This is a scene from the 1956 musical comedy The Court Jester, which stars Danny Kaye, Glynis Johns, Angela Lansbury, and Basil Rathbone. The film has a medieval setting, and involves a Robin Hood-like band attempting to overthrow the evil king who has usurped the throne and replace him with the rightful king, an infant identified by a purple pimpernel-shaped birthmark on his posterior. Danny Kaye is a carnival worker/ minstrel who the band presses into service, masquerading as the new court jester. What they don't realize is that the actual jester whom they took out to replace with Kaye was also an assassin hired by Lord Ravenhurst (Rathbone). The plot is a bit convoluted to try to explain, and unfortunately the movie was a big flop when released. Time has been kind to The Court Jester though, and it is now much more widely appreciated. This particular scene is the most well-known from the film:
In light of the disgusting Harvey Weinstein story which broke this week, I'm posting a clip from the film Hail, Caesar! In it, the Coen brothers give a peek behind the Hollywood curtain, showing the corruption, greed, rapacious ambition, and general skeeziness inherent to the movie business. As revolting as Weinstein and his actions are, the spectacle of A-list stars scrambling to deny any knowledge of his behaviours and prove that they're pure as the driven snow is grimly amusing. It's absolutely ludicrous for people like Meryl Streep, who openly celebrate pedophile rapist Roman Polanski to now pretend to be shocked by Harvey Weinstein. Too little too late, you shameless hypocrites.
I felt in need of something light and humorous, so watched Buster Keaton's 1928 film, Steamboat Bill, Jr. last night. It's an amusing movie and contains what is probably his most famous stunt: the falling house during a tornado. In this scene, as Buster stands dazed in the street, the house front behind him collapses on top of him but he remains standing as the open attic window passes over him. Incredibly, this stunt involves no trickery- Keaton, having figured out where he had to stand and marking that spot with a nail, let a 4000 lb house front fall on him. It must have required nerves of steel to stand still while it came down, especially since the window had only 2 inches of clearance on every side of him. It was such a dangerous shot that some of the crew members walked off the set, refusing to participate and it led to rumours that Keaton was suicidal. This was given credence by some because Buster had just found out the day before that his production company was being dissolved. Keaton later said that the scene was a great thrill to do but admitted, "I was mad at the time, or I never would have done the thing." In any case, it's an incredible scene in a film which is filled with impressive ones; Keaton, having spent his childhood in Vaudeville doing prat falls, has a physical expertise which makes the stunts look easy, though they're obviously not. It's incredible what they were able to accomplish in these very early days of cinema, mostly because they were willing to do risky things which would never be allowed today.
I don't watch many westerns, but there are a few that I really enjoy and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of them. It is a John Ford picture from 1962 and stars James Stewart and John Wayne. Stewart plays Ranse Stoddard, an idealistic lawyer who attempts to set up his practice in a lawless western town, run by brutish criminal Liberty Valance. Wayne is Tom Doniphon, a resident of the town who has no love for Valance but believes in keeping to himself unless forced to do otherwise. The film poses some interesting questions about whether social order can be established through peaceful means or if it can only be enforced at gunpoint, and about the relative effectiveness of law and vigilantism. Also, Jimmy Stewart and the Duke in a western together- what more could you ask for?
When I was a teenager, I went through a period when I was addicted to murder mystery novels from the 1940's. Because these were readily available at used bookstores, I own quite a collection of them, including several by Charlotte Armstrong. One of these is The Unsuspected, written in 1945. It wasn't until sometime later that I realized there was a movie based on the novel, filmed in 1947 and starring Claude Rains, Audrey Totter, Joan Caulfield, Constance Bennett, and Michael (Ted) North. I didn't get around to seeing the film until last year; while it's not my favourite film noir, it is definitely worth watching. One reason for this is the cinematography: this is a gorgeously shot movie, reminding me at times of The Naked City. It must be admitted that all of the acting isn't the best, especially that of Michael North. This was, I think, his first- and last- starring role in a film, and soon after this he left acting and became an agent. Audrey Totter as Althea is, however, delightfully catty and Claude Rains is amazing as Victor Grandison, the unsuspected one.
After watching The Parent Trap on Sunday evening, I was thinking about Maureen O'Hara and her long and illustrious career. The scene below is from one of several John Ford films she starred in, How Green Was My Valley, a 1941 movie about a family living in a Welsh mining community in the late 1800's. It has numerous great actors in it, including Walter Pidgeon, Barry Fitzgerald, and a young Roddy McDowall. It's a really good film (a bit of a tearjerker), and the music is terrific in it.
The movie clip below is from the 1941 film Pimpernel Smith in which Leslie Howard plays Horatio Smith in what is essentially an updated version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. On the eve of WW II Smith, a British archaeologist, heads up an excavation in Nazi Germany. The Germans allow his expedition because he tells them that he's looking for evidence that the roots of German civilization were Aryan. In actuality, Smith is using his job as a cover to rescue people from concentration camps and smuggle them to England.
This scene from Mr. Smith Goes To Washington is of naive, idealistic, and completely unprepared new Senator Jeff Smith-played by Jimmy Stewart- attempting to put together a bill. His world-weary, cynical and politically-savvy secretary Clarissa Saunders- portrayed by the great Jean Arthur- sits him down to try to explain to him the facts of life... or at least, of Washington.
In honour of Independence Day for our neighbours to the south, here's the clip of the prisoners in the Stalag Luft III camp in The Great Escape celebrating the Fourth of July. Out of respect for the occasion, I will refrain from discussing the fact that no Americans were actually involved in the real Great Escape- mostly British, Canadians, Australians, and prisoners of a few more nationalities. Be that as it may, this is a great scene.
As a palate cleanser from Rent, let's watch a clip of a great movie- 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood. The legend of Robin Hood must be one of the most frequently filmed stories in existence; I have seen quite a few of them, and this version has always been my favourite. I must confess, however, that I have a fondness for the 1973 animated Disney version as well. The Robin Hood movie which I didn't really appreciate was 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner. I had never bothered to see it, but some guy friends insisted we watch it one movie night as it was one of their favourites. They were somewhat annoyed when I and another sister who was present kept giggling uncontrollably at the "dramatic" parts, like Christian Slater's angst-y rant. But how could we help it? We had grown up watching the wonderful 1938 film, which is so much better than Prince of Thieves, which was joyless, and funnier when it didn't mean to be that it was when it was attempting to be humorous. The Adventures of Robin Hood has a stellar cast: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, and Claude Rains to name just a few. It's a great adventure story with a lot of heart and humour, and also an amazing sound track. Love it.