By Tom Titus
All right, moviegoers, here, as promised, is the first “top ten” list. It’s all about movie comedies and is not the results of any complicated poll, just the incontrovertible opinions of your humble correspondent.
Let’s start from the bottom and work up.
10. “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” in a virtual tie with “A Night at the Opera.” Both of these oldies but still goodies represented the stars in the top of their form. The A&C flick had the bonus of two original horror stars – Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman. “Opera” was the best of the Marx brothers pictures and featured that overflowing full house scene in the ship’s cabin.
9. “One, Two, Three.” James Cagney called it a career in this madcap epic set in West Berlin during the cold war. Another gem from the directorial mind of Billy Wilder, whose surname perfectly described the circumstances.
8. “Soapdish.” Sally Field had a pair of Oscars, but she proved she also could handle comedy in this riotous entry with Kevin Kline, set around a soap opera environment. The climactic sequence is as funny as Hollywood gets.
7. “What’s Up, Doc?” Fresh off his triumph with “The Last Picture Show,” director Peter Bogdanovich demonstrated his comedic skills in this high-energy flick with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neill. The big scene in this one is a breathtaking downhill chase on the San Francisco streets.
6. “High Anxiety.” Mel Brooks has three entries on this list, all well deserved. This backhanded tribute to the Alfred Hitchcock suspensers starred Brooks along with show-stealing villainous performances from Harvey Korman and Cloris Leachman.
5. “Outrageous Fortune.” Shelley Long and Bette Midler were hilarious as polar opposites on a crime-solving spree. George Carlin juices up the finale, but the funniest line in the show comes from Midler after viewing a body in the morgue, which can’t be repeated here.
4. “Young Frankenstein.” Brooks again, this time with the irrepressible Gene Wilder as the body-snatching baron’s uptight grandson. Star turns abound, from Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Peter Boyle, Kenneth Mars (all, like Wilder, sadly no longer with us), along with the two best ones from Cloris Leachman and Teri Garr.
3. “Noises Off.” Director Peter Bogdanovich took the theater’s best comedy and turned it into a terrific cinematic romp with Michael Caine and Carol Burnett heading an all-star cast. For theater people, it’s must viewing.
2. “Blazing Saddles.” Mel Brooks’ magnum opus with Cleavon Little as a black sheriff in a bigoted town and Gene Wilder as the pixilated fastest draw in the West. Top honors also go to Harvey Korman as Hedy…ah, Hedley…Lamarr and veteran character actor Slim Pickens in his best role.
1. “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” And it certainly was back in 1963 when just about every comedic actor in Hollywood hopped aboard director Stanley Kramer’s wild chase flick. Double Oscar winner Spencer Tracy headed the all-star ensemble, and don’t blink or you’ll miss cameos from Jack Benny and Jerry Lewis.
That’s it from this theater critic who grew up on movies and still appreciates the really good ones. Next time, we’ll have a look at Hollywood’s musical accomplishments.
– tt –