WHAT HOLDS UP AND WHAT DOESN'T - Complications Ensue
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Monday, August 07, 2006

We just watched Animal House for the first time in, oh, ten years, and boy that movie holds up. Brilliantly silly script, brilliant performances, great dialog ("Hey, you f***ed up! You trusted us!"), great soundtrack.

On the other hand we tried to watch Caddyshack the other day and couldn't get through it. A lot of comedies from the seventies and eighties fall flat, others survive.

What makes a movie work then and flop now? What's different about the movies that hit then and still work?

A lot of the ones that fail seem belabored and slow, while His Girl Friday's pace certainly helps it now. The Marx Brothers work great, W. C. Fields seems like an artifact of another time.

Is there any way to divide up comedies that still work and comedies that don't?

And while we're at it, did Abbott and Costello know what they had when they came up with "Who's on First"? Did they know they had a classic, or did it just seem like a gag that might be good for a few laughs?

11 Comments:

I wish I could still watch those guys, but I can't seperate out what a dick Lou Costello was. There are definitely times when I don't want to know more about the people I enjoy than I have to and this is one of them.

I caught four of the Thin Man films the other day and loved that they still held up (for me at least). I rarely find a Cary Grant film that doesn't work - but Monkey Business might come close.

JDC

By Blogger John Donald Carlucci, at 10:20 PM  

"Wormer, he's a dead man! Marmalard, dead! Niedermeyer..."

"Dead!"

I showed Animal House to my eldest daughter last year and she got it/liked it...but I kept expecting a bigger reaction (...isn't it great?!)

I'd be curious to know why Caddyshack didn't hold up for you (still works for me)...

And I'm sure Abbott and Costello were just churning out schtick as fast as they could...feeding the machine, and had no idea what might make a 'classic' bit.
Does anyone at the time?

By Blogger wcdixon, at 12:16 AM  

The Universal Monsters still work for me, despite (or because of?) the b&w...

So much cool design work went into those movies.

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 1:19 AM  

Well Animal house lived up to its billing when it was filmed here in Eugene, Oregon, during its heyday. Gosh, don't you just miss it when the original AH frat in the movie was displaced by an office building!

Caddyshack worked for me, by Caddy II for some unknown reason, didn't settle with my appetite to well, well sorta.

By Blogger Jeff, at 4:20 AM  

Without any research or a shred of evidence to back up my assertion, I'd suspect that the "Who's on first?" routine was the end-product of a long line of vaudeville evolution. Not the exact same sketch, but the principle of confusion wordplay and growing exasperation.

Some performers are terrific talents. Others are modest talents but terrific workers. I reckon the first bunch mean something to every generation, the second tend to fade over time.

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 4:35 AM  

“Who’s on First?” is not original to Abbott and Costello. It is an old vaudeville routine that they simple made famous. The Marx’s brothers will always be funny because of their use of language. “Fat, Drunk and stupid is no way to go through life” from Animal House is how I live my life.

By Blogger DJ, at 9:57 AM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Blogger Deckard, at 11:56 AM  

It seems to be about pacing and the evolution of the genre after the original movie. W.C. Fields and Rodney Dangerfield (for me) feel so slow and hammy, it's hard to wait for the punchline to come through. I often 'get' the bit way ahead of the action, because their humor is often situational and they've been done to death. There are, however, a few, older W.C. Fields shorts that are still pretty funny.

The other thing can be the evolution of comic stylings after the original. Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase did their thing for years (and still do). Their stuff has been copied and cultivated over the years to the point where some of the bits just feel old when you go back and watch them. The immitators of Animal House, for the most part, have been pretty weak, partially because that original cast was so perfect for the writing.

As for Abbott and Costello, they were big fans of Samuel Beckett, the playwright who wrote Waiting for Godot whose plays where composed of highly-distilled dialogue that was brutally-funny and absolutely pitiless. Abbott and Costello's vaudeville bits had a tremendous amount of craftmanship behind them, regardless of whether their humor was your cup of tea or not. I can appreciate their stuff, but personally, "Who's on First" is one of the few bits of theirs that enjoy.

By Blogger Deckard, at 12:00 PM  

Wow, totally disagree with you on Caddyshack - I believe it still holds up to this day -

TY
Do you take drugs, Danny?

DANNY
Every day.

TY
Great. So what's the problem?

Not to take away from Animal House, which is a classic, but Caddyshack also a classic, if only for the doody in the pool scene along.

"So I said to the lama, I said, 'Hey. Lama. How 'bout a little somethin', you know, for the effort. And he said there will be no money. But when you die. On your deathbed. You will receive total consciousness. So I got that going for me. Which is nice."

By Blogger Joshua James, at 1:17 PM  

Amazing... I actually wrote a blog about comedy being a generational thing just a few days ago.

Your comment about comedies of the '70s and '80s is right on the money.

I rank Flying High/Airplane as one of the 5 funniest films ever made. My partner Dr J just doesn't think it's funny at all.

But it goes further than generations, or even the passing of time. Wag the Dog is just sheer brilliance, but I suspect it's only a masterpiece if you've got some inkling of how the media and/or advertising and/or film and/or politics actually works.

By Blogger Chester The Bear, at 4:04 AM  

Blutarsky, zero-point-zero!

By Blogger Fun Joel, at 10:55 AM  

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