Tag Archives: Classic Comedies

The Kid

Considered one of Charlie Chaplin’s best films, The Kid also made a star of little Jackie Coogan, who plays a boy cared for by The Tramp when he’s abandoned by his mother, Edna (Edna Purviance). Later, Edna has a change of heart and aches to be reunited with her son. When she finds him and wrests him from The Tramp, it makes for what turns out be one of the most heart-wrenching scenes ever included in a comedy. Chaplin also directs.

Rating: 10 out of 10

This charming and endearing film made our list of Greatest Movies Ever Made, and for very good reason.

This is nothing short of a masterpiece, and while some argue it’s not Chaplin’s best film, it’s still a brilliant piece of film making. And this isn’t a film snob talking. I think anyone would appreciate this motion picture, even after it first showed in theaters more than 90 years  ago.

Chaplin wove a charming story of The Tramp and a small boy for whom he cares. They’re little grifters who steal and cheat to get by in a very impoverished world. The two obviously care a great deal for one another, and though no words are ever spoken out loud, the performances are phenomenal.

Chaplin was a once-in-a-generation talent, and “The Kid” is a wonderful example of his gift for storytelling and acting.

The Odd Couple

Tossed out of the house by his wife and close to packing it in, Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon) decides the best thing to do is move in with his best pal: barely housebroken, deliberately devolved caveman Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau). Within a few days, slovenly sportswriter Oscar and compulsive neatnik Felix are driving one another bonkers. The question is, can these two men live together without killing each other?

Rating: 9 out of 10

I love films that explore  polar opposite characters. Often they are engaging, insightful and revelant. Other times, for lack of all seriousness, they can be very funny. That is the case with Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” directed by Gene Saks based on Simon’s play, released in theaters in 1968. Simon creates a vivid, funny and nostalgic comedic universe. The two actors are the funny bone of this timeless screwball comedy. Jack Lemmon plays Felix Ungar, an obsessive-compulsive neat freak who tries desperately to kill himself as a result of the impending end of his marriage.
Suffice it to say that he doesn’t successfully committ suicide, but ends up hurting his back in the process. Here in lies the root of the comedy. Felix is a typical overbearing hypochondriac. When his friend Oscar Madison, played with perfection by Walter Matthau, asks him to stay with him, the hilarity ensues. Oscar, a sports writer, is a lazy, slovenly, messy, cigar smoker. Put these two together and we get Neil Simon at his comedic best. Felix and Oscar clash. Big time.
What ensues is amazing to watch. Perfect pitch timing from both Matthau and Lemmon. Felix overly polishes and cleans and Oscar relishes being the slob. Oscar as well is put off by Felix’s constant depression and health troubles. For example-when Felix tries to unclog his ears he makes a loud, deep and startling noise that sends Oscar through the roof. This is team comedy at it’s best and the rest of the ensemble that consists of divorced, slovenly gamblers are great to watch as they interact with Matthau and Lemmon. Neal Hefti provides a great score which won an oscar. 

His Girl Friday

Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is about to get hitched to dull insurance agent Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) — that’s if her ex-husband, ruthless newspaper publisher Walter Burns (Cary Grant), doesn’t succeed in winning her back in this battle-of-the-sexes screwball comedy. Meanwhile, reporters salivating for the scoop on a local voting conspiracy is just a minor distraction as Burns pulls out all the stops for the woman he loves.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Acclaimed director Howard Hawks was behind the camera on “His Girl Friday” and it was released in the golden year of 1940. “His Girl Friday,” which stars Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy, is hands down the best romantic comedy ever made. Hawks’ film is the template to which all other in the genre are made. It is, at its core, a fast, frivolous screwball escapade. Russell and Grant are an estranged, divorced couple who happen to be newspaper people. Russell being the crack reporter to Grant’s editor in chief. Grant will go to any length to win Russell back as she readies for an impending re-marriage to a lethargic and dull insurance agent played with incredible accuracy by Ralph Bellamy. So how good is this “winning the girl back” comedy? It is insanely funny and very charming.

The chemistry between Grant and Russell is a marvel to behold. Comedies like this are rare because they were completely in tune. In classic Hawks’ fashion, the comedic delivery and timing is outrageously brilliant. They talk fast, furious, and loud. Dialog overlaps and multiple characters are in frame constantly poking and jabbing verbal bullets at each other. The film even goes as far as to make a statement about sexism in the workplace, capital punishment and love. But it is never all too serious or solemn. Even a wrongly convicted man falls prey to the gag-filled machinations between Grant and Russell. Characters are hilariously thrust into outrageous situations while the love triangle between Russell, Grant and Bellamy grows increasingly complicated.

Special mention has to go to Bellamy. He is finely tuned in this role as the dour, serious and predictable third wheel. Even his poor mother is thrust into the fray and his performance contrasts the frenetic, heavily-fueled slapstick provided by Russell and Grant. “His Girl Friday” is complex, funny and full of insanely spontaneous gag pieces. I must admit, though, that back in the 1940’s comedic actors were bold, challenged and never refined. All the adlibbing in this film is a testimony to that. Watch it soon and you will be impressed by how original and funny this gem is.

Harry and Tonto

Ripping a page from John Steinbeck’s novel Travels with Charley, this bittersweet comedy follows an old codger named Harry (Art Carney) as he takes a cross-country trip with his cat, Tonto, as a companion. The film, which earned TV comedy veteran Carney a well-deserved best actor Academy Award, also features Ellen Burstyn, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Larry Hagman, Josh Mostel and Melanie Mayron. Paul Mazursky directs.

Rating: 9 out of 10

I’m really surprised this movie doesn’t have a bigger following. It’s truly timeless and deals with themes like broken family, love lost, aging, and the major changes in life — the ones that get us as lost as we need to,  so that when we find ourselves again, we are refreshed.

This takes Harry, played masterfully in an understated and precise role by Carney, on an absurd journey. In the hands of another actor, this could have been considered obsurb. But Carney’s delivery is so believable that we never question the present. It reminded me of “Forest Gump” in that respect — Tom Hanks was so good in the role, we never cared that he could run across America and back, then back again, win an Olympic gold medal, a Congressional Medal of Honor, and be an all-American football star.

Harry’s journey is much simpler, though it does take some emotional, funny and fasinating turns as he and his cat ,Tonto, journey from New York to Chicago and Los Angeles — he hitches a ride with a high-priced hooker, takes in a homeless girl, and ends up in prison for urinating in public. But the movie’s not about the traveling, it’s about the journey.