HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE: WHAT A CHARACTER (ACTOR)!

“Nobody needs a mink coat but the mink.” –S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, character actor (Feb. 2, 1883-Feb. 12, 1955)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There have been so many great male character actors in Hollywood Golden Age history that, for this post, I’m going to narrow the field to comedic character actors….and even then, I’ll probably leave out some of your favorites. Of course, if you don’t have any old comedy film favorites, you’re probably not an old comedy film fan, so you’re excused (even though that’s no excuse….actually, you should be ashamed of yourself).

Leaving that aside, let’s move on, starting with the author of the above quote….a quote which probably didn’t go over too well with most of the Hollywood glamour girls he knew — speaking of which, did you know that Sakall was born in, and is strictly from, Hungary (btw, he was also in Casablanca). Here’s more scuttlebutt about Cuddles but…it’s not a lot:

Next, Laurel & Hardy fans will remember the trademark ‘double-take’ look of this gent, who appeared in many of their films, including here in one of their best, WAY OUT WEST:

Remember double features (two films for the price of one in movie houses of the 1930s-50s)? Here’s a double feature of two great comedic actors for the price of one in a scene from SHALL WE DANCE, one of three Astaire-Rogers movies in which they appeared together:

If you’re a fan of Charlie Chan movies, you may recall the pop-eyed comic who played Chan’s chauffeur in over a dozen films, as well as parts in Preston Sturges’ THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942), CABIN IN THE SKY (1943), CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK (1944), and many others. Here he is in a scene from THE SCARLET CLUE (1945):

In closing, I’ll mention several other great comedic character actors I could’ve/should’ve profiled here, but I have to stop somewhere: William Demarest, Edgar Kennedy, Frank Morgan, Franklin Pangborn, Erik Rhodes, Victor Moore, and many more. Thank you, one and all, for bringing character to comedy.

I WANT TO BE ALONE

“Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone. –Paul Tillich, philosopher/theologian

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sept. 18 (1905) is the birthday of famed “I want to be alone” actress (and real-life recluse) Greta Garbo, who (unlike many movie stars) valued solitude over the celebrity spotlight:

Now, dear reader, you may not have a problem with “I want to be alone” — but, as Joel McCrae asked Veronica Lake (40 seconds into this film clip)….

So, when you stop and drink about it (unless you take Joel McCrea’s question literally), there’s no reason why you can’t be….

After all, even the Lone Ranger wasn’t really a Lone Ranger (heaven forbid that his faithful Indian companion Tonto was just along for the ride)….

That’s all for now, boys and girls. Hi ho Silver, away!

 

 

NOBODY’S PERFECT AGAIN

Among my favorite books are biographies or autobiographies of long-admired writers, directors, actors, musicians and vocalists. One of the most interesting and intelligent bios I’ve read is that of director Billy Wilder. Yes, I’m finally done reading NOBODY’S PERFECT, of which I wrote a piece on June 22 and promised to write a review when I finished it. My take? Imperfection was never more worth recommending.

Unlike some biographers, author Charlotte Chandler knew the subject of her book personally and well (for almost 30 years). Her first book, HELLO, I MUST BE GOING, was a best-seller about — who else — Groucho Marx. She has also profiled Mae West, Tennessee Williams and Alfred Hitchcock, among others, is on the board of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and is active in film preservation. So the lady knows — and loves — what she is doing.

Perhaps the best thing about this bio is that after reading it, you feel as if you know the real Billy Wilder. For example, he learned early on not to shoot excess footage because the more you gave the studio (Universal) to play with, the more they could recut the picture in ways he disliked. It was his movie, and with careful planning and tight shooting, he did his damnedest to give them no choice.

One also gets a feel for the man in his views of other directors, telling Ms. Chandler: “I admired Preston Sturges. He was a writer who became a director, and he had respect for words. His work was his life. He would have worked free. The last time I saw him was in Paris. He was sitting in an outdoor café. Old friends would stop and have something with him, and they’d pick up the check. It seemed he was hard up. He’d had a great life, but it didn’t end up great. He didn’t know how to write a third act for his own life.”

Another director he admired was Ernst Lubitsch, of whom he speaks in this clip:

Let’s close with a quote from one of Ms. Chandler’s last interviews with him in Dec. 1999: “I don’t like to look back. You could drown in what-ifs, especially if you make it past ninety, which I have. If you’re going to say , ‘What if?’ you might as well save it for something like, ‘What if Hitler had been a girl?’
“At ninety-four, there aren’t many goals to work for except longevity. Maybe trying to make it to a hundred as long as my mind is good, and I look forward to each day.”
“I could never imagine myself being old. An old man was someone who was forty, then fifty, then sixty. When I was a young man in Vienna, if someone had offered me a deal to guarantee I’d make seventy, I’d have grabbed it. Seventy would’ve sounded pretty good to me.”
“At ninety-four, it’s not long enough. It seems short. Too bad. But it has to end sometime.”

For Billy Wilder, it ended March 27, 2002, leaving behind a legacy of 21 Academy Award nominations and five films on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 funniest films, including #1: SOME LIKE IT HOT. I like it any way he made it.

GROUNDHOG DEJA VU

Writer/actor/director Harold Ramis died yesterday. When I heard the news, the first thing that came to mind was GROUNDHOG DAY, his 1993 romantic comedy-fantasy (come to think of it, what romantic comedy isn’t a fantasy?) that is one of my favorite movies of all time. I immediately felt the urge to write a retrospective review of  the film, but I’m finding that professional critics have already beaten me to the punch and said what I might have said, better than I.

The Daily Beast’s Malcolm Jones, for example, writes today under the headline Harold Ramis’s ‘Groundhog Day’ Is About as Perfect as a Movie Gets that “Ramis made a lot of funny movies, but Groundhog Day is in a class by itself. For my money, you have to go back to Preston Sturges’s ’40s comedies to find its equal. No matter how often you hit repeat, this story of a man living the same day over and over just keeps getting better.” Peter Canavese of GROUCHO REVIEWS (who knew?) calls it “A memorable comedy for the ages.”

Malcolm Jones says GROUNDHOG is one of two movies he knows almost by heart (the other being Sturges’s The Lady Eve). He quotes some of his (and my) favorite GROUNDHOG dialogue, including this exchange between TV weatherman Phil Connors (played, of course, by Bill Murray) and waitress Mrs. Lancaster:

Phil:   “Do you ever have deja vu, Mrs. Lancaster?”
Mrs. Lancaster: “I don’t think so, but I could check with the kitchen.”

Jones concludes his piece thus: “Thank you, Harold Ramis, wherever you are. Thank you again, and again, and again.” Amen.

I will conclude my piece with this GROUNDHOG DAY  trailer, followed by a clip which asks, “How many days does Bill Murray spend stuck in Groundhog Day?”:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSVeDx9fk60

www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jiKYtyDg5c