TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1989) – Raquel Welch, not Lubitsch

The following is my entry in The So Bad It’s Good Blogathon, being hosted by Rebecca at the blog Taking Up Room from Feb. 22-24, 2019. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on terrible movies whose very lack of quality makes them entertaining!

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound, if you care.)

In reviewing Rich and Famous (1981), the late film critic Pauline Kael described the movie’s stars, Candice Bergen and Jacqueline Bisset, as “great underpopulated bodies.” To make it a trashy triumvirate, I would add Raquel Welch, who always looks smashing but is unable to convincingly convey any emotion beyond snarkiness.

At the time of the initial broadcast of Trouble in Paradise on CBS in May of 1989, Welch did an interview with the Chicago Tribune in which she tried to promote the movie as a substantial romantic film, stating “I won’t play a role where I’m used as just window dressing.” You’d never guess it from this movie, whose makers obviously knew where their bread and butter lay. There are long, luxurious shots of Welch in the skimpiest of lingerie. There’s even a shot where the camera shows her from behind while she’s undressing, exposing the teasingest little bit of sideboob.

But hey, no window dressing here!

So much for the movie’s primary appeal — let’s get to the plot. Welch plays Rachel Baxley, the newly widowed wife of a U.S. diplomat who was recently murdered under mysterious circumstances.

After the diplomat’s funeral (on which the movie opens), Rachel intends to accompany the body back to San Francisco. In a bit of expository dialogue that sticks out like a sore thumb, Rachel declares that she cannot abide by flying. So she decides to go to Frisco via the cargo ship that is carrying her husband’s casket — a ship that has the barest of a crew and does not usually carry visitors. (“The Love Boat” it ain’t.) While getting aboard the ship, Rachel encounters one of the crew members — Jake (Breaker Morant’s Jack Thompson), a hard-drinking, macho sailor — who tries to impress Rachel with his courtliness and gets only her withering disdain in return.

Unfortunately, the ship encounters a violent storm and eventually crashes and sinks near a deserted island. No points for guessing who the only two survivors are.

The movie’s only attempt at plausibility is a sinister subplot that doesn’t figure hugely in the movie until its last 10 minutes, so let’s concentrate on the movie’s silliness. Even after they’ve come to onshore after the shipwreck, Rachel and Jake never look less than perfectly coiffed. Spoiled brat Rachel is eager to return to civilization. But Jake is content to spend the rest of his life on the island, pointing out to Rachel that the island has everything they need to survive comfortably — including, apparently, an entire make-up crew.

(And, even given Jake’s roguishness, he’s surprisingly nonchalant about having seen his fellow shipmates perish in front of him.)

It’s not giving much away to state that this initially combative duo will eventually find common romantic ground, but the path to them getting there sure is painful to watch. Thompson plays drunkard Jake as though he was Humphrey Bogart’s understudy in The African Queen, while Welch plays the simplest light-comedy scenes as though the island had inadvertently planted a stick up her well-toned posterior.

A final debit worth noting is Chris Neal’s score, which plays mostly like Jimmy Buffett outtakes.

So in summation, the movie’s virtues amount to a few lovely shots of island scenery, and loving shots of Welch’s famous physique. Oh, I forgot to mention — a dog named Sid plays Jake’s island mascot, Mr. Mutt, and gives what is probably the best performance in the movie.

Here’s CBS’ original teaser for the movie:


Buster Keaton and Lucille Ball – Together on TV in 1965

The following is my second of two contributions to The Fifth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, being hosted by the lovely Lea at Silent-ology on Feb. 18 & 19, 2019. Click on the above image, and read bloggers’ takes on the life and career of this silent-film comedy master!

(Above is one of several lovely paintings that artist Julia Hutchinson has contributed to this blogathon. Check out more of her colorful artwork at www.juliahut.com.)

As is well-documented elsewhere, Buster Keaton, who had been a huge money-maker for M-G-M studios in the early 1930’s, had his personal life upended through various circumstances. By the 1940’s, he was back at M-G-M, but only as a generic gag writer at $100 a week.

Between gag-writing calls, Keaton holed up in the office of Edward Sedgwick (above, far right), Keaton’s former M-G-M director who was now similarly regarded as “incurably old-fashioned.” Joining them was supporting actress and ingenue Lucille Ball, whom the studio regarded as “washed up” at the time.

Under Keaton’s mechanical guidance, the trio created elaborate, Rube Goldberg-like contraptions to perform simple activities. Their most notorious creation was a machine to raise the window blinds in Sedgwick’s office. Not only did it raise the blinds, but at the end of its mission, it played “Hail to the Chief” while a photo of M-G-M head Louis B. Mayer shot up from behind the sofa. The humorless Mayer finally came to see the machine in action and then ordered it dismantled the next day.

Two decades later, things had changed immensely. By then, Ball had achieved TV immortality with “I Love Lucy” and was in the midst of starring in its top-10-rated follow-up, “The Lucy Show.” Sedgwick had died in 1953 after only a few sparse directorial jobs (one of them being an episode of “I Love Lucy” shortly before his passing). But by this time, Keaton’s career had a memorable third act; he had found voluminous TV and movie work, and his silent film classics had been reissued, to the joy of a new generation of fans.

When Keaton’s friend and comedy peer Stan Laurel died in February of 1965, another friend of Laurel’s, a professional photographer named Gene Lester, got the idea of presenting a TV tribute to Laurel. When Dick Van Dyke — yet another friend of Laurel’s who, like Ball, was currently starring in a legendary sitcom — agreed to host the show, the idea took off — and then eventually crashed, for all of America to see.

CBS aired “A Salute to Stan Laurel” on Nov. 23, 1965. Unfortunately, by the time it got to the airwaves, Lester’s modestly intended tribute to Laurel & Hardy fans had transmogrified to an all-star variety special that had slightly less to do with Stan Laurel than I did. A great number of celebrities were commandeered into performing on the show (much to the later regret of many of them). Two of those stars were Buster Keaton and Lucille Ball.

The entire special is available for viewing elsewhere on the Internet, but if you can make it through the whole thing, you have a stronger constitution than I have. Happily, Keaton and Ball’s sketch, on its own terms, is an enjoyable little gem of pantomime.

The sketch appears to be a version of a routine that Buster performed with his wife Eleanor on previous TV appearances. (Brief clips of Eleanor doing the sketch with Buster can be found in the marvelous documentary Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow.)

Some other trivia regarding the sketch: Harvey Korman, famed second banana for Danny Kaye, Carol Burnett, and Mel Brooks, plays the irate cop. And the unfolding-newspaper gag is taken from the first solo movie that Keaton ever filmed, The High Sign (1921).

Here is the sketch for you to enjoy (introduced by Van Dyke).

Sources:

Keaton (book), Rudi Blesh. 1967, Secker & Warburg, London.

News from ME (blog), Mark Evanier. 2017, https://www.newsfromme.com/2017/06/26/todays-video-link-2510/

(If you enjoyed this blogathon entry, click here to read my first entry, my review of Keaton’s feature film Seven Chances.)

Buster Keaton in SEVEN CHANCES (1925) – Funny in spite of itself

The following is my first of two entries in The Fifth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, being hosted by the lovely Lea at Silent-ology on Feb. 18-19, 2019. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on the life and career of this silent-film comedy master!

(Above is one of several lovely paintings that artist Julia Hutchinson has contributed to this blogathon. Check out more of her colorful artwork at www.juliahut.com.)

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Based on a popular Broadway play, Buster Keaton had Seven Chances foisted upon him by his brother-in-law and producer Joe Schenck. Keaton never liked farce, and he always regarded Seven Chances as the worst of his 1920’s movies. But there are far unfunnier things in the world than Seven Chances.

For one thing, Keaton, who usually worked in a vacuum where getting laughs was concerned, here had a couple of co-stars who were amusing in their own right. The story is that rich man Jimmy Shannon (Keaton) is facing financial ruin, and he and his partner (T. Roy Barnes) are doing their best to evade a lawyer (Snitz Edwards) who is stalking them. The lawyer finally tracks them down and gives them the great news that Jimmy is to inherit $7 million from a late relative. But there’s a catch: Jimmy must be married by 7:00 p.m. on his twenty-seventh birthday – which, it happens, is that very day – or he must forfeit the inheritance.

Barnes and Edwards are perfect matches for Keaton comedically. In particular, Edwards, a prune-faced silent-movie veteran, adds much laughter to the proceedings. Also, the movie’s laughs rely on title cards far more than in any other Keaton movie, but funny they are. At one point, Jimmy has inquired with numerous women at his country club, and all of them have turned down his abrupt marriage proposal. Jimmy turns to his partner and (via inter-title) asks, “Who bats next?”

Keaton also adds some interesting directorial touches. When Jimmy drives to his potential fiancee’s house and then drives back home defeated, we never actually see him driving the car; instead, the movie fades from Jimmy’s car sitting in his own driveway to showing the car sitting in front of the girl’s house, and then back again. Seen in retrospect, Keaton might have conjured up this bit of editing due to his boredom with the rest of the movie; nevertheless, it makes for an interesting, attention-getting visual.

The movie’s one unfortunate aspect is the “laughs” that it derives at the expense of African-Americans. To give just two examples: Jimmy is walking down the street when he sees a potential “bride” walking ahead of him. He catches up with her and starts to chat with her, but then he sees that she is black and quickly jaunts ahead of her. Also, there is a black man who is given a message by Jimmy’s erstwhile girlfriend Mary and is told to rush the message to Jimmy; the movie keeps cutting back to the man to show him leisurely sauntering to Jimmy on a horse, Stepin Fetchit-style. There is the lame excuse that such “black humor” was the norm in the ’20s, but it does nothing to endear Keaton to African-Americans today.

The movie’s famous climax shows hundreds of Amazonian brides giving chase to Jimmy through the city streets. The climax is part of Keaton folklore, in that the never-ending chase was a dud until it got Keaton some unexpected laughs from a preview. Keaton and his crew re-ran the movie and noticed Jimmy getting “chased” by some pebbles as he runs downhill. Keaton ordered 1,500 papier-mache boulders of various sizes to be built and then re-filmed the ending with Jimmy dodging the various rocks. Seen today, the chase is funny enough on its own, but the boulders certainly punch up the joke. (George Lucas later paid homage to this scene in Star Wars – Episode I, when inept Jar-Jar Binks dislodges some lethal orbs from a cart and then runs away in fear of them.)

If nothing else, Seven Chances shows that Keaton could take even generic Broadway material and stamp it with his personal style. For simply mining laughs, it stands as one of Keaton’s funniest movies.

Bachelor

(Footnote: In one of the worst ideas in the history of cinema, Seven Chances was remade three-quarters of a century later as The Bachelor [1999], starring Chris O’Donnell as the rich boy, Renee Zellweger as the jilted girlfriend, and Hal Holbrook as the rich man’s lawyer trying to pimp his own daughter to the potential millionaire. It only proved that nobody could do Keaton’s kind of material but Keaton.)

(If you enjoyed this blogathon entry, click here to read my second entry, about Keaton and Lucille Ball appearing together on TV in 1965.)

For Valentine’s Day – How my wife and I got together

This week, I will be celebrating my 30th Valentine’s Day with my beloved, Kathy. (One month from tomorrow, we’ll be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary.)

I’m always saddened to hear about someone’s divorce, whatever reason there might be for it. So I thought I would repeat an entry I posted on my previous blog for Valentine’s Day two years ago — not to boast about my long marriage, but simply to show that it can be done, and under positive circumstances.

This is the story of how Kathleen Feindt — publisher and editor of Jacksonville Beach, FL’s weekly newspaper The Beaches Leader — became my wife. It’s a story I’ve been dining out on for decades, because it isn’t every “How we met” story that has two endings.

In July of 1988, a friend of mine called to tell me that Mandarin News — the now-defunct Jacksonville/Mandarin branch of the Leader — had a want ad for a reporter. I needed a job and, having some writing (and extremely minor journalistic) experience, I applied.

Kathy was then the editor of Mandarin News, so I interviewed with her. For the interview, I wore a red tie and a salt-and-pepper dress jacket (a la Barney Fife). For some reason, that made an impression on Kathy.

Later that day, Tom Wood (long-time Leader publisher) asked Kathy how the reporter job search was going. Kathy told Tom about me, going on about my wardrobe and demeanor in great detail. Tom said, “You know, Kathy, you’re interviewing for a reporter, not a husband.”

Kathy did not hire me, as I was living in Orange Park and she preferred to have a reporter who lived in the Mandarin area. However, she kept me on as a free-lance feature writer, to review local theater productions and such. For months, our brief phone conversations went like this:

“Steve, I have tickets for two to the latest production at the local dinner theater. You can review the show and, er, also bring a friend or a date if you’d like.”

“That’s great. I hope I can find somebody to go with me.”

Then one Thursday, I was dropping off a column at Kathy’s office. Kathy usually wasn’t in on Thursdays, but she happened to be in that day. I forget what we talked about, but the conversation was so intriguing, I found excuses to come back two more times to talk to her. When I got home, I took the coward’s way out, phoning Kathy and leaving a date request on her answering machine.

Long story short, three weeks later, I asked her to marry me — which she did, four months after that.

Now…I told you that story to tell you this one.

Kathy and I had both attended the University of Florida in 1981. One day shortly after our marriage, we were reminiscing about UF. Eventually, we realized we had worked together for about three months in UF’s journalism department.

We were polite to each other, but there were no sparks flying at the time. I thought she was too work-minded, and she thought I was too nerdy.

One Friday afternoon, Kathy told me that she and some friends were meeting that day at the Orange & Brew (UF’s on-campus pub), and would I like to join them? I said no because I had a class to attend. Kathy knew then and there, she had no interest in a man who would rather attend class than drink beer.

In March, Kathy and I will celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary. Years ago, Kathy asked me if I had any thoughts as to how we had lasted so long.

I immediately blurted out, “That’s easy. You’re too stubborn to ever admit you made a mistake.”

And I’m still quite happy for her stubbornness. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Announcing THE LAUREL & HARDY BLOGATHON!

Welcome to the first week of my new blog! What better way to christen it than with a blogathon?

The classic film comedy team of Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy are much in the news lately, thanks to the recent bio-flick Stan & Ollie (which I was happy to critique at my previous blog — click here for my review). So, as much as I adore Laurel & Hardy, I thought I’d bring them with me to my new blog!

Rules for the Blogathon

  1. Your entry can be about anything specifically related to Laurel & Hardy as a team. The obvious choice is to review one or more of their movies (or your own review of the Stan & Ollie movie), which would be fine. I would also welcome reviews of L&H biographies, or essays about their careers.
  2. If you can come up with a variant not listed above, let me know and I’ll accept it if it fits. Please do not write an entry such as “The first time I saw a Laurel & Hardy movie.” I would like your ‘thon entry to be somewhat educational about the team — an attempt to, as Ollie might say, promote blogathon readers to higher endeavors!
  3. I will allow no more than one duplicate entry on the same subject. (For example, if you want to review the Stan & Ollie movie, and only one other person has already claimed that subject, you may do so as well.) Please review the entry list below (which will be updated regularly) to ensure that your choice isn’t already taken.

How Do I Join the Blogathon?

In the “Comments” section at the bottom of this blog, please leave your name, the URL of your blog, and the movie you are choosing to blog about. At the end of this blog entry are banners for the ‘thon. Grab a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.

The blogathon will take place from Friday, Mar. 1 through Sunday, Mar. 3, 2019. (This is to provide some Stanley-like symmetry, with our blogathon coming in like a lamb and going out like a lion.)

When the opening date of the blogathon arrives, leave a comment here with a link to your post, and I will display it in the list of entries (which I will continually update up to the beginning of the ‘thon, so keep checking back!).

I will not be assigning particular dates to any blog posts. As long as you get your entry in by the end of the day on March 3, I will be satisfied. (That said, the earlier the better!)

Prize

At blogathon’s end, I will put all of the entrants’ name into a hat (no, scratch that, a Laurel & Hardy-like derby). The winning name will receive a slightly used copy of English professor Charles Barr’s 1967 book Laurel & Hardy (cover shown below), an academic study of their movie work that ranks as one of my favorite Laurel & Hardy biographies. (Again, if you’re not familiar with it, I have reviewed it here at my previous blog.)

(NOTE: This offer applies only to entrants who reside within the United States. Seriously. Nothing xenophobic intended, I just don’t have the money for transcontinental postage.)

Again, be sure to leave a comment below and grab a banner, and have fun with your blog entry! Here’s the line-up so far:

Movie Movie Blog Blog II – Laurel & Hardy’s appearance on NBC’s “This Is Your Life”

Laurel & Hardy Blog – Atoll K

Caftan Woman – Hog Wild

Movies Silently – Putting Pants on Philip

Queerly Different – Stan & Ollie (2018)

An introductory guide to this blog (and the previous one)



Jane Russell is my favorite clickbait, so I thought I’d use her to get your attention.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, this blog is a continuation of a blog that I had been writing for the past four-and-a-half years. Click here if you want to discover just why I had to abandon that blog for this one.

Now, if you are reading this blog in its opening days, you are probably thinking that it doesn’t have much to offer. That is why I am doing everything I can to link and hyperlink to my previous blog, which can be found at https://moviemovieblogblog.wordpress.com/

This is my way of saying that my previous blog has an extensive history which I would like to continue here. That history includes reviews of:

Classic comedy films (Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Marx Bros., etc.)

Other comedies

Documentaries

Animated films

Sci-fi and fantasy films

Dramas

Musicals

TV series

…as well as humorous essays, and an excessive amount of tributes to Jane Russell.

So please keep both blogs bookmarked, let others know about them, and certainly share your opinions of my writing in the “Comments” section. Thank you for visiting!

BLOGATHON UPDATE: Less Than Two Weeks Until Busterthon Five!

From the silent film blog and Buster Keaton worship site Silent-ology:

Silent-ology

Happy Friday, all! It’s hard to believe, but the anticipated Buster Blogathon V is only ten days away!

Busterthon 5-4

This year we have a lot of Busterthon regulars as well as some new faces. A hearty welcome to all–this event is shaping up to be as exciting and enlightening as previous years!

So for this year’s ‘thon, I’ve decided to give away a copy of the book Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Buster Keaton by noted film historian/modern day detective John Bengtson. This essential work covers Buster’s numerous filming locations, from shorts to masterpieces like The General, in minute and copiously-illustrated detail. It’s an awe-inspiring book that allows fans to literally stand in the same places as our favorite comedian. I never travel to L.A. without it! (And one day when I finally visit Cottage Grove, Oregon, it’s the first thing going in my carry…

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