7/2/2010

Top 6 Words: It’s

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

This week’s word in the Top 6 Words series is another tough one. It’s “it’s.” “It’s” is common in everyday speech, but not necessarily common in movie titles.

My favorite movies with the word “it’s” in the title follow the jump, but try thinking up some “it’s” titles on your own before peeking. Chime in with your own list in the comments section.

Just missing the list: the Blondie and Dagwood film It’s a Great Life (1943), where Dagwood mistakenly buys a horse instead of a house. Not even close to good enough to make the cut: Amityville 1992: It’s About Time, a bad entry in a bad series. A possible candidate is It’s Always Fair Weather (1955), but all I’ve seen of it is the great scene where Gene Kelly does a dance number on roller skates.

“It’s” is apparently a funny word. A clear majority of the titles I thought of are comedies. Even Amityville 1992 is a joke.

6. It’s a Joke, Son (1947)

The Fred Allen Show was one of the most popular comedy programs in the golden age of radio. One of the popular supporting characters on the show was Senator Beauregard Claghorn, a South Carolinian politician whose love for the South extended all the way to Virginia Creepers and Dixie cups. His catchphrases were “That’s a joke, son!” and “Pay attention now, boy.” If all this seems oddly familiar to you, it’s because the Foghorn Leghorn cartoon character was very thinly based on Senator Claghorn.

The Claghorn character made the leap to film once, in 1947, with It’s a Joke, Son, a great showcase for his deep Southern bluster. Right in the film’s opening scenes, we get a hilarious earful of it: a stream-of-consciousness sequence of everything that’s wrong with the world and how to fix it, such as renaming North Carolina something more palatable, like Upper South Carolina.

While the film itself is no great work of art, it is a great showcase of a great character. Fans of Looney Tunes or of classic radio should probably see this at some point. Conveniently, the film is in the public domain and is freely available at various places online, including YouTube.

5. It’s Only Money (1962)

This is a great Jerry Lewis vehicle. Lewis stars as a TV repairman who’s the long lost son of a rich man who recently passed away. Greedy relatives attempt to do him in, so they can collect on the inheritance. There’s more plot (even if it is a cliche and a mere framework for Lewis’ comedy) than in most of Jerry Lewis’ films, and his antics have seldom been funnier.

As with the previous film on my list, there is a Looney Tunes connection. It’s Only Money was directed by Frank Tashlin, who was a former comic artist and Looney Tunes director. He brings those sensibilities to this film, which has all the flavor of a zany cartoon.

4. It’s In the Bag (1945)

Here’s the second film on my list with a connection to Fred Allen’s radio show. This time it’s Fred Allen himself who stars in the film. While his friendly rival Jack Benny appeared in several films, Allen appeared in only this one, and it’s a good one. Allen is perfect for this sort of role — in which the whole world seems to conspire against him, and all he’s got to fight back with are sharp quips. The story is inspired by the Russian play of the twelve chairs, filmed faithfully and loosely many times, including Mel Brooks’ The Twelve Chairs from 1970. There are only five chairs here, but the idea is the same: treasure is hidden in one of them, but they’ve all been sold to different parties, and it’s a mad race to track them all down.

The device works well as a way to get Fred Allen in and out of otherwise disjointed sketches. They’re all funny, but film and radio historians will find the most significance and delight in Allen’s scene with Jack Benny. Imagine trying to get a chair back from him!

3. It’s a Gift (1934)

W.C. Fields, one of the great comics of the early days of cinema, was a true one of a kind. His nasally monotone voice, big bulbous nose, and straw hat all contributed to one of the most preposterous personages in film. It’s a Gift is one of his best remembered films (I might prefer The Bank Dick by a nose, ha ha), and landed a spot on the AFI’s list of 100 funniest movies.

Today’s climate of stifling political correctness makes me wonder if the time is ripe for a revival of Fields’ popularity. Fields was a daring comic in his day, stomping over all kinds of taboos with respect to his character’s treatment of children. He’d often kick a kid in the rear and make such retorts as, “Kid, why don’t you go play in the street?” He got away with it because the kids in his movies were unfazed by him and usually got the upper hand with kicks and retorts of their own. Still, the act was a sharp contrast with the other, more lovable comics of the day.

2. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

With this film, Stanley Kramer and William Rose set out to make the biggest, broadest comedy to end all comedies. Well, it didn’t end comedies, but it accomplished the other goals: this is a huge movie, in multiple senses of the term: it’s big because it’s three hours long, big because it has one of the largest all-star casts ever assembled, and big because it was filmed in 70mm for Cinerama (giant, wide, and curved) screens. The film is essentially one humongous chase: several characters find out about a buried treasure somewhere, and they all race off in a mad scramble for the loot. It was loosely remade with the passable Rat Race in 2001, but that film’s smaller scale misses the point.

The cast list is almost a who’s who of 50 years of comedy. There were stars of film (Mickey Rooney, Ethel Merman), television (Milton Berle, Sid Caesar), silent comedy (Buster Keaton), stand-up (Buddy Hackett), radio (Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Jack Benny), leading men (Spencer Tracy), character actors (William Demarest, Paul Ford), stars of the past (Jimmy Durante), stars of the future (Peter Falk), mostly Americans (Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters), but a representative across the pond, too (Terry-Thomas). Despite the large main cast, there is still room for a grocery list of celebrity cameos, like Don Knotts, Jerry Lewis, and the Three Stooges.

Celebrity pig piles like this often turned out to be messes, but the mess is the whole point here. This film is so crammed full of every kind of slapstick farce imaginable that the three-hour running time feels rushed. Precious little of it is smart or witty, but it’s not trying to be. The film has a kind of purity in having a single, solitary goal — to make you laugh — and it chases that goal with as much energy as a dozen other comedies put together.

The anchor that holds it all together — the one straight man against which all the others play — is Spencer Tracy, the police captain who’s trying to pin all the madness down. It’s a remarkably human performance and better than it needed to be. For that matter, the film as a whole is better than it needed to be.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

What can be said about this famous Christmas classic that hasn’t been said already? Not much. Frank Capra’s emotionally involving film about a man at the end of his rope discovering his self-worth with the aid of an endearing angel has stood the test of time without ageing a bit, and it’s as popular today as it ever was. It’s immensely satisfying, and Jimmy Stewart’s performance — his first after leaving the service after World War II — is outstanding.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.