There Is Something About Comedy in Black and White
There is something about Comedies in Black and White
Certain movies have an ability to take the audience to a different time and place. This article focuses on three such movies. They are; "One, Two, Three", "Young Frankenstein", and "Ed Wood". They were all filmed in Black and White and all three bring back memories of a past time. These three movies are set in a specific time and place but they are timeless. All three are hilarious. Coincidentally "One, Two, Three" and "Young Frankenstein" were released in the U.S. on December 15, 13 years apart. This article contains some spoilers for these movies.
One, Two, Three
"One, Two, Three" is a 1961 movie. The opening narration puts the setting as Berlin, six months before the Russians began building the Berlin Wall. The film’s main character, C.R. MacNamara played by James Cagney, was the head of Coca-Cola in Germany. His staff included a secretary, played by Liselotte Pulver, who believed in mixing business with pleasure, and a heel clicking subordinate, played by Hanns Lothar, who denied even knowing World War II happened. His subordinate’s past came to light when a muckraking reporter, played by Til Kiwe, showed up. The reporter was not susceptible to bribery. When MacNamara’s subordinate reflexivly gave the reporter the NAZI salute and revealed the reporter was his former commanding officer in the SS the reporter immediately went along with the scam MacNamara was perpetrating. The reason MacNamara had to perpetrate the scam was the antics of his bosses daughter, appropriately named Scarlett and played by Pamela Tiffin. Scarlett secretly married an East German, Otto Ludwig Piffl played by Horst Buchholz, who was an idealistic communist. If his boss found out the truth then MacNamara’s career would come to a crashing end. In one scene the East German police torture Otto into confessing by having him listen to the song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Winenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini". This is a great comedy about the Cold War and of some business practices circa 1960.
Other Movies that Used Sound as a Weapon
Earth vs The Flying Saucers
Battle Beyond the Stars
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
Godzilla vs Monster Zero
The Day the Earth Froze
"Young Frankenstein" is a 1974 Mel Brooks movie. It is faithful to the early Frankenstein movies it is spoofing. The movie used many of the original props from the original Frankenstein movies. Dr. Frankenstein, played by Gene Wilder, is so embarrassed by the experiments of his late grandfather, Baron Victor von Frankenstein, that he purposely mispronounces his family name. Like C.R. MacNamara in "One, Two, Three", Dr. Frankenstein is an American who is living in Germany. Dr. Frankenstein has an assistant, Inga played by Teri Garr, who mixes business with pleasure. One of Dr. Frankenstein’s staff, Frau Blücher played by Cloris Leachman, has a secret past. Dr. Victor Frankenstein was her boyfriend! The scene showing how the creature got a defective brain closely matches the scene from the original Frankenstein movie. The movements Kenneth Mars, as Inspector Kemp, made with his wooden arm are similar to those of Lionel Atwill as Inspector Krogh in "The Son of Frankenstein". The scene of The Monster (Peter Boyle) with the Blindman (Gene Hackman) closely matches the scene from "The Bride of Frankenstein". In all these cases, and many others throughout the movie, the actions are altered to great comedic effect. Dr. Frankenstein showcased The Monster to an auditorium full of scientists with a song and dance routine. For those who have seen this movie it is difficult to hear the song "Putting on the Ritz" without visualizing this scene. This is an excellent spoof of the classic Gothic movies.
Ed Wood is a 1994 Tim Burton movie about the eccentric and talentless film maker Ed Wood. Like C.R. MacNamara in "One, Two, Three", Ed Wood, played by Johnny Depp, is good at putting together and executing a plan to achieve his goal, making movies. He convinced a church that was trying to make a movie about the 12 Apostles to finance his science fiction movie so the church could use the movie's profits to finance their religious movie. The problem is the movies Ed Woods makes are “terrible!”[i] The film revolves around Ed Wood’s friendship with famed horror film actor Bela Lugosi, played by Martin Landau, and the making of the films, "Glen or Glenda", "Bride of the Monster", and "Plan 9 from Outer Space". The movie also has a large number of “weirdoes”[ii], all wonderfully cast, who were part of the Ed Wood productions. "Ed Wood" captures the essence of low budget movies and film making in 1950s Hollywood. The movie is not a documentary so what is depicted is not always historically accurate. The scene where Ed Wood talked to Orson Welles, played by Vincent D'Onofrio[iii], in a bar never took place. The irony of a talentless film maker talking with arguably one of the greatest film makers on an equal basis makes the scene's straight lines funny. This is a wonderful comedy for those who enjoy watching 50s Science Fiction movies. This is especially true for those who have seen these Ed Wood movies.
[i] “These movies are terrible!” Sarah Jessica Parker as Dolores Fuller
[ii] “You've surrounded yourself with a bunch of weirdoes!” Sarah Jessica Parker as Dolores Fuller
[iii] Maurice LaMarche's voice was used for Orson Welles.