Tag Archives: Movie History

Movies by State: Introduction

Movies By State Map

The dog days of summer are upon us.  This means that fewer summer “blockbusters” are coming out and it’s a long time before award season (and an even longer time before Game of Thrones is back).  To keep myself writing, I’m starting a new project: Movies by State?

50 articles for 50 states?  Unfortunately no.  The number of films set in different states varies widely and unexpectedly.  First, most American films are set in New York or California, so those articles would dwarf the other ones.  Some states have surprisingly few notable films set there (Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut), while the popularity of the Western means that states like Wyoming are the settings for dozens of important films.  The only fair, and sane, way to do this is to break it down by region, keying in on states with a notable amount of movies set there.   Here’s what we have:

1. New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island)

2. New England Focus: Massachusetts

3. Mid Atlantic: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, DC

4. Mid Atlantic Focus: New York

5. South Atlantic: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida

6. South Atlantic Focus: Florida

7. Southeast: Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana

8. Southeast Focus: Texas

9. Great Lakes: Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin

10. Great Lakes Focus: Illinois

11. Midwest: North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma.

12. Midwest Focus: Minnesota

13. Mountain West: Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona

14. Mountain West Focus: Wyoming

15. Pacific: Alaska, Hawai’i, Washington, Oregon, Nevada

16. Pacific Focus: California

So that’s 16 articles.  Is everyone ready?  The first one will come tomorrow: New England.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe

The Great Directors – New Format and Update

I have decided to make a few changes to the format of my “Top Twenty Directors” list.  The more I watch, research, and write about film the more I realize that “ranking” the great directors doesn’t really do justice to their impact on film or to their work in general.  Instead I’m going to keep a list of Great Directors, and periodically write “Great Director Profiles” posts to share my thoughts on their work.  (The original “Top Twenty” list is archived under “February 2012” for anyone interested).

Here’s the background.  Back in 2006,  having noticed hundreds of “best film of all time” lists I realized that there weren’t nearly as many lists of the greatest directors.  At the time, I was in law school and I needed a good distraction to prevent myself from going batty, so I started doing research, got myself a Netflix subscription, and got to work.

That being said, here’s the list, complete with a few of the directors’ most notable films (no more than five).  The directors are listed alphabetical order. More descriptive profiles will follow.

– Woody Allen (1935 – ), US.  Some Notable Films: Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Midnight in Paris (2011).

– Robert Altman (1925-2006), US.  Some Notable Films: MASH (1970), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), Nashville (1975), Gosford Park (2001).

– Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007), Italy. Some Notable Films: L’avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), Blow-Up (1966).

– Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), Sweden.  Some Notable Films: The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957), Persona (1966), Cries and Whispers (1972), Fanny and Alexander (1982).

– Luis Bunuel (1900-1983), Spain/France.  Some Notable Films: Un Chien Andalou (1929), Viridiana (1961), The Exterminating Angel (1962), Belle de Jour (1967).

– Charles Chaplin (1889-1977), UK/US.  Some Notable Films: The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1941).

– Francis Ford Coppola (1939 – ), US.  Some Notable Films: The Godfather (1972), The Godfather, Part II (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979).

– Vittorio De Sica (1901-1974), Italy.  Some Notable Films: Shoeshine (1946), Bicycle Thieves (1948), Umberto D. (1952), Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (1963).

– Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1968), Denmark.  Some Notable Films: Michael (1924), The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Vampr (1932).

– Sergei Eisenstien (1898-1948), USSR.  Some Notable Films: Battleship Potemkin (1925), October (1928), Alexander Nevsky (1938), Ivan the Terrible (1944).

– Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982), Germany.  Some Notable Films: Love is Colder than Death (1969), Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979).

– Fredrico Fellini (1920-1993), Italy.  Some Notable Films: I Vitelloni (1953), La Strada (1954), La Dolce Vita (1960), 8 1/2 (1963), Amarcord (1973).

– John Ford (1894-1973), US. Some Notable Films: Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), My Darling Clementine (1946), The Searchers (1956), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

– Jean-Luc Godard (1930 – ), France.  Some Notable Films: Breathless (1960), Vivre sa Vie (1962), Pierrot le Fou (1965), Week-End (1967).

– Werner Herzog (1942 – ), Germany.  Some Notable Films: Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972), The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (1974), Grizzly Man (2005), Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010).

– Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), UK/US.  Some Notable Films: The Lady Vanishes (1938), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960).

– Buster Keaton (1895-1966), US.  Some Notable Films: Sherlock, Jr. (1924), The General (1926), Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928).

– Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941-1996), Poland.  Some Notable Films: The Decalogue (1989), The Double Life of Veronique (1991), Three Colors (1993-1994).

– Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999), US/UK.  Some Notable Films: Paths of Glory (1957), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Full Metal Jacket (1987).

– Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998), Japan.  Some Notable Films: Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), The Hidden Fortress (1958), Ran (1985).

– Fritz Lang (1890-1976), Germany/US.  Some Notable Films: Metropolis (1927), M (1931), The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), Fury (1936), The Big Heat (1953).

– David Lean (1908-1991), UK/US.  Some Notable Films: Brief Encounter (1945), Great Expectations (1946), Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

– Spike Lee (1957 – ), US.  Some Notable Films: Do the Right Thing (1989), Malcolm X (1992), 25th Hour (2002).

– Sergio Leone (1929-1989), Italy.  Some Notable Films: Fistful of Dollars (1964), The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).

– David Lynch (1946 – ), US. Some Notable Films: Blue Velvet (1986), Lost Highway (1997), Mulholland Dr. (2001).

– Louis Malle (1932-1995), France.  Some Notable Films: Elevator to the Gallows (1958), My Dinner with Andre (1981), Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987).

– F.W. Murnau (1888-1931), Germany/US.  Some Notable Films: Nosferatu (1922), Faust (1926), Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans (1927).

– Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963), Japan.  Some Notable Films: I Was Born But…(1932), Late Spring (1949), Tokyo Story (1953), Floating Weeds (1959).

– Satyajit Ray (1921-1992), India.  Some Notable Films: Pather Panchali (1955), Aparajito (1956), World of Apu (1959), The Chess Players (1977).

– Jean Renoir (1894-1979), France.  Some Notable Films: The Lower Depths (1936), The Grand Illusion (1937), The Rules of the Game (1939), French Cancan (1954).

– Roberto Rossellini (1906-1997), Italy.  Some Notable Films: Rome, Open City (1945), Paisan (1946), Germany, Year Zero (1948), Stromboli (1950).

– Martin Scorsese (1942 – ), US.  Some Notable Films: Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990), The Departed (2006).

– Steven Spielberg (1946 – ), US.  Some Notable Films: Jaws (1975), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982), Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998).

– Quentin Tarantino (1963 – ), US.  Some Notable Films: Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), Inglourious Basterds (2009).

– Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986), USSR.  Some Notable Films: Andrei Rublev (1966), Solaris (1972), Stalker (1979).

– Francois Truffaut (1932-1984), France.  Some Notable Films: The 400 Blows (1959), Jules et Jim (1962), Day for Night (1973), The Last Metro (1980).

– Orson Welles (1915-1985), US.  Some Notable Films: Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Lady from Shanghai (1947).

– Billy Wilder (1906-2002), US. Some Notable Films: Double Indemnity (1944), Sunset Blvd. (1950), The Apartment (1960).

– Dziga Vertov (1896-1954), USSR.  Some Notable Films: The Kino-Pravda Series (1922), Man with a Movie Camera (1929), Enthusiasm (1930).

– Jean Vigo (1905-1934), France.  Some Notable Films: Zero de Conduite (1933), L’Atalante (1934).

(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe

The Great Oscar Re-Do (Part 2: 1951-1975)

Here’s Part 2 of Cinema Grandcanyonscope’s Great Oscar Re-Do:

1951 – Winner: “An American in Paris;” Should Have Won: “An American in Paris.”  1951 was a competition between An American in Paris and A Streetcar Named Desire, and it’s close enough that I wouldn’t be able to argue with either result.

1952 – Winner: “The Greatest Show on Earth;” Should Have Won: “Singin’ in the Rain”  This is often listed at the top of the list of greatest Oscar snubs, especially considering when most people imagine a Western, they are imagining High Noon.  Still, it is Singin’ in the Rain that has stood the test of time from 1952 rather than either of these films.

1953 – Winner: “From Here to Eternity;” Should Have Won: “Tokyo Story.”  From Here to Eternity was the best American film of 1953, and I had difficulty bumping it from its perch.  It is high entertainment, but Tokyo Story is high art.

1954 – Winner: “On the Waterfront;” Should Have Won: “Seven Samurai.”  This one stings a bit, and “Rear Window” came out in the same year as well.  “On the Waterfront” is one of the greatest American films by any estimation, but Seven Samurai is a far more important film.

1955 – Winner: “Marty;” Should Have Won: “Pather Panchali.”  Ernest Borgnine’s greatest performance deserves the recognition it received, but Pather Panchali is the milestone that marks the start of a truly world cinema.

1956 – Winner: “Around the World in Eighty Days;” Should Have Won: “The Searchers.”  What many consider John Ford’s greatest work is meditation on the destructive power of vengeance where the supposed hero and supposed villain are basically the same character.

1957 – Winner: “The Bridge on the River Kwai;” Should Have Won: “The Seventh Seal.” Some years had an embarrassment of riches.  The Bridge of the River Kwai is one of Lean’s finest films, but it is flawed in ways that The Seventh Seal isn’t.

1958 – Winner: “Gigi;” Should Have Won: “Vertigo.”  Vertigo is now considered by some polls to be the greatest film of all time, but it was actually a commercial flop when it come out.  That is probably the reason it did not win Best Picture in 1958.

1959 – Winner: “Ben-Hur;” Should Have Won: “Ben-Hur.”  While it’s true that Ben-Hur has been surpassed in the epic genre and in some respects it hasn’t aged well, it won everything in sight in 1959 for good reason.

1960 – Winner: “The Apartment;” Should Have Won: “Breathless.”  Oh 1960, what to do with you?  Billy Wilder’s greatest film (The Apartment), Kubrick’s first great epic (Spartacus), Hitchcock’s most popular film (Psycho), or the French Citizen Kane (Breathless)?  L’Avenntura, and La Dolce Vita also came out that year.  In final analysis, the French New Wave changed everything in cinema as an artform and Breathless is a worthy representative from that movement.

1961 – Winner: “West Side Story;” Should Have Won: “West Side Story.”  West Side Story has had so much praise lavished upon it that I won’t repeat that here, except to say that I recently watched it and I still can’t get Bernstein’s score out of my head.

1962 – Winner: “Lawrence of Arabia;” Should Have Won: “Lawrence of Arabia.”  Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence blows out a match and the scene transitions to the sun rising over the desert, and to cinema’s greatest adventure.

1963 – Winner: “Tom Jones;” Should Have Won: “8 1/2.”  8 1/2 is the greatest movie about the art of making movies.

1964 – Winner: “My Fair Lady;” Should Have Won: “A Hard Day’s Night.”  I pose the following – the Academy picked the wrong musical in 1964.

1965 – Winner: “The Sound of Music;” Should Have Won: “The Sound of Music.” I pose the following – the Academy picked the right musical in 1965.

1966 – Winner: “A Man for All Seasons;” Should Have Won: “Persona.”  Bergman once said of Persona, “Today I feel that in Persona, and later in Cries and Whispers, I had gone as far as I could go. And that in these two instances when working in total freedom, I touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover.”

1967 – Winner: “In the Heat of the Night;” Should Have Won: “In the Heat of the Night.”  It must have been tough awarding a primarily American award in the 1960’s when so many great and influential foreign films were coming out.  Still, In the Heat of the Night is an important American film and deserves its spot here.

1968 – Winner: “Oliver!;” Should Have Won: “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  This one is hard to imagine, but the Academy loved musicals in the 1960’s since so many of the older voters were nostalgic for the “Golden Age” of musicals earlier in the century.  If movies like Oliver! were the past, movies like 2001 were the future.

1969 – Winner: “Midnight Cowboy;” Should Have Won: “Midnight Cowboy.”  Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider were the harbingers of the New Hollywood, and either could be considered best picture of 1969, so I’ll defer to the Academy.

1970 – Winner: “Patton;” Should Have Won: “Patton.”  I almost put “MASH” here, but Patton is a good choice too.

1971 – Winner: “The French Connection;” Should Have Won: “The French Connection.”  The French Connection is the epitome of early 1970’s action cinema.

1972 – Winner: “The Godfather;” Should Have Won: “The Godfather.”  The greatest American film.

1973 – Winner: “The Sting;” Should Have Won: “Day for Night.”  Day for Night actually did win Best Foreign Film in 1973.  The Sting is a fun movie with great actors, but Day for Night is the last of the great French New Wave masterpieces and may be Truffaut’s greatest film.

1974 – Winner: “The Godfather, Part II.”  Should Have Won: “The Godfather, Part II.”  I’ve heard some arguments for Chinatown but none that have really convinced me.

1975 – Winner: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest;” Should Have Won: “Jaws.”  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won everything there was to win in 1975, but Jaws changed everything about the film industry.  Also I find that Jaws has aged better.

Now we’re rolling.  Stay tuned for Part 3!

(c) D.G. McCabe

The Great Oscar Re-Do 2012 (Part One: 1927-1950)

Awards season is upon us! Here’s a fun little exercise – what was really the best film for every year of the Academy Awards?  I’ll admit I’m slightly re-imagining the Oscars since they really are awards for American films primarily.  I’ll try to keep to that and only select a foreign films sparingly, although that will be tough to keep to in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  The following is my opinion, and it’s just a fun exercise since I realize Hollywood people do not have magical powers to veer into the future and never have.  Today 1927-1950:

1927 – Winner: “Wings & Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans;”  Should Have Won: “Metropolis.” It’s close and critics love Murnau’s Sunrise, but Metropolis was ultimately more influential.

1928 – Winner: None; Should Have Won: “The Passion of Joan of Arc.”  The Oscars took a bit to grow into their format, as there were two winners in 1927 but none in 1928.  Dryer’s masterpiece is a landmark of cinema, however, and quite possibly the pinnacle of silent film.

1929 – Winner: “The Broadway Melody;” Should Have Won: “Man with a Movie Camera.”  I did my research since the Sight and Sound Poll came out, and Man with a Movie Camera is one of the first demonstrations of the potential of film as an artform completely separate from the theater.

1930 – Winner: “All Quiet on the Western Front;” Should Have Won: “All Quiet on the Western Front.”  They don’t always get it wrong that Academy, and in 1930 they awarded the Best Picture to the first realistic portrayal of warfare committed to celluloid.

1931 – Winner: “Cimarron;” Should Have Won: “M.”  Fritz Lang invented the police procedural in M, and fans of CBS shows have been thankful every since.

1932 – Winner: “Grand Hotel;” Should Have Won: “Grand Hotel.”  What were the Hollywood Golden Age films like?  This one is considered a good representative.

1933 – Winner: “Cavalcade;” Should Have Won: “Duck Soup.”  The Academy hates comedy, but with the Marx Brothers being as influential as they were, the film considered their best deserved more recognition.

1934 – Winner: “It Happened One Night;” Should Have Won: “It Happened One Night.”  Another old Hollywood classic that people still enjoy today, and one of Capra’s best.

1935 – Winner: “Mutiny on the Bounty;” Should Have Won: “Mutiny on the Bounty.” 1935 wasn’t a particularly notable year in film so I’ll defer to the Academy’s judgement.

1936 – Winner: “The Great Ziegfeld;” Should Have Won: “Modern Times.”  Florenz Ziegfeld’s ultra-mega-huge celebrity had a lot to do with this biopic’s success, but Chaplin’s masterwork belongs in this spot.

1937 – Winner: “The Life of Emile Zola;” Should Have Won: “The Grand Illusion.”  The Grand Illusion is possibly the greatest pre-war French film.  “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” is a close runner-up.

1938 – Winner: “You Can’t Take it With You;” Should Have Won: “The Lady Vanishes.” It’s close but Hitchcock’s first great film trumps Capra’s fourth or fifth.

1939 – Winner: “Gone with the Wind;” Should Have Won: “The Wizard of Oz.”  I could produce a long list detailing why the Wizard of Oz is a better film but I don’t have that kind of time.

1940 – Winner: “Rebecca;” Should Have Won: “The Grapes of Wrath.”  And likewise to 1938, John Ford’s masterpiece trumps Hitchcock’s eighth or ninth best film.

1941 – Winner: “How Green was My Valley;” Should Have Won: “Citizen Kane.”  Duh.

1942- Winner: “Mrs. Miniver;” Should Have Won: “The Magnificent Ambersons.”  Orson Welles should have gotten two Oscars in a row, as many critics and historians feel Ambersons is almost equal to Kane.

1943 – Winner: “Casablanca;” Should Have Won: “Casablanca.”  Double Duh.

1944 – Winner: “Going My Way;” Should Have Won: “Double Indemnity.”  A bit of a surprise going down the list and not seeing this one.

1945 – Winner: “The Lost Weekend;” Should Have Won: “Children of Paradise.”  This wouldn’t have happened in 1945 but Children of Paradise deserves its due if only for the seemingly insurmountable conditions during which it was made. “Rome, Open City” is a close second.

1946 – Winner: “The Best Years of Our Lives;” Should Have Won: “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  It’s a Wonderful Life wasn’t appreciated until years later when it was revived by television.

1947 – Winner: “Gentleman’s Agreement;” Should Have Won: “The Lady from Shanghai.”  Orson Welles had already angered everyone in Hollywood by this point in his career, so this one got predictably shut out.

1948 – Winner: “Hamlet;” Should Have Won: “Bicycle Thieves.”  Due respect to Sir Lawrence Olivier but the Academy awarded the wrong foreign film best picture in 1948.

1949 – Winner: “All the King’s Men;” Should Have Won: “All the King’s Men.”  1949 wasn’t a banner year for movies so I’ll defer to the Academy.

1950 – Winner: “All About Eve;” Should Have Won: “Rashomon.”  All About Eve is a good movie, but the effect of Rashomon on how movies are made can’t be overstated.

Join us for Part 2!

(c) D.G. McCabe


Top Ten – Comedy Ensembles

The comedy ensemble is the direct descendant of Vaudeville, which is what people went to go see before there were movies.  Groups of performers would tour the country and deliver to their adoring public a cavalcade of random music, comedy, drama, and pretty much anything they could think of that wouldn’t get tomatoes thrown at them.  Among these groups, the most popular were often the comedy teams.

Here are my top ten comedy ensembles from the movies, based on influence and creativity.   The definition of a comedy ensemble for purposes of this list are: at least three people including directors, at least two of which appear in at least two different movies of the same style.  The ensemble has to be represented in at least four movies total.  Sequels involving the same characters or an extension of the same plot do not count. “Double Acts” do not count either.

10.  “The Frat Pack” (Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, Christine Taylor) Movies:  Zoolander (2001), Old School (2003), Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004), Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy (2004), Wedding Crashers (2004).

The first entry on our list is the ill-defined “Frat Pack” of the early 2000’s.  For purposes of this list, I’m not counting the Wes Anderson or Judd Apatow pieces that some consider part of this particular set.  Also, I don’t particularly care for the name “Frat Pack” since I feel as though it’s a bit pejorative (Ben Stiller is on record as agreeing).  Besides, it’s an allusion to the Rat Pack, and these actors did not collaborate as closely as the Rat Pack did by their own admission.

So why such a recent group on the list?  The “R” rated comedy ensemble film had been a lost art since the early 1980’s, and this group is responsible for a revival of that form.  Also, the quality writing of these films is reflected in the fact that they are quoted in casual conversation more often than any films released in the last ten years.

9. The Hawkes/Cukor/Capra Screwball Comedy Actors (Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell, Jean Arthur) Films: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Holiday (1938), You Can’t Take it With You (1938), His Girl Friday (1940), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Ball of Fire (1941), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944).

The Screwball Comedies of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s featured some of the most talented actors of the Hollywood Golden Age.  The films of Howard Hawkes, George Cukor, and Frank Capra stand apart as the finest works of this genre. These three directors cast their best works from the same pool of actors, and in doing so, organically created a loosely connected comedy ensemble.

What is a Screwball Comedy?  A fast paced, witty, usually romantic comedy usually involving a battle of the sexes or class conflict.  While modern romantic comedies are not as absurd as their screwball ancestors tended to be, almost any romantic comedy you see today can be traced back to these films that contained some combination of the actors listed above, and almost always Cary Grant.

8. “The Road Movies” Ensemble (Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamar) Films: The Road to Singapore (1940), The Road to Zanzibar (1941), The Road to Morocco (1942), The Road to Utopia (1946), The Road to Rio (1947), The Road to Bali (1952), the Road to Hong Kong (1962).

As soon as there were movies, there were movies making fun of other movies. The logical extension of the Hollywood golden age was a series of films starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamar called “The Road Movies.”  The plot didn’t matter, the script was often improvised, and none of Hollywood’s finest achievements were sacred.

The popularity of the Road movies opened up the doors for other satires.  From the good (Blazing Saddles (1974), Airplane (1980), The Naked Gun (1988), South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut (1999)) to the bad, these movies owe a great debt to to Road movies.  And the best part is that the three principals were pretty much just goofing off the entire time.

7. The Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop) Films: Ocean’s 11 (1960), Sergeants 3 (1962), 4 for Texas (1963), Marriage on the Rocks (1965), The Cannonball Run (1981).

Were the Rat Pack really a comedy ensemble?  Probably not in the purest sense, since comedy was often third or fourth on their agenda after chasing tail, drinking, and music.  The name itself was coined by Humphrey Bogart to describe his 1950’s Hollywood drinking club.  Sinatra’s 1960’s group called themselves “the Summit,” but thanks to the media, the Rat Pack name stuck to their group rather than Boggie’s (although there were several common members, like Sinatra himself).

The Rat Pack are remembered as cool first and foremost – even at Dean Martin’s most drunken and incoherent.  The style itself was more prominent in their off-screen endeavors than their films.  Still, if it wasn’t for the films that style wouldn’t have reached such a wide audience,  and may not have become the definitive combination of comedy and cool.

6. Mel Brooks’ Ensemble (Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn, Dom Deluise, Gene Wilder) Films: The Producers (1968), Blazing Saddles (1974), The Young Frankenstein (1974), Silent Movie (1976), High Anxiety (1977), History of the World, Part 1 (1981).

Mel Brooks is one of the funniest people ever to get behind, or in front of, a camera.  He is a master of satire, timing, and dialogue.  Admittedly, his humor often comes from a dark place, but shows us that the best way to disarm a monster is to drag it out into the open, put it in tights, and make it into an object of ridicule.

In several of his earliest films, he assembled a brilliant cast that brought his hilarious vision to life.  Where did he find these brilliant people?  You’d have to ask him – but by finding them and putting them together he created a type of comedy where nothing is sacred, nothing is off limits, and there are absolutely no rules.

5. The Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Curly Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard, Joe Besser, Joe “Curly Joe” DeRita) Films: Over 220 Films between 1934 and 1975

In the 1920’s, two brothers, Moe and Curly Howard, and their friend Larry Fine joined a Vaudeville act led called “Ted Healy and his Stooges.”  By 1933 they had their own film contract with MGM.  The rest is history.  Even three decades after the deaths of Moe Howard and Larry Fine, the act is still a staple of Sunday morning syndication and still has legions of fans.

So what has made the Three Stooges the most enduring ensemble in all of American comedy?  The short, simple storylines focusing on slapstick comedy are certainly part of the reason, as the Stooges’ antics provide a quick and funny escape from daily life.  Their mastery of the quick, funny, and basic slapstick routine inspired unnumbered masters of physical comedy, and continue to do so today.

4. Monty Python (John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin)  Films: And Now for Something Completely Different (1971), Monty Python and Holy Grail (1974), Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (1979), Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983).

And now for something completely different.  For a long time Hollywood thought that Americans would never like British comedy.  It is too dry, too goofy, they said.  Boy were they wrong.  Soon after “And Now for Something Completely Different,” a compilation of greatest hits from their television series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” started touring American college campuses, the Pythons became one of the most popular comedy teams of all time.

The Pythons’ most notable features are their goofy, often dark, usually dry, comedy. Like the work of Mel Brooks around the same time, their work infused an anything-goes style of comedy that was lacking in Hollywood, albeit from a different perspective.  The influence of their comedy can especially be seen in popular television shows such as “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.”

3.  The National Lampoon Radio Hour Team/Original Cast of Saturday Night Live (John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, John Landis (Director)) Films: National Lampoon’s Animal House (1979),  The Blues Brothers (1980), Caddyshack (1980),  Stripes (1981), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Ghostbusters (1984). 

The popularity of Saturday Night Live, and some of the most beloved comedies of the 1980’s can be credited to a team that started working together on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, a syndicated radio series created by the staff of National Lampoon Magazine.  The Radio Hour became a feeder during the early years of SNL, which launched the film careers of this team, most of whom remain household names and working actors today.

The success of this ensemble helped turn SNL, and its feeder system of New York and Chicago comedy clubs, into a pipeline to fame for dozens of comedic actors.  Certainly many more individuals behind the scenes have made this possible, and I only named the some members of this ensemble who created the films listed above.  Indeed, the rich collection of talents that this process has brought to the American public over the last three decades is far too numerous to name here.

2. The Muppets (Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Rowlf the Dog, Scooter, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, et. al.)  Films: The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Muppets from Space (1999), The Muppets (2011).

For many of us, the Muppets brought us our first experience with performed comedy.  But the genius of Jim Henson and his team’s creation is that it appeals to both adults and children.  As is standard, I have listed the Muppet characters, but men and women behind the Muppets are just as important, although like their creations, too numerous to list here.

The Pixar movies, the Shrek Movies, and anything else that adults and children both enjoy owes a debt of thanks to the Muppets.  That of course isn’t to say that the Muppets can take sole credit for the popularity of their successors (although I’m sure Miss Piggy would beg to disagree).  But the popularity of their style of humor certainly has built an entire floor above their predecessors.

1. The Marx Brothers (Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo Marx) Films: 15 Films between 1921 and 1949 including Animal Crackers (1930), Duck Soup (1933), A Night at the Opera (1935), and A Night in Casablanca (1946).

In 1912, a family Vaudeville act was interrupted by a loud, braying mule.  Annoyed that the audience had turned their attention from the stage to the suffering animal, one of the performers started cracking a series of jokes at the audience’s expense.  Instead of throwing various fruits and vegetables at the stage, the audience absolutely loved it.  The performer’s name was Julius Henry Marx, better known to posterity as Groucho Marx, and he and his brothers would go on to change the nature of comedy in the United States forever.

I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that none of the other ensembles on this list, with the possible exception of Monty Python, would have become what they became if it weren’t for the path cleared by the Marx Brothers.  Certainly individual comedy was already extremely popular in the movies by 1930, but it was their ensemble comedy that first demonstrated the potential of what a group of comedians, working together, could produce on the screen.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe