Here are three films, all comedies (to a certain extent), that didn’t play in a recent film festival, nor are they coming up soon. None of them are new and their distributors didn’t ask me to review them. I just watched them for my own enjoyment.
A Billy Liar (1963), Kanopy
This is how a stage play should be converted into a film – it doesn’t look at all like a stage play. But as a movie, it’s terrific. As Billy (Tom Courtenay) moves through his day, he goes between reality, his constant stream of lies, and his own private fantasies. A young man living with his parents, he’s completely unable to do anything mature or reliable. He’s engaged to two women. Early on, his lies and fantasies supply the film’s laughs, but as the day goes on, the laughs drop out and the film becomes a sad tale of arrested development. A very young Julie Christie plays the one woman who understands him.
B- Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), Vudu
Steve Martin and Carl Reiner created this extremely silly and reasonably funny parody of everything noir. The big gimmick is the use of clips from old movies, edited into the new footage. For instance, one scene cuts from Martin (in black and white, of course) to James Cagney in White Heat. But that gimmick gets tiring, while Martin and Rachel Ward are much funnier in the new footage. Ward’s way of removing a bullet is both funny and sexy. And yes, my wife and I wanted to see a Carol Reiner movie after his death.
C+ Blithe Spirit (1945), Criterion Channel
I expected more from this ghost comedy based on a play by Noël Coward and directed by David Lean (yes, Lean directed comedies, and at least one, Hobson’s Choice, is pretty good). The laughs are few, except when Margaret Rutherford comes around as a dotty medium. Running a séance, she pulls Rex Harrison’s dead wife (Kay Hammond) into the world of the living, creating considerable problems of him and his current wife (Constance Cummings). It has its moments, but not enough of them.