Unintentional Hilarity In Old Movies (I)

26 Jul

A government guy and a doctor are having a conversation in the original 50’s version of The Day The Earth Stood Still, about the man who has come from the flying saucer to warn humanity about the dangers of nuclear war. 

The doctor says that the man appears to be in perfect health, but that something’s not quite right.  The government guy says, oh yeah, how’s that?

Well, the doctor goes on, how old do you think the flying saucer guy is?

Oh, I don’t know, around thirty-five?

Yes, that’s what he looks like, says the doctor, but what if I told you that he claims to be in his eighties?

That just blows their minds for a second, and the doctor reaches into his pockets for something as the government guy muses, “How on earth is that possible?”

“I don’t know,” the doctor replies, breaking off a cigarette from the pack in his hand.  He gives one to the government guy and lights it, and then lights one up for himself, without a hint of intentional irony.

“I guess,” the doctor muses, around the cigarette in his mouth, “that their scientific and medical technology must be that much more advanced than our own.”

Put Leslie Nielson in that scene with the exact same mannerisms, and it’s pure hilarity.  It’s just that they didn’t know they were being hilarious. 

Like Reefer Madness.  They showed that on Turner Classic movies a while back, and there was a guy high on reefer, driving his Edsel like a madman. 

“Slow down!  You’re going to get someone killed!”  Someone screams at him.  Then they cut to the speedometer, the needle rising past forty. 

She’s right, too – he kills a guy ten seconds later, the stoner.

That’s the flip side of the pace issue I talked about yesterday – the way old movies unwittingly ridicule themselves.

Watch Escape From New York, for instance.  One of my favorite movies ever, no question.  I love the blue screen effects, the hilarious outfits, the smoky, sneering dialogue.  The big cobra tattoo.

But one of my favorite parts of the movie is the prison commander’s comically enormous phone.  He picks it up at some point toward the end of the movie and it’s like a prop in a Saturday Night Live skit.  The phone is about the size of a pay phone from the same era, ripped out of a phone booth and held up to the guy’s ear.

That’s the future, said the prophet John Carpenter.  Our cities will be our prisons, our outlaws will be our heroes, and our telephones will be gargantuan devices the size of bar stools, useful for phone calls and nothing else.

Even 2001: A Space Odyssey, maybe one of the smartest movies ever made, but really, guys.  How many times do I have to tell you, if you’re going to build a super computer with a mind of its own, you need to simplify the Off switch, in case it goes nuts.  There should be one button, big enough to hit with a tennis ball from across the room.

Actually, there should be buttons like that all over the place.

When DVDs first came out, they were few and far between.  Blockbuster had a single row of them – the whole rest of the store still VHS tapes.  Boggles the mind, seems like yesterday.  Anyway, that meant only about ten kids’ movies when Ellen was around three, so when I went in one day, I saw that Benji: The Hunted had come out on DVD.

So I got it and went home and stuck it in the computer and said there you go sweetheart, you’re going to love this.  Benji’s a cute dog, solves mysteries or something.

I was in and out of the room for the next hour, and then at one point I walked in and there was some guy in a long overcoat talking to the boy who owned Benji. 

“Wow, so you’re really a spy?”  The boy asked in awe.

“That’s right,” said the spy.  I don’t know how Benji and the boy ran afoul of spies, it’s just the kind of stuff Benji gets mixed up in, is all.

“I’ll bet you’re really tough,” the boy said.

“Well, I don’t have to be,” said the spy, unholstering a pistol for the boy to examine.  “Cause I got this.”

“Wow!” said the boy. 

You don’t see that too much anymore, except in Kick Ass.  No, when Spielberg went to digitize (or whatever he did) E.T. after twenty years, he went into the scene where the boys fly their bikes over the government agents, and he digitally removed the agents’ guns, put cell phones in there instead.

That was right around when kids started shooting up their high schools, so I’m not even going to say it was a bad thing.  Like the cookie monster – I know it sucks that he doesn’t crank down as many cookies anymore, but seriously.  The folks running Sesame Street are doing so for educational purposes, not to maintain their street cred among adults and not to feed my nostalgia.  Guns and cookie benders – bad, not wholesome.

But unintentionally hilarious, looking back.
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9 responses to “Unintentional Hilarity In Old Movies (I)

  1. Old Film Fan

    July 28, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    You should see “The Warriors” if you liked “Escape from New York”. People wanted to ban it because they thought it would cause riots!

  2. Rob Grey

    July 29, 2010 at 6:22 am

    …Ah but then there was my old Italian great-grandmother who uprooted her entire family to immigrate here back in the 30’s, thus escaping the enroaching fascism of the (then) new regime. The last time I saw her was ’64, I was 14 & she was 99 – a rather impressive 99 I might add – She used glasses only for reading & walked with a cane, (I still have the welts on my butt-) She still had all her teeth and could hear perfectly well. Living alone in a three-story (her bedroom on the 3rd. floor) she could speak faster than I could follow. She had a backyard vineyard making her own unfiltered red wine drinking sediment & all from a one gallon glass jug. She smoked a brand of hand-rolled cigar called ‘Crooks’. When finally, the family put her in the ground she was 108 yrs. old. To this day I wonder, what did in my great-grandma – do you suppose it was the wine – or the cigars?

  3. hipriestess4u

    July 29, 2010 at 8:55 am

    You write everyday?? the fonts on this blog are so tiny, that you can barely read it. I also have a blog, but I want people to read it. You should change the fonts or do black on white instead of dull grey on black. It would make for better reading, come visit my blog where I also write everyday at and leave a message.

  4. Bill V

    July 29, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Glad they digitized those firearms out of the scene! I would be shaking in my boots!

  5. Rebecah

    July 29, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    The slow melodrama in some of the old movies is soo slow that you can put the movie on fast forward and still hear the dialog quite plainly!!!

  6. Ruth Alfano

    July 30, 2010 at 2:47 am

    You could say we get what we pay for….back in the 50’s your Grandpa would give me 50 cents to go to the movie – 25 cents to get in to see 2 movies, 10 cents for popcorn, 10 cents for coke and a nickle for a candy bar. I remember seeing The Day the Earth Stood Still and it was scary and well worth the 25 cent ticket!

  7. Adam

    July 30, 2010 at 5:29 am

    My favorite is the first Terminator movie. A major part of the plot revolves around the characters going from one place to another looking for a pay phone while the Terminator chases them.

    I had to explain what a pay phone is to my kids. My 10 year old said, “Look! Their putting MONEY in that PHONE!!”

    (When she was younger she also held up one of my vinyl records and said, “Dad, this is the biggest CD I’ve ever seen!)

    • thomaschalfant

      July 30, 2010 at 5:31 am

      Yes – I had a similar experience with Wargames, remember when he starts the pay phone with a pull-off tab from a pop can?


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