan Atkinson’s memorable Mr. Bean character, Jacques Tati created the unforgettable Monsieur Hulot: a bumbling, lovable, trench coat-wearing fellow who causes accidental catastrophe as he tries to mold to the ever-changing modern world. After his first feature film, Jour de Fete in 1949 (in which Tati played Francois, not Hulot), the Monsieur Hulot series started in 1953 with Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, and continued with Mon Oncle, PlayTime (1967), and Trafic (1971).

In Mon Oncle, the statement about modernization is instantly evident. The credits appear on signs at a construction site. The sounds of the engines of various construction vehicles are almost unbearably loud and obnoxious–then comes the antithesis. The film switches immediately from the loud, raw atmosphere of the construction site to an quaint, unmolested French neighborhood. The contrast is beautiful and sad; it forces one to realize that, although modernization has led to several inventions that are beneficial to mankind, too much modernist reconstruction can lead to the loss of meaning for existence.

If this was the sole purpose of the movie, it would perhaps be quite a drag. But this is not the case. This statement is not presented in the stark, dramatic form one would expect, but rather in a superbly choreographed comedy of errors. Tati, as Monsieur Hulot, is endearing and hilarious, conducting himself with silent whimsy and subtle naivete. His smile is sweet and sad, especially near the end of the film, and his awkward way of walking is absurd yet irreplaceable. No one can recreate Hulot. Jacques Tati, to put it simply, IS Monsieur Hulot. Inseperable and one.

Now, for the sets. Mon Oncle boasts some of the most brilliant, fantastic set pieces ever made for a film. The only sets I can think of that would rival the Arpel family’s ultra-modern abode are the buildings (made expressly for the film) in Tati’s PlayTime (1967) and the apartment complex in Rear Window (1954). As if this movie marvel wasn’t enough, Hulot’s own apartment building is one of the most beautiful, unbelievable film sets ever made. These are phenomena which mere words cannot effectively describe; they must be seen.

To hear the score of Mon Oncle is to have your heart warmed. The gently plinking piano is soon accompanied by a quintessentially French accordion. The visual partners to this piece are shots of mischievous canines rummaging their way through trashcans (the crashing of the can’s lid is synchronized with the music, and acts as a brief drum solo), and eventually moving from the lovely, unadorned streets of Old France to the coldly modern neighborhoods, where we meet the Arpel family and their neoteric residence.

On a side note…  For those who prefer newer comedy, I will say that the sight gags in Mon Oncle rival those in, say, Airplane (1980) and Hot Shots! (1991). They’re not as blatant, no, but (in my opinion) just as funny.

If you want to feel good, watch this movie. I will warn you, this film does not belong to the “Instant Gratification” class of comedy. The jokes are subtle; the humor is in the whole. That said, it is possibly the most heartwarming movie (to me) that I have ever seen. It helps us to remember that “old-fashioned” is not a dirty word.


The Arpel family is the epitome of ultra-modern. Their house is a fully automated, avant-garde, highly polished prison–that is, to their son, Gerard. He does not enjoy living in this glimmering steel cage; thus, he spends most of his time with his uncle, Monsieur Hulot, who leads a simpler existence than Gerard’s parents. However, Gerard’s parents believe the naive Hulot to be a bad influence on young Gerard. Thus, they attempt to make Hulot one of their own. Monsieur Arpel gets Hulot a job at his plastic factory, and Madame Arpel hosts a garden party (one of the funniest scenes in film history) in attempts to mold the bumbling Hulot into a person of order and class. After many failed attempts, the Arpels seem to have given up. But Monsieur Hulot may have a more positive effect on them than they’d like to think.


Directed by Jacques Tati;

Written by Jacques Tati (written by), Jacques Lagrange (artistic collaboration), Jean L’Hôte (artistic collaboration);

Starring Jacques Tati as Monsieur Hulot, Alain Bécourt as Gerard Arpel, Jean-Pierre Zola as Charles Arpel, Adrienne Servantie as Madame Arpel, and Betty Schneider as Betty, Landlord’s Daughter;

Produced by Jacques Tati (producer), Fred Orain (producer, uncredited), Alain Térouanne (associate producer), Louis Dolivet (co-producer);

Music by Alain Romans, Franck Barcellini, Norbert Glanzberg (uncredited).



Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

That poor suit...

“Dignity. Always dignity.”

Well, it’s time for my long-long-long-overdue review of the 1952 musical masterpiece, Singin’ in the Rain.

This film is one of my favorites. It is so memorable. This is a film that looks like it was just as fun to make as it is to watch. It seems that Gene Kelly’s notorious perfectionism paid off, as he truly did create a near-perfect film.

I think this film was extremely ahead of its time. In whole, it’s a smart parody of the film industry, something which hadn’t really been attempted before (with some exceptions). It satirizes, of course, the industry’s colossal transition from silent to sound, but it also pokes fun at the big-budget musicals of the 40s and 50s (despite being one itself). Nowhere is the latter parody more evident than in the elaborate, irrelevant (and very long) Gotta Dance! number. It’s a brilliantly choreographed dance scene, with some of the most vivid colors ever captured on film. And entirely useless. In this way, it’s an exact replica of many films of its time.

The satire is very obvious, but there are some who don’t understand it. I believe this is the reason many people don’t like the film. They don’t understand that it does NOT, in any way, take itself seriously. It’s goofy on purpose.

That’s not to say, however, that no effort went into the making of this movie. From the facts I’ve heard about this film’s production, I’d say that it was probably quite a piece of work. Debbie Reynolds herself quipped that making this movie and surviving childbirth were the two hardest things she’s ever had to do.

Both Reynolds and Donald O’Connor were admittedly nervous–even frightened–by Gene Kelly’s tyrannical direction. O’Connor said that during the first few weeks of shooting he was terrified of making a mistake and being yelled at by Kelly.

Debbie Reynolds also turned in a good amount of effort. Being only 19(!) at the time of filming, she lived with her parents and commuted to the set. She had to wake up near 4:00 A.M. and ride three different buses to the studio; sometimes, to avoid all that trouble, she would simply sleep on the set.

Of course, you’ve heard the stupendous, epic stories of the troubles the crew went through to bring you that iconic title number. If you haven’t, take a seat, and let me tell you a story.

‘Twas a dark and stormy afternoon in Culver City, California… Well, not really. You see, studio technicians had to cover two city blocks with tarp to give the illusion of nighttime. Then, they equipped the set with overhead sprays. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that there was supposedly a drought in Culver City the day the sequence was shot.

As you can see, I’m talking too much. And, I’m sure it’s also evident by now that a lot of work went into this movie. Fortunately, their hard work and troubles paid off. Although the film cost a total of $2,540,800 (astronomical for 1952), $157,000 of which went to Walter Plunkett’s costumes alone, the musical masterpiece returned a $7,700,000 profit upon its initial release. At this news, MGM forgave and forgot about the film’s budget being overshot by $665,000, and the studio quickly became cognizant of their intelligent investment.


In 1927, the year of the world’s first “talkie”, famed silent actors Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are everyone’s favorite silent screen pair. The shrewish Lamont, however, believes their romance is true offscreen as well. Aided by his carefree friend and piano accompanist, Cosmo Brown (O’Connor), Lockwood tries nearly in vain to dodge her amorous advances. Things take a chaotic turn with the release of The Jazz Singer, which has the public screaming for talkies. In addition, Don falls for Kathy Selden (Reynolds), a chorus girl and aspiring actress, who is seemingly the first woman to resist his suavity. With the wild popularity of sound pictures still on the rise, it’s decided that the new Lockwood/Lamont picture will be a talkie. However, Lina’s incredibly screechy voice (which, as one reviewer put it, mere words cannot describe) is obviously a problem. In a stroke of genius, Kathy is brought in to secretly dub Lina’s speaking and singing voice. Simultaneously, of course, Kathy and Don fall very much in love. Thus, Don must make a decision: keep up appearances and thereby keep an audience, or reveal the real star of the show?


Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly;

Written by Arthur Freed (song by which the story was suggested), Nacio Herb Brown (song by which the story was suggested), Betty Comden (story and screenplay), and Adolph Green (story and screenplay);

Starring Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood, Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden, Donald O’Connor as Cosmo Brown, Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont, and Millard Mitchell as R.F. Simpson (with cameos by Rita Moreno and Cyd Charisse);

Produced by Arthur Freed (producer), and Roger Edens (associate producer);

Music by Lennie Hayton.


If I had written this three weeks ago (like I was supposed to), you would’ve been able to see my good friend, Brittany Wright, in the role of Kathy Selden in her high school’s production of Singin’ in the Rain.

Gene Kelly insulted Reynolds by saying she couldn’t dance. Fred Astaire, who was hanging around the studio, allegedly found her crying and helped her with her dancing.

Working days sometimes stretched to 19 hours.

While in the film it’s almost assumed that Kathy and Don are around the same age, this was not at all true in reality. Debbie Reynolds was 19 years old, while Gene Kelly was 39.

The original negative of the film was destroyed in a fire.

The role of Lina Lamont was originally intended for Judy Holliday. However, that idea was vetoed after Holliday hit it big in Born Yesterday (1950). Somewhat ironically, the part eventually went to Jean Hagen, who was Holliday’s understudy in the Broadway version of Born Yesterday.

Believe it or not, only two songs (“Moses Supposes” and “Make ‘Em Laugh”) were written especially for the film. The writers of the latter song, Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, admitted that they nearly stole the tune from Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown”, from the Gene Kelly comedy, The Pirate (1948).

Speaking of “Make ‘Em Laugh”… Gene Kelly asked O’Connor to resurrect a trick he used as a young dancer: running up a wall and completing a somersault. This silly, inane number was so physically taxing that O’Connor, who smoked four packs of cigarettes a day at the time, went to bed (or was hospitalized, depending on the source) for nearly a week after its completion, suffering from exhaustion and severe carpet burns. Infuriatingly, the initial footage was destroyed in an accident. So, after a brief rest, O’Connor (being the epitome of “true performer”) did the very difficult number all over again.

The rain in the title number was a mixture of water and milk (to help it show better on camera). Tragically, it caused Kelly’s wool suit to shrink.

While the film makes a central point of the idea that Kathy’s voice is dubbed over Lina Lamont’s, what is not told is that, ironically, in some of these songs – notably “Would You” and “You Are My Lucky Star” – Debbie Reynolds is actually dubbed by Betty Noyes. However, Reynolds’ own singing voice can be heard on the outtake footage of “Lucky Star” as performed next to the giant billboard of Gene Kelly.

When performing the title number, Gene Kelly had a 103-degree fever. Dancing in the rain probably didn’t help that.


The Court Jester (1955)

The perfect example of Kaye's comic versatility.

“King of jesters and jester to the king.”

Due to limited time, limited brainpower, and the aggravating unreliability of modern technology, this week’s post will be somewhat shorter than usual. *all four of SC’s regular readers emit a sharp gasp*

Are you ready to laugh? You’d better be. The Court Jester is perhaps the perfect introduction to comedy legend Danny Kaye. To give you an idea of how funny he really was, listen to this: he was Bob Hope’s favorite comedian, he received a Special Tony Award for heading a variety bill at the Palace Theatre, and he once conducted the Philharmonic Orchestra at New York’s Carnegie Hall with his feet. That’s what I call skill.

Anyway, a movie like this is indeed a rare find. It blends romance, adventure, and superb comedy. Wit, thy name is Kaye!  And Fine. And Frank. And Panama. And–sorry.

But seriously, The Court Jester is, quite simply, whimsy. It’s pure merriment. It’s one of those movies from which you walk away saying, “I didn’t learn a thing. But I had fun.” And, really, that’s what comedy is all about. Satire is great, I’ll admit. But, overall, I enjoy innocent and/or senseless humor much more than humor that makes a statement.

I contradict myself a lot, don’t I? Well, I apologize. But seriously, you’re going to have to get used to it.

There are some classic routines in this film, including “Vessel with the pestle…”, “The Maladjusted Jester” (a tongue-twisting song written by Kaye’s wife, Sylvia Fine), and the oft-repeated line, “Get it?” “Got it.” “Good.” Dana Carvey did NOT create that line. Carvey may be The Master of Disguise, but the title of Master of Comedy belongs to Danny Kaye.

(Wasn’t that a clever, bitingly sarcastic statement? I thought so.)

Here’s my professional suggestion: Make yourself comfortable. Watch this movie. Eat chocolate. That’s my technique, and it hasn’t failed me yet.


The throne of rightful king of England, the small babe with the purple pimpernel birthmark, has been usurped by the evil King Roderick. Only the Black Fox can restore the true king to the throne. The task falls to Hawkins (Kaye), the gentlest (and perhaps most clueless) member of the Fox’s band. The Fox’s lieutenant, Maid Jean (Johns), guards Hawkins and the babe while they travel, but when they meet the King’s new jester on the road, they decide to initiate a daring plan for Hawkins to replace him, become an intimate at the court, and steal the key. So, humble, bumbling Hawkins becomes Giacomo: the king of jesters and jester to the king.


Directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama;

Written by Melvin Frank (screenplay) and Norman Panama (screenplay);

Starring Danny Kaye as Hubert Hawkins, Glynis Johns as Maid Jean, Angela Lansbury as Princess Gwendolyn, and Basil Rathbone (who is awesome, by the way; one of my favorite dramatic actors) as Sir Ravenhurst;

Produced by Melvin Frank (producer), Norman Panama (producer), Sylvia Fine (executive producer), and Danny Kaye (executive producer);

Music by Vic Schoen, Walter Scharf (uncredited), Sylvia Fine (songs);


Apparently Danny Kaye’s legs (in tights) were not satisfactory to the film’s producers, so they made him wear “leg falsies” to improve the shape of his legs. I, of course, would not need any such assistance.

Basil Rathbone was, in real life, a world-class fencer. Thanks to his efforts, the scene was filmed without injury. Supposedly, he later admitted that several times he was almost run through with Kaye’s sword. However…

…It’s also been said that Kaye’s sword movements were too fast for poor Basil, who, though still in great shape, was 63 at the time. Also supposedly, the fight choreographer dressed up as Rathbone’s character and was filmed from behind for the fast sections.

Oh, and if this post is completely incomprehensible, I have an excuse. I’ve been preparing for a big debate tournament all week, and I’ve just returned from the actual event. So, in conclusion, I apologize if the post is cryptic. It’s no fault of my own.


Some Like It Hot (1959)

There's only so much I'd do for comedy...

“Well, nobody’s perfect!”

It takes a certain amount of bravery to be an actor. Since the recent decline of the world of cinema, that statement doesn’t have as much truth as it once did. However, this week I’m recommending a film with two of the bravest actors I’ve ever seen.

Although director/cowriter Billy Wilder had considered such comedy legends as Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, and Jerry Lewis, he finally settled on the pairing of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. This, as is evidenced by the film’s legendary status, was ultimately a good choice.

Most of the time, people do not voluntarily ask me questions concerning classic film. This is because they are aware of the onslaught of useless information which will inevitably follow such a question. However, I’m going to make a hypothetical scenario here: If someone were to ask me what the definition of screwball comedy is, I’d reply quite simply, “Look no further than Some Like It Hot.”

And, similarly, I’ll say to you, “If you’re in the mood for a good laugh, a movie with no deep probing into the mysteries of the afterlife, no overt political themes, no animated animal sidekicks, and certainly no metaphorical chess games with the grim reaper, this is the movie for you.”

Many reviews of this film sound as though they were written by psychiatrists. Don’t be put off by these ambiguous reviews. Listen to good ol’ Uncle Luke. I won’t try to say that Curtis and Lemmon dressed as women because they had a bad home life. I’ll simply say that they dressed up as women because it’s funny. I don’t mean to rant, but I hate it when reviewers make a plain-and-simple screwball comedy sound like a philosophical exploration of id and psyche. Give. Me. A. Break.

*sigh* Sorry.

Anyway, it’s a hilarious, ahead-of-its-time comedy masterpiece. Bon appetit!


After accidentally witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, struggling musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) find themselves on the run. In a last-minute attempt to escape from Chicago, Joe and Jerry don feminine getups and join a Florida-bound all-girl jazz band. Once at the hotel, Joe falls for fellow band member Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), and he tries to maintain a double-life: the fictional millionaire beau of Sugar’s dreams, and Josephine, Sugar’s female friend. Meanwhile, Jerry (“Daphne”) has a rich suitor (Joe E. Brown) who won’t take “No” for an answer.

Then, of course, the Chicago mob arrives at the hotel.


Directed by Billy Wilder;

Written by Robert Thoeren (story on which it was based), Michael Logan (story on which it was based), Billy Wilder (screenplay), I.A.L. Diamond (screenplay);

Starring Tony Curtis as Joe – “Josephine”, Jack Lemmon as Jerry – “Daphne”, Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, Joe E. Brown as Osgood Fielding III, George Raft as Spats Colombo, and Pat O’Brien as Detective Mulligan;

Produced by Billy Wilder (producer), I.A.L. Diamond (associate producer), and Doane Harrison (associate producer);

Music by Adolph Deutsch.


Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, and Frank Sinatra were considered for the roles of Joe and Jerry.

It took 47 takes for Marilyn Monroe to get the line, “It’s me, Sugar,” right. After the 30th take, Wilder wrote the line on a blackboard. Another line, “Where’s the bourbon?”, required 59 takes. (I respect Billy Wilder for his patience. Personally, I would’ve killed someone by then.)

A preview audience laughed so hard in the scene where Jack Lemmon announces his engagement that a lot of the dialogue was missed. It had to be re-shot with pauses (and the maraca gimmick) added.

There’s been plenty of talk about Monroe’s behavior. Billy Wilder even said, “We were in mid-flight, and there was a nut on the plane,” when referring to Monroe. Indeed, Wilder publicly blasted Monroe for her behavior, and she was not invited to the wrap party.

Anthony Perkins (best known for the character Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho) auditioned for the role of Jerry.

Upon its original release, Kansas banned the film from being shown in the state, explaining that cross-dressing was “too disturbing for Kansans”.

In Russia, the film is titled “Only Girls Are Allowed In Jazz”. Hmm…

This, like most films by ’59 (for instance, Ben-Hur, Rio Bravo, and Sleeping Beauty) were filmed in color. However, Wilder filmed Some Like It Hot in black & white because Curtis’ and Lemmon’s makeup gave their faces a greenish tinge.

Some Like It Hot was voted #1 on the American Film Institute’s List of 100 Funniest Movies, and #14 on their List of 100 Greatest Movies.


The Quiet Man (1952)

Arriving in Ireland. *sigh* Lucky.

“We Danahers are a fightin’ people.”

In th’ spirit o’ St. Patty’s Day, I’m recommendin’ a film which celebrates th’ joy and serenity of Ireland. Good ol’ Ireland. I’m thinkin’ quite seriously o’ typin’ in an Irish accent fer this entire post. Whaddya think?

Don’t worry, I’m not serious. It’s tempting, but for the sake of conserving apostrophes, I’ll fight my urge. It’s just difficult for me to talk like a Yank while describing the single most beautifully, unapologetically Irish film ever to come out of Hollywood.

One of my personal favorites, The Quiet Man boasts an extremely entertaining cast, namely John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, and the wonderful Barry Fitzgerald. Don’t fret; Wayne does not try to feign an Irish brogue. He’s who he is in every film: John Wayne. Maureen O’Hara is, as always, beautiful, a great actress, and very *ahem* determined. And the hilarity of Barry Fitzgerald’s laid-back, happy-drunk character is absolutely unmatched.

If you don’t LOVE Irish culture before viewing this movie, I guarantee you will after viewing it. (And if you don’t, keep it to yourself, ya curmudgeon.) There’s music, scenery, and lovely Irish brogues aplenty. When I watch Monty Python, I wish against wish that I had been born British. When I watch The Quiet Man, I dream I was Irish. I mean, I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…but why don’t WE have cool accents?

But seriously, folks. If you’re turned off to this film because of John Wayne, please hear me out. There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love and respect John Wayne, and those who hate him. Those who belong to the latter category are entirely nonsensical, and I sincerely worry about them. However, most people who dislike The Duke dislike his Western roles. And although he is definitely not a character actor, he displays actual emotion and heart in this film.

And you don’t even want to get me started on Maureen O’Hara. A beautiful, redheaded, full-blooded Irish woman who can act and sing? Are you kidding me? I’ll take a dozen!

Barry Fitzgerald went sadly unknown for most of his career. He was never a superstar, though he indubitably should’ve been. He did win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (Going My Way, 1941, which I’m sure we’ll get to later), but he was never (I think) recognized as the great actor he was. He does not disappoint in The Quiet Man.

As always, I could keep talking and keep talking and keep talking. And I will. Hee hee!

The film contains a number of exciting, legendary scenes. These include a horse race, a rain-drenched kiss, and perhaps the single longest fistfight ever to be filmed. In one word, The Quiet Man is great, fantastic, wonderful, terrific, grand, epic, super, or awesome. Take your pick.


Sean Thornton (John Wayne) has returned to Ireland from America to reclaim his childhood home. On the wagon ride to Innisfree, his hometown, he briefly encounters the beautiful Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara). She is the sister of the town bully, “Red” Will Danaher, who vehemently forbids the love that gradually grows between Sean and Mary Kate. However, with the conniving help of Sean’s newfound friends–Michaleen Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), Reverend Playfair, and Father Lonergan–Will Danaher finally gives in. Thus, Sean and Mary Kate begin courtship. Their relationship blossoms faster than the conventional courtship process, and soon they are wed. Will Danaher is down, but not out. He continually attempts to ruin their relationship, and comes dangerously close to succeeding. To save his marriage, Sean must confront his tragic past and step up to Will Danaher.


Directed by John Ford;

Written by Maurice Walsh (story on which it was based), and Frank S. Nugent (screenplay);

Starring John Wayne as Sean Thornton, Maureen O’Hara as Mary Kate Danaher, Barry Fitzgerald as Michaleen Oge Flynn, Victor McLaglen as “Red” Will Danaher, and Ward Bond as Father Peter Lonergan;

Produced by Merian C. Cooper and John Ford;

Music by Victor Young.


This is one of the few Hollywood films in which you can hear Gaelic, the national language of Ireland.

John Ford first read the story in 1933, nineteen years before the film was released, and bought the film rights for ten dollars. It took him twelve years to acquire enough financing and ten years to make the film. The major studios were afraid to produce it for fear that it wouldn’t draw audiences.

Green, the national color of Ireland, can be seen somewhere in every single shot of the film.

During the scene where John Wayne first kisses Maureen O’Hara, she slaps his face. When he blocked the blow, she broke a bone in her hand. But because the movie was being filmed in sequential order, she couldn’t wear a cast.

At the film’s conclusion, after the credits, we see Kate and Sean standing in their garden waving good-bye. Maureen O’Hara turns to John Wayne and whispers something in his ear, eliciting a genuinely surprised expression from Wayne. What was said was known only to O’Hara, Wayne and Ford. In exchange for saying this unscripted line, O’Hara insisted that the exact line never be disclosed by any involved parties. In her memoirs she says that she refused to say the line at first as she “couldn’t possibly say that to Duke”, but Ford insisted, claiming he needed a genuine shock reaction from Wayne. Even to this day, the line remains a mystery.

Another manly sneak peek:

April is Musical Month! I can’t wait!