The Journal Gazette
Saturday, February 08, 2020 1:00 am

Clever and classic

Good comedy stands test of time

Howard Chapman

Columnist Gina Barreca wrote about her list of 10 best movies (”The last picture shows,” Feb. 1). Two things occurred to me. First, there was a dearth of comedies. Second, a lot of her choices (not all) were what I would call recent films, that is, films that were made within the past 50 years. (“Recent” is a relative term.)

The fact is, there are a lot of terrific movies made before 1970, and many of them were comedies. The author, and most of her readers, may not have heard of most of them, let alone seen them. So I have decided to try to fill that gap with my list of 10 great ones.

To make the list, they had to meet two tests: first, they are really funny; and, second, they have stood the test of time.

It is not possible to put them in any particular order as to which is “best” because there are so many variables among them. So here they are in chronological order.

“Sons of the Desert” (1933): It makes sense to start with this Laurel and Hardy classic. These two boobs want to sneak off to a fraternal convention but don't want their wives to know, so they tell them they are going to Hawaii for Ollie's medical care. The boat they were supposed to be on sinks, and you can take it from there.

“Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944): I won't say much about the plot because this movie is considered to be “a dark comedy,” and I don't want any spoilers. Suffice it to say that it established Cary Grant as a fine comedy performer.

“Kind Hearts and Coronets” (1949): Another “black comedy,” this one is stocked with a superb British cast, led by the incomparable Alec Guinness. The protagonist stands ninth in line to inherit a fortune, so he decides to bump off the eight ahead of him. Each and every one of thosed eight is played by Guinness, including a pompous military man and a stuffy spinster lady.

“Mr. Hulot's Holiday” (1953): This French film was directed by and stars Jacques Tati, and introduced the good-natured but inept Monsieur Hulot to movie audiences. There is very little dialogue, and none is needed. All I can say is this: When I first saw this movie, I laughed so hard that I had to go out to the lobby at one point to recover.

“Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy” (1955): The famous comedy team made nearly 40 movies between 1940 and 1956. They “met” characters from horror movies in several of them, and I like this one the best. It probably helps if you have seen any of the “Mummy” movies first.

“Some Like It Hot” (1959): During Prohibition, musicians Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis inadvertently witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and are being pursued by the mafia. To avoid detection, they decide to disguise themselves as women and join a women's band leaving on a train. Whom should they befriend but Marilyn Monroe, one of the band members who, thinking they are women, confides her innermost thoughts to them? This film won all kinds of awards.

“A Shot in the Dark” (1964): Although this was not the first “Pink Panther” movie, it is the one that established Peter Sellers in the major role of Inspector Clouseau. In addition, Herbert Lom first appears as Clouseau's long-suffering superior, and Burt Kwouk is introduced as Clouseau's stalwart servant, Cato.

“The Wrong Box” (1966): This British movie is a sleeper in that it is not well known to American audiences and certainly not to younger generations. The cast includes a young Michael Caine, Dudley Moore and Peter Sellers, all in important but not leading roles. A number of wealthy families each contribute to a pool in the name of one of their children, to be invested and eventually given to the last of the surviving children. The movie begins when only two of them are left, and the pool is worth a fortune. Of all these movies, this one is my favorite.

“The Producers” (1967): Because this Mel Brooks classic was made into a Broadway musical, and then a movie with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, most of us are familiar with the plot. And while these efforts are worthy, they are not as hilarious as the 1967 version with Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder and Dick Shawn.

Finally, a tie between “The Man in the White Suit” (1951) and “The Twelve Chairs” (1970): The first is another British gem that showcases the acting genius of Alec Guiness as an eccentric inventor, and the second another gem that showcases the genius of Mel Brooks as a writer, director and comedian.

If you are looking for something to do on a winter evening, whip up some microwave popcorn and dial up one these movies. They are good for what ails you.

Howard Chapman is a Fort Wayne resident.

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