#297 The Firemen’s Ball/Horí, má panenko

Watched: June 1 2021

Director: Miloš Forman

Starring: Jan Vostrcil, Josef Sebánek, Josef Valnoha, Frantisek Debelka, Josef Rehorek, Jan Stöckl, Frantisek Reinstein, Frantisek Paska, Josef Kolb, Frantisek Svet, Josef Kutálek, and a bunch of other guys probably called Jan, Josef and/or Frantisek.

Year: 1967

Runtime: 1h 13min

Our small city of Trondheim has been relatively unaffected by Covid for the past few months – we’ve had few infections and most of our businesses have run more or less like normal. In fact, it’s been a source of pride for many local politicians and citizens how well we’ve handled all of this. But those of us who watch a lot of movies know all too well the price of hubris… It was only a matter of time before a new wave hit, which happened recently. This time with fun, new mutations! The result of all this is that while the rest of the world is slowly opening up again, we’re going in the opposite direction: many places are shut down, we’re in and out of quarantines, and things are far from normal. But at least we’ve got movies, right?

Kidnapping rates are thankfully also low, due to the whole don’t-leave-your-home-thing. So we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.

After a wait list period (who else checked out this movie in 2021???) we just managed to get our hands on The Firemen’s Ball before the libraries closed down. And was it worth it? Well, probably.

It has certainly become more complicated to use library services since the right wing government came into power…

OK, we’ll be honest – The Firemen’s Ball needs context to work, at least it did for us. With no context, it’s a farce about a bunch of bumbling, incompetent firemen trying to throw a ball, while being both stupid and a little bit sexist about it. And we’re not really big fans of farces – we tend to find them annoying (and sometimes sad) rather than funny.

It’s probably our critical and analytical stares, here perfectly captured by Forman.

However, context is important. This movie was made in Czechoslovakia in 1967, and the Communist Party was not amused by the depiction of bureaucratic idiocy and inadequate leaders. In fact, they were so unimpressed that Miloš Forman ended up in (self-imposed) exile in the wake of it. Which makes the whole thing pretty badass, even if the movie itself isn’t really our cup of tea.

“To reflect our high status and importance in society, we’ve moved away from the traditional fireman helmet into a design more befitting our station. No pun intended.”

So basically, watch this if you’re interested in history and/or like farces. But if you don’t like either, maybe skip it…

Some things work best with context. While other things, like this picture, are just as good or better without.

What we learned: “Uzenka” means “sausage”. We’ll never again starve or go horny for long in the Czech Republic.

Next time: The Graduate (1967)

#182 Some Like it Hot

Watched: May 5 2018

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, George Raft, Pat O’Brien, Joe E. Brown

Year: 1959

Runtime: 2h 1min

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Joe and Jerry (Curtis and Lemmon, respectively), two musicians employed at a speakeasy in Chicago, witness a mob hit and must go on the run to avoid becoming the next targets. They look for out-of-town work, but the only one hiring is an all-girl band going on tour. What happens next should surprise absolutely no one who has ever seen a silly comedy.

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As with “all” best friends, there’s the pretty one and then there’s the funny one

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The pair take their new identities Josephine and Daphne (she never liked the name Geraldine) and join the band, where they meet charming ukulele player Sugar Kane (Monroe). On the way to Miami, both fall for Sugar, but are unable to act upon it as they are supposed to pass for women.

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To be fair, you didn’t have to be a man to be attracted to Marilyn Monroe in her prime

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Once in Miami, Joe assumes a third (male) persona, that of heir “Shell Oil Junior,” in order to woo Sugar. Meanwhile, Jerry is pursued by creepy (but ultimately quite sweet) millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Brown), to whom “Daphne” later becomes engaged. Also, to add to the complications, the Chicago mobsters the musicians are hiding from have decided to do their yearly meeting at the same Miami hotel the band is staying at. Hilarities ensue.

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Hilarities include, but are not limited to, a rather scandalous dress and an even more scandalous seduction technique

 

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Despite the fairly simple set-up, this movie truly is hilarious. Given their actions, all the characters should be repellent, but thanks to utterly wonderful actors they come across as strangely likable, and you find yourself rooting for them all.

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Yes, even these two duplicitous “ladies”

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Amid all the sexism (it’s from the ’50s and set in the ’20s) and deceit, there is a sweetness and tolerance in this film which might be more relevant than ever. We loved Sugar’s outfits, Daphne’s tango date, Osgood (post initial assault), and the dialogue. Also, the ending is perfect, without any of the hurt feelings and apologies we find in all contemporary romantic comedies. Everyone just accepts what has happened and how others have tricked them and they move on with their lives and their loves. Perfect!

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And by everyone we mean everyone!

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What we learned: Nobody’s perfect.

Next time: The 400 Blows (1959)

#52 The Bank Dick

Watched: October 21 2016

Director: Edward F. Cline

Starring: W.C. Fields, Cora Witherspoon, Una Merkel, Grady Sutton, Franklin Pangborn

Year: 1940

Runtime: 1h 12min

Note: since one sister (Sister the Youngest) fucked off to Oslo for a week, Sister the Oldest watched this one alone. Well, not alone, as she does have friends apart from her immediate family. So she watched it with a friend. Who’s real.

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Bumbling buffoon Egbert Sousé (Fields) drinks too much, has no career to speak of and his family does not respect him. So he goes out in search of a drink. On the way, he stumbles across a film team whose drunken director is unable to work and naturally they hire Sousé.

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Anyone capable of sitting on a chair shouting into a tube is automatically qualified to work as a director in 1940. Sadly, Sousé isn’t really able to do the former.

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After his short stint as director, Sousé finds himself in the vicinity of bank robbers trying to escape. He is credited with stopping them and so gets a job as a bank guard. His daughter’s fiancé Og Oggilby (Sutton) works in the same bank and after Sousé is offered the chance to invest in stock in a mining company, he persuades his future son-in-law to “borrow” $500 from the bank.

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“Of course it’s okay to borrow money from the bank! I’m head of security, aren’t I? Check out my trustworthy face!”

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Unfortunately, a bank examiner, J. Pinkerton Snoopington (Pangborn) shows up the very next day and Sousé and Oggilby must join wits (of which Og especially has very little) to keep the examiner to discover the missing $500. Let the farce commence!

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Rule number one when being investigated: take the investigator out for drinks and slip them a mickey.

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This is a very silly movie full of fucked up characters, over-the-top performances and slapstick humour. The main character is gullable, stupid and self-aggrandizing, yet he is also occasionally likeable, possibly because the way his family treats him makes you feel a bit sorry for him. But usually not for long, as he parries their attacks on him with attempted murder such as when he tries to throw a concrete vase at his youngest daughter.

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It’s practically as big as its intended target

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The real gem here though is the car chase towards the end of the film. It is fast, funny and impressive in so many ways – such as the very real danger in which it must have put stunt performers. Even if farcical slapstick films aren’t  your thing, it is well worth watching The Bank Dick for this scene alone. Or if you enjoy violence against 8-year-olds. And let’s face it – who doesn’t? Have fun!

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Naturally, no still can do a great chase scene justice, so you’ll just have to watch the film.

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What we learned: poor men are mad – rich men are eccentric. Also, it was surprisingly easy to get a job as a director back in the day.

Next time: The Grapes of Wrath (1940)