Love is a funny thing, especially in the movies, so Vinnie and I have donned our Team Bartilucci romantic screwball comedy caps to spotlight two of our favorites!
Dorian’s Pick: Ball of Fire (1941)
“Once upon a time — in 1941 to be exact — there lived in a great, tall forest — called New York — eight men who were writing an encyclopedia. They were so wise they knew everything: The depth of the oceans, and what makes a glowworm glow, and what tune Nero fiddled while Rome was burning. But there was one thing about which they knew very little — as you shall see…”
How could I not fall in love with Ball of Fire (BoF)? To borrow a line from Foul Play, it was fate, Fergie — kismet! The star team of Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, reunited from Meet John Doe that same year, was a tantalizing draw, plus I’m a sucker for stories set in my hometown, New York City. But I was also interested in BoF because I like comedies about characters who appreciate wordplay and learning (Pygmalian/My Fair Lady, anyone?). I’ve loved reading, writing, and generally having fun with the English language ever since I learned to read at the age of three (during a family vacation in the Bahamas, but that’s a story for another time). My older siblings used to show me off by having me read passages from The New York Times out loud; granted, I didn’t always understand what all the words meant, but somehow I figured out what they sounded like phonetically. For another thing, on an even more personal note, BoF’s sassy heroine Katherine O’Shea goes by the name “Sugarpuss,” or “Shugie” for short. As luck would have it, our daughter Siobhan’s nickname happens to be “Shugie”! (For the record, “Shugie” is pronounced like “sugar” ending with “ee” instead of “er.” For those of you who’ve never heard the name “Siobhan,” it’s pronounced “shuh-VON.” Those who pronounce it ‘SIGH-oh-ban’ will be asked to leave the Internet.) Mind you, this was long before we watched and loved BoF; up till then, we had nicknamed Siobhan “Shugie” in honor of Shaggy’s baby sister on the animated TV series A Pup Named Scooby-Doo (yet another story for yet another time. We’ve got a million of ’em)! Our Shugie thought the name “Sugarpuss O’Shea” was the most hilarious name she’d ever heard!
|Professor Potts digs NYC’s sub(way)culture!|
|Taking good notes for research is important!|
|The happiest fellas in Brainiac Land!|
|If Shugie’s the new neighborhood Avon Lady, we’ll take one of everything!|
|Mr. Looper, er, Hooper, lilac’s not really your color!|
“We’ll be steppin’, me and the smooch, I mean the dish, I mean the mouse, you know, hit the jiggles for a little rum boogie?...Brother, we’re gonna have some hoy-toy-toy!” In turn, the delighted professors roar, “Hoy-toy-toy!” The garbage man adds, “If you want that one explained, go ask your papa.”As Miss Bragg, Kathleen Howard is the very model of an uptight, narrow-minded den mother type who, to slightly paraphrase a line from Witness for the Prosecution, has just had an egg-beater thrown into the wheels of her Victorian household. Miss Bragg may mean well in her stick-up-the-butt way, but I couldn’t help hoping someone would belt her one, so I couldn’t help approving when Shugie did just that — that is, until I read on the TCM Web site that while shooting the fight scene with Howard, Stanwyck accidentally connected too hard with a punch and broke Ms. Howard’s jaw — yikes! Just goes to show sometimes it’s unwise to go too far for your art!
|Is this what they mean by “stopping on a dime”?|
|Things that make you go "Yum-yum!"|
|Nothing perks up symposiums like a conga!|
|One ring to rule them all, one ring to bind her!|
|Before Witness for the Prosecution’s Monocle Test, there was Prof. Gurkakoff’s Reflector Test!|
|Hope is the thing with feathers — perfect for tickle torture!|
Vinnie's Pick: Oscar (1991)
It's a comedy, something that star Sylvester ("Stop or My Mom Will Shoot") Stallone is not well known for. Specifically it's a screwball farce, based on a French film from 1967 Director John Landis and his writing team turned it into a period piece, following many of its trappings religiously. It takes place largely in one location, the palatial residence of gangster Angelo "Snaps" Provolone, who has promised his father (a hiLARious cameo by Kirk Douglas) that he'd go straight. On one madcap day as he prepares to invest in a bank and fulfill his promise, he learns that his head accountant "Little" Anthony Rossano (Vincent Spano) is in love with his daughter, Lisa (Marisa Tomei) (except he's not), who is pregnant from another man, the titular Oscar, their chauffeur (except she's not), planned to marry her off to his dialect coach, Dr. Thornton Poole (Tim Curry) who is also in love with her (except he's not), and at random times, 100,000 dollars plays a shell game among three black satchels that make their way about the house.
|Snaps, Connie, and Aldo keep it all in the Family|
The meat of the plot is from the French original, the comedy of errors about the people in love and the bags, but Landis added a whole layer of comedy by making it a comedic Prohibition-era period piece. Lots of wordplay comedy, many new characters, and the whole plot about the bankers and Lt. Toomey's insistence that things are not as they appear. And oh, those bags... A classic plot point of comedies, whether used as the McGuffin to get the spies after the wrong guy, or a devious way to hide the diamonds, it's been seen in endless films, in recent years, most famously What's Up Doc?
|Lisa and Thornton's budding romance|
is by the book!
A couple of important first major breaks in the film as well - It's Marisa Tomei's first major role, and while she got a Razzie for it, The Wife and I knew right away we'd be hearing from her again, and I don't mean a postcard. One year later she grabbed an ACTUAL Oscar for her role in My Cousin Vinny. Similarly, lovable lunkhead Connie was played to slack-faced perfection by Chazz Palmintieri, who just a year before had played a very different kind of mobster in his self-written one-man play A Bronx Tale. Combining this with similarly comedic gunsel Cheech in Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway, and he quickly became one of our favorite comedic gangster actors. So when we later saw him in things like The Usual Suspects and the film version of A Bronx Tale, we were blown away by the diametric opposite performances.
|"So, boss, which satchel has the secret |
But in honesty, the shining jewel of performances is Stallone himself. In later comedic performances like Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, he's more parodying himself, but here he plays a note-perfect comedic gangster in the Damon Runyon tradition. He shares the screen with some heavy hitters, but holds his own expertly. "Snaps" remains exasperated throughout, and some of his best lines are when his emotions get the better of him. As he tries to explain a small part of his day to his wife Sofia (Ornella Muti), including mention of a daughter Theresa, she responds "We don't HAVE a daughter Theresa!", to which he gaspingly replies, "Do you think I don't KNOW that?"
|Going to the chapel and they're gonna get married...|