Film Review – A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA (1946)

A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA (1946, USA) ****
Comedy
dist. United Artists; pr co. Loma Vista Productions; d. Archie Mayo; w. Joseph Fields, Roland Kibbee; pr. David L. Loew; ph. James Van Trees (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Werner Janssen; ed. Gregg C. Tallas; pd. Duncan Cramer; rel. 16 May 1946 (USA), 11 July 1946 (UK); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 85m.
cast: Groucho Marx (Kornblow), Harpo Marx (Rusty), Chico Marx (Corbaccio), Charles Drake (Pierre), Lois Collier (Annette), Sig Ruman (Heinrich Stubel / Max Pfferman), Lisette Verea (Bea), Lewis L. Russell (Governor), Dan Seymour (Prefect of Police), Frederick Giermann (Kurt), Harro Meller (Emile), David Hoffman (Spy), Paul Harvey (Mr. Smythe).
Five years after their “billed” final film, THE BIG STORE (1941), the Marx Brothers return in this riff on CASABLANCA (1942). Here, Ronald Kornblow (Groucho) takes over as the manager of a luxurious hotel in Casablanca, in the aftermath of World War II. After discovering that both of his predecessors had been murdered, Kornblow begins to fear for his safety — especially when Nazi Count Pfefferman (Ruman) tries to take over Kornblow’s job in a bid to get his hands on valuable items that were stashed in the hotel by the Nazis at the tail end of the war. Whilst the film runs out of comedic steam as it attempts to wrap up its plot in the finale, much of the rest is top-draw Marx comedy. Groucho delivers his one-liners with leering grace and Harpo provides much of the physical comedy. There are opportunities for musical interludes for Chico (piano) and Harpo (harp) and the plot manages to stay out of the brothers’ way for most of the running time. The result is a return to form and a late-career flourish. The brothers would make one more film together – LOVE HAPPY (1949) before disbanding.

Film Review – HELPMATES (1932)

HELPMATES (1932, USA) *****
Comedy
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); pr co. Hal Roach Studios; d. James Parrott; w. H.M. Walker; pr. Hal Roach (uncredited); ph. Art Lloyd (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Marvin Hatley, Leroy Shield (both stock music); ed. Richard C. Currier; rel. 23 January 1932 (USA); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 21m.
cast: Stan Laurel (Stan), Oliver Hardy (Ollie), Bobby Burns (Neighbour (uncredited)), Bob Callahan (Messenger (uncredited)), Blanche Payson (Mrs. Hardy (uncredited)).
One of Laurel & Hardy’s very best shorts. Oliver’s house is in a shambles after a wild party, and his wife is due home at noon. He calls Stanley to help him fix the place up, and the typical catastrophes ensue. Side-splitting sight gags are piled on top of each other as Oliver’s dignity is unravelled by Stan’s dim-witted help and his own pomposity. The final gag is wonderfully ironic.

Film Review – DUCK SOUP (1933)

DUCK SOUP (1933, USA) *****
Comedy, Musical
dist. Paramount Pictures; pr co. Paramount Pictures; d. Leo McCarey; w. Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin; pr. Herman J. Mankiewicz; ph. Henry Sharp (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. John Leipold; ed. LeRoy Stone; ad. Hans Dreier, Wiard Ihnen (both uncredited); rel. 15 November 1933 (USA), 29 November 1933 (UK); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 69m.
cast: Groucho Marx (Rufus T. Firefly), Harpo Marx (Pinky), Chico Marx (Chicolini), Zeppo Marx (Bob Roland), Margaret Dumont (Gloria Teasdale), Raquel Torres (Vera Marcal), Louis Calhern (Ambassador Trentino), Edmund Breese (Zander), Leonid Kinskey (Sylvanian Agitator), Charles Middleton (Prosecutor), Edgar Kennedy (Lemonade Vendor).
The most anarchic of all the Marx Brothers films also has strong hints of anti-war satire. Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is named president/dictator of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighbouring Sylvania over the love of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (Dumont). What follows is a breathless 69-minute comedy masterclass mixing inventive sight-gags (notably the famous mirror sequence) with Groucho’s biting one-liners. Dumont is a game foil for Groucho’s insults. Harpo and Chico are also at the top of their game in their respective familiar characterisations and their battle with Lemonade vendor Kennedy is superb visual comedy. This was the last appearance of Zeppo Marx in The Marx Brothers films and the team’s last film for Paramount before moving on to MGM. In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #60 Greatest Movie of All Time.

Film Review – A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935)

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935, USA) *****
Comedy, Music, Musical
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); pr co. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); d. Sam Wood; w. George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind (based on a story by James Kevin McGuinness); pr. Irving Thalberg (uncredited); ph. Merritt B. Gerstad (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Herbert Stothart; ed. William LeVanway; ad. Cedric Gibbons; rel. 1 November 1935 (USA), 13 December 1935 (UK); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 96m.
cast: Groucho Marx (Otis B. Driftwood), Chico Marx (Fiorello), Harpo Marx (Tomasso), Kitty Carlisle (Rosa Castaldi), Allan Jones (Riccardo Barone), Walter Woolf King (Rudolfo Lassparri), Sig Ruman (Herman Gottlieb), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Claypool), Edward Keane (Ship’s Captain), Robert Emmett O’Connor (Police Sergeant Henderson).
Hilarious and top-notch Marxian lunacy, their first film for MGM following their glory years with Paramount. It was also their first as a trio, with Zeppo dropping out. Here, the Marxes run amuck in the world of opera when Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho) meets aspiring singer Ricardo (Jones), who is determined to win the love of fellow performer Rosa (Carlisle). Aided by Fiorello (Chico) and Tomasso (Harpo), Otis attempts to unite the young couple but faces opposition from the preening star Lassparri (King), who also has his sights on Rosa. Travelling from Italy to New York, Otis and friends rally to try and win the day. Containing some of the brothers’ very best routines – the contract and stateroom scenes – and Groucho’s wittiest one-liners, this ranks with the team’s best films. MGM head Irving Thalberg ensured high production values, musical interludes, and a romantic sub-plot to give audiences room to breathe between the laughs. The formula works perfectly here.

TV Review – THE LARKINS (2021)

THE LARKINS (2021, UK, Colour, 6 x 46m) ***
Objective Fiction / Genial Productions / Objective Media Group Scotland / Independent Television (ITV)
Comedy, Drama
Exec pr. Sophie Clarke-Jervoise, Ben Farrell, Charlotte Lewis, Simon Nye, Toby Stevens, Bradley Walsh; pr. Serena Cullen; d. Andy De Emmony; w. Simon Nye, Abigail Wilson (based on the novel “Darling Buds of May” by H.E. Bates); ph. Darran Bragg; m. Nick Green; ed. William Webb, David Head; pd. Lucy Spink; ad. Polly Stevens; cos. June Nevin.
Cast: Bradley Walsh (Pop Larkin), Joanna Scanlan (Ma Larkin), Sabrina Bartlett (Mariette Larkin), Tok Stephen (Cedric ‘Charley’ Charlton), Davina Coleman (Zinnia Larkin), Rosie Coleman (Petunia Larkin), Liam Middleton (Montgomery Larkin), Lydia Page (Primrose Larkin), Lola Shepelev (Victoria Larkin), Amelia Bullmore (Miss Edith Pilchester), Peter Davison (Vicar), Stephen Hagan (Tom Fisher), Francesca Wilson Waterworth (Libby Fothergill), Kriss Dosanjh (The Brigadier), Tony Gardner (Alec Norman), Seeta Indrani (Miss Chand), Natalie Mitson (Pauline Jackson), Barney Walsh (PC Harness), Timmika Ramsay (Poll Saunders), Selina Griffiths (Norma Norman), Wil Johnson (Old Reg), Robert Bathurst (Johnny Delamere), Angela Bai (Aunt Fan), Victoria Grove (Lil), Georgie Glen (Lady Bluff-Gore), Nicholas Le Prevost (Sir George Bluff-Gore).
Charming, if loose, adaptation of Bates’ beloved novel, It follows the warm-hearted, wheeler-dealing adventures of the iconic Larkin family in the idyllic Kent countryside pales next to the classic 1991-3 series THE DARLING BUDS OF MAY but still delivers enough sunny charm to remain entertaining. Walsh and Scanlan are well cast as the charismatic Pop and Ma and help give the production its energy. Picture postcard locations and colourful photography also add to the heartwarming mood. Some will baulk at anachronisms, such as the diverse casting, but this helps introduce the material to a wider audience. Amongst the supporting cast, Davison has fun as the unconventional vicar and Stephen is loveable as Charley.

Film Review – ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948, USA) ***
Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); pr co. Universal International Pictures (UI); d. Charles Barton; w. Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, John Grant; pr. Robert Arthur; ph. Charles Van Enger (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Frank Skinner; ed. Frank Gross; ad. Hilyard M. Brown, Bernard Herzbrun; rel. 15 June 1948 (USA), August 1949 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 83m.
cast: Bud Abbott (Chick), Lou Costello (Wilbur), Lon Chaney Jr. (Lawrence Talbot / The Wolfman), Bela Lugosi (Dracula), Glenn Strange (Monster), Lenore Aubert (Sandra Mornay), Jane Randolph (Joan Raymond), Frank Ferguson (Mr. McDougal), Charles Bradstreet (Dr. Stevens).
Abbott and Costello play two hapless freight handlers who find themselves encountering Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man. Enjoyment of this horror comedy will depend on your tolerance of the antics of the comedy duo who lack the sophistication, inventiveness and dignity of Laurel & Hardy, but became immensely popular nonetheless. One or two amusing moments do surface, and it is great to see Lugosi, Chaney and co. in action again. Lugosi is particularly effective returning to his signature role of Count Dracula. Watch out for the final gag, which is the best of the production. In 2001, the Library of Congress selected this film for preservation in the National Film Registry. On screen title: BUD ABBOTT AND LOU COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. UK Title: ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE GHOSTS.

Film Review – HOG WILD (1930)

HOG WILD (1930, USA) ****
Comedy
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (USA), Jury Metro-Goldwyn (UK); pr co. Hal Roach Studios; d. James Parrott; w. H.M. Walker (dialogue) (based on a story by Stan Laurel and Leo McCarey (uncredited)); pr. Hal Roach (uncredited); ph. George Stevens (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. md. Marvin Hatley; ed. Richard C. Currier; rel. 31 May 1930 (USA), 25 August 1930 (UK); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 19m.
cast: Stan Laurel (Stan), Oliver Hardy (Ollie), Dorothy Granger (Tillie – The Hardys’ Maid / Girl Lifting Her Skirt by Puddle (uncredited)), Fay Holderness (Mrs. Hardy (uncredited)), Charles McMurphy (Streetcar Conductor (uncredited)).
Vintage Laurel & Hardy short in which Mrs. Hardy insists that Oliver mount the radio aerial on the roof before he goes off gallivanting with his friend Stanley. Inventive slapstick sight gags abound, not least the hilarious closing gag involving L&H’s car becoming sandwiched between trams. Original UK title: AERIAL ANTICS.

Film Review – YESTERDAY (2019)

YESTERDAY (2019, UK) ***
Romance, Music, Fantasy
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Etalon Film / Working Title Films; d. Danny Boyle; w. Richard Curtis (based on a story by Richard Curtis and Jack Barth); pr. Bernard Bellew, Tim Bevan, Danny Boyle, Richard Curtis, Eric Fellner, Matthew James Wilkinson; ph. Christopher Ross (Colour. D-Cinema (Digital Cinema Package DCP) (also Dolby Atmos version), DCP (CGS version) (also Dolby Atmos version), DCP (Dolby Vision + Atmos). CGS (CGS version),Digital Intermediate, Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), Dolby Vision, Redcode RAW (8K) (source format). 2.39:1); m. Daniel Pemberton; ed. Jon Harris; pd. Patrick Rolfe, Moin Uddin; ad. James Wakefield; rel. 4 May 2019 (USA), 20 June 2019 (UK); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 116m.
cast: Himesh Patel (Jack Malik), Lily James (Ellie Appleton), Joel Fry (Rocky), Ed Sheeran (Ed Sheeran), Kate McKinnon (Debra Hammer), Sanjeev Bhaskar (Jed Malik), Meera Syal (Sheila Malik), Harry Michell (Nick), Sophia Di Martino (Carol), Ellise Chappell (Lucy), Justin Edwards (Leo (Russian Stranger)), Sarah Lancashire (Liz (Liverpool Stranger)), Alexander Arnold (Gavin), Lamorne Morris (Head of Marketing), Vincent Franklin (Brian), Karl Theobald (Terry), Camilla Rutherford (Hilary), Michael Kiwanuka (Michael Kiwanuka), James Corden (James Corden), Robert Carlyle (John Lennon (uncredited)).
Patel gives a winning performance as a struggling musician who is involved in a road accident and wakes up to find no-one has heard of The Beatles. Seeing his opportunity, he uses their songs to bring him success but along the way reconciles his newfound stardom with the loss of his keenest supporter from prior to the accident (James). This is Richard Curtis by-the-numbers, but despite its predictability and lack of depth there is much to like. Patel’s self-effacing and unlikely musician is a character the audience can care about as is James as his childhood sweetheart. Sheeran is game in a large support role and McKinnon is the epitome of corporate greed. Where Curtis misses the mark as a writer is in his lack of willingness to explore the frankly manipulative premise to its fullest potential, making it feel like the gimmick it is to hang familiar romcom tropes from. Boyle directs anonymously and lets the characters breathe and the feelgood factor is high. The songs are ultimately what we remember the most and they are, of course, outstanding.

Film Review – CARRY ON HENRY (1971)

Carry On Henry (1971) | Ian FarringtonCARRY ON HENRY (1971, UK) ***½
Comedy
dist. J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors; pr co. The Rank Organisation / Peter Rogers Productions; d. Gerald Thomas; w. Talbot Rothwell; pr. Peter Rogers; ph. Alan Hume (Colour. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); m. Eric Rogers; ed. Alfred Roome; ad. Lionel Couch; cos. Courtenay Elliott; m/up. Geoffrey Rodway, Stella Rivers; sd. Ken Barker, Danny Daniel (Mono); rel. 3 June 1971 (UK), 17 March 1972 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 89m.

cast: Sidney James (King Henry VIII), Kenneth Williams (Thomas Cromwell), Charles Hawtrey (Sir Roger de Lodgerley), Joan Sims (Queen Marie), Terry Scott (Cardinal Wolsey), Barbara Windsor (Bettina), Kenneth Connor (Lord Hampton of Wick), Julian Holloway (Sir Thomas), Peter Gilmore (King Francis of France), Julian Orchard (Duc de Poncenay), Gertan Klauber (Bidet), David Davenport (Major Domo), Margaret Nolan (Buxom Lass), William Mervyn (Physician), Norman Chappell (First Plotter), Derek Francis (Farmer), Bill Maynard (Guy Fawkes), Douglas Ridley (Second Plotter), David Prowse (Bearded Torturer), Monika Dietrich (Katherine Howard), Marjie Lawrence (Serving Maid), Patsy Rowlands (Queen), Billy Cornelius (Guard), Alan Curtis (Conte di Pisa), Leon Greene (Torturer), Peter Butterworth (Charles, Earl of Bristol (uncredited)).

Henry VIII (James) has just married Marie of Normandy (Sims) and is eager to consummate their marriage. Unfortunately for Henry, she is always eating garlic, and refuses to stop. Deciding to get rid of her in his usual manner, Henry has to find some way of doing it without provoking war with Marie’s cousin, the King of France (Gilmore). The perfect casting of James as Henry VIII and a script that has some genuinely funny one-liners alongside the usual double-entendres makes this historical farce is one of the best of the series. Sims, as Henry’s the garlic eating French wife, and Williams, as Cromwell, offer excellent support. Hawtrey also gives one of his most memorable turns as the king’s taster. Good production values through use of wardrobe from ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS.

Film Review – CARRY ON ABROAD (1972)

Carry On Abroad (movie poster).jpgCARRY ON ABROAD (1972, UK) **½
Comedy
dist. J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors; pr co. The Rank Organisation / Peter Rogers Productions; d. Gerald Thomas; w. Talbot Rothwell; pr. Peter Rogers; ph. Alan Hume (Colour. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); m. Eric Rogers; ed. Alfred Roome; ad. Lionel Couch; cos. Courtenay Elliott; m/up. Geoffrey Rodway, Stella Rivers; sd. Ken Barker, Taffy Haines (Mono); rel. 15 December 1972 (UK), 8 December 1973 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 88m.

cast: Sidney James (Vic Flange), Kenneth Williams (Stuart Farquhar), Charles Hawtrey (Eustace Tuttle), Joan Sims (Cora Flange), Bernard Bresslaw (Brother Bernard), Barbara Windsor (Sadie Tomkins), Kenneth Connor (Stanley Blunt), Peter Butterworth (Pepe), Jimmy Logan (Bert Conway), June Whitfield (Evelyn Blunt), Hattie Jacques (Floella), Derek Francis (Brother Martin), Sally Geeson (Lily), Ray Brooks (Georgio), Carol Hawkins (Marge), John Clive (Robin), Jack Douglas (Harry), Patsy Rowlands (Miss Dobbs), Gail Grainger (Moira Plunkett), David Kernan (Nicholas), Amelia Bayntun (Mrs. Tuttle), Alan Curtis (Police Chief), Gertan Klauber (Postcard Seller), Brian Osborne (Stall-Holder), Hugh Futcher (Jailer), Olga Lowe (Madame Fifi).

A group of holiday-makers head for the Spanish resort of Elsbels for a 4-day visit. When they get there, they find the Hotel still hasn’t been finished being built, and the weather is awful. And there is something strange about the staff. They all look very similar. To top it all off, the weather seems to be having an adverse affect on the Hotel’s foundations. The usual array of smutty jokes and slapstick humour is trotted out as the crew embark on a disastrous packaged holiday. Strong points are James’ permanent cheerfulness and Jacques’ temperamental Spanish hotel chef. Entertaining if it catches you in the right mood, but not up with the series’ best. The last film in the series to feature regular Hawtrey.