4/2/2010

Top 6 Words: Wrong

Posted in Top 6 Words at 5:00 am by Sam

This entry in the Top 6 Words series is all “wrong.” My favorite movies with the word “wrong” in the title follow the jump, but try thinking up some “wrong” titles yourself before peeking. Chime in with your own list in the comments section.

“Wrong” movies are funny movies, apparently. I’ve got a pair of thrillers, but the top four are all comedies.

6. The Wrong Man (1956)

The Wrong Man is arguably a soft spot in Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography, but probably only because it came in the middle of his astounding 1950s run, which included titles like Vertigo, Rear Window, Strangers On a Train, and North By Northwest. This one takes a more serious, almost documentary-like turn, tackling one of Hitch’s favorite themes (the innocent man wrongfully accused) from a new angle. The black and white cinematography is fraught with harsh lights and dark shadows, starting right with the opening shot, which features Hitchcock himself introducing the story in dramatic silhouette.

5. Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

One of the most successful radio shows of all time was the Sorry, Wrong Number episode of Suspense!, an anthology thriller program that ran from 1942 to 1962 and produced nearly a thousand episodes. Many of them later became the basis for episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents on television. About 900 of the episodes are freely downloadable from archive.org, including Sorry, Wrong Number (for best results, listen to the west coast version of the May 5, 1943 broadcast). For myself, I can’t figure out why that episode was the show’s biggest hit. It’s got a fantastic performance by Agnes Moorehead, but there are a great many others I prefer.

But the episode was expanded into a full feature film, and the result is a great film noir thriller, starring the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck as a woman who overhears a telephone conversation between two people planning a murder. But she’s an invalid trapped at home, so how can she do anything about it? The film is well-crafted, artfully shot, and paced to near perfection. There are many plot twists, and each is more terrifying than the one before, until the movie culminates in an unforgettable finale.

4. She Done Him Wrong (1933)

The AFI listed She Done Him Wrong in their 100 Funniest Films list, and rightly so. It gave Mae West her (oft-misquoted) signature line, “Why don’t you come up some time and see me?” and launched Cary Grant to stardom. The supporting cast is a tangle of other men, all with some kind of aim on West. Comic complications abound.

3. Wrong Again (1929)

Laurel, Hardy, a Piano, and a Horse

Wrong Again is one of Laurel and Hardy’s best short films. At their peak, Laurel and Hardy were masters of comic escalation, probably the most technically precise comedians of the silent era (other than Buster Keaton) and probably also the best comedy duo of all time. Unfortunately, they are best remembered for their feature films, only two of which are truly great, and even those are outdone by the best of their shorts, like Wrong Again.

For my money, Wrong Again contains the most hilarious single image in all of their work: Hardy, stuck underneath a piano…with a horse on it. The image is funny on its own, but funnier still is how perfectly logically it all comes about.

1. The Wrong Trousers (1993)
1. The Wrong Box (1966)

These are my top two, but try as I might, I cannot choose between them. Then I realized, maybe I don’t have to. In the old days, you always got to see a cartoon before the main feature, right? So, for the perfect movie night, see one of the funniest animated shorts ever made and follow it up with one of the funniest live-action features ever made.

The Wrong Trousers is the best Wallace and Gromit outing (though A Close Shave is…well, close). People loved the Madagascar penguins for being outrageous and over-the-top. True, they’re fun, but the penguin in The Wrong Trousers is fun and then some by doing almost nothing at all. This is quintessentially British. Americans do not comprehend the humor of understatement well, but The Wrong Trousers is all the lesson one should ever need.

The Wrong Box is also British, coincidentally enough, but hardly a lesson in understatement, though there are hilarious subtleties beneath the madcap farce. Because of the variety of types of humor, almost everyone will find something funny. There’s slapstick action as someone gets tangled in bed sheets trying to bump someone off, and there are quiet one-liners played so straight you’re liable to miss them entirely if you aren’t paying attention. Best are the caricatures of people we know from every day life, their quirks taken to such an extreme, we can’t help but laugh. John Mills plays the feisty, grumpy old curmudgeon; Ralph Richardson is the carefree yet oblivious gentleman with an unending supply of useless trivia; Peter Cook is the nasty, greedy relative; Dudley Moore is the consummate ladies’ man; Peter Sellers is the eccentric, forgetful (and sleepy) doctor fond of cats; Wilfrid Lawson is the world’s slowest butler, both in action and in speech; Michael Caine is the shy, nervous scholar who only wants what’s best for everyone; and Nanette Newman plays the young, pure, innocent, flightly next-door neighbor. They’re all mixed up in a matter of a tontine, a fund which is paid out to the last surviving participant. There is, thus, considerable financial motivation for live characters to be presumed dead, or dead characters presumed alive. Con games of all sorts — many about hiding bodies — collide and intertwine.

1 Comment »

  1. joem18b (231) said,

    April 2, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    “Wrong.” Say it over and over again and it starts to seem like a really weird word.

    6. Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (2003) - A documentary about the Southern haunts of my youth. Slips into Deliverance territory once or twice, but then, that’s the South.

    5. Nature in the Wrong (Tarzan in the Wrong) (1933), On the Wrong Trek (1936), The Wrong Miss Wright (1937) - Charley Chase wasn’t as big as Chaplin, Keaton, or Lloyd, but he was popular and made hundreds of shorts, including these.

    4. Wrong Turn (2003) - I don’t watch a lot of horror, but this one got good reviews and I found it worthy. Great shot from the air of the family car turning off the main highway into the woods. Or wait a minute. Am I thinking of Wrong Turn 2? Or, no, Wrong Turn 3? Or something else entirely? This can be my “wrong” entry.

    3. Wrong Turn at Tahoe - Just watched this and liked it enough to list it here. I keep saying I’ll never watch another Cuba Gooding movie, and then find myself in front of “The Devil’s Tomb” or Lee Daniels’ strange “Shadowboxer.” Keitel is a national treasure.

    2. He Kissed the Wrong Girl (1897) - Guy and gal on a park bench. They argue, she bolts, he relents, turns and gives a smooch to the old woman who has sat down in the gal’s place. One hundred and thirteen years ago, hilarity ensues!

    1. Bus Stop (The Wrong Kind of Girl) (1956) - Based on the William Inge play. It’s no “Picnic” or “Dark at the Top of the Stairs” or “Come Back Little Sheba,” but it’s good enough to top this list. Marilyn at 30.

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