Duck Soup (1933)
On some level, all Marx Brothers movies are the same: a thin plot that provides an opportunity for Chico to play the piano and give us a scene of absurd wordplay, for Harpo to play the harp and chase girls, and for Groucho to . . . well, be Groucho. Make no mistake, though: this formula does not make the films any less funny or any less brilliant. This is the one with the famous "mirror scene."
I have always been fascinated by Robert Altman as a director. He uses a screenplay basically only as a map of what is to happen, and he permits the actors to improvise their dialogue, often talking over one another as people naturally do. Surprisingly, this seems to work quite often, and it never worked better than it does in this very affectionate satire of the American country music industry.
The Gold Rush (1925)
I would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite Chaplin film. This might be my favorite. It also might be my third favorite. It's very difficult to compare one to another, because Chaplin brought so many touching and hilarious scenes to his films with a minimum of dialogue - and none of it actually spoken. The cabin scenes are a real highlight of this film form a technical standpoint, but I think that it is the earnest Little Tramp's adoration of the lovely Georgia Hale that really makes this film for me. In 1942, Chaplin re-visited this film, adding his own score and narration and also editing a few scenes. Unlike George Lucas's meddling with his original Star Wars trilogy, this actually worked quite well. I still think I prefer the 1925 version, but only slightly.
I remember when the news came that they were turning Sylvester Stallone's underdog screenplay into a Broadway musical, many of my theatre friends were aghast. Rocky? The Musical? A musical about boxing? (I'm not sure how many of them were familiar with the 1964 musical version of Golden Boy, starring Sammy Davis, Jr.)
To me, however, it made perfect sense, because - at its heart - Rocky is a love story. A washed up boxer and mob enforcer falls in love with the bookish wallflower who works at his neighborhood pet shop. He sees in her what no one else does, and he begins to see something more in himself as well. I won't say that this movie isn't about the boxing, because it obviously is, but it's also about heart and how loving someone can help you to love yourself enough to do anything in the world.
Sometimes it is serendipity that makes for a good movie, or - to give credit where credit is due - a director who knows how to turn setbacks into serendipity. There were several expensive, mechanical sharks built for this film, and none of them ever quite worked right. In order to stay on schedule as much as possible, young director filmed much of the film with the monstrous shark unseen: from the shark's perspective or by the presence of yellow barrels used to buoy the creature when the shark hunters are trying to catch it near the end of the film. This actually heightened the suspense considerably, and it gave the scenes far more impact when the shark was able to put in a rare appearance.
I haven't had an opportunity to see Rocky: The Musical yet, and I've also never seen a performance of the 1964 Golden Boy, but - as a big fan of Sammy Davis Jr. - the original cast album is a prize in my music collection. This is my favorite song from the show: