A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (Preston Sturges, 1947)

The sad finale of two great Hollywood careers: Harold Lloyd's and Preston Sturges's. One of the great silent comedians, Lloyd had been making movies since 1913, but like so many stars of silent films he failed to make an impression in talkies and retired from movies in 1938. Sturges, who was starting up a new studio, California Pictures, with Howard Hughes, persuaded Lloyd to come out of retirement as a producer and director for the studio, but as so often happened when Hughes had a hand in things, nothing worked out right for either Sturges or Lloyd. Sturges had had a run as writer-director of seven comedies, from The Great McGinty in 1940 through Hail the Conquering Hero in 1944, that are some of the greatest ever made in Hollywood, but his attempt at a serious movie, The Great Moment (1944), was a major flop that led to his departure from Paramount and into his partnership with Hughes. Unfortunately, tensions with both Hughes and Lloyd over The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, which Lloyd had been led to believe he would direct, contributed to the poor marketing and release of the movie. Its failure at the box office caused Hughes to pull it and to re-edit it into a shorter film renamed Mad Wednesday, which also failed. Lloyd never acted in another movie, and although Sturges wrote and directed three more, only Unfaithfully Yours (1948) has the comic finesse of his great 1940-44 films. It, too, was a box office flop, though it is now regarded by many as a late masterpiece. The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, unfortunately, is no masterpiece, though it has some good moments. Many of Sturges's great company of character players are in the film, including Jimmy Conlin, Raymond Walburn, Rudy Vallee, Franklin Pangborn, and Robert Dudley, and the scenes in which they appear are invariably the best. It's perhaps unfortunate that Sturges chose to open the film with an excerpt from Lloyd's silent classic, The Freshman (Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, 1925), because the slapstick sequences that follow in Sturges's part of the film pale in comparison. The central knockabout comedy scene in the film involves Lloyd, Conlin, and a lion stuck precariously on the ledge of a building; it recalls the classic skyscraper sequence in Lloyd's Safety Last! (Newmeyer and Taylor, 1923), but the gag becomes overextended and glaringly improbable in this version.

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