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Seven Comedies from MGM

I'll Take Sweden (May 2/11)

Directed by Frederick De Cordova, I'll Take Sweden follows Bob Hope's Bob Holcomb as he attempts to separate his daughter (Tuesday Weld's JoJo) from a motorcycle-riding free spirit named Kenny Klinger (Frankie Avalon) - with Bob's efforts eventually leading him to accept a position with his company's Swedish office. It's there that Bob finds himself falling for a pretty interior decorator (Dina Merrill's Karin Granstedt), though Bob is soon forced to once again interfere in his daughter's love life - as the dimwitted girl is pursued by a notorious Swedish lothario (Jeremy Slate's Erik Carlson). It's clear right from the outset that I'll Take Sweden has been designed to appeal primarily to Hope's fans, as the movie, for the most part, seems to exist for no other reason than to afford the comedian ample opportunities to make wisecracks and sarcastic comments (eg after learning that JoJo's beau's last name is Klinger, Bob quips "it figures.") Filmmaker De Cordova generally does a nice job of sustaining the movie's lighthearted tone, and although the midsection is probably a little more uneventful than necessary, I'll Take Sweden concludes with a madcap third act revolving around Bob's efforts at tracking down his daughter within a remote hotel. (The narrative's primary thrust involves Bob's ongoing and decidedly creepy attempts at preventing JoJo from engaging in premarital sex, lest she enter into matrimony without her virginity intact.) Hope's charismatic performance goes a long way towards perpetuating the movie's mildly watchable atmosphere, yet it's just as clear that I'll Take Sweden is never quite able to rise above the distinctly sitcom-like bent of Nat Perrin's screenplay.

out of

Kotch (March 6/14)

Jack Lemmon's sole directorial outing, Kotch follows Walter Matthau's chatty title character as he befriends a pregnant teenager (Deborah Winters' Erica) and eventually attempts to create a home for both her and her unborn child. First-time filmmaker Lemmon has infused Kotch with a very slow and very gentle feel that admittedly proves an ideal complement to John Paxton's subdued screenplay, with the movie benefiting substantially from Matthau's strong work as the somewhat unlikable protagonist. (It's worth noting, however, that efforts to age Matthau remain distracting virtually from start to finish.) The film's palpably meandering atmosphere, however, slowly-but-surely drains one's interest in Kotch's continuing exploits, as Lemmon's freewheeling sensibilities result in a picture that is, for the most part, passable yet hardly engrossing. There's little doubt, however, that Kotch takes a turn for the better as Matthau's character befriends Erica, with the unconventional relationship that ensues paving the way for a handful of better-than-expected sequences (eg Kotch must help deliver Erica's baby within the confines of a gas-station restroom). Matthau and Winters' chemistry together goes a long way towards perpetuating the increasingly watchable vibe, although it does, unfortunately, become more and more difficult to overlook the deliberateness with which this incredibly slight story unfolds. (It doesn't help, either, that the movie runs a flat-out unreasonable 113 minutes.) The end result is a pervasively earnest endeavor that remains pitched a level of pleasant mediocrity throughout, which is a shame, certainly, given the potential afforded by Matthau's performance and Lemmon's behind-the-camera efforts.

out of

Mr. Mom (October 31/12)

Mr. Mom casts Michael Keaton as Jack Butler, a successful engineer who reluctantly agrees to stay home with the kids after he loses his job - with the movie subsequently detailing the comedic consequences of Jack's ongoing efforts at becoming a homemaker. It's clear immediately that Mr. Mom benefits substantially from Keaton's almost unreasonably charismatic turn as the title character, and there's little doubt that Keaton's top-notch work goes a long way towards initially drawing the viewer into the admittedly familiar proceedings. Scripter John Hughes' sporadic reliance on elements of a decidedly less-than-fresh nature are, as a result, not as problematic as one might've feared, although, by that same token, it's not difficult to wish that certain superfluous elements had been either reduced sharply or jettisoned altogether - with the best example of this the continuing emphasis on Jack's wife's (Teri Garr's Caroline) continuing dealings with her lecherous boss (Martin Mull's Ron). Mr. Mom is, generally speaking, at its best when focused on Jack's dogged efforts at coping with his new situation (eg a hilarious sequence in which everything that could go wrong does), as the movie doesn't fare quite as well when it leaves the confines of the Butler household (eg an eye-rolling silly interlude detailing Jack's participation in an obstacle course). The end result is a passable yet terminally uneven little comedy that benefits from its pervasively affable atmosphere, as Keaton's appealing performance proves effective at smoothing over the deficiencies within Hughes' thin screenplay.

out of

The Princess and the Pirate (December 2/13)

The Princess and the Pirate casts Bob Hope as Sylvester Crosby, a fledgling performer forced to leave Europe after a series of disastrous gigs (ie he's essentially been booed out of the country). It's aboard a ship to America that the movie's plot kicks into gear, as Sylvester finds himself embroiled in a kidnapping scheme involving a bona fide princess (Virginia Mayo's Margaret) - with the remainder of the film detailing Sylvester's efforts at keeping Margaret safe from pirates. It's clear right from the start that The Princess and the Pirate's success is entirely dependent on one's opinion of Hope's specific brand of humor, as the movie's narrative is, for the most part, merely a clothesline from which Hope's various jokes and one-liners are dangled - with problems ensuing as it becomes increasingly clear that very little here is actually funny. (There is, to be fair, an entertaining bit of mirror business towards the end, but that's the exception rather than the rule.) Hope's relentlessly broad performance, which is kind of amusing at the outset, grows more and more obnoxious (and grating) as time progresses, and it is, in the end, impossible to label The Princess and the Pirate as anything more than a badly-dated comedy that's long-since lost whatever relevance it may have once had.

out of

What's New Pussycat (December 9/13)

Woody Allen's first screenwriting credit, What's New Pussycat follows Peter O'Toole's sex-crazed Michael James as he enlists the help of an off-the-wall therapist (Peter Sellers' Fritz Fassbender) to control his hedonistic lifestyle. There's little doubt that What's New Pussycat opens with a fair degree of promise, as filmmaker Clive Donner employs a fast-paced and thoroughly frenetic sensibility that's difficult to resist - with the movie's watchable atmosphere heightened by O'Toole's typically charming work as the central character. (Sellers' aggressively over-the-top performance, on the other hand, remains annoying and headache-inducing from start to finish.) The movie's almost excessively thin storyline, however, becomes more and more of a hindrance as time progresses, with the narrative, to an increasingly despairing degree, comprised of stand-alone vignettes that are, with few exceptions, hopelessly misguided and flat-out desperate. The relentlessly unfunny nature of the midsection, then, slowly-but-surely renders the film's positive attributes moot, and it's clear that What's New Pussycat ultimately morphs into a seriously grating piece of work - with this vibe cemented by a frantic, farcical, and door-slamming final stretch that's nothing short of interminable. It's rather remarkable that Allen was able to parlay his work here into an ongoing career, as there's virtually nothing within the proceedings that hints at the filmmaking mastery that would follow in the years and decades following.

out of

Your Past Is Showing (November 27/13)

Your Past Is Showing, also known as The Naked Truth, follows unscrupulous journalist Nigel Dennis (Dennis Price) as he sets out to extort a sizeable amount of cash from several well-known public figures (including Terry-Thomas' Henry Mayley, Shirley Eaton's Melissa Right, and Peter Sellers' Sonny MacGregor), with the plot kicked into motion after said celebrities decide to pool their resources and take down their blackmailer. It's an agreeable premise that is, for the most part, employed to middling effect by filmmaker Mario Zampi, as the director, working from Michael Pertwee's screenplay, has infused the proceedings with an almost incongruously deliberate pace that is, at the outset, rather disastrous. It doesn't help, either, that many of the film's jokes and gags fall completely flat, with Sellers' typically off-the-wall antics ultimately providing the film with its few laughs (eg a hilarious scene in which his character attempts to surreptitiously hire two hooligans from a local pub). And although the movie does improve in its relatively entertaining midsection, Your Past Is Showing suffers from a final half hour that's somehow both convoluted and needlessly padded out - which ensures, naturally, that the movie peters out to a fairly palpable extent before reaching its oddball conclusion. The end result is a misguided comedy that has little to offer all but the most ardent Sellers fan, and it's certainly not difficult to see why the film has been forgotten in the years since its 1957 release.

out of

Yours, Mine and Ours (March 26/14)

Inspired by true events, Yours, Mine and Ours follows Helen North (Lucille Ball) and Frank Beardsley (Henry Fonda) as they fall in love and decide to get married - with the couple's decision having a pronounced impact on their combined 18 children. There's very little within Yours, Mine and Ours that's been designed to appeal to older audiences, as it's clear almost immediately that the film has been geared towards young children - with director Melville Shavelson packing the proceedings with a number of unapologetically broad and distinctly larger-than-life comedic bits and set pieces. (There is, for example, a decidedly over-the-top sequence detailing Helen's drunken antics during her first encounter with Frank's children.) The movie's far-from-engrossing atmosphere is compounded by its excessively deliberate pace, with Shavelson's relaxed approach resulting in a number of overlong and flat-out needless interludes (eg Frank's wooing of Helen seems to go on forever). It doesn't help, either, that Yours, Mine and Ours contains an ongoing emphasis on Frank and Helen's efforts at caring for their brood, as Shavelson, working from a script cowritten with Mort Lachman, offers up scene after scene of, for example, the family eating breakfast, sharing space in the bathroom, and dealing with an illness. The sitcom-like vibe ensures that the film remains kind of watchable for the duration of its 111 minute (!) running time, and yet it's difficult not to wish that Shavelson had infused the proceedings with just a modicum of substance (ie it's all so lighthearted and forgettable) - which ultimately does confirm Yours, Mine and Ours' place as a completely irrelevant comedy that squanders the efforts of its talented cast.

out of

© David Nusair