Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Why Best Of Lists Suck

I happened across this list of what the American Film Institute believes are the 100 funniest American movies ever made, and there are just so many wrong-headed entries on this list and omissions that I couldn't help but comment a tiny bit. First, two entries that are inexcusably omitted, "Stripes" and "One Two Three". "Stripes" is one of the great slob comedies, with bravura performances every way around. Definitely the best pairing ever of Harold Ramis and John Candy, and enough low-brow laughs to satisfy any devoted fan of the Ritz Brothers. John Laroquette's line "I wish I was a loofah" will live forever.

Then there's "One Two Three". There are several Billy Wilder films on the list, so it isn't as if he isn't represented, but this one is my favorite out of all of them by far. The plot setup has Jimmy Cagney as a Coca-Cola executive in West Berlin just prior to the Wall's construction, and Cagney is entrusted with watching over his boss' scatterbrained, hot-blooded daughter (played brilliantly by Pamela Tiffin). The daughter falls for and marries an East German communist (Horst Buchholz) and Cagney has to go through an incredible series of machinations to get the marriage annulled and then reinstated so that the young couple (with the daughter most inconveniently schwanger) have to meet the parents. Cagney's rapid fire delivery, especially in the scene when they transform the paramour into a capitalist tool is hysterically funny. The supporting cast is first-rate, with Arlene Francis as Cagney's acid-tongued wife, Lilo Pulver as the busty secretary, Hanns Lothar as the devoted assistant (with a past) Schlemmer, and Leon Askin (yes, good old General Burkhalter) as Comrade Peripetchikoff (a brilliant piece of alliteration!). The dialogue will split your sides open:
"That old Gestapo training, eh Schlemmer?"
"Please Mr. Macnamara, you mustn't say that"
"Just between us Schlemmer, what did you do during the war?"
"I was in the Unterground, the Underground"
"Resistance fighter?"
"No, motorman. You know, in the subway"
"And you didn't know anything about Adolf?"
"Adolf who?"

A jeweler comes in during the transformation scene, and announces himself using the German word for jewelry very loudly to Macnamara (Cagney). Unfortunately, the German word for jewelry is "schmuck" (which of course translates as something entirely different in Yiddish, although the Yiddish word is more likely derived from the Slavic "smok", which means a boorish person). Cagney's reaction is priceless at that moment. Run, do not walk to add it to your collection.

Getting back to the AFI list, here are some of the ones that in my somewhat unhumble opinion, don't belong or are overranked:

There's about a dozen others that I really would take off this list, but I'll refrain from enumerating every single one. They did get a lot of right entries, and I was especially pleased to see "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" on the list, as that one is not only Bud and Lou at their best but also is the last great Universal monster flick (and you can see that the cast was having a great time with this one; and wasn't Lenore Aubert just yummy?) "Sons Of The Desert" is a personal favorite, and the ending gag with Mae Busch chasing Ollie out of the house with "I'll show you, you Son Of The Desert!" is still hysterical. "Road To Morocco" scores extra points for the Bob Hope reefer gag. And of course, much Marx and Mel madness makes the Proprietor laugh.


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