Talking to my friend and fellow Cinecon attendee Kristen from Sales on Film yesterday regarding the best movie shown so far, I came up with two responses based on different criteria. The film that I found most enjoyable was Dollars and Sense from yesterday, as its inherent sweetness was appealing to me personally, and spoke to my own particular taste regardless of the relatively simplistic filmmaking that it employed. What I consider to be the BEST film so far in terms of its skill in filmmaking, its creative storytelling, and its advanced humor, was Hot Water starring Harold Lloyd.
The story is about a young man whose wife asks him to pick up “a few things” from the grocery store, and rattles off about 15 specific items. At the grocery store, Harold wins a raffle for a turkey, so he now must carry home a flapping and wiggly bird to compound his already burdensome grocery load. Many comedic things happen to him on the trolley ride home with the turkey and his groceries, including repeatedly dropping all this things while looking for his fare, the turkey getting loose and hiding under a woman’s skirt, and a crab crawling from a young boy’s hand up Harold’s pant leg. It is a scene out of any piece of Harold Lloyd/Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin comedy from the 1920’s, but it is what happens next that sets this one apart.
We learn that Harold is buying a new car for his wife and is going to surprise her with it. He presents it to her when he gets home (“Fifty more payments and it’s ours!”) and proposes that they go out for a test run with her mother-in-law, whom he barely tolerates, his bum brother-in-law, and his belligerent nephew. What follows is an incredible comedic scene using the car as a prop–after a series of hilarious mishaps involving just about everyone in the car, the car is completely wrecked and has to be towed home.
At home, the mother-in-law goes down for a nap, and it is now that we learn that she has a problem with sleepwalking, unbeknownst to Harold. Harold discovers the nephew with a bottle of chloroform, about to put the family dog to sleep so he can “operate” on him. Harold panics and takes the bottle away, but keeps it in his pocket. At dinner, his mother-in-law becomes upset and Harold, fed up with her, furtively douses a handkerchief with chloroform to calm her down. She immediately calms, and then looks as though she has overdosed. The family takes her to bed, and when she realizes that Harold feels extremely guilty, she pretends to actually be dying. The scene is the climax of the entire movie, and concludes the story almost like a fireworks show of mistaken meanings, misunderstood situations, and a sleepwalking mother-in-law whom Harold construes to be her ghost. It is hilarious, and an absolute masterpiece of a scene.
I am not too familiar with Harold Lloyd films, but this one is a real gem. It plays out like a series of two-reelers, short films that come together to comprise a whole. One of my favorite moments is when the turkey, that we haven’t seen since the beginning of the film, randomly returns during the final scene and lands on Harold’s shoulder, making him think that is the nails of his dead mother-in-law digging into his shoulder. It works so well as comedy, because by this point we have completely forgotten about the turkey, and to see him come back really reminds us that this is a whole movie and ties the whole thing together.
This was my favorite film of the day, and the best of the festival so far. Other quality films of the day included Way Out West, a Laurel and Hardy feature, and The Goose Woman, featuring a brilliant dramatic performance by Louise Dresser. The man introducing the film noted that had the Academy Awards been around in 1925, Louise Dresser likely would have won the Academy Award hands-down. Indeed, she had all the qualities needed to win an Academy Award even today–she was not afraid to make herself look dowdy and dirty as a washed-up opera singer who had lost her voice due to the birth of her son about 20 years prior, and had turned to alcoholism. In addition to the physical transformation, she played the gamut of emotions from A to Z in this movie, and certainly deserved some acknowledgment. It’s a shame that the Oscars didn’t start until 1927.
More on the films of today when I return this evening!