As a kid, we never had cable and therefore had to rely on both my dad’s Friday-post-work trips to the local Blockbuster and VHS recordings from TNT and AMC. My grandmother had cable and my dad would somehow get wise to a movie playing on one of those two stations and convince her to record them. I remember one of the tapes was the 1954 Jerry Lewis/Dean Martin/Norman Taurog movie “Living it Up” along with the 1946 Danny Kaye/Virginia Mayo/Norman Z. McLeod movie “The Kid from Brooklyn.” Both were originally shot in glorious Technicolor, each taking full advantage of the three strip process that eventually went archaic after Eastman essentially cut out the dye absorption process. The final movie to be shot by their three strip camera was made in the same year as the McLeod film, making way for a 1952 invention that allowed a single camera negative. Eastman looked to cut out the expensive middleman and entice Hollywood away from the pricey/long process. Due to its weight and immobility (or the relative pain in the ass to move it around), the slowness of the process itself, and the overall cost, it wasn’t long until the competitors moved in. Technicolor became Eastman in 1975 only to reintroduce the dye transfer process in 1997 for film restorations. I’m not sure why I’m regurgitating this information, other than to say that I’ve always been in love with that loud saturated aesthetic. The more garish or like an oil painting the better, though as I get older I find myself more and more in awe of restraint in that time of discovery. I still wonder what my response to color association would dig up; perhaps I’d better leave that alone.
Both “Living it Up” and “The Kid from Brooklyn” are about playful ruses. Each follows a paltry good-natured man caught up in a scam perpetrated by voracious men. Each film deals with media hysteria, not unlike “Gone Girl” but in a much more lighthearted manner, drawing much of the laughter from the idiocy caused by the mix-up. Each is a remake of a 1930’s film (1937’s Nothing Sacred and 1936’s The Milky Way), and each arguably considered the inferior work by most. “Nothing Sacred” was written by Ben Hecht and directed by William A. Wellman starring Fredric March and Carole Lombard while “The Milky Way” was directed by Leo McCarey and starred none other than Harold Lloyd. “The Kid from Brooklyn” is a startlingly faithful adaptation, McLeod mimicking shots and Kaye taking direct cues from his mentor. There is either an obvious reverence, plagiary, or both at play here, up until some of the final scenes where Kaye’s many gifts of singing, dancing, and tongue twisting made their customary appearance in the form of an impromptu song number. I’ve never really understood why Kaye didn’t join the respective comedy ranks, but after some nice write-ups over at The Movie Morlocks blog as well the illustrious Farran Nehme Smith’s appreciation of “The Court Jester” I’m beginning to see the overdo comeuppance begin to surface. It seems that many dismiss him as toothless, which is probably fair, but also beside the point. I have to admit that I cringed reading Pauline Kael dismiss Kaye’s “violently evident” talents because they remain, according to her, sunk “in the mud of family entertainment.”
I’m realizing now that I’m spending more time writing about McLeod’s film, when it was McCarey’s that I recently caught up with. It’s very odd seeing the original after seeing the remake, like hearing and loving a song only to realize it’s a cover. Unlike “Living it Up” or “A Song is Born,” “The Kid from Brooklyn” is so faithful that you can’t help but recall most of the scenes in one once you’ve seen the other. It’s a case of déjà vu. And while McCarey and Lloyd, I can’t help but love and maybe even prefer the 1946 version. It’s a new cinematic conundrum for me, though I’ll admit right now that I prefer McCarey’s “An Affair to Remember” from 1957 to his own “Love Affair” from 1939. Looking at the two, years apart, I think I have a softer spot for “The Milky Way” considering what it did with its constraints, jumping ahead ten years all McCleod and company could add was popping color and their star’s abnormal bag of tricks. It should be noted that McCleod directed some scenes in the 1936 film when McCarey was hospitalized, which may explain the decision to film his version so faithfully. So nice they tried it twice. One of the better choices, in my opinion, was to bring Lionel Stander back as Spider, there is just a tinge of nuance in his slightly aged performance. It was considered Lloyd’s best crack at the talkies, probably because so much of Buleigh Sullivan’s screen persona hinges on quick movements, mostly of the ducking kind.I guess I should now point out that the story here, based on a successful Broadway play from two years before, follows a meek milkman who is falsely accused/extolled for knocking out the middleweight champ in a street fight. Amongst the drunken ruckus, Sullivan ducks just in time to avoid a hard right from Spider, which causes a media frenzy, a scam, a love story not only between the milkman and one of his clients but also the milkman’s sister and the former middleweight champ, some swollen ego, and a calf kicking a man in the face. It’s a screwball, a genre that McCarey just may have perfected amongst other subgenres. And while McCleod isn’t necessarily perched up there with his old friend, he probably should be. He directed many of the Marx Bros classics, the Topper films, “It’s a Gift” from 1934, the 1933 “Alice in Wonderland” often credited to the great William Cameron Menzies, “Pennies from Heaven,” and two underrated films from the late 40s (The Paleface and The Secret Life from Walter Mitty) and that’s just scratching the surface.
Samuel Goldwyn nearly made it impossible for us to ever see “The Milky Way” by buying the rights to the original and destroying all of the prints that he knew existed. The problem is the doofus didn’t know that Lloyd preserved a nitrate print and kept it in good condition, some spit in Goldwyn’s greedy eye. While this type of assholery could be considered fair reason to consider McCleod’s film < or downright contemptuous, you should never blame a film for its producer’s sliminess lest you learn to hate most of the films you currently hold dear to your heart. And I guess I’ll wind this down by saying that I think you should all see both films, though in fairness you should start with the original and then catch up with the remake and let me know how things work out on the flipside.