The Commie-Knockers

JULY IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH

What a delightful treat to become re-acquainted with Norman Jewison’s charmingly hilarious 1966 romp, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, now on Blu-Ray from the comrades at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment/MGM Studios..

This picture was da bomb (in that good Nineties-speak way) in 1966, THE comedy to see that year, and millions of Americans (and “feriners”) did; another box-office wallop for UA (with the Bonds, the Beatles pics, The Great Escape, The Pink Panther, etc., UA  really was all that!).

The movie, based on Nathaniel Benchley’s humorous novel, The Off-Islanders, draws much of its mojo from two contemporary (but diverse) comedy hits, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (another UA smash) and Dr. Strangelove;  the plot involves the less lethal aspects of the latter, and much of the slapstick/mirth of the former.  To this point, the producers even hired the Stanley Kramer pic’s screenwriter (the wonderful William Rose), and cast some of Mad‘s super-roster of comics, notably lead Carl Reiner and Jonathan Winters, plus Paul Ford and Ben Blue (even the master cartoonist Jack Davis, who drew the iconic IaMMMMW poster was recruited back to service for RUSSIANS).  To bolster the already formidable thesp power, RUSSIANS added Eva Marie Saint (as Reiner’s savvy wife), Theodore Bikel, Michael J. Pollard, the brilliant character actors Doro Merande, Parker Fennelly, Vaughn Taylor, Richard Schall, Cliff Norton, Larry D. Mann, Philip Coolidge, and, prominently, Brian Keith (a funny non-funnyman in essentially the Mad World Spencer Tracy role – a weary but less larcenous top cop).  Making their screen debuts in a major motion picture were the excellent and underrated John Phillip Law and the magnificent Alan Arkin, who received an Oscar nomination (one of the flick’s five Academy nods) for his portrayal as Rozanov, the flustered Russian officer determined to makes sense of American mores, and, thus, doomed before he starts.

The plot takes place during the post-Labor Day summer weekend on Gloucester Island, in Massachusetts (Eureka, CA ably standing in for the picturesque New England coastal community).  An over-zealous Russian commander (Bikel) determined to sneak a peek at the U.S. gets his nuclear sub stuck on a sandbar.  Arkin, Law and a handful of sailors attempt to arrange for some fishing boats to help pull the vessel off safely and back out to sea, but Cold War mindset sets the town into Pearl Harbor mode in a very uproarious fashion.  Indeed, the script (as concocted by Rose, who authored the classic Brit comedy The Lady-Killers), creates a mini-society of Ealing-type characters reacting to an outlandish situation; but, since, they’re Americans, the response is less droll and more batshit crazy.  And there you have it.

Reiner’s irritable Walt Whittaker, his wife and two children are packing to head home to New York (he’s a successful musical-comedy scribe suffering from writer’s block and “damp!”).  “We’ll never go away anywhere again, I promise,” purrs wife Saint to her complaining spouse.  Their nine-year-old, a small fry version of what we today call a MAGAt (‘cepting, it’s the 1960s, so they hate Russians) blurts out his desire to kill them all – a request mirrored by the town’s lunatic gun-owners (or, simply, the town).  How it all works out amiably was kind of bold then, and almost lovely now.  But, again, very funny.

For director Jewison, it was the final kiss-off to years of formulaic TV and movie fare (albeit fine ones), and a further leap into the big-screen big-time (RUSSIANS was preceded by The Cincinnati Kid, and followed by In the Heat of the Night).  Reiner, superb in a rare leading role, makes the viewing bittersweet in lieu of his recent passing on June 29, at age 98 (sadly, composer Johnny Mandel, who supplies the jaunty, perky score left us the same day, age 96).  It’s Arkin’s show, however, and it’s a virtuoso comic performance.  Nevertheless, my two favorite scenes are Arkinless.  One is a bug-eyed Morande, bound and gagged on a cupboard shelf while aged hubby Parker Fennelly quietly and unbeknownst to her plight, calmly has his breakfast; when finally cognizant of the situation, his deadpan response is “Muriel, what cha doing hanging up there on the wall?”  The packed house in 1966 howled at this for a full half-minute, one of the biggest yuks I ever recall at the movies.

The second sequence is when Reiner and telephone operator Tessie O’Shea are tied up together, and attempt an escape plan.  Popcorn was flying out of the bags, people were so doubled up with laughter during this moment (both scenes have lost none of their bite, I can happily report).

The movie was luxuriously shot in Panavision and DeLuxe Color by the great Joe Biroc.  He really captured the beauteous flavor and essence of a brisk late summer New England dawn, even if it turns out to be a “red” one.

For me, RUSSIANS was a deal-with-it experience.  After years in the Catskills, where the local bijou was a mere fifteen minute walk, we had re-located to Budd Lake, NJ – with no theater nearby.  We were, therefore, at the mercy of our parents – well, their cars.  I was also additionally disturbed to discover that admission price was now seventy-five cents!

The Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray of THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING is quite nice, perhaps a bit warm and a tad soft; that said, it’s also perfectly acceptable, and near-pristine 35MM quality (as is the mono audio).  A Making Of featurette, hosted by Jewison, is included as a neat extra, plus, the theatrical trailer.

From a time when we could still enjoy the foibles of our “enemies,” before both sides sired monsters, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING remains a Sixties rose-colored tableau that practically demands the accompaniment of “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime.”

THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment/MGM Studios. CAT # K1500. SRP:  $29.95.

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Norse by Norsewest

JULY IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH

If, indeed, imitation is the highest form of praise, I surmise that Alfred Hitchcock must have been in seventh heaven with the release of the 1963 thriller THE PRIZE, now on Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive Collection.

The picture was based on a wildly successful bestseller by Irving Wallace, who previously (and scandalously) wowed ’em in print and on-screen with The Chapman Report.  MGM, seeing the endless possibilities, Hitch-ed their wagon to a star (Paul Newman), and re-channeling the droll suspense that made their North By Northwest such a hoot, went for a repeat performance (this blue plate special recipe went so far as to re-cast Leo G. Carroll in basically an offshoot of his NBW role – with a side order of Lewis Stone from Grand Hotel, including a variation of the latter’s final line).  Metro even got NBW‘s screenwriter, the wonderful Ernest Lehman (also of Sweet Smell of Success) to do the cinematic quill-and-ink honors.

But it’s the MGM legacy that melds the Master of Suspense stuff with their trademark lavish all-star presentations (from the aforementioned 1932 Garbo-Barrymore opus to the then-current The VIPs).  That the movie takes place at the (Stockholm) Grand Hotel isn’t a coincidence (there are multiple GH in-jokes scattered throughout).  While the Newman narrative thread carries the body of this espionage tale, the ancillary stories of other PRIZE folks help to weave a complete and tidy tapestry.  Here’s a brief recap, a scenario made-to-order for the Mad Men era.

Alcoholic, womanizing author Andrew Craig (Newman) is the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (no year is mentioned, a descriptive post-credit card indicates “the future,” but it’s soooooooo 1963).  While his “genius” novels go nowhere, he secretly makes a decent living banging out detective thrillers under a pseudonym (sort of like the plot-within-the-plot of the Fred Astaire/Tony Hunter musical in the studio’s The Band Wagon).  He curmudgeonly accepts the Nobel for mercenary reasons – i.e., the 50K check that goes with the recognition. His reputation preceding him, Craig is more than delighted to see that the Swedish government has assigned him a handler – especially when he sees her – the not-so-wise decision of selecting Inga Lisa Andersson, aka Elke Sommer, in possibly the most beautiful she’s ever looked (and that’s saying somethin’!).

Ever on the prowl for action, Craig bumps into Dr. Max Stratman, the winner for physics, a survivor from the Nazi Holocaust, along with his (natch) super-gorgeous (and horny) niece Emily (“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” he asks the nymph, running into her at an after-hours club.  “I accept!,” she eagerly squeals –  a scene that made it into the trailer, and was received with gales of laughter and rapturous applause).

Stratman, loving his adopted country of America, and despising his now communist-held former residence, known as East Berlin, reluctantly meets an old acquaintance, hoping to personally give him a piece of his gifted mind (a dumb move for so brilliant a physicist).  He’s kidnapped, replaced by his evil brother (who will denounce the U.S.) and then “defect” along with said skanky niece/daughter, who’s apparently enthusiastically in on the switch.

Bickering co-award winners for medicine (heart transplants) Dr. John Garrett and Dr. Carlo Farelli and sex therapist marrieds (who sleep around, and, are, of course, from France), Drs. Claude and Denise Marceau, round out the rest of the cast of characters that swing into high gear when the American upstart writer gives a disastrous half-swacked press conference revealing his true source of income and how he has a “nose for finding devious plots in everything I observe.”  This prompts a Stockholm-based patriot to contact him about the Stratman “exchange,” which ludicrously (but royally entertainingly) puts Newman in the Cary Grant driver’s seat, as nasty, murderous spies descend upon him with a vengeance (including a refurbishing of the NBW auction sequence, now taking place in an indoor nudist colony), and ends in an action-packed, sexy finale that had audiences cheering from coast-to-coast.

The laughs are tense, oft-roller-coaster lip-biters, thanks to Lehman’s deft script.  The direction by Mark Robson, while professional and swift, undoubtedly kept Hitch amused without ever losing him a nanosecond of sleep.  The remaining cast is just terrific – a cornucopia of 1960’s movie and TV international stars, and features Diane Baker, Kevin McCarthy, Sergio Fantoni, Micheline Presle, Gerard Oury, Jacqueline Beer, Don Dubbins, Virginia Christine, Rudolph Anders, Martine Bartlett, John Banner, Peter Coe, Edith Evanson, Gregory Gaye, Stuart Holmes, Anna Lee, Queenie Leonard, Lester Matthews, Gregg Palmer, Gene Roth, Ivan Triesault, actor/director Sascha Pitoeff (as Daranyi, perhaps, the most sinister spy in cinema; for years, I actually thought that Antonio Prohias’ Cold War Spy vs. Spy strip in Mad Magazine was based upon him), and Britt Ekland (as one of the nudists!).  Most diverting is the Greek chorus duo of real-life Swedes Karl Swenson and John Qualen as special Nobel-assigned hotel bell captains.

Other credits are aces, and comprise the sensational camera eye (in Panavision and MetroColor, nicely restored) of an industry great, William Daniels (off and on at MGM since the silents) and rising newcomer composer Jerry Goldsmith, delivering one of his first big assignments.

Without question, the ladies are stunning, and seem to be having a ball playing with and off Newman.   The actor later revealed that making THE PRIZE was probably the most fun he ever had in Hollywood (and very likely got him the role in an actual Hitchcock thriller, Torn Curtain, three years later).  His drunken forays certainly suggest that he’s having a blast, frequently resembling a loving homage to Reggie Van Gleason.  Not surprisingly, it’s Edward G. Robinson (as Stratman) who owns the movie with his superb emoting in two (actually three) roles, each with their own vocal inflections and body language (a route he triumphantly took back in 1935, in John Ford’s The Whole Town is Talking).  I have to tell you a story about my seeing THE PRIZE on a July night in 1963 (sometimes MGM would preview upcoming movies for us in the Catskills before they went into wide release; THE PRIZE opened nationwide that December).  When Robinson made his initial appearance in the pic, the packed house burst into applause, with some members even standing to show their appreciation.  More like something one would see in a live Broadway opening; I had/have never experienced anything like that in any movie theater before or since.

The Warner Archive Blu-Ray really does THE PRIZE justice.  In 1080p, it truly looks and sounds like it did first-run 57 years ago.  I’m still amazed at the matching of the extensive second unit Stockholm footage and the bulk of the pic (entirely shot at MGM, in Culver City); that said, a rear-screen of Newman’s character being pushed off a bridge totally propels the situation into High Anxiety territory, a moment that I suspect the Master of Suspense would have secretly loved.

THE PRIZE. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Warner Brothers Home Entertainment/Turner Entertainment. CAT # 1000736867.  SRP: $21.99.

Available from the Warner Archive Collection:  http://www.wbshop.com/warnerarchive or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.

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Suggested for Mature Adulterers

JULY IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH

Looking to followup their 1958 smash hit Indiscreet with another philandering romcom, star Cary Grant and producer-director Stanley Donen, via their Grandon Company, found a winner with 1960’s THE GRASS IS GREENER, now on Blu-Ray from Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment.

The movie, based on a hit play by actor-couple-turned-writing-couple Hugh and Margaret Williams, starts on a very post-war British premise:  the outrageous tax situation on titled country estates – and how their residents were forced to offer paid tours to remain solvent.  Seriously, this was a real thing, research it.  Or just watch this flick and ask Earl and Lady Rhyall.  Convivial, lovingly happy and…I guess this is the best word…comfortable, the Rhyall’s world is turned upside down when, during a typical morning tour, brash American (are there any other kind?) oil millionaire Charles Delacro intentionally-on-purpose wanders off the paying visitor’s track and into forbidden private quarters, discovering a casual but ravishing Lady Hilary.  Its lust at first sight, and the pair can’t believe what’s happening (“I was having quite a lovely life until you came into it,” she later gently scolds).

Earl of the Manor, Victor, is no fool, and immediately knows something is up, but can’t deny his wife – the mother of their children (conveniently on a holiday with their crone of a nanny) – anything.  He loves her that much; he also realizes that retaliating viciously would only ruin his chances of winning her back.  Besides, that isn’t English, it’s American —  sooooooo American.

With Hilary off on a supposed hairdressing appointment in London – in reality, to see her new paramour (it turns into a weekend), Victor with his neurotic would-be novelist underpaid butler Sellers, sets his own plan in motion.  More complications arise when the Rhyall’s bitchy, ditzy drop-dead gorgeous mutual friend Hattie arrives to stir things up (she’s out to snare Victor for herself).

The return of Lady Hilary and Charles to the manor erupts in a visual and verbal melange of hilarity, involving a fishing expedition, Scrabble (with Hilary reminding Hattie that she’s not supposed to play that game with grownups) and even a duel.

Everyone’s so matter-of-factly resolute with the extracurricular sexual shenanigans that it’s a wonder THE GRASS IS GREENER ever got released.  Or made at all; in fact, it almost never got made, due to some sad tidings behind the scenes (although you’d never know it from the comfort level of the four leads).

Originally, Grant and Donen purchased the property for the star’s pals Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall (so wonderful in Minnelli’s The Reluctant Debutante).  Donen had just completed directing Kendall in Once More with Feeling, but the actress was already seriously ill with leukemia (that would soon extinguish her brilliant light on September 6, 1959).

Nevertheless they were all hoping THE GRASS IS GREENER might become a reality (with Grant taking the costarring Delcro role).  When this became an impossibility, Harrison, unable to even consider the project, bolted to, frankly, shamelessly playing the grieving widower longer than his run as Professor Higgins (for a great read, check out my pal Eve Golden’s marvelous biography of the actress/comedienne: The Brief Madcap Life of Kay Kendall).

Grant reluctantly, moved up the chain to keep the movie going – taking over the Rhyall part, and brought on Deborah Kerr, with whom he had successfully been paired in Dream Wife, and, more prominently, An Affair to Remember.  Jean Simmons, perhaps the most beautiful she’s ever been, happily signed on for Hattie, and it’s likely that the two women tossed the name “Robert Mitchum” into the hat; both had marvelous working relationships (and friendships) with the actor, the former on Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison and The Sundowners – the latter on Angel Face and She Couldn’t Say No.  Donen and Grant were concerned that the rugged star couldn’t handle the sophisticated subject matter and approached a pair of alternates:  Rock Hudson, then emerging as an excellent light comedian in his own right (Pillow Talk) and (YIKES) Charlton Heston, who would have been abysmal.  Both mercifully turned it down, due to contractual arguments about billing.  Mitchum’s name came up again, and his response (“I couldn’t give a f**k about billing”) probably cinched him the role.  And he’s spectacular in it.  Grant later admitted Mitchum saved the picture and praised his handling of the dialog and his physical reactions to the various comedic situations.  NOTE: the versatile actor’s next Universal-International pic (they released GRASS) was Cape Fear!

While the movie is essentially a foursome, a fifth character, the impoverished butler Sellers, must be mentioned; it’s a wonderful performance by Moray Watson, the only participant from the original stage production.

In synch with these excellent thesps is Donen’s direction (often inventively using scope split screen, a grand technique he pioneered with It’s Always Fair Weather, in 1955), drolly spot-on, particularly in a Lubitsch-inspired montage of Hilary’s and Charles’ amoral weekend – a sequence of dollies-in to empty theater seats, an empty restaurant table, empty picnic areas, etc.

The movie was a pretty big hit when I saw it in the late summer of 1961 (the picture was a Universal Christmas attraction for 1960, but Catskills theaters wisely held-up playdates until the following summer, correctly assuming that it would be perfect cinematic catnip for the hifalutin’ Manhattanites).  I was with my parents and several other couples of their generation; GRASS IS GREENER was to be the frothy dessert topping after dining out at a posh restaurant (I still recall the name, Kass Inn). I can still remember what I ate:  broiled scallops and a baked potato (my first encounter with scallops, and I loved ‘em. I can still taste them every time I see this movie!).  Without hesitation, mater and pater took me along to the cinema, knowing I’d keep my mouth shut, since I already was addicted to most anything celluloid (I also remember the theater, the Galli-Curci, in Fleischmann’s neighboring town of Margaretville).  While I wasn’t able to fathom much of what was going on, I knew it was a comedy from the frequent laughs coming from the audience.  I do recall being in awe at the beautiful countryside and the amazing color (Technicolor and Technirama, painted by the great Christopher Challis’ superb palette).  Remarkably, even at age seven, I knew who all the principals up on the screen were.

The Olive Films Blu-Ray of THE GRASS IS GREENER is, for the most part, a reasonable facsimile of what the 1960 35MM prints looked like.  Although the exteriors tend to be a bit on the faded side, the interiors really do have that Technicolor/Technirama pop.  The mono audio displays a hint of sibilance, but not enough to annoy or deter from the reams of witty dialog. A score arranged by Douglas Gamley is highlighted by an opening and closing tune, composed by Noel Coward (“The Stately Homes of England”), which nicely underlines the narrative trappings.

THE GRASS IS GREENER.  Color.  Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 DTS-HD MA. Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment. CAT # OF650. SRP: $29.95.

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It’s a Blunderful Life

JULY IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH

Last July, looking to try something different, I devoted the entire month to reviewing discs of movies I remember seeing during our family summer vacations in the Catskills.  I thought it would be a mildly interesting one-off.  Much to my surprise (and delight), I received more emails, tweets, DMs and texts on that nostalgic detour than I usually get on major star/director/genre pieces.  So, guess what?  Here’s Part Two: the Sequel, possibly a new July Supervistaramacolorscope norm.  Enjoy!

 

In the 1967 Hammer classic Quatermass and the Pit, Hobbs End is the locale for the possible Earthly domain of Satan. For Roger Hobbs, aka Jimmy Stewart, the American version of same might be a ramshackle Victorian frightmare that his overly optimistic wife, Peg (Maureen O’Hara), has leased for the summer. The often hilarious results regarding the latter are now on-view for all to savor in the limited edition Blu-Ray of 1962’s MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION, available from Twilight Time/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment.

I must confess that I’ve been particularly partial to this rollicking look at middle-class (well, upper-middle class) America since I saw it with my folks at the Onteora movie emporium, located high in the Catskill mountain retreat of Fleischmann’s, NY, when I was eight. I loved it then, as did the packed theater of (mostly) vacationing city dwellers, and I pretty much feel the same now; of course, my maturity (HA!) has pierced the veil of the movie’s supposed fluffy lightweight trappings. Despite the WASPy family values yuk-yuk stuff, and beautiful brightly lit DeLuxe Color CinemaScope compositions, MR. HOBBS quite often reveals a dark side of Americana that thematically is closer to film noir than to uproarious sitcom fare. Or more Squeaky Fromme than squeaky clean.

This is no accident, as it’s based on a novel by Edward Streeter, revered for his sardonic views on mainstream USA. That his best-known work (book and movie) is Father of the Bride should be the enticing contradictory warning sign. Like Bride, HOBBS‘ title character is a successful breadwinner, steeped in a “respectable” profession (the former’s Spencer Tracy was a lawyer; HOBBS‘ Stewart is a banker). Both have sired essentially ungrateful families who seem to get vicarious thrills from ignoring, snubbing, insulting and humiliating pater at the drop of a lead pipe. Streeter takes what should be euphoric events and turns them into a Dante’s Inferno Disneyland. For Tracy, the wedding in Bride is a surreal near-Kafka-esque horror; so is the summertime sojourn for Stewart. Dreaming for a serene month with his glamorous wife, Hobbs is stunned to learn that they are to spend August in an upscale Northern California vacation trap-by-the-sea. Insult to injury, Mrs. Hobbs has invited their two married daughters (and their terrifying spawn) to join them. As narrator Stewart implies to the audience, it’s not that he actually hates them, it’s just that…well, yeah, he hates them. Once one meets the respective broods, it’s easy to see why. One daughter (Lily Gentle, the precocious teen from Tashlin’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?) is married to a cheating, self-absorbed psychology professor (John Saxon); the other (Planet of the Apes’ Natalie Trundy) is spliced to a quick-tempered loose cannon (Josh Peine) who has refused to allow his wife to inform their in-laws that he’s been out of work for more than a half a year.

Furthermore, Hobbs has his two teenybopper kids to contend with – a sexually blossoming nymph (Laurie Peters) hobbled by her new braces, and a TV-violence-addicted son (Michael Burns) whose only reason for acknowledging his disrespected father is to supply him with “…a copy of Playboy every month.” There’s also their live-in cook, an aged battleaxe refugee from Eastern Europe – Monogram’s answer to Marjorie Main, the ubiquitous Minerva Urecal. Urecal has some of the picture’s funniest moments.  As the Hobbs clan first sets sight on the rather bleak coastline, a perky O’Hara inquires if the surroundings remind the servant of her homeland. “Vorse!,” replies the stoneface in a thick accent. Urecal bolts early, having been outraged by Stewart’s foul language. This confounds the couple until Hobbs retraces his verbal steps (realizing that his suggestion of getting some “sun on the beach” was grossly misinterpreted). I should take a moment to reflect on my original theater-going experience, as the aforementioned Playboy and “beach” lines are forever etched in my brain. On both these occasions, a young mother sitting behind us clapped her hands over her son’s ears (he was around my age). “I thought this was a family movie,” she groaned out loud. As if the mere mention of Playboy Magazine would turn her progeny into Jackie the Ripper! Well, it was 58 years ago.

Admitting that their summery residence hasn’t been topped “…since Dragonwyck,” the Hobbses attempt to see the dreary scenario as a glass half-full. “If it was good enough for Edgar Allan Poe…” spouts a cynical Roger before tripping through a collapsed rotted stairway. At least they’re grateful for the manse’s electricity…until they switch on the bulb. “This isn’t a light – it’s a DARK!,” exclaims Stewart in his inimitable manner. And that perfectly describes the movie: a dark light…a frothy dark light, more kin to the actor’s Anthony Mann outings than his forays into Mr. Smith Goes to Washington‘s beloved Capracorn.

Stewart plays the befuddled card with all the frustration of Scottie Ferguson in a Carry On flick, notably when trying to connect the indoor plumbing and running water. Failing, he calls the local energetic handyman, who arrives immersed in terracotta-stained clothing. Shaking Peters’ and O’Hara’s hands smears them with unmentionable particles revealed to be the remnants of a neighbor’s cesspool. Sharing a party line likewise proves bodily function disgusting, as their phone hoarding sharers are medical atrocity junkies, perennially relishing tales of exploded cysts, inflamed oozing livers and other organ malfunctions.

Escaping for a dawn rest on the shore, Stewart resigns himself to finally tackling Tolstoy’s War and Peace (certainly not the definition of fun summer reading). This too is sabotaged by the arrival of Anita Ekberg clone Marika (Valerie Varda). All bubbly and booby (in a tight swimsuit), Marika is a gold-digger (albeit a lovable one), whose prime targets are older attractive men and money (although not necessarily in that order). Upon learning Hobbs is a banker, she pounces on him with the subtlety of an Alien face-hugger. “Any good?,” she asks, indicating the famed Russian novel. “The New Yorker didn’t care for it,” replies Stewart/Hobbs drolly. Stewart’s jealousy later boils when he spies O’Hara talking to yacht club bon vivant Reginald Gardiner. When insisting on knowing what they were conversing about, O’Hara magnificently retorts that they were discussing The Brothers Karamazov – a spectacular right back at ya kick in the ass.

Sexuality in general plays a big part in MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION. To get embarrassed jaw-wired Peters out of her funk, Stewart basically pimps the 14-year-old to the male locals at a teen dance. Actually reverse pimping, paying off the jocks at five bucks a pop. Fortunately (or not) the one who clicks with her is The Fabulous Fabian (as he was known then) in the fourth of his six Fox appearances. The pair becomes a seasonal item, spending their days and nights at Pizza Heaven, where they even get to sing a duet – the bubblegum ballad “Cream Puff,” part of the sprightly soundtrack provided by Henry Mancini. Yet, this innocuous ditty (lyrics by Johnny Mercer), too, has lurid connotations when one applies the slang terminology to the title, as well as the references to tasty jellyrolls and other edibles.  FYI, Stewart’s later moves on O’Hara are amorously underlined when he slips her a fin.

The carnal shenanigans reach their peak in a climatic encounter between Varda and Saxon “You didn’t call last night,” brazenly purrs the siren into the nervous professor’s ears in full view of his relatives. It makes one wonder as to the ultimate longevity of Roger Hobbs’ kids’ marriages.

Stewart’s character is sort of Gran Torino’s “Get off my lawn!” Eastwood in middle age; this becomes prominently evident in barbs that border on cruelty.  His referring to Saxon as Professor Egghead is the mildest version.  A more severe outburst comes when he sneers “You little creep” to his admittedly psychopathic toddler grandson.  The big guns come at the teen dance; observing a possible suitor for Peters, Stewart nudges O’Hara to take a gander at the boy’s head and face which he unkindly audibly spouts “…looks like the inside of a small cantaloupe.”  Yeah, okay, I laughed.

Yet, the most disturbing aspect of MR. HOBBS is when Burns’ TV conks out and Stewart is cornered into taking his son out on the waves in a craft aptly named a Spatterbox. Soon a fog moves in and the pair finds themselves hopelessly drifting out to sea. Stewart’s morose voiceovers made me squirm uncomfortably back in ’62 – the one part of the movie I found scarily unpleasant.

Things do perk up when Trundy’s husband asks her parents to entertain a potential vacationing employer and his wife – the wonderful who’d-a-thunk-it teaming of John McGiver and Marie Wilson. They pretty much steal the show as the eccentric Turners, a strait-laced, humorless couple (who, suitcase-carrying Hobbs later discovers, fill their luggage with concrete). McGiver’s one passion is bird-watching, and a sidebar trek where the two embark on a dawn patrol search for a Yellow-legged Claphanger is one of the movie’s highlights. The piece de resistance, however, comes later when Stewart is locked in the bathroom with a naked (and swacked) Wilson. The Turners are closet alcoholics and kinky sex aficionados. “You know what he likes sometimes…” teases a giggly Wilson to a mortified Stewart, as he screams for O’Hara to rescue him. It’s the funniest sequence in the pic (I can only imagine that the mother in back of me had by this time committed suicide). Wilson’s subsequent mash note to Stewart caps the segment, and all ends well enough that the family pre-books the dwelling for the next summer.

MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION was a huge hit in 1962 – enough so that Stewart and director Henry Koster (a trusted coworker since Harvey) repeated the formula (with diminishing results) in two follow-up comedies, Take Her, She’s Mine (1963) and Dear Brigitte (1965).

The chemistry between Stewart and O’Hara is terrific and I always figured that making this movie must have been as much fun to shoot as it is to watch (and, despite the ominous narrative elements superbly and cleverly scripted by Nunnally Johnson, it truly is, on the surface, a very funny movie). Not so. In her 2004 biography, ‘Tis Herself, O’Hara exposed a rather startling revelation.

“…I learned a few things about working with Jimmy Stewart on MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION.  I discovered that in a Jimmy Stewart picture, every scene revolves around Jimmy Stewart.  I was never allowed to really play out a single scene in the picture.  He was a remarkable actor, but not a generous one.”

O’Hara worked with Stewart again four years later in the Andy McLaglen western The Rare Breed. Things had not changed in the least, she sadly reported.

Twilight Time’s Blu-Ray of MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION is what we in the trade call a humdinger (but in a clean way). William C. Mellor’s remastered 1080p 2.35:1 images look sensational. The frequently unstable DeLuxe Color that I recall from Fox pics from that period (flesh tones specifically looking pink) is…well, stable and presented with razor-sharp clarity. In short, the movie looks better here than it did in its original release. The audio is in 1.0 mono – although I believe that the first-run prints had a magnetic stereo track. No matter – the audio is fine, and the earlier indicated Mancini score is accessible as an IST (Isolated Score Track).

I’m sure there are thousands of Boomers like me who worship this movie – eternally and wistfully associating it with that Death of Marilyn summer of 1962. While you may recall it as a thoroughly refreshing breezy cinematic beverage, today one might surprisingly find that it carries a slight kick – as if somebody spiked that Coke at Pizza Heaven

 

MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION. Color. Letterboxed [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; Mono [1.0 DTS HD-MA]. UPC # 851789003849; CAT # 903RJO41HTV.  Limited Edition of 3000.  SRP.  $29.95.

Available exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment.  [www.screenarchives.com].

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