Trust Me, You Don’t Know Irving Bacon

And yet, after seeing this little spark I wonder if Irving didn’t wonder if he’d spent his career being passed over for comics with less talent?

Trust me, you don’t know Irving Bacon. I certainly didn’t until tonight when I watched a pretty awful Doris Day movie on TCM, “It’s a Great Feeling.”

When I say “watched” I mean all 85 excruciating minutes! There should be an award for that.

Back to Irving in a moment, I’ve got to tell you about the movie first.

It’s a musical comedy in Technicolor. It starred two actors well known in 1949 Hollywood, Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson. They play themselves in a plot that revolves around discovering Judy Adams, a waitress at the commissary (played by 27 year old Doris Day) and casting her to star in a film.

Doris was a major babe. She was also a pretty good singer and excellent comedic actor. “Doris Day movie” somehow got an undeserved bad connotation over the years. This movie is bad in spite of Doris, not because of her.

In his on-camera outro TCM host Robert Osborne explained it was made on the cheap in only six weeks to fulfill a promise to theater owners. Filmed on the Warner Brothers lot it was filled with famous stars in cameos.

Unfortunately it looked thrown together and pointless. Maybe you could get away with some of this in 1949, but it just didn’t age well.

Back to Irving Bacon. He stole the movie!

From IMDB: A minor character actor who appeared in literally hundreds of films, actor Irving Bacon could always be counted on for expressing bug-eyed bewilderment or cautious frustration in small-town settings with his revolving door of friendly, servile parts – mailmen, milkmen, clerks, chauffeurs, cabbies, bartenders, soda jerks, carnival operators, handymen and docs.

There were and are dozens on Irving Bacon’s in Hollywood. There is a demand for dependable and pliable!

Irv’s role was small. He played a Los Angeles Union Station railroad clerk who knew everything about every train by heart. When the principals in the film came by one-by-one asking about a train to Gerkey’s Corners, WI he was forced to bring out his schedule books and look it up.

He was irked. He never needed to look things up!

Each time he was forced to find a tiny additional piece of info he burned just a little more. By the time a ‘normal’ railroad customer came and asked where the men’s room was he was so stressed he just punched the man’s lights out!

He was exquisitely over-the-top. He was hysterical. Even the New York Times noticed:

Irving Bacon does the film’s most chucklesome bit as a beleaguered railroad information clerk

There’s not a lot written about Irving Bacon. IMDB credits over 400 movies and TV shows to him. That’s crazy. The man was never out of work.

And yet after seeing this little spark I wonder if Irving didn’t wonder if he’d spent his career being passed over for comics with less talent?

I’m over 60 years late, but I’m now an Irving Bacon fan.

Christmas At The Movies: It’s Complicated

Trust me, the Chinese restaurant might as well have hung a sign on the door saying “Se Habla Yiddish.”

its_complicated_poster.jpgThe Fox Family is living an ethnic stereotype, right? It’s Christmas so we went to the movies then ate Chinese food before I went off to work. Trust me, the Chinese restaurant might as well have hung a sign on the door saying “Se Habla Yiddish.”

I wanted to see the George Clooney movie. Stef and Helaine wanted Meryl Streep’s “It’s Complicated.” Two against one. Outvoted again.

They made a great choice.

This was not a complex story in spite of the movie’s name.

Meryl Streep is divorced from Alec Baldwin, but with three children, a college graduation and wedding-to-be it’s tough for him to be out of her life. Baldwin’s character realizes he wants to get back with Meryl just as she meets Steve Martin–the architect supervising an addition to her home.

Hit pause a second. We’ve got to talk.

I haven’t seen this much effortless affluence in a movie since Doris Day swooned over Rock Hudson. Streep lives on a multi-acre estate overlooking the Pacific in Santa Barbara. Her sole source of income seems to be an upscale bakery/coffee shop. Unless she’s baking up twenties there’s no way this could happen!

I know, it’s a movie. Buy the premise, buy the bit. Fine. We move on.

The story is sweet, clever and mainly well acted. It was edited with a meat cleaver.

Who gets the blame: cinematographer or editor? There were cutaway shots behind a person speaking… but his jaw isn’t moving (the shot’s from behind so you don’t see his lips). Maybe I’m too critical, but that injures a movie and reduces my enjoyment.

Good grief Meryl Streep is good. She is incredibly comfortable in her own skin. That serve her well. It just doesn’t seem like she’s acting! That’s how it’s supposed to be.

“She makes the people she works with better,” added Helaine as we did a postmortem on the way out of the theater.

Alec Baldwin, as the ex-husband, is a guy who seldom looks past his own needs. It’s not like he’s trying to hide that. To meet him is to know the only way he can be is needy.

I was a little disappointed by Steve Martin in a role in which he seemed self restrained. He is a favorite of mine, so this is not idle criticism. I’ve just seen him bring a lot more to a role.

There were no surprises, no out-of-the-blue plot twists, no unexpected drama. That’s part of the reason this movie works so well. It is clever without being gimmicky.

The three of us really enjoyed it.

The Chinese food? Well that goes without saying. The movie may change from year-to-year, but the restaurant is always Dynasty in North Haven. As always it was delicious.

I Like Chick Flicks

OK – I know, this entry doesn’t have the most macho of titles. Unfortunately, it’s true. I like chick flicks.

Today, the three of us (Helaine, Stef and me) sat and watched Music and Lyrics. This was a Netflix ‘sneak in’. We had “Walk the Line” for over a month without watching it and finally gave up, sending it back

Music and Lyrics is the story of has been pop star Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant). When Cora (Haley Bennett), a scantily clad Britney – Christina – Shakira wannabe wants a new song from Alex, Alex needs a lyricist. That’s where substitute plant wrangler, Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), comes in.

Here’s my sad admission. The story is contrived. It didn’t make any difference.

Johnny Carson used to say, “You buy the premise, you buy the bit.” I did. I did.

Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. No surprise there. It was a sweet, unencumbered love story… though Hugh (sadly) seems a lot too old for Drew.

It was tough to watch, especially the performance sequences, and not think of Rick Springfield, Helaine and Stef’s favorite 80s pop star. No hits in decades and he consistently packs ’em in.

As has been the case in a lot of the movies I’ve seen recently, the supporting cast made a huge difference. Brad Garrett was very good, but it was Kristen Johnson (remember Third Rock From the Sun) who dominated every scene she was in.

I was surprised to see Aasif Mandvi of the Daily Show in a tiny role with one short sentence of dialog. So that’s how you get to the Daily Show. Who knew?

Forty years ago, James Garner or Rock Hudson was doing this movie with Doris Day. Today, it’s Hugh Grant comfortably playing the clever guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously and Drew Barrymore as the somewhat less chaste Doris.

It still works.

The Couch Potato’s Discovery

I came home from work, slipped into something more comfortable (I’ve watched Doris Day movies) and plopped myself on the sofa in the family room. I had powered up the laptop on earlier as I walked by on my way upstairs.

I like my multimedia multi! I turned the TV on too.

It was already tuned to Cartoon Network. Their nighttime programming is called “Adult Swim.” The program on, “Robot Chicken.”

Wow. Obviously, no drug testing going on there.

I’m not 100% sure if I hit it at the right time, or if this show is really as crazily off-the-wall funny as it seemed. Fast, biting, hysterical ridiculous and terribly animated – they all apply.

There is no way anyone would ever have told me about this show. I am so far removed from its target demo. I probably have no friends who watch it. I could have only stumbled upon it accidentally.

That, unfortunately, states a sad truth. After 50 years, we have moved away from the universal experience that was TV. Sure, there’s still broadcasting, but there are even more outlets for narrowcasting.

The Ed Sullivan Show, where kids would sit through adult acts in order to be there for some kid oriented shtick, will never happen again. From the perspective of the person wielding the remote control, others are no longer accommodated in front of the TV set.

The days of an entire family watching together are over. I may sit down while Stef has something on, but we have hardly any favorite shows we share.

She never watches the all news channels or sports, and I don’t watch Food Network, E!, MTV or VH1. I hardly recognize any of the shows she DVRs… though I’m sure I’d disapprove.

Will our society be the worse for it? You learn a lot about someone when you watch them watch TV. Parents and children will know now even less about each other’s sensibilities.

I Don’t Want This to be the Death Blog… But

It’s often possible to turn on the TV, and even with the sound down, know someone has died. Today, it was CNN, “voice of Mickey Rooney” fonted on the screen, and video of Tony Randall showing.

It wasn’t as obvious as the time Helaine and I were in the Carribean and stations that normally played ‘island music’ were all of a sudden wall-to-wall Karen Carpenter, but it was pretty obvious. Tony Randall had died at 82.

I was a big Tony Randall fan. He was one of those guys who seemed to make a career of playing himself – prissy, exacting, erudite, fastidious.

I’m not quite old enough to remember him from Mr. Peepers, with Wally Cox. I do remember him from some light comedies – especially Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson and Doris Day.

OK, I’ll admit it. I thought Rock Hudson was the macho one and Tony Randall gay. Oops.

Back in Buffalo, twenty some odd years ago, I got the chance to meet Tony at a charity event. I think it was for the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra, which would have been appropriate. He was a great champion of opera and other live performance arts. He seemed older than I had expected. His blue blazer and button down shirt looked worn. He was charming.

Tony Randall never dumbed down his performance. In fact, he played up his intellectual accumen. When he was on with Johnny Carson, or later with David Letterman, there was no doubting that he was the master of all he surveyed.

He didn’t have children until a second marriage when he was already in his 70s, much later in life than most people would think of raising kids. Stories I’ve heard today portray Randall as very happy.

His humor will be missed. His presence, mugging in some inappropriate sketch with Letterman, will be missed. He will be missed.

50 First Dates

Steffie went out with friends tonight, leaving Helaine and me the opportunity to go on a date. OK – maybe date is an overstatement, but we went out.

First it was dinner at our local, family run, Italian restaurant. We love this place. The food is very good. But, even more, we feel like we’re part of their family. And, it really is a family place with parents, children and spouses working in the kitchen or at the tables.

Being on The South Beach Diet (which within this first week seems very much like Atkins), an Italian restaurant is normally a bad choice. Over time, on and off diets, they’ve grown used to me and prepare something close to, but not quite from, the menu. Tonight, the chicken, Parmesan cheese and spinach were just right.

There’s not much playing at the movies right now that appealed to us, so it was off to 50 First Dates. We’d seen Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer – a movie where their charisma outweighed a stupid script. They were enjoyable and we were hoping they’d be just that again.

We got to the theater in plenty of time, but I wanted coffee… and they had none. I am about to give in to the fact that I’m addicted to caffeine. There’s a Barnes and Noble, with Starbucks inside, about a block away. As Helaine got two seats, I walked over. Their coffee is much too strong and bitter for my taste. That’s how I know I’m addicted. I drank it all.

The premise of the movie is a reach, at best. I’ve heard it compared to Groundhog Day, but I don’t think the comparison is in order. Drew Barrymore, having suffered a car accident, only has one day of short term memory. So, as she wakes up each day, it’s the day of the accident.

The problem with the script is, she is forced to be more savvy about her situation than she could be if starting from scratch every day. It really doesn’t make any difference. The success of the movie, and it is a success, is totally based on the two principals. I’m not a fan of either, yet together they’re great. We probably don’t have Doris Day and Rock Hudson here, but what we do have is a couple who are fun to be with.

Now, an admission. Throughout the movie, filmed mostly in Hawaii, are native Hawaiians. Sandler’s movie ‘best buddy’ was a Hawaiin… or so I thought. It was actually Rob Schneider. If Helaine wouldn’t have told me, I would have never known.

Actually, if I would have known, I’d have been a lot less likely to go.

Also in the movie, in a small role, is Dan Akroyd. He’s good, but what’s he doing here? Does he need the work that badly? Shouldn’t he be taking larger roles?

Also seen, and in a truly minuscule role, Maya Rudolph from Saturday Night Live. I’m a big fan of hers, but Hawaii sure seems like a long flight for so little screen time. This was a nothing role – a shame.