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IN SHORT: Fun for about fifteen minutes [Rated [R] ]
The 1920s were a wild and wacky time. A time of speakeasy underground nightclubs and flappers; pipe organ driven movie soundtracks -- 'cuz the movies hadn't discovered sound, yet; incredible optimism and high powered media driven street reporters, covering crime and society with the same pencil nub. What if a man who lived for those days, who actually believed he was living in the Roaring Twenties was unleashed on modern day America? If you can complete the following couplet, you may be the mark for The Man of the Century . . .
The Man of the Century is Johnny Twennies (Gibson Frazier), writer for the close to defunct New York Sun-Telegram newspaper. He's gone moon and stars for a dish of a dame, Samantha Winter (Susan Egan), his new shutterbug partner Timmy (Anthony Rapp) has got the right amount of moxie and together, the sky's the limit!
Ah, forget it. Cranky ain't no good at lingo that was new when his grandparents were kidlets.
Johnny and Samantha, who runs an art gallery, haven't even kissed. She's frustrated as hell. Her partner, Richard (Dwight Ewell) is Tim's ex -- Jonny is so locked in the 20s that "gay" means happy -- and the entire flick moves among fake speakeasies and old record stores. Johnny befriends the lovely warbler wannabe Virginia (Cara Buono) and gets her a job at a record store, which gets her an operatic audition for the Italian Maestro Roman Navarro (Frank Gorshin) who's a wee bit kinky. Samantha, of course, has been watching from afar and is jealous as heck. For tension, you've got a pair of foul mouthed thugs (that's why the flick has an [R] rating) who wave guns around, but aren't very threatening.
The idea of a 1990s setting with a 1920s character as its center has lots of potential. If anything, Frazier's Johnny so dominates the entire flick that there isn't a helluva lot of conflict as this black and white movie works hard to achieve that wacky feeling of 1930s comedies. On a lot of levels, The Man of the Century is very well made, giving lots of Broadway and West Coast stage actors paying gigs. It took awards at Sundance, too, which means little to me as I've not agreed with much that's come out of that festival. It's love for the Silent Movie Era is such that, if you watch carefully, you'll see references to that era -- the death of Valentino; the name above the florist shop; the name of the Maestro and a dead on impersonation of Harold Lloyd by Gibson Frazier, as Johnny goes "undercover" to catch a mob boss.
It's simple. If you're going to do a stranger in a strange land story (and almost every movie wants that, in one way or another) you've got to make it clear. Samantha knows how to do the Charleston. CDs don't exist. There's a passing reference to cable television but Johnny rarely has any interaction with modern technology. He uses a typewriter. He has a two piece phone. All fine for atmosphere but not for conflict. You can get a lot of comedy mileage out conflict but in this case wacky ain't whack.
I think, perhaps,
I'm thinking too much about this. Friends of mine three rows back were hysterical.
I was tired of it all after about 30 minutes (which is a shade less than the halfway
point of this very short movie). The good news is that Bobby Short, a fixture
of the New York night circuit does a song and has a small role in the show. If
you know Bobby and like his style, the price of a ticket is far, far less than
the cover and drink minimum at The Carlyle Hotel.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Man of the Century, he would have paid...
Midweek rental level. In little pieces -- the fake silent movie which begins the first reel, or Short's song at its end -- there's good stuff here. Which is why I'd be using the remote control
And for the rest of you trivia heads -- Susan Egan originated the role of Belle in the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast; record store owner Brian Davies did the same for Rolf in 1959's The Sound of Music; Frank Gorshin played The Riddler on teevee's Batman; Anthony Rapp was a star of Rent from the word go and the bandleader who pops in and out of the film is, indeed, Lester Lanin who leads a very proper uppercrust Society orchestra.
and the answer is b) wicky wacky woo. Even I knew that. But I'm old . . .
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