Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
This being the second week of the movie theater shut down, I’d like to delve into movies that I go to to make me feel better. These are comfortable films, musicals and comedies, that can be rewatched any number of times and will always help you feel better. Rocky Horror Picture Show was one of the few films that didn’t make the list that I think deserves at least some attention for being immensely re-watchable. That is only when there’s audience participation and, right now, that isn’t advisable.
Auntie Mame (1958)
First a novel, then a stage play, then this motion picture, then a celebrated stage musical (starring Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur), Auntie Mame is a wonderful little gem from the late 1950s starring Rosalind Russell reprising the role from the stage, Morton DaCosta’s joyous and forward-thinking film gives us the irrepressible Mame Dennis who is tasked with raising her late brother’s son Patrick (Jan Handzlik). Her wild and untamed ways cause Patrick’s inheritance trustee (Fred Clark) to question her fitness to raise the child.
Russell has never been more radiant as the free-wheeling bohemian whose outlook on life makes the rest of the world look like inhabitants of a cloistered abbey. The film’s themes of living life to its fullest even when the darkest of days are upon you is a radiant message that resonates as much today as it did more than 60 years ago. Coral Browne and Peggy Cass (who won a Tony for the same role she played on stage) deserve additional recognition for their superb supporting work. The film and Russell won Golden Globes, but would go home empty-handed after its six Oscar nominations.
Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)
Julie Andrews stars in this 1920s-set musical about flapper Millie Dillmount (Andrews) trying to make her way in the big city by becoming a wealthy businessman’s assistant and then marrying him. Moving into a tenement house with other “modern” women, Millie is soon embroiled in a world of white slavery as a young co-tenant (Mary Tyler Moore) is targeted by the boarding house mistress Mrs. Meers (Beatrice Lillie) as her next orphaned victim.
Andrews, Moore, Lillie, and Carol Channing are absolutely delightful in George Roy Hill’s seminal musical masterpiece that’s as fun as it is risqué, as catchy as it is hilarious, and as well acted as it is well written. In her sixth feature film, Andrews’ star had been ascendant since her starring role in Mary Poppins and had reached its apex with The Sound of Music. While her subsequent films were never quite as popular as those two pictures, she was every bit as marvelous in her subsequent films as she was in those aforementioned films. Matter of fact, two of her pictures make this list of re-watchable comfort films.
Andrews was sadly not nominated for an Oscar for her performance, but Channing picked up one of the film’s seven nominations. It won for Original Music Score (Elmer Bernstein). Channing did, however, win the Globe for her role as a wealthy eccentric.
Murder by Death (1976)
Playwright Neil Simon didn’t restrict himself to the Broadway stage, he also wrote original screenplays for films such as The Goodbye Girl, The Cheap Detective, and others including this film. Murder by Death stars a bountiful array of terrific actors acting their hearts out to embody five of literature’s greatest detectives. James Coco takes on the role of Milo Perrier (based on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot), Peter Falk plays Sam Diamond (based on Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade), Elsa Lanchester embodies Jessica Marbles (based on Christie’s other legendary detective Jane Marple), David Niven and Maggie Smith play Dick and Dora Charleston (based on Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles), and Peter Sellers appears as Sidney Wang (based on Earl Derr Biggers’ popular Charlie Chan).
These five detectives are invited to a spooky mansion where host Lionel Twain (Truman Capote) charges that they cannot solve the murder that will be committed that night. This bizarre household includes a blind butler (Alec Guinness) and a mute maid (Nancy Walker). As the crime unfolds and the detectives try to outwit one another, hilarity is in store for the audience. All of the actors give their all in roles that are meant to be hammy and exaggerated. The aforementioned actors are joined by equally impressive supporting players Eileen Brennan as Falk’s secretary, Estelle Winwood as Lanchester’s wheelchair-bound nursemaid, James Cromwell as Coco’s chauffeur, and Richard Narita as Sellers’ Number 3 son.
If you love whodunnits or are fans of any of these fictional detectives, all of whom have been rendered on the big screen before and after this film was released, this is the film to check out. It has more bark from its cat and bite from its screenplay than anything Rian Johnson could ever have dreamed up. This is one of the best mystery comedies ever made and well worth a watch through if you’ve never seen it before. Personally, I’ve seen it several times and it does not grow old.
The film was utterly ignored by the Oscars. The Globes didn’t do much better bestowing a nomination on Truman Capote for his acting debut with the film earning only one other nomination that year from the Writers Guild of America for Simon’s comedy screenplay.
In her husband Blake Edwards’ film Victor/Victoria, Julie Andrews stars as a down on her luck singer who decides to pretend to be a man doing cabaret acts as a woman. The concept of her post-set reveal of her gender makes her the talk of the town. Andrews is superb with wonderful support from Robert Preston as her mentor and confidant, James Garner as her potential paramour, Lesley Ann Warren as the ditzy moll, and Alex Karras as Garner’s bodyguard.
Edwards’ comic timing has seldom been better. Best known as the celebrated director behind The Pink Panther films, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Days of Wine and Roses, his films are as artful as they are hilarious with Victor/Victoria being perhaps his most challenging and most successful feature. As you watch Andrews’ house of cards come crashing down, the music and excitement wrap up in a most rewarding finale.
Receiving seven Oscar nominations, Andrews picked up her third and so-far final Oscar nomination with Preston and Warren both nabbing nominations. The film received only one for Original Song Score.
Long after Neil Simon had moved on from mystery comedies, a new film rose to fill the void left by Murder by Death and The Cheap Detective. Based on the popular murder mystery board game, Clue features an array of incredibly talented actors giving their all to a hilarious crime comedy that teases the audience with clues to who the killer or killers are.
Set in 1945, the film sets the scene as six anonymous individuals invited to a dinner party where they can challenge the blackmailer who’s been making their lives miserable. The cast includes Michael McKean as Mr. Green, Martin Mull as Col. Mustard, Christopher Lloyd as Prof. Plum, Lesley Ann Warren as Miss Scarlett, Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White, Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock, Tim Curry as the butler Wadsworth, and several less familiar faces in supporting roles. These seven are madcap fun as the bodies start to pile up in an isolated mansion on a dark and stormy night.
As the audience learns more about each character, the reasons for their blackmail, and the revolutionary three separate endings, there’s hardly any downtime as the sight gags and verbal quips make for a most entertaining time. The film wasn’t hugely popular at the box office, but became a cult hit on home video. As a result, it received no Oscar attention. I’ve seen this film more than any other and it remains as humorous today as when I first saw it more than 30 years ago.