Poppy was brought the screen after a successful run as a three-part stage musical. W.C. Fields played the role of a colorful carnival barker, con man, and father to “Poppy.” Poppy was a “revue,” containing elements of songs, skits, and comedy routines. The production ran in New York and then moved over to England. Perhaps it was there that Fields was inspired by a cartoon character named Ally Sloper; a red-nosed, blustery, lazy schemer constantly dodging creditors. Fields' attire certainly resembles Sloper’s: a tall white top hat with a wide band, an upturned white collar, tailcoat, and spats. Much of the ensemble would come to create what we now consider to be the iconic image of W.C. Fields. Considered one of the world’s best jugglers at an early age, his ability to manipulate the objects about him is as gracefully choreographed as a ballet dancer, all the while looking like he’s bumbling in the attempt. His role as Prof. Eustace P. McGargle in Poppy would take him from the stage to the movies, where he would become one of the world’s best-known comedians. His trademark raspy drawl with a flowery vocabulary would make him instantly recognizable. Fields’ characters in films would often show him as a drunk, con-man, and henpecked. Field’s ability to play the downtrodden everyday man seeking to find a moment of solace or a sip of drink endeared him to audiences. His self-talking mutterings were imbued with wit and guile. Several of these mutterings have been added to the long lexicon of lines attributed to Fields. One of the most famous of his lines came near the end of Poppy when he advises his daughter, “Never give a sucker an even break.”
The Home of the Creative Mind
Welcome to PooBahSpiel, the online voice and home of the creative mind of Mark Monlux, Illustrator Extraordinaire. Prepare yourself for an endless regaling of art directly from the hand of this stellar artist. And brace yourself against his mighty wind of pontification. Updates are kinda weekly and show daily sketches, current projects, and other really nifty stuff.
Tuesday, July 2, 2019
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Charlie Chan Carries On is not the first movie in which Charlie Chan appears. There was a ten-part serial and a couple of other movies where Chan was a secondary character. Charlie Chan Carries On is the first film where he played the main role and audiences responded well to the film. Warner Oland, a Swedish actor, was brought in to play Chan. Whitewashing was a film industry practice, casting white actors in non-white roles. Oland would be one of a series of non-Asian actors to play Chan. This is more than a little ironic as Earl Derr Biggers, the writer who created Charlie Chan, had a great dislike for the prevalent Yellow Peril stereotype. He was inspired to create Chan after reading about two detectives of Chinese heritage working on the Honolulu police force. He wanted to create a character opposite the Yellow Terror stereotype, an honorable Asian working on the side of the law, not against it. The irony of whitewashing would become nearly embedded in the Charlie Chan character as the overly prolific use of ancient proverbs. Chan became a stereotype of the slow acceptance of the Asians by the hypocritical practice of social representation. It wasn’t a perfect process, but it did prove to be highly successful. There are over forty Charlie Chan movies. There was a prolific period when comics, radio, and television shows featured this popular detective. There were even other Asian detective movies that resulted. Mr. Moto and Mr. Wong each supplied a series of mystery movies. And while the implementation of these movies, featuring clever heroes from Asian countries, was far from perfect, they did broaden the American psyche, even through and after WWII that the only true threatening peril is that of racism. As to Charlie Chan Carries On, it is sadly a lost film: well, sort of. Studios would often create a Spanish version of the same movie using the same sets and many of the same leads, but instead of dubbing, they would cast Spanish-speaking actors. Irony rears its head again—the only way you can watch one of the earliest whitewashed Charlie Chan films is via the Spanish version, reading English subtitles.
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
The crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis during WWII were so heinous that some Americans didn’t believe the reports. That is why it was so important that the Allied War Crimes Commission collected and presented as much audio and visual documentation as possible. The reels of footage showing the horror of the Final Solution at concentration camps were instrumental in pulling back the veil of disbelief. The Stranger was the first commercial movie to show it. The Stranger was a success at the box office, pulling in over double its production costs. Film historians in the know decry the heavy editing at the beginning of the film. Gone is most of the footage establishing the ruthlessness of a lead Nazi as he escapes the continent and embeds himself in the heart of America. Some say that after such hacking, The Stranger was reduced to a small town murder movie and that it was less of a movie as a result. I like to see the editing as having left a clearer message for the audience of the time: That your preconceived notions of how things were—were wrong. That any person with an understanding of what is right and just would have to admit —by the horrific evidence before them—that truly evil people exist in the world. And that, as difficult as it must be to admit, you need to acknowledge such evil and stand against it. Yes, I would have loved to have seen the additional footage. It would have made The Stranger a truly grand Nazi-hunting movie. But its role in opening the eyes of 1940s America should not be disregarded.
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
The French Connection has one of the most famous car chases in movie history. Featuring a 1971 Pontiac LeMans, it was carefully choreographed stunt. Part of the reason for this choreography was because the chase was being conducted without the proper permits. That means the streets in which the scene was shot was not cleared of normal traffic. Off duty police and stunt cars were poised to stop traffic, and other stunt cars were arrange to provide the near misses. Some of the shots were angle was set low with a bumper mounted camera capturing all the trash and dirt of the street and as the car raced along. Even with precautions in place some of the near misses became crashes. An one crash was completely unpredicted as a fellow leaving his house didn’t realize that a car chase was being filmed. His vehicle was paid for and all of these lucky accidents went into the final cut of the movie. What you get is a true to life reckless car race lasting five minutes and leaving you shaky at the end of it. The French Connection is also ground zero for numerous cop show tropes used so heavily since then they are considered trite. It was also the first movie that did an excellent job showing the city’s true gritty underbelly and the real nature of police work. All of which have become a genre of entertainment in itself.
Nominated for eight Academy Awards it won five including Best Picture.
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Harry in Your Pocket is an action comedy with an antihero, something new and very popular in the Seventies. While the gathering of this interesting crew is cordial, tension builds between the characters because despite all their smiles and camaraderie, they are all thieves at heart. The tension has us carefully watching to see if it will disrupt their movements. The action in Harry in Your Pocket comes from the audience actively following the “poke.’’ There are few staged gags to induce laughter. The comedy comes from us chuckling as they get away with it with the finely tuned choreography of a ballet. If both the action and the humor are subdued, we don’t care. The charisma of James Coburn has us smirking every time he flashes his teeth. Coburn built his career playing the stylish rogue in the Sixties. This film is smooth sailing for him and veteran actor Walter Pidgeon. Pidgeon’s role as mentor is great fun to watch. His character reflects an illusion of an older, more elegant era in crime. The timing of his career with this movie is perfect and he very nearly steals the show from Coburn. Harry in Your Pocket is not holding up very well with age. The chaotic fashions and lifestyle of the Seventies are pervasive on the screen and look a bit dated. It’s rather fun for me as I grew up near Seattle, and most of the movie is set in that locale. I recognized buildings and restaurants that have long since have been torn down and replaced with high-rises. Harry in Your Pocket is a movie of the Seventies, when the studios were experimenting with what makes movie relevant. It both hits and misses the mark. But if you’re looking for a movie with some hustle and a dash of time capsule, you will find it a good time.
Tuesday, May 7, 2019
The Woman in the Window is a classic Noir film. You have the hero, who is also the anti-hero because his actions press against the rules of society. You have the femme fatale, whose appearance apparently dooms the hero. You have no-nonsense dialogue that’s sometimes slangy but always has an edge of flirtation. And lastly, you have cinematography that is consistently clever in its use of stark, contrasting lighting and shadows. The Woman in the Window meets all of those qualifications. It also delves into a premise, set forth at the beginning of the film, on the moral selection that defines a killing as murder. From that point on, it’s easy for the story to bring down a wrath-from-god judgment on the offender of the commandment: Thou shall not kill. The femme fatale can be seen as the alluring Eve offering the forbidden fruit that would lead to the breaking of yet more commandments. Our would-be-innocent hero is stepping along the edge of propriety and suddenly finds himself entangled in more than an academic exercise. Now, all that he is is at stake. The actors and actresses in this film provide all that is desired. The in-the-know audience sees beneath the poker face of Edward G. Robinson’s character, and gets to enjoy the superb micro-gestures of his eyes and breath showing the stress his character is under. The Woman in the Window was directed by Fritz Lang, and he masterfully provides a double ending to the film. Lang admits the old trick. He argued that it was a compromise to the studio to comply with the Hayes Code, and still have a way for him to show one of the endings he wanted. He was proud that its construction was not just palatable, but entertaining, too. Certainly a laugh is generated when another potential femme fatale is introduced. Such an occurrence is highly unusual in Noir.
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Monday, March 11, 2019
François Duvalier, also known as Papa Doc, was the president of Haiti when this movie came out. His was an extremely oppressive totalitarian regime. The Comedians had to be filmed in The Republic of Benin, then known as Dahomey, because filming it on Haiti would have been impossible. The Comedians is a political drama meant to illuminate the ever-increasing desperate conditions imposed upon the Haitian people. It was also meant to poke at the inadequacies of embassy relationships with a dictatorship. And it also has a rocky love story woven into its tapestry. The movie was filled out with an all-star cast, including the legendary Lillian Gish. Amongst the cast were several African-American actors whose careers would only get larger. The title The Comedians comes from the concept that everybody is on a world stage where lines are being crossed not so much for the humor of those involved but for the gods. The theme of everybody’s life as a dark and ridiculous joke is a harsh sentiment that makes for a great novel, but it might have made it a challenge for a wider film audience. Critics might have found mild grievances with the story, but nearly everyone agrees the performances were superb. A short documentary titled The Comedians in Africa, chronicles the difficulties the cast and crew faced shooting a politically charged film in an alternative location. Watching both the movie and the documentary on DVD made up for my original experience, years before, of watching a heavily edited television version.