Wednesday, May 04, 2011

long time, no see

...and brother, I mean that in so many ways. It has been a long "unintended" sabbatical for us here at the Shelf, but we've been itching to get back at it. There may be more breaks here and there, due to an increased teaching and work schedule and certain other constraints, but for now, bear with us and stick with us. We've missed you, missed our blogging friends, and missed being here. But let's dive into the order of the day.

Over the past few months, more and more films have been piling up on my DVR; my poor, poor DVR. I've had nary a chance to view many of them, but I take the time every now and then to check the TCM schedule and program several titles to record to watch later. It's always been the "watch later" part that has eluded me, especially of late. So I've decided to try and rectify that and make room on the old DVR for other movie goodness. Not by deleting them, but watching them (and then deleting those not worthy to be saved) and telling you about it. This will be a new feature that I have cleverly titled: "From the DVR Files". Short reviews, maybe a note or two about the film and then a final verdict: Do I save it on the DVR for additional viewing, Watch and Delete or Don't bother, Delete now. Or maybe I need to have it in my permanent library on DVD. Who knows? We'll find out today. And then you can chime in with your own opinion in the comments section.

Today's inaugural installment of "From the DVR Files" will kick off with perhaps a lesser known title from some famous stars.

Casefile #1: The Jackpot
Stars: James Stewart, Barbara Hale, James Gleason, Natalie Wood
Directed by Walter Lang
Studio: 20th Century Fox

The Film: Stewart and Hale play average suburban couple Bill and Amy Lawrence. They are the average couple- a house, two kids, a dog and neighbors to socialize with in the 'burbs. By day, Bill is an executive at a department store with a very demanding boss, trying to get the big promotion. Like everyone else, they have financial concerns, and maybe a little ambition to keep up with their neighbors. Then one evening, Bill receives a call from a radio show asking him to be home during a certain evening to take part in a contest over the phone with the chance to win a huge jackpot: $24,000. The Lawrence's friends and neighbors turn out to witness Bill answer the questions correctly and win the jackpot! Even though things are looking up, soon Bill, and eventually Amy realize that the "jackpot" isn't all it's cracked up to be; it's not $24,000- it's cash and prizes valued at $24,000. And the prizes don't always fit neatly into their average suburban home, or neighborhood for that matter. Some of the prizes are nice and useful, and some of them are downright crazy. Eventually the Lawrences figure out that this jackpot may end up costing more than they realize, as they have to sell some of the prizes to pay off the taxes. Sometimes your "lucky day" becomes a big pain!

This is a neat little film that fits perfectly into the era in which it was made, the 1950s- suburbia, radio quiz shows, teenagers (Natalie Wood plays the Lawrence's teenage daughter) always on the phone: it's almost like a page right out of 1950's culture. We tend to remember Stewart now more for the Westerns or War pictures, and especially for those classics like The Philadelphia Story or It's a Wonderful Life. But he was also well known and loved by audiences in comedies were he played the slightly harassed, slightly exasperated, yet lovable and earnest family man. This is such a film. A light comedy that moviegoers of the 1950s would've readily identified with, The Jackpot is an enjoyable B film that almost seems like an extended episode of a show like Father Knows Best or even I Love Lucy. (Indeed the plot has been visited again in many a sitcom, most memoriably in The Andy Griffith Show, when Aunt Bee won a Game Show and had to sell many of the prizes to afford the taxes and fees.) Stewart is pitch perfect as Bill Lawrence and in some ways the chartacter almost seems like a typical "Jimmy Stewart" character. Barbara Hale is equally fun and shows some comic flair as Amy. Hale, of course, would go on a few years later to play her most famous role as Della Street in the Perry Mason show and movies.

The support cast is excellent as well, if perhaps, underutilized, in the film. Natalie Wood has a supporting role as the young teenage daughter, Phyllis. Fred Clark plays Bill's ill tempered boss, Mr. Woodruff. Clark was a veteran character actor from many television shows, and is better known for his role as the Burns' ill-tempered neighbor, Harry Morton in The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. The always great James Gleason plays Bill's newspaper reporter friend Harry Summers. The writing can be a bit tedius at times, but the script is well done and paces well- not drawing out too many gags or scenes. The one exception would be the scene where Bill is actually on the phone trying to answer the questions. It might have been drawn out to add to the tension, but Stewart and Hale add a bit of gentle comic nervousness to light the mood. You will see familiar faces, familiar plotlines and funny scenes, and familiar formulas. In fact, perhaps it is the "familiar-ness" that has made it more of a lesser known film- just another type of 50s family comedy. But sometimes it is the familiar gentle comedic film, that becomes just the right thing to enjoy on a bad day to brighten your spirits.

Even though this is almost a forgotten film in someways today, and considered a "b" family comedy, The Jackpot has an excellent cast and very good script, with many funny moments throughout the film. It may not be worth multiple viewings, but it is definitely a film to sit back and enjoy and escape with, much like you would with a favorite and familiar episode of a best loved sitcom from the 1950s. You will enjoy it the first time, and maybe revisit it years later if you catch it on television, but probably no more than that.

The Verdict: Check it out, and delete after watching.
Case closed.

Stay tuned for more from The Shelf- meanwhile visit our Facebook page and "like" us on Facebook.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

They might detatch your salary.
Then I'll quit my job and live on soup.


Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Welcome back, J.C. Looking forward to more "From the DVR files".

Laura said...

So good to see you posting! Enjoyed your review -- I'm going to program this to record the next time it runs on Fox Movie Ch. Looking forward to future installments!

Best wishes,

J.C. Loophole said...

Thanks Jacqueline and Laura- it feels good to be posting something and watching again. The good thing about the DVR is being able to stop when I need to and being able to resume when I have time to finish watching- perfect for my crazy schedule right now.
Having you stop by and read and comment means alot to me- thank you!


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