Tuesday, January 27, 2015

cinema obscura: Peter Ustinov's "Hammersmith Is Out" (1972)

One rarely encounters a cinematic calamity as uncouth, outragous and gleefully offensive (and hilarious) as 1972 "Hammersmith Is Out," Peter Ustinov's willfully unhinged take on the "Faust" legend.

Beau Bridges plays a greasy sleaze wittily named Billy Breedlove who falls in thrall of both Hammersmith, a patient at the facility for the criminally insane where Billy works as an orderly, and Jimmie Jean Jackson, a hashslinger with pretentions. These roles are played by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, clearly cast against type when they were at the height of their reign as the film industry's "It" couple.

As the creepily unemotional Hammersmith goes on a killing spree, Billy and Jimmy Jean continually consummate their relationship in a variety of ill-advised locations - until Hammersmith ultimately comes between them.

Ustinov is on hand as the asylum director trying to keep an eye on Hammersmith and, as the film's auteur, he's surrouned his stars with some top character actors - Leon Ames, John Schuck, George Raft, Leon Askin and the wonderful Anthony Holland who, as another orderly, earns laughs almost effortlessly, without the strenuous mugging employed by Taylor and Bridges. (Burton is aptly stoic throughout.)

The film includes such howlers as Taylor referring to Bridges' member as a "monkey dick" and Bridges bending over to flatulate in Ustinov's face.

Why on earth didn't this film ever make the midnight circuit?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

the chorus line

Sara Seegar (center from left), Mary Wicks, Peggy Mondo and Barbara Pepper are among the character actors who actually get to sing in DaCosta's "The Music Man"

During the era when film musicals flourished, dubbing was routine.

No big deal.  It was part of "movie magic."  However, the stars weren't the only performers to lip-sync to other voices.  The on-screen chorus, the camera-ready performers singing behind the leads, had voices provided by another off-screen chorus. Not so with Warner Bros.' "The Music Man."

Director Morton DaCosta, so often underrated (unfairly so) by contemporary critics, filled his film with some wonderful character actors* - Wiliam Fawcett and Mary Wicks, among them - and used their actual voices in the musical numbers, most notably the catchy "Wells Fargo Wagon" ensemble.  Here's how Meredith Willson's song was divided up. Feel free to sing along.  I just wish I had access to the names of all the actors who sing. Apologies to those slighted.

Little brunette girl:
O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin' down the street,
Little blonde girl:
Oh please let it be for me!

Elderly Lady #1:
O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin' down the street,
Her Daughter:
I wish, I wish I knew what it could be!

Elderly Lady #2:
I got a box of maple sugar on my birthday.

William Fawcett:
In March I got a gray mackinaw.

Mother with daughters:
And once I got some grapefruit from Tampa.

Father with son:
Montgom'ry Ward sent me a bathtub and a cross-cut saw.

O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin' now
Is it a prepaid surprise or C.O.D.

Sara Seegar:
It could be curtains!

Mary Wicks:
Or dishes!

Peggy Mondo:
Or a double boiler!

Rand Barker:
Or it could be

Yes, it could be
Yes, you're right it surely could be

Rand Barker:
Somethin' special

Somethin' very, very special now

Rand Barker:
Just for me!

O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin' down the street.
Oh, don't let him pass my door!
O-ho the Wells Fargo
Wagon is a-comin' down the street
I wish I knew what he was comin' for.

The Father:
I got some salmon from Seattle last September.

Adnia Rice:
And I expect a new rockin' chair.

Young man:
I hope I get my raisins from Fresno.

The Buffalo Bills:
The D.A.R. have sent a cannon for the courthouse square.

Ronny Howard:
O-ho the Wellth Fargo Wagon ith a-comin' now,
I don't know how I can ever wait to thee.
It could be thumpin' for thumone who is
No relation but it could be thump'n thpethyul
Just for me!

O-ho, you Wells Fargo Wagon keep a-comin'
O-ho, you Wells Fargo
Wagon, keep a-comin'.
O-ho you Wells Fargo Wagon, Don't you dare make a stop
Until you stop for me! 

* In addition to Wicks and Fawcett, "M.M.'s" cast of character actors includes Paul Ford, Hermoine Gingold,  Buddy Hackett, Charles Lane, Harry Hickox, Percy Helton, Barbara Pepper, Max Showalter, Hank Worden, Adnia Rice, Sara Seegar, Jesslyn Fax,  Maudie Prickett and the inimitabe Pert Kelton (a victim of the McCarthy blacklist era).

Character actor William Fawcett sings!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

gun porn

Having approached "American Sniper" with some positive anticipation, due largely to my enthusiasm for both director Clint Eastwood and his star Bradly Cooper, my immediate reaction to it took me by surprise.

Within in the first ten minutes, I was overtaken with the dreaded feeling that this was a movie that I was not going to like, not even remotely. And I didn't, although I volunteered to wait it out and sit through its entirety.

The film, a biopic, celebrates a man who I'm not sure is exactly deserving of that celebration - an arrogant, self promoting Navy SEAL sniper who opts for four tours of duty in Iraq instead of time at home with his wife and kids - on the pretext that his need to kill is for his country.  His straight-shooting wife, finally fed up, calls out his pious rationale as "bullshit."

And that word aptly describes the film itself, a movie that's so over-the-top right wing that it's like a bad Saturday Night Live parody.

Frankly, I found myself laughing at inappropriate moments.

An early scene in the film has the hero's deranged father teaching him how to be a man by taking him out hunting - to kill Bambi's mother - and a later sequence, staged at a shooting range, showcases a maimed vet who finally hits one of his targest and proclaims, "I got my balls back!"

There have been debates over exactly what "American Sniper" is.  Is it a gung-ho pro-war film or a shrewd anti-war film?  Or is it, somehow, both?

Well, the film that I sat through is more simplistic than than - a wet dream for avid advocates of the gun culture.  It glorifies guns, period.

Bradley Cooper is solid as the intense, messed-up hero, but he's played similarly intense, messed-up guys in his last two films ("Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle").  It's time for a change.  Maybe a light romcom?  And as his wife, Sienna Miller, a good actress, is hampered by a role that requires her to affect one agonized facial expression through at least three-quarters of this movie. I know exactly how she feels.

Monday, January 19, 2015

not buster. not diane.

First, full disclosure:  I like Michael Keaton.

Applause and cheers!

But, then, who doesn't like the affable Michael Keaton?

Another revelation:  I could hardly make it through "Birdman," Keaton's celebrated "comeback" movie.  (I put comeback in quotes because, frankly, while his last notable film work was in the mid- to late-1990s, Keaton hasn't exactly been inactive.  Check his IMDb filmography.)  Anyway, that's right.  "Birdman" did nothing for me.  There, I said it.

Boo!  Hiss!

I know, I know.  Blasphemy.  I clearly never received the memo that stated that anyone who is even remotely interested in the future of film is obliged to show enthusiasm for "Birdman."  Period. More disclosure: Along the same contrarian ethos, I could barely tolerate that other 2014 critics' darling, "The Grand Budapest Hotel."  Too twee for me.  (Hey, a rhyme!)

But back to Michael Keaton.  In spite of my aversion to "Birdman" (I still have recurring head pain from Antonio Sanchez's intrusive, clanging drum score), I am heartened that Keaton is receiving belated recognition in his career and appreciate the critics' avidity for his achievement in "Birdman."

What I don't understand is the excitement that goes beyond his performance in this particular film - the enthusiasm about his mere return, as if his absence left some kind of void.  I remember Michael Keaton as a competent, reliable actor with a fairly good filmography.  But the way that some critics are behaving, one would think Gene Hackman deigned to come out of retirement - or that Brando himself has risen from the dead.

Am I missing something?

Friday, January 16, 2015

cinema obscura: Lee Remick

Lee Remick (1935-1991), who was once described by The New York Times as "the Yankee princess," never quite received the credit she deserved, in spite of leaving a fascinating, rather eclectic, filmmography behind.

Personally, I always thought of Remick as "the go-to gal" when more celebrated actresses of her era - say, Elizabeth Taylor, Joanne Woodward and Shirley MacLaine - weren't available. Who knows what roles Liz, Joanne and Shirley turned down and Lee inherited. Perhaps "Days of Wine and Roses." Or maybe "Anatomy of a Murder." (No, in that one, she replaced Lana Turner.) "Experiment in Terror," "The Omen" and "The Detective"?

Remick's personality may have been less definable than Taylor's, Woodward's or MacLaine's, but that was her singular strength. And it is easy to imagine Remick in "The Three Faces of Eve" or "The Apartment" - or as Maggie the Cat in "Cat on the Hot Tin Roof," bringing different contours to the role. In fact, she essentially played that role in "The Long Hot Summer" (which happened to co-star Woodward).

As a result of her second-tier status, Remick ended up in some "off-the-beaten-tracks" titles. Jack Smight's "No Way to Treat a Lady" (1968), for one. Tony Richardson's "A Delicate Balance" (1973), with Katharine Hepburn and Paul Scofield, for another. Her debut film, Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd" (1957), definitely qualifies. Also, Sir Carol Reed's "The Running Man," co-starring Laurence Harvey, and Arthur Hiller's "The Wheeler Dealers," with James Garner (both from 1963), and Pakula-Mulligan's "Baby, the Rain Must Fall" (1965), with McQueen.

But there are lesser-known Remick films that I find even more compelling, particuarly two that she made back-to-back for Fox, a studio that by all accounts could care less about either title.

"Sanctuary," which Richardson directed from William Faulkner's complex Temple Drake story, provided Remick with a role she ravenously tore into and offered co-stars Yves Montand and Odetta (the singer in a rare film appearance) provocative, unvarnished material. Remick plays Temple, a governor's virginal daughter who is raped by Montand's Candy Man, a Cajun bootlegger, but also seduced by him in many other ways. She subsequently finds herself as a pricey New Orleans prostitute, replete with her own personal maid (Odetta) whose shocking self-sacrifice leads to Temple's long-delayed redemption.

Remick is commanding in the 1961 film as a woman scrounging (and enjoying) an existence in the wrong place, while memories of her past haunt her sordid present.

A year earlier, in 1960, Remick reteamed with her "Face in a Crowd" director, Elia Kazan, for his unheralded masterpiece, "Wild River" (not to be confused with the Meryl Streep-Curtis Hanson thriller, "The River Wild"). In this effective, socially-conscious drama, Remick plays a young backwoods woman who becomes romantically involved with a field administrator for the TVA (played by Montgomery Clift) who has come to rural Tennessee to oversee the building of a dam on the Tennessee River and who has the task of evicting an elderly woman (Jo Van Feet), Remick's grandmother, from her home on an island in the River.

The film is flawless, with equally flawless performances, but Remick is its revelation, accurately registering her character's spiritual refinement and social martydom.

In the early 1970s, when things seemed to thin out for Remick in terms of Hollywood work, she went to England, where she made a couple of deliciously dark comedies that are just about impossible to see these days.

Silvio Narizzano ("Georgie Girl") directed Remick and an excellent supporting cast (Richard Attenborough, Hywel Bennett, Roy Holder and Milo O'Shea) in a game and very faithful 1970 adaptation of the wicked Joe Orton play, "Loot," set in a funeral parlor where a pair of thieves are on the lam. Remick is a good sport as a painted-up nurse, but it's Attenborough who steals the film as a very bizarre, eccentric detective on the trail of the crooks.

Orton was in a ghoulish, exploitative mood here as he waged a frontal attack on some of the less flattering vices of dubious people. Not that he necessarily disapproved of them.

The film version of "Loot" opened in America two years later - in 1972.

After making the Narizzano film, Remick stayed on in England to reteam with Attenborough in Dick Clement's 1971 film of the Iris Murdoch novel and play, "A Severed Head," a trip-y piece about the daisy chain relationships of a husband and wife who are equally unfaithful to each other.

Remick is married to Ian Holm but wants to be with Attenborough, while Holm has a secret thing going on with the much younger Jennie Linden, who played one of the two female leads, along with Glenda Jackson, in Ken Russell's "Women in Love." (And whatever happened to her?) Then there's Attenborough's provocateur-sister, played by Claire Bloom, who taught the Linden character at Oxford and decides to wise up Remick about Holm's infidelity.

Bloom further confuses things with a genuinely radical turn by introducing Clive Revill to Linden, hoping that sparks fly. And they do.

"A Severed Head" is free-flowing, pliable and light - and should be seen, if only for Remick's dryly comedic performance and beauty. She's gorgeous here.

By the way, the Broadway production of "A Severed Head," staged in 1964, was a troubled, notable flop. Original stars Joan Fontaine, Elliott Reid and Lee Grant were all replaced during the show's tryout at Philadelphia's Forrest Theater. A young Jessica Walter was also in the production (in the Linden role).

"Loot" also flopped on Broadway during its first 1968 appearance there. George Rose had the Attenborough role. It was subsequently revived to much acclaim in 1986, with Alec Baldwin and Zeljko Ivanek as the libidinous young thieves (played in the film by Bennett and Holder), and stage vets Zoe Wanamaker, Joseph Maher and Charles Keating.

Angela Lansbury, who was Remick's friend and frequent co-star, once told me that she never met anyone who wanted to be a musical comedy star as much as Remick wanted it to be. To that end, Remick did the early Stephen Sondheim musical "Anyone Can Whistle" (with Lansbury and Harry Gaurdino) and a concert version of the composer's "Follies." She also gamely appeared as Lola in a TV version of ”Damn Yankees”

Prior to her death in 1991 at age 56, Remick was preparing to star as Desiree Armfeldt in a revival of Sondheim's "A Little Night Music." Dream casting, if you ask me.

And another missed opportunity.

About the artwork... From the top: Vintage Lee Remick, the Yankee princess; Remick with Yves Montand - and with the singer Odetta - in Richardson's "Sanctuary"; with Clift and Judy Harris in Kazan's "Wild River"; the dustjacket for the soundtrack album of Silvio Narizzano's film of Joe Orton's "Loot," about the only evidence proving that the film ever existed; Claire Bloom, Richard Attenborough, Jennie Linden, Ian Holm, Lee Remick and Clive Revill in Dick Clement's adaptation of Iris Murdoch's "A Severed Head," and the Playbills from the out-of-town tryout of "A Severed Head" and the 1968 Broadway production of "Loot."

Monday, January 12, 2015

cinema obscura: Otto Preminger's "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon" (1970)

While the resourceful Olive Films, which has access to the sadly neglected films in the Paramount library, has come to the rescue of two latter-day Otto Preminger films - 1967's “Hurry Sundown,” based on Preminger's favorite source, the bestsellers, and 1972's “Such Good Friends,” a dip into trendiness via Elain May's pseudonymous script - the title that came between these two is still missing.

"Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon," based on another best-seller (by Marjoria Kellogg), was released in 1970, the year of Altman's "M*A*S*H," Wadleigh's "Woodstock" and, yes, Hiller's "Love Story." It seemed to fit in nowhere - neither in the radical cinema of Altman nor the more traditional mode of Erich Segal. Which made sense, given that the film itself is about a ragtag family of misfits.

This most affecting "little" film features Liza Minnelli in the title role as a young woman with a grotesquely scarred face (courtesy of battery acid tossed at her by her boy friend) and, as her roomies, Ken Howard as an epileptic and the late stage (and occasional film) director Robert Moore as a wheelchair-using gay man.

James Coco, who would star along with Howard again in "Such Good Friends," was also in the cast.

"Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon" was an anomaly for Hollywood at the time, as was Coppola's "The Rain People" - namely, an art film made within the constraints of a hulking studio. It didn't stand a chance. It was doomed. It also appears to be lost.

Note in Passing: Robert Moore would direct a trio of Neil Simon films - "The Cheap Detective," "Murder by Death" and "Chapter Two" - before his death in 1984; he also helmed the 1976 televison version of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," with Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner, Laurence Olivier, and Maureen Stapleton.

Friday, January 09, 2015

rod taylor: reluctant matinee idol

The ever unassuming Rod Taylor, who passed on January 7 at age 84, was a walking contradiction.

He was ruggedly handsome, the stuff of movie stardom, but he had a gentle demeanor and soft, cultured voice that made him much more accessible - and also somewaht difficult to categorize.  Taylor could have easily played both Cary Grant and John Wayne roles (and, occasionally, did), and yet, he was interested in something more intricate and less clearly-defined.  He became a character actor early on in his film career.

And often played supporting roles.  But that didn't seem to matter.

In her reminiscence of his life in The New York Times, Anita Gates recalls a 1964 Times interview in which Taylor quotes advice from the director George Stevens - to respect himself as an actor, even in small roles.  Taylor told the interviewer: "I resolved to work my head off."

And so, his legacy as an actor, his status, was largely self-imposed.  "I would only do the good things," he once confessed during an interview. "I wouldn’t do anything I didn't consider prestige. I'd much rather turn down a starring role in a bad picture and do a small role in a very good picture."

One might say that he stood in his own way from becoming a major player in film - that he consciously avoided the limelight, a requisite of stardom, and simply made movies.  His personal life was a mystery.  He acted.

Taylor was what one would call an adjustable wrench as an actor.  He was Australian, born and bred, but you'd never know it.  There wasn't a hint of an accent and, when he played the title role in "Young Cassidy" (1965), based on the early life of Irish playwright Sean O'Casey (and one of the rare occasions when he carried a film), he seemed authentically Irish.

"Young Cassidy" should have put Taylor in the heady company of past Oscar nominees and winners. It was initiated as a pet project of the venerable John Ford.  But Ford fell ill early in the production and he handed the directing reigns over to Jack Cardiff, the great cinematographer who occasionally dabbled in directing ("Sons and Lovers," "My Geisha). Cardiff receives sole credit as the director of "Young Cassidy," which was also curiously billed as "a John Ford film."

Indifferently released by MGM, "Young Cassidy" went nowhere and, instead, Taylor would be more closely associated with George Pal's fan hit, "The Time Machine" (1960), and Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" (1963) throughout his career, which remained fascinating neverthless:

  • After coming to America from Australia, Taylor worked in a handful of movies (including Frank Tuttle's nifty "Hell on Frisco Bay") before coming to the attention of MGM scouts, who were looking for just the right actor to play boxer Rocky Garziano in Robert Wise's biopic, "Somebody Up There Likes Me" (1956).  Paul Newman got the role, of course, but Metro liked Taylor enough to sign him to brief contract and cast him opposite Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine in Richard Brooks' "The Catered Affair" as Debbie Reynolds' patient, bespectacled fiancé.  The film has a Paddy Chayfesky script by way of Gore Vidal.
  • He would subsequently work with Newman in an uncredited bit the same year in MGM's "The Rack."
  • In 1956 and '57, Taylor appeared in two Elizabeth Taylor films - Stevens' "Giant" and Edward Dmytryk's "Raintree County," respectively.
  • In 1958 and '59, he appeared in two David Niven movies - Delbert Mann's film of Terence Rattigan's "Separate Tables" and Charles Walters' romantic comedy "Ask Any Girl," respectively.  Taylor was one of the guys (the other being Gig Young) cast opposite Shirley MacLaine's "girl" in the Walters film.
  • Then came "The Time Machine," followed a year later (1961) by Disney's "101 Dalmations," in which Taylor provided the voice of Pongo.
  • The same year, Taylor was the star of ABC's short-lived cult series, "Hong Kong," in which he played an American journalist whose job brings him into contact with the seedier element of the title city.  Among the directors of the 26 episodes were Ida Lupino, Stuart Rosenberg, Budd Boetticher, Boris Sagal, Paul Henried, Christian Nyby, Don Taylor and Arthur Hiller.
  • The years 1963 and 1964 were the most vital, career-wise, for Taylor.  He appeared in no less than six titles, all good. Besides "The Birds," he reunited with Elizabeth Taylor in Anthony Asquith's immensely popular "The V.I.P.s," took on Rock Hudson in Delbert Mann's "A Gathering of Eagles," tried to seduce Jane Fonda (in his Cary Grant role) in Peter Tewksbury's "Sunday in New York," starred with Glenn Ford, Nancy Kwan and Suzanne Pleshette (his "The Birds" co-star) in Ralph Nelson's airplane thriller, "Fate Is the Hunter" and, along with Eva Marie Saint, tried to fool James Garner in George Seaton's excellent "36 Hours," from a Roald Dahl story.
  • Then came "Young Cassidy."  Taylor's two leading ladies were Julie Christie and ... Maggie Smith, with whom he had teamed in "The V.I.P.s" (above photo)  Audiences went to see "The V.I.P.s" for E. Taylor and Richard Burton, but they fell in love with R. Taylor and Smith, a terrific team.  Too bad there were only two films.
  • In 1965 and '66, Taylor made two back-to-back titles with Doris Day. After filming Ralph Levy's "Do Not Disturb" and getting on so well (they had animal activism in common; see photo below), the two teamed up for  Frank Tashlin's antic "The Glass Bottom Boat."
  • 1967.  The film is "Hotel," based on the Arthur Hailey novel.  The director is Richard Quine.
  • In 1968, another film for Cardiff, the much-admired "Dark of the Sun," followed by Joseph Sargent's war flick, "The Hell with Heroes" and Robert Clouse's Travis McGee caper, "Darker Than Amber" - clearly Taylor's John Wayne period.  (He would eventually  co-star with Wayne himself in Burt Kennedy's "The Train Robbers.")
  • And in 1970, he appeared as Daria Halprin's older lover in Michelangelo Antonioni's controversial "Zabriskie Point."
After that, Taylor pretty much disappeared, going home to Australia where he acted occasionally in local films and visiting America infrequently for a spot on a TV series.

He returned to American filmmaking for Quentino Tarantino who offered Taylor what would be his final movie role - the part of Winston Churchill in "Inglorious Basterds" (2009).

Not surprisingly, Taylor turned down the role at first, suggesting that Albert Finney should play the part.

Note in Passing:  There are many standout cinematic moments in "The Birds," chief among them Hitchcock's use of three still shots of Tippi Hedren - looking in horror from the right, center and left - as she witnesses a bird attack from the window of the restaurant, and Hitch's use of some fabulous character actors as denizens of the restaurant (Lonny Chapman, Ethel Griffiths, Elizabeth Wilson, Charles MacGraw, Doreen Lang, Karl Swenson, Malcolm Atterbury and Joe Mantell, among them).

But my favorite moment in the film is a small one, a bit of charming repartee,  when Taylor flirtatiously suggests Hedren's reason for popping up unexpectedly in Bodega Bay. "I think you like me," he smiles.

"I loathe you!," she snaps back.

That's Rod and Tippi above with Ethel Griffiths and Charles MacGraw.

Monday, January 05, 2015

betty & jim

Lauren Bacall and James Garner, lifelong friends, died a month apart in 2014.  Garner passed on July 19 and Bacall followed on August 12.

I've no idea how they came to be friends, given that their movie careers spanned different decades and that they also seemed to travel in different social circles.  Garner was a California denizen who lived in the Brentwood section of L.A.; Bacall was a New Yorker through and through.

However, in the early 1980s, they did appear together in two back-to-back films.  In 1980, they were part of Robert Altman's ensemble for "H.E.A.L.T.H." and a year later, in 1981, they teamed again in "The Fan," based on Bob Randall's juicy epistolary novel of deranged fandom, with Bacall in a part ready-made for her. Which she devoured effortlessly.

Anyone who hasn't caught Edward Bianchi's little-seen thriller should by all means seek it out.  It's a treat. The Altman film, lesser so.

By this time, there was some speculation that there was more than friendship between the two, but the fact is, Garner remained married to Lois Fleishman Clarke for nearly 60 years, until his death, with never a scandal to his name.  He would later star with Bacall again in 1996 in Peter Segal's "My Fellow Americans" (this time with Jack Lemmon in tow) and they also paired for a memorable two-part episode of Garner's "The Rockford Files" in 1979, titled "Lions, Tigers, Monkeys and Dogs."

Thursday, January 01, 2015

"the interview"/"ghostbusters"

Credit: Ed Araquel/CTMG - © 2014
"The Interview" is a disappointment, particularly coming on the heels of the last Seth Rogan/Evan Goldberg outing, the alert, scrappy "This Is the End" (2013).  Alert and scrappy?  "The Interview" is decidedly neither.

But more about that later.

It's also somewhat incongruous that this is the trivial material that threatened a major movie studio, provoking weeks of hand-wringing grief.  As a stab at political comedy, "The Interview" is rather toothless, the antithesis of something on the level of "Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964) or even "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" (1999) - or HBO's "Veep," for that matter.

For the talented, affable Seth Rogan, on paper, "The Interview" seems like a natural step forward in his burgeoning movie career.  It is bigger and more ambitious than his previous movies.  In this respect, it is reminiscent of Bill Murray's comic epic of 30 years ago, "Ghostbusters" (1984). Which, full disclosure, also disappointed me.  I know,I know.  I'm in the minority here but, frankly, the fan enthusiasm for "Ghostbusters" has always baffled me.  It has the same hulking proportions of "The Interview" - and is also neither as scrappy nor as alert as earlier Murray comedies.

I'm thinking here of "Meatballs" (1979), "Stripes" (1981) and particularly "Caddyshack" and "Where the Buffalo Roam"  (both from 1980).

These titles are a lot smaller - and a lot more fun - than "Ghostbusters."

In Rogan's case, there's the lowly but hilarious "Superbad" (2007), "Pineapple Express" and "Zack and Miri Make a Porno"  (both 2008), "Observe and Report" (2009) and "For a Good Time, Call..." (2012).

Both men have taken impressive dramatic risks early in their careers (Murray with "The Razor's Edge" and Rogan with "Take This Waltz"), but it's their alert and scrappy comedic roots, their shared low-down wit, that makes each one so irresistible.  Sometimes, size doesn't matter.