Movie Monday: Oldies but Goodies

Once again, it’s been a while since I did a “Movie Monday.”  However, over the weekend I had the chance to cross off two of the “I Should Have Seen These Before Now” off my list and one other film that I found interesting.

Bullitt (1968)
I’ve actually been to the streets in San Francisco where the famous car chase was filmed, but I’d never got around to seeing the film.   I decided it was time to bite the “Bullitt” and give it a shot.

Given the excesses of today’s action movies, this one seems pretty tame by comparison.   But watching Steve McQueen as Bullitt, you can see where the seeds for every other “dangerous cop” movie made since are being sewn.  Bullitt is requested by a local politician to guard a mob informant leading up to the informant’s testimony in Congress.  Things go awry when the witness is killed and Bullitt becomes determined to find who and what is behind the killing because one of his fellow officers was seriously wounded in the line of duty.

Watching the movie, I kept expecting to find out that Robert Vaughn’s character was somehow tied in to the conspiracy side of things–something that never happens.

The movie is fascinating and the car chase is still thrilling.  It’s also an action movie that can work with a reasonably complex character and that’s well realized by McQueen.   But the formula has been copied and taken to the next level so many times since this one was made that a lot of the revolutionary impact the film might have had when it was first made was lost on me.  It’s still good and worth watching, but not one I’ll add to the DVD collection.

The Sunshine Boys (1974)
The vaudeville team of Lewis and Clark are encouraged to get the act back together for one last hurrah on an ABC variety special.  The only problem is that after 43 years working together, the two may not necessarily like each other.  And Lewis, in particular, isn’t keen on getting the act back together.

My main reason for seeing this one was to see the Oscar winning work done by George Burns.   This movie was a big step in his comeback after the passing away of his wife Gracie Allen, thus ending one of the greatest comedy teams in old time radio history.  It also intrigued me to know that Jack Benny was originally cast in the role Burns plays but had to drop out due to his health.  Benny recommended his old friend Burns for the role (according to Burns, few people could crack up Benny like Burns) and the rest is history.

Written by Neil Simon, the film is pretty good, powered by the performances of Burns and Walter Mattheau as the titlular “Sunshine Boys.”  The scenes when they’re together shine, though the film is a bit slow moving in getting to the duo being back together.  It’s still got some nice lines, good performance and an interesting cast.

Heavenly Days (1944)
There’s always a danger of seeing a movie version of one of your favorite old time radio shows.   For one thing, the characters may not look the same as you imagined them.  For another, there are some actors that are clearly better suited for the radio waves than the silver screen.

That’s the case with this movie, which plays like an extended episode of Fibber McGee and Molly.  The series itself wasn’t exactly the most plot driven–it was really a collection of gags centered around whatever mad-cap scheme or situation Fibber found himself in that week.   The show was built on a series of running gags and Fibber and Molly’s interaction with various neighbors and residents of Wistful Vista.   The movie showcases several of the running gags from the show, including Mert, the telephone operator and the famous hall closet.   Mert works, the closet doesn’t.  Again, the theater of the mind allows for a far more humorous affect when the famous door is opened than actually getting to see it (same thing with Jack Benny’s famous vault).

The film even includes several musical numbers–one by the King’s Men, one by Fibber and one by Molly in her voice as the Little Girl.

The plot (such as it is) concerns Fibber and Molly heading to DC to make sure Congress knows the thoughts and plight of the common man.  Along the way, Fibber and Molly encounter a train full of soldiers headed off to war, meet Dr. Gallup of the Gallup poll and a reporting couple who could get married if they only could break a big story.  Fibber is haunted by the fife player from the famous painting, encouraging him to go to Congress and make them aware of the opinion of the Common Man.  As with all things McGee related, he does get into the chamber and he does manage to make an interesting speech before he’s removed.

The political moments centering around our leaders losing touch with those they’re meant to represent are hauntingly relevant even today and are when the film works well.  It’s not a classic and it’s not great cinema, but if you’re a fan of the radio show and want to see Fibber and Molly, that’s worth the time (the movie is short, running just 71 minutes).  It’s very much like the radio show in that it’s a lot of sketches and moments hung around a loosely constructed plot.

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