Monday, January 7, 2008

THE GREATEST FILM COMEDIENNE OF ALL TIME?

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, there haven’t been any film actresses to have the kind of comedy career of say a Bob HopeGene WilderWoody AllenJim Carry or (fill in whoever here). Of course on television Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett proved to be maybe the two greatest comedienne of all time, but they never translated to the big screen (unless you're a fan of Chu Chu and the Philly Flash, 1981).
None of the “Saturday Night Live” actresses were ever able to breakout in films like the boys were. Though Canada’s “Second City TV” did produce Catherine O'Hara who has proven to be a special actress, but I may wait tell she's dead to give her my award. 
Diane Keaton was great in the Woody Allen comedies. Though a good actress, she’s never been “funny” in a non-Woody Allen flick (in the so called comedies she’s done since, she’s usually just annoying).
Someone might cite Margaret Dumont from The Marx Brothers films or Judy Holiday from one overrated movie Born Yesterday (Cukor 1950).

For my money i’ll go with....


Madeline Kahn (1942-99)     


Just from her short string of body of work in the seventies she is the funniest of actress of all time. Having not seen much of her later work In the eighties and nineties. When she hopped from theater to television to mostly marginal and forgettable films.

Actually in reviewing her work i’m only basing my trophy on about 5 films and usually supporting roles, but the impact she makes is so vivid. 

Fresh out of collage In the mid sixties, she started working on the New York stage. In 1970 she appeared on Broadway with Danny Kaye in the Musical “Two By Two”. She would continue throughout her career to mix in stage work, including the massively acclaimed David Rabe drama “Boom Boom Room” (1973), a revival of Born Yesterday with Ed Asner and she would win a Tony award for her performance in Wendy Wasserstein’s hit dramady “The Sisters Rosenweig” (1993).

She made her feature film debut in Peter Bogdanovich's ode to screwball comedy What's Up, Doc? (1972) completely stealing the movie from it’s stars Ryan O'Neal and Barbra Streisand



Bogdanovich recast her again in his follow-up film, Paper Moon (1973) (it would prove to be Bogdanovich’s second great film along with The Last Picture Show in 1971). And Khan is brilliant as Trixie Delight dueling on screen with the imp Tatum O’Neal for the soul of the child’s father. She would get an Oscar nomination for her performance bust lost to her pip-squeak costar.

She would work with the director one more time in the ‘hated-by-most’ musical At Long Last Love (1975). Kahn was considered the most Watchable part of the flop, and with her singing background was able to handle the songs by Cole Porter tunes, while the director’s then girlfriend Cybill Shepherd and Burt Reynolds strangely miscast as Astaire and Rogers type song & dance team. They were deemed noise pollution but most who witnessed the debacle.


She was cast in the Lucille Ball film vehicle of the musical Mame (Saks 1974) but according to a dude named RareRare, in a pissy review of the VHS copy of the flick, on amazon.com:

“The film "Mame" was touted as a must-see with Madeline Kahn 

portraying Gouch and the inimitable Bea Arthur as Vera, but alas 

Kahn and Lucy came to blows precipitating the former's 

walking off the set and Arthur looked like a very bad drag queen.” 

(though questionably, this so-called RareRare on his Amazon Listmania calls Sweet Bird of Youth (Brooks 1962) a “great film” and “mesmerizing”. It’s neither)

 

              


She did not however come to blows with director Mel Brooks. She would go on to appear in four of his films. 

In the Western parody Blazing Saddles (1974) Khan plays a Marlene Dietrich type named Lili Von Shtupp, her song ‘I'm So Tired’ is considered by many a comic masterpiece. She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for a second time, this time losing to (“she’s really old and not hot anymore and since we ran her outta town a while back, lets give her an award”) Ingrid Bergman for Murder on the Orient Express (Lumet 1974).

In Brooks next film the Universal Horror spoof Young Frankenstein (1974) Khan wonderfully all her scenes as Gene Wilder’s snooty fiancee Elizabeth. The whole cast is excellent, but this is a chance to see two of the other stronger comedic actresses of that period Cloris Leachman as the grotesque Frau Blücher and Teri Garr very cute, as Inga.

Kahn would again be terrific in Brooks pretty-good Hitchcock spoof High  Anxiety (1977). 

And She would have one of the more memorable moments in the directors hit-or-miss History Of The World: Part I (1981)


                       


In a string mostly forgettable films she would often be the best thing about them, from The Cheap Detective (1978) to First Family (1980) to Clue (1985).

Though she would dazzle live audiences on the stage and appear in a number of the best “Saturday Night Live” skits of the seventies. She had one last great role another so-so flick, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975) directed by her earlier costar Gene Wilder. The two of them along with Marty Feldman perform on of the kookiest musical scenes ever, "The Kangaroo Hop"



She passed away in 1999 from cancer



-sweeneyrules


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