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Sunday, 14 December 2014

Giggle and stay warm

Yesterday the central heating made an ominous noise. We switched it off, phoned emergency numbers, drew the curtains, closed the doors, and resorted to chat (assisted by a Wither Hills sauv. blanc and a pinot noir from South Africa).

What, I asked VR, were the funniest movies? Funny-talkies not funny-slapsticks. Forget Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy; the former sentimental, the latter repetitive.

Some Like It Hot, said VR. Of course. Equally, Kind Hearts And Coronets. But how about slightly less famous treasures? Me thinking of A New Leaf (above), where penniless Walter Matthau marries Elaine May and tries to kill her for her money. Where Walter diagnoses his Ferrari's engine problem: "Carbon on the valves."

VR was strong for Alastair Sim, even in movies which weren't meant to be comic. Green For Danger, a hospital whodunnit, sags badly when whimsical police detective Sim is off the screen.

I favour laconic James Garner. When I cited Support Your Local Sheriff, VR (who normally hates Westerns) immediately recalled Garner sticking his finger up the barrel of Walter Brennan's menacing Colt 45. And Brennan's sense of outrage.

The French laugh too. In Just Visiting (Les Visiteurs) a medieval knight is transported to the twentieth century. Coming upon a postman's tiny van with its radio playing, the knight slays it with his sword. You're made to realise this is a genuinely fearless act.

Left-wingers aren't supposed to like I'm All Right Jack where Peter Sellers mercilessly lampoons a trade union shop steward. But for me politics went out of the window when Terry Thomas, a personnel manager, is told to call on Sellers at home. "Him! Why the feller probably sleeps in his vest."

By then the Wither Hills was dead and we were halfway through the pinot.


  1. With your profound memory you have cherry-picked two that I would have cited if I'd thought long enough.

    The Sim parts of Green for Danger rate highly for me. I re-watched it quite recently. After its first viewing (when I was quite young) I had hospital nightmares all mixed up with my near death survival of a mastoid operation at the age of six.

    I'm all right Jack has the added impact for me of being part of my formative years when I was a naive youngster avidly reading everything and thinking how smart I was, and being part of that Angry Young Man scene.

    One to add is Best in Show - a lampoon on the dog owning Crufts brigade where lesser known actors, and I think some non-actors were used to great effect. I recorded this when it was shown on tele a while ago and can't bring myself to delete it - maybe you have sparked a re-watch for tonight.

  2. Blazing saddles? But only after Some Like it Hot, of course.

  3. Almost every Walter Matthau appearance. (The one where he's struggling to get the panty hose on to the comatose woman in his bed before his wife appears at the hotel room door.) how about Planes, Trains and Automobiles?

  4. Sir Hugh: Our list, which was of course was much longer, would well have included Best In Show. All the more remarkable since it was directed by an English-Anerican, Christopher Guest, who also played the lugubrious owner of the bloodhound.

    As for Green For Danger I am trying to reconcile it with your age. I first saw it at the cinema in Hinderwell, during one of our caravan holidays. You must have come too but what age can you have been? Even more strange, what age can Nick have been? Small wonder nightmares ensued.

    Fed: Blazing Saddles was a remarkably coarse (but very funny) movie and I was initially astonished that you picked it.Then I remember that it made a number of subversive (but still uproarious) political points, especially about race relations.

    Stella: Quite right.We could have picked almost everything Walt ever made. Even Charlie Varick, which is essentially a thriller, profits from his rubber-faced persona. Going back even further there's a movie in which a modern-day cowboy (Kirk Douglas) is on the run from the law and Walt (in what may have been his first semi-starring role) plays a sympathetic sheriff. The Army decides to use a helicopter to pursue Douglas, so that the crew "can gain experience"

    Matthau watches on as Douglas contrives to make the helicopter crash, causing Matthau to suggest that the crew "are getting all the experience they can handle". A line he was born to utter.