Toronto Film Society presented Talk of the Town (1942) on Monday, August 29, 1966 as part of the Season 18 Summer Series, Programme 4.
Tweet Zoo USA 1957 7 minutes colour 16mm
Production Company: Warner Brothers. Director: Friz Freleng. Story: Warren Foster. Animation: Art Davis, Virgil Ross, Gerry Ohnouy. Music: Milt Franklyn. Voice Characterization: Mel Blanc.
Cast: Tweety, Sylvester.
Friz Freleng is my own favourite of the Warner Brothers cartoon directors. He won several Oscars, including at least one with Tweety and Sylvester, Birds Anonymous. He directed most of the Tweety and Sylvester Cartoons, but also directed almost all the other Warner Brothers characters (one of his other Oscars was for Knighty Knight Bugs). His sense of fun seems to me the most zestful of them all. Until some scholarly works are written on the subject, it is difficult to assign credit with certainty, but it seems to me, from my own observation of Warner Brothers cartoons from childhood on, that he is the man, more than any other, who changed the character of the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes. His name appears on credits back in the ’30’s when the Merrie Melodies were often styled after operettas, and it was he who changed Bugs Bunny gradually from a fairly conventional cartoon character into the epitome of sophistication. Today he heads De Patie-Freleng Productions, the firm responsible for the credits to The Pink Panther who developed into The Pink Phink, as well as commercials and other credits. To him and to all the other wonderful people at Warner’s who created such a wonderful, wacky, pomposity-busting world, my thanks.
Since this is the final note in our little series of Warner Brothers cartoons, I should say that the lack of representation of such excellent directors as Robert McKimson, such superb storytellers as michael Maltese and Tee Hee, and such unforgettable actors as Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Pepé le Pew, Foghorn Leghorn and many, many more, have been accidental, not intentional. No mention of Warner Brothers cartoons would be complete either without a deep bow to Mel Blanc, a worried-looking little man and an excellent comedian in live-action films (“jack Benny Show” for instance), whose incredible voice has provided exactly “right” characterizations for virtually all the Warner Brothers characters from the Tasmanian Devil to Bugs himself.
Tweet Zoo exhibits all the Warner Brothers characteristics at their very best as, Laurel & Hardy-like again, we see the old sweet story of Sylvester pursuing Tweety, this time through a zoo. Poor Sylvester! It seems impossible that anyone could do so many things so wrong, and Tweety, with even more diabolical innocence than usual, has the last word, as usual, “We know what made him wild, don’t we?”
(Thanks to Aldo Maggiorotti of Warner Brothers for his cooperation and assistance in assembling this cartoon series.)
Tit for Tat USA 1935 20 minutes b&w 16mm
Production Company: M-G-M. Director: Charles Rogers. Producer: Hal Roach. Photography: Art Lloyd. Editor: Bert Jordan. Recording Engineer: William Randall.
Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charley Hall, Mae Busch, Edgar Kennedy.
It used to be said of Laurel & Hardy, “Nobody loved them but the public”. The critical adulation is a thing of fairly recent origin. In their hey day only Pare Lorentz among film critics wrote much about them, but Henry Miller loved them and Dylan Thomas, at pains to define poetry, found the perfect illustration in the Laurel & Hardy film. As Peter Barnes said, “Laurel and Hardy hold a unique place in the hearts and minds of those of us who know that in the end it is only the comic that matters. To be a great clown is to be a poet. For the best give us love as well as laughter. Their comedy is golden; their talent blessed.” (“Cuckoo”, Films and Filming, August 1960.) But I doubt if Laurel and Hardy would have had it any other way. The loving attention they gave their public was returned a hundredfold. Perhaps the greatest contribution of Laurel & Hardy to movie-comedy style was to slow it down. It has often been quoted that as much as 60 feet of ilm could be used just to register one of Hardy’s delicious changes of expression. Then, too, they savoured their jokes. Beethoven kept notebooks in which snatches of themes would be noted down, to be used perhaps years later. I can picture Laurel & Hardy doing the same thing.
A joke of Laurel and Hardy’s is no transient thing. It is sniffed and savoured before use, then used, squeezed dry and squeezed again; smoothed out, folded up with care and put away ready for the next time. The same jokes recur again and again…they appeal particularly and consciously to the pleasures of recognition which have always been especially exploited in the music hall…in the use of catchphrases, of dialogue which becomes comic through its very familiarity…or the frequent sight of Oliver, prostrated and turning up his face in speechless appeal…gradually grow upon one until they are hilarious, irresistible, looked for and cherished. (Robinson, op. cit.)
In this leisurely, deliberate style of comedy they were immeasurably aided by Hal Roach, who held a similar theory of comedy and had been for some years reacting against the made pace of the Sennett comedies. Like Mack Sennett and Stan Laurel, Roach believed, “I have a very simple idea of humour. I go by what makes me laugh. I don’t think there is any rule that you go by. I have never thought that I would make something because somebody else would laugh unless I thought it was funny to me…” and he continued,
Laurel and Hardy were unique. They were two comedians that complemented each other. When Hardy fell in the mud puddle, you would cut to his expression of disgust because he fell into the puddle, then you cut to the bewildered Laurel looking at Hardy in the puddle, then back to Hardy; so actually you got three laughs where with a single comedian you’d get only one. (“Living With Laughter” by Hal Roach, Films and Filming, October 1964.)
The Boys did their best work for Roach and after leaving his protection they all to often were submerged under an unwieldy plot from which their comic genius twinkled only occasionally in set-pieces.
The title of Tit for Tat, one of their very greatest comedies, sums up the plot and one of the most notable comic devices they use. They own an electrical store next to a grocery store. Over some trifle the respective store-keepers begin feuding and in agonizing, calculating, deliberate steps both stores are reduced to a shambles, tit for tat. All is done with that gentlemanly dignity that only Stan and Ollie could achieve.
Laurel and Hardy are both dead now and whether you think, as Raymond Durgnat did, that their films were “visionary crystallisations of the human condition”, or whether, like me, you just think they’re funny, you will probably agree that the world is a sadder place without them. Another fine mess you’ve left us in, Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy, if I may paraphrase you.
Notes by Ron R. Anger
– INTERMISSION –
Talk of the Town (1942)
Production Company: Columbia Pictures. Producer/Director: George Stevens. Screenplay: Irwin Shaw and Sidney Buchman, based on a story by Sidney Harmon. Adaptation: Dale Van Every. Music: Frederick Hollander. Musical Director: M.W. Stoloff. Editor: Otto Meyer.
Cast: Jean Arthur, Cary Grant, Ronald Colman, Edgar Buchanan, Glenda Farrell, Charles Dingle, Emma Dunn, Rex Ingram, Leonid Kinskey, Tom Tyler.
George Stevens, later chiefly noted for such sober ventures as I Remember Mama, A Place in the Sun, Shane, Giant, The Diary of Anne Frank and The Greatest Story Ever Told, was once best known as a purveyor of comedy. Early days as a cameraman shooting silent two-reelers for Hal Roach Studios led into his own feature comedies in the sound era–a “Cohens and Kellys” film and (more happily) Vivacious Lady (Rogers), A Damsel in Distress (Astaire), Woman of the Year (Hepburn) an, with Jean Arthur, The More the Merrier and tonight’s film. Apart from the impression that it extracted enjoyable humours from the juxtaposition of three people normally unlikely to be thrown together, and that it contained a certain amount of Capra-like “social significance” which may or may not wear well, my memories of Talk of the Town are pleasant, but not terribly explicit, so I shall content myself with quoting the reactions of one American and one British critic of the day–except to say (at the risk of killing a point for the minority who read programme notes!) that the movie contains one of my favourite moments in the history of the cinema–when Miss Arthur launguidly surveys herself in a mirror and breathes, in the best tones of her contemporary , Miss Hepburn, “Lahve-ly! Rahlly lahve-ly!”, ony to be caught in the act by Mr. Grant.
Spends 118 mirthful minutes making Matinee Idol Ronald Colman an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; but not before Cary Grant and Jean Arthur have taught him the difference between law as it is taught in law schools and law as it is practiced in law courts. This pedagogic plot turns into hilarious comedy, largely through the expert energy of Cinemactress Arthur, the expert apathy of Cinemactor Grant, the expert wispiness of Old-Timer Colman. Professor Colman, spade-bearded bachelor dean of a law school, clings to a somewhat cloistered view of the law. A renowned theorist, he is unaware of the common or police-court distortions of legal principles. Grant, Arthur and others resolve–not entirely unselfishly–to open his eyes. Grant is a framed fugitive from the law; Miss Arthur, a rather befuddle schoolmarm, just wants to see justice done. The temptation to interest Dean Colman in Grant’s case becomes overwhelming after the professor rents Miss Arthur’s home for the summer: Grant is hiding out there. Good quip: Grant, inured, hunted, fed-up with Colman’s idealistic legal philosophizings, blurts out: ‘Professor, you don’t live in this country; you just take a room in it!’
The New Statesman and Nation
The Talk of the Town extracts much incidental liveliness from its situation. Jean Arthur gives a delicious performance of divided sympathies and cross-purposes. She is made to look outrageously silly at times an puts her foot in it with irresistible gaiety. Colman as the lawyer is bearded and ‘needs warming up.’ Cary Grant gives us the natural man who needs cooling off, with more infectiousness than usual. When the argument about legal ethics turns serious, as it is supposed to do from time to time, our sympathies begin to droop; but these moments are not too many. A brisk comedy prettily acted and directed.
Notes by George G. Patterson