By Erin Tucker and Kelly Sargent
As of May 20 each state that had imposed a stay-at-home order has begun lifting restrictions on businesses and public spaces. The COVID-19 pandemic is by no means over, though. World-wide, cases top 5 million, and according to the WHO, the last 24 hours was the worst day yet for new infections. In the US at least 17 states have recorded an unmistakable upward trend of average new daily cases.
That's why doctors, epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists continue to recommend social distancing and staying home as much as possible until the rate of infection drops more significantly.
Since we're all spending more time at home than usual, Tucker Law team member and movie buff Kelly Sargent has agreed to share a list of her favorite lesser-known, light-hearted classics to help take your mind off the avalanche of scary news. You may be familiar with some of her selections, but there are also probably at least a few you've never heard of. Several of these movies are free on YouTube, the others are available through rental or subscription services
The Gold Rush 1925 Available on Amazon Prime Video
You might be surprised to discover that a silent movie can be this charming, but The Gold Rush is a true cinema classic: pure gold, if you'll pardon the pun. Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp, a character he made famous in a series of movies, heads north to join the Klondike gold rush where he's forced to share a small cabin with another prospector and a fugitive when they're trapped by a blizzard. Finally freed, he meets and falls in love with a beautiful barmaid, but many a missed connection must be overcome before they can be together.
The Gay Divorcee 1934 Available on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, iTunes and YouTube
I recommend any of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies — Paul and I own all of them — but this one is our favorite. In addition to the iconic duo of Ginger and Fred, it boasts a stellar and hilarious cast including Edward Everett Horton (narrator of Fractured Fairy Tales on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show) and the marvelous Eric Blore. Betty Grable even makes an appearance.
The plot revolves around Mimi Glossup played by Ginger who wants to divorce her absentee husband. However, since it was an era in which couples couldn't file for divorce without cause, Mimi's many-times-married aunt (Alice Brady) cooks up a scheme to create cause by hiring a professional co-respondent with whom Mimi can fake and 'accidentally' get caught in an adulterous relationship.
Fred's character is an American song and dance man who becomes enchanted with Mimi when he briefly meets her on an ocean liner on the way to England and gets tangled in the subterfuge. It all becomes a muddled mess until the butler (Eric Blore) saves the day, but not before many laughs are provided by Erik Rhodes.
Of course there's non-stop dancing and singing; the classic Night and Day, a campy rendition of The Continental — which may be the longest song and dance number in recorded history; you may want to fast-forward part of the way through it — and a goofy number by Betty Grable called Let's K-nock K-nees. You can't watch this and be un-cheered.
Topper 1937 and Topper Returns 1941 Topper available on YouTube; Topper Returns available on Amazon Prime Video
There are three Topper movies: Topper, Topper Takes a Trip and Topper Returns based on the comical supernatural novels of Thorne Smith. All three star Roland Young as repressed banker Cosmo Topper who's persistently haunted by friendly but annoying ghosts. Mrs. Topper is played by Billie Burke, who incidentally appeared as the Good Witch, Glinda in The Wizard of Oz three years before.
The last in the series, Topper Returns, is the one we like best. Gail, played by Joan Blondell, is murdered (it's not gruesome but slightly scary) after being mistaken for her rich friend (Carole Landis) with whom she's staying. Gail's ghost-self enlists Topper's help to find the murderer. Also notable in the cast is Eddie "Rochester" Anderson. If a murder as part of the plot, doesn't sound like a good time, opt for Topper, the first in the series, in which Cosmo is haunted by the mischievous ghost married couple played by Constance Bennett and Cary Grant.
Miracle on Morgan's Creek 1944 Available on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, iTunes and YouTube
After an all-night send-off party for the local WW II troops, small-town girl Trudy Kockenlocker, played by the irrepressible and in my opinion, irreplaceable Betty Hutton, wakes up after suffering a blow on the head to discover that she's married, and in the fullness of time — pregnant.
The problem is that Trudy can't remember who she married. She thinks his name might be Ratzkywatzky or something like that. She has a fuzzy memory of both using fake names so the marriage record won't be any help. She can't even bring to mind what he looks like, let alone how to get in touch with him.
Norval Jones, a local boy played by perfectly-cast Eddie Bracken, who's been in love with Trudy for years, steps in to save her good name. A thousand complications ensue along the way, no small number of them supplied by the town constable who also happens to be Trudy's father. He's played by William Demarest, who later owned the role of Uncle Charley in My Three Sons. We think this is one of the all-time funniest movies, and if you don't become a huge Betty Hutton fan before it's over, there's something wrong.
The Inspector General 1949 Available on Amazon Prime Video and Tubi
Starring the multi-talented, amazing Danny Kaye, this is a classic mistaken-identity film that inspired many subsequent movies. After Georgi (Danny Kaye) get fired from a traveling medicine show for telling the truth about the utterly bogus 'medicine' being sold, he wanders into a strange town and is picked up on a vagrancy charge.
The corrupt mayor of the town which has recently found itself under the supervision of the First French Empire, mistakes Georgi for the inspector general whom he and his in-cahoots council believe to be traveling in disguise. Fearing that the inspector will discover that they've been stealing the town's tax money, they keep trying to kill him to no avail. If you've never taken advantage of the opportunity to be entertained by the chameleon that was Danny Kaye, this is a good place to start.
The Producers 1967 The 1967 version available on YouTube; 2005 version Available on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes and YouTube
I'm referring to the 1967 version starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, not the 2005 remake with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. Either version will make you laugh, but the 1967 version scores a 90% with critics versus 50% for the later one.
Down and out Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel), has been reduced to romancing rich, older ladies in order to pay the bills. Max sees a ways out of his financial difficulties when his new accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), mentions that if Max found investors for a production that ended up being a flop, he could legally keep all the rest of the backers' money beyond expenses. The costs would be minimal if the show folded right out of the gate, so Max and Leo put together what they're sure will be the worst play ever made, but of course things don't work out the way they'd planned.
Making Mr. Right 1987 Available on YouTube
John Malkovich plays scientist Jeff Peters who invents a lifelike android. In fact Jeff has made Ulysses an exact physical replica of himself. Endowed by his creator with the ability to learn to mimic and reciprocate human emotions, Jeff's goal is for Ulysses to get so good at relating to people that he can charm the Congressional powers-that-be into funding Jeff's research — something Jeff himself isn't capable of.
The problem is that Jeff can't teach Ulysses to feel because he's a misanthrope devoid of emotion, so he brings in public relations expert Frankie Stone (Ann Magnuson) to give Ulysses lessons. She does such a good job that things get very, very complicated. Laurie Metcalf, who later became famous in the TV sitcom Roseanne, plays a colleague with the hots for Jeff.
Earth Girls are Easy 1988 Available on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, iTunes and YouTube
A musical-comedy-science-fiction movie, Earth Girls Are Easy is based on a 1984 song of the same name by comedian, singer-songwriter Julie Brown. The plot centers on events that transpire when a space ship containing three aliens crashes into valley girl Valerie Gail's swimming pool.
Valerie, played by Gena Davis, Candy Pink played by Julie herself, and the staff at Candy's hair salon try to help aliens Jeff Goldblum, Damon Wayans and Jim Carrey blend in by giving them make-overs. In the process Valerie falls for Jeff's alien self — apparently in real life too since they got married the following year. It's fun to see Jim Carrey in one of his earliest roles.
The Man Who Knew Too Little 1997 Available on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, iTunes and YouTube
This is the most mainstream of the movies listed, the one you're most likely to have seen, but I can't resist including it because it's just so funny. It's one Paul and I can watch again and again and never become inured. Bill Murray stars as Wallace Ritchie who hails from Des Moines! as the quintessential, naively-ignorant American traveling abroad for the first time. In London to celebrate his brother James' (played by Peter Gallagher) birthday, he inadvertently gets in the middle of a Soviet espionage plot to detonate a bomb at a British and Russian state dinner. Along the way Wallace falls in love of course. It's the perfect laugh-out-loud sendup of the spy movie genre.
Waking Ned Divine 1998 Available on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, iTunes and YouTube
When someone in the tiny village of Tulaigh Mhór, population, 52, wins the Irish lottery, best mates Jackie O'Shea and Michael O'Sullivan devise a scheme to figure out who the winner might be, intent upon currying favor with the newly-minted, multi-million-pound neighbor and getting a slice of the pie. After concluding through a process of elimination that the lucky person must be Ned Devine, they pay him a visit and find him dead from the shock of having won. Since Ned is the only one who can claim the prize, Jackie and Michael hatch a plan for Michael to impersonate Ned, but not before the whole town wants in. If you've never seen an old-ish naked guy riding around on a scooter, now's your chance.
Saving Grace 2000 Available on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, iTunes and YouTube
The marvelous Brenda Blethyn stars as Grace Trevethen whose late husband jumped out of a plane without a parachute. She finds herself left with their manor home on the Cornish Coast but no life insurance proceeds and a crushing load of debt her husband had been secretly amassing.
With creditors after her and foreclosure imminent, she's faced with the prospect of losing everything. When Grace, who is liked by everyone and happens to have a green thumb, is asked by a friend to tend a few sickly plants, she discovers she's actually nurturing marijuana — and learns how much they're worth! A few clippings plus her ability to scale up seem like the solution to all her pressing money problems. Eventually the whole town inadvertently comes under the influence including a pair of delightful LOL-LOLs (laugh-out-loud little-old-lades) who have some "lovely lovely" for sale. The film also stars Martin Clunes of Doc Martin fame and stand-up comedian and former talk show host Craig Ferguson in early roles.
Elvis Has Left the Building 2004 Available on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, iTunes and YouTube
Although Elvis Has Left the Building didn't garner much attention at the time, we swear by this little-seen, laugh-out-loud farce with its sparkling cast, enough so that we bought the DVD.
Harmony Jones, played by Kim Bassinger, is a top-selling Pink Lady cosmetic saleswoman whose life was forever touched when at seven years old she met the King. Although Harmony has been extremely successful in her career, what she really wants is to meet a nice man to marry and settle down.
In the process of making back-to-back appearances at Pink Lady events near Las Vegas, Harmony encounters a series of Elvis impersonators in hotels and on the road because there's an Elvis impersonator convention taking place in Las Vegas. A string of unlikely but fatal accidents befalls first one Elvis impersonator who happens to be her vicinity and then another and another and another.
Harmony becomes convinced that she's somehow karmically killing them, so when she meets Miles who seems to be the man she's been hoping for — played by John Corbett of Northern Exposure and My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame — but whom she mistakenly believes is an Elvis impersonator, she tries hard to ditch him in order to spare his life. Kim is never not 100% believable, Annie Potts who's always spot on, plays her best friend Shirl, Denise Richards, Sean Astin, Angie Dickinson also makes appearances, and Tom Hanks has a 20-second cameo as 'mail box' Elvis.
House Bunny 2008 Available on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, iTunes and YouTube
Playboy Bunny Shelley Darlingson, played to perfection by Anna Faris, has lived a life of luxury at Hugh Hefner's mansion. Disaster strikes when Shelley turns 27 and is deemed too old to be a Bunny. Kicked out into the real world, she wanders onto a college campus and becomes the housemother at a failing sorority made up of geeky, awkward girls who view her as the answer to all their problems. If anyone can teach them how to attract boys, surely a Playboy Bunny can.
Anna's rendition of Shelley feels like an extension of the classic, archetypal, blonde, comedic leading lady with flawless timing à la Carole Lombard, Betty Hutton and Ginger Rogers who've been, I think, an under-appreciated mainstay of cinema since the first moving picture flickered on screen. Emma Stone and Tom Hanks' son Colin also have starring roles.
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