Jerry Lewis as Ernie Kovacs

Here is a trailer for the Jerry Lewis film “The Bell Boy”.  First I include the introduction by “Rolko52” the person who posted the clip.  It’s a interesting view on what might have been going on behind the scenes.

[From “Kovacs Corner” on YouTube.com] – Consciously or not on Jerry Lewis’ part, I have an opinion that his 1960 film “The Bellboy” was shot at least in part as a response to Ernie’s award winning half hour television special “The Silent Show” which featured his character “Eugene”. If you analyze some the events surrounding Ernie and Jerry around that time, it bears some consideration. On January 19, 1957, the NBC Television Network offered Jerry ninety minutes for a one time special program. Lewis had just broken up his partnership with Dean Martin and the network thought that it would be a great opportunity to showcase his comedy as a solo act. Jerry agreed but he wanted only sixty of those minutes. That left a half hour AFTER the Lewis special that nobody wanted…except Ernie. It was reported that when Kovacs came back to NBC with an outline of the show, they were shocked beyond disbelief. During the show’s rehearsals, the network executives made such disparaging remarks to Ernie that at one point he threatened to walk off the show and force them to run the backup program – a filmed western episode. This event may have severed Ernie’s professional relationship with NBC Television, as he subsequently made a deal and brought his projects to ABC. His wife Edie Adams was reported to have said that this event prompted him to write his novel “Zoomar” which is a satire surrounding the television industry. If you analyze “The Bellboy” you will see many similarities with Eugene. First, the bellboy character is silent throughout the movie…an indirect nod to the Kovacs character. Secondly, the film essentially has no storyline. It is simply a sequence of comedy “bits”. Jerry’s professed homage to Laurel and Hardy with this film would belie that statement as L&H shorts and feature films did indeed possess a fleshed out story. Lastly, the bellboy character essentially possesses the same attributes as Eugene…breaking the “fourth wall”, bending time and space, the musical references, and using the medium’s technology to drive the comedy. After “The Silent Show” airing, Ernie received critical acclaim from the newspapers and won the Sylvania Award for 1957. Anyone who has watched Jerry on his telethons or in interviews could reasonably assume that this would not sit well with his ego. I am sure that he expected to make the big splash with the audience and critics but it tuned out that the “throwaway” half hour from Ernie Kovacs garnered the publicity and award. In fact, so much good ink was generated that Ernie was subsequently featured on the cover of Life Magazine and he was offered his first Hollywood movie role in “Operation Mad Ball” by Columbia Pictures.

The Great Dictator


I have a confession.

Until this week I had not seen Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”.

Fortunately for me, there is a new release from Criterion, and it includes some wonderful extras that make the dvd or blue ray totally worth viewing. First I watched the film with the commentary track from Dan Kamin and Hooman Mehran, which is one of the very best commentaries I have ever heard.  Dan Kamin wrote the excellent book, Charlie Chaplin’s One-Man Show.

The story concerns the fictitious land of Tomania, clearly representing Germany. Chaplin plays both Henkel (the dictator who looks like Hitler) and the nameless “Jewish Barber”. The challenge for Charlie was to portray the fascists as both dangerous and laughable. The slapstick was carefully measured in with realistic violence to keep things in perspective. When Henkel (Hitler) tumbles down some stairs, Chaplin plays it realistically. He wanted Henkel to look like a normal person falling, and not a gifted comic.

Disc two includes a documentary from Kevin Brownlow and Michael Kloft.  “The Tramp and the Dictator” tracks the parallel lives of the two men, who were born just 4 days apart in the same year. They show clips of color film shot by Chaplin’s half brother Sydney during production. The movie is black and white, but when intercut with the color footage, it has a startling effect. When Chaplin began production on the film, he met with criticism from many in the movie industry who felt we shouldn’t antagonize Hitler.  Chaplin appears to have been a fearless man, and my respect for him has only grown.

The second disc includes some visual essays, and a deleted scene. The set comes with a 28 page booklet that features Al Hirschfeld’s original press book illustrations for the movie.

Of course the Nazi government never allowed The Great Dictator to be shown to the people. But did Hitler see it? The records show that Hitler had ordered it for viewing, not once but twice.

Everyone should know this speech.  I am sorry to say it feels more necessary than ever.   Please watch.

 

Are these creatures appealing?

Above are three character designs for you to consider.  On the left is Mary, the titular character from a new ABC Television series Imaginary Mary.  (Cartoon Brew posted an article about it)  In the center is “Oh” from Dreamworks movie Home.  On the right is a character from the 2015 film Monster Hunt, I do not know it’s name.  One of them is imaginary, one is an alien, and one is a monster, so all of them are non-human.  Clearly, they are all following an identical design aesthetic.  Short rounded bodies, big, wide set eyes, and only one has a nose, which is tiny. Obviously, they want to make creatures that are strange, but also non-threatening.  They look soft and friendly.  We have to assume the target audience is young children.

I think these characters take “appeal” too far.  It gets so built into the design, that the characters have no range to act.  To me they are insipid, and  appear incapable of doing anything important.  We like babies and kittens, but only to look at and play with.  I don’t imagine they are going to take me on an exciting journey in a story.

I saw Monster Hunt once, and thought the live action parts were much more engaging than the animation.  The “cute” monsters felt like they didn’t belong in the same universe.  My following comments are mostly about Home and what I can see from the preview for Imaginary Mary.

Innocence can be a great comedic tool, but very few film makers know how to make a story with it.   What happened is the writers and directors made them too talky.  They like to write jokes, and when the put their “witty” dialog into these creatures, it simply doesn’t match with how they look.  Those designs are what some writers think is appeal.  For a good example of how an innocent character can have range, look at Spot from The Good Dinosaur.  Spot can be cute, but he can also be convincingly sad, and downright ferocious.

Spot doesn’t talk.

Yet, it is possible to have a character that has great visual appeal, and witty dialog.  You just have to go to the other end of the spectrum, and give up all innocence.

 

The Great Cartoon Directors: Friz Freleng

I have selected some passages from Jeff Lenberg’s book The Great Cartoon Directors to share here.  I chose them for their practical examples of creating funny cartoons, or if they support the idea of being inspired by live comedians.

No matter what Friz directed, he always made the most of it, especially when he supervised the  Melodies cartoons.  He gave gags his maximum precision by timing his films on musical bar sheets.  Other directors preferred to time scenes on exposure sheets, but Freleng  believed he got a much better feel of the movement by using musical bar sheets.  Timing the action this way made the problem of doing the musical score to the picture much easier for Carl Stallings, who scored most of the Warners cartoons.

ON YOSEMITE SAM

Explains Freleng, “I found Yosemite Sam to be the perfect opponent for Bugs, as there are so subtleties in Sam’s character.  The moment he appeared on the scree, there was no doubt about his character, or motives.  He was an absolute villain.  When another adversary appeared, we would have to build a motive for the unknown character.  I really thought Elmer was the wrong guy to oppose Bugs, because he was weak and stupid.  He could have been outwitted by a chicken.  But who am I to argue with success?”

ON TWEETY AND SYLVESTER

…The basic structure of the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons was much like Metro’s Tom and Jerry series.  Each character tried to outwit (or destroy) the other.  It was also similar to Chuck Jones’ later Roadrunner/Coyote series for Warners; the unending conflict between the two characters sustained the series.

As Freleng stated in an interview with the author: “When I made Sylvester cartoons, the only restriction I had was to be sure to keep him as an alley cat with vicious intent.  I think that he was really responsible for the success of the Tweety cartoons.  Tweety was used in a very minor role.  If you analyze the cartoons, he only served as a foil.

ON SPEEDY GONZALES

Speedy had all the physical elements for comedy; his innocent, impish grin and naive remarks in times of trouble provoked laughter.  The trouble was mainly caused by Sylvester the Cat, Speedys’ costar and adversary in the series.  Casting Sylvester opposite Speedy provided a firm foundation for comedy situations.  Without a strong personality like Sylvester,  Speedy’s characterization was weak, almost lifeless.  Not that Speedy wasn’t lovable on the screen; he just couldn’t carry a cartoon without having someone to antagonize.

ON THE PINK PANTHER:

Though the character didn’t talk, he provided laughs by reenacting sight gags that Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton first made famous in the 1920’s.  Who said the silents were dead?  The Panther Cartoons were just that, purely visual cartoons accompanied by a lively ragtime musical soundtrack.

 

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