Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Film Babble Blog's Top 10 Favorite Cinematic Sight Gags

Back in the day, I used to post listicles (before they were called listicles) of movie tropes that I would attempt to amusingly connect to break up the flow of review after review. So with the upcoming glut of year-end releases plus the stress of the holiday season coming (not to mention the craziness of the post election season we're going through) I thought I’d rekindle that idea and do something silly – list my top 10 favorite movie sight gags.

The following are what I consider 
meme-worthy screen shots from the obvious suspects: Monty Python, Zucker brothers, Mel Brooks, super hero movies, etc, They’re the engrained images, mostly from my childhood, that always make me laugh when I think of them. So here goes:

1. The shit hits the fan in AIRPLANE!

(Dirs. David & Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, 1980)

Almost every other shot in the line of movie spoofs made by the Zucker brothers (David & Jerry) and Jim Abrahams is a sight gag – some brilliant; some idiotic. The one that most appeals to me is an absurdly literal visual joke from their classic disaster film satire AIRPLANE! that involves Ted Striker (Robert Hays), who’s been called in to land Boeing 707 (Trans American Flight 209) after the pilots have been taken ill. Striker: “The oil pressure, I forgot to check the oil pressure. When Kramer hears about this, the shit's gonna hit the fan.” The film then cuts to a shot of actual shit hitting a fan in the airport control room. Hey, I warned you above that there would be stupidity.

2. Clark Kent can't find an old school phone booth in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (Dir. Richard Donner, 1978)

As an eight-year old kid, I remember the laughter from the audience being really big when Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) was first called into action in the first big screen Superman movie and found that the walk-in phone booths of the past, that he regularly used to change into his suit in the comics, were largely non-existent. Reeves’ expression at this realization of modern times is priceless.

3. The town sign for Plotpointburg in MUPPETS MOST WANTED (Dir. James Bobin, 2014)

Sure, MUPPETS MOST WANTED isn’t the best of Muppets movies, but it’s far from the worst, and this meta gag about how their European-set adventure, the latest in the cinematic series that was rebooted by Bobbins and Jason Segel in 2011, was adhering to a tried and true formula, got the biggest laugh of any of the jokes in their 2014 follow-up.

4. Sherrif Justice's restroom faux pas in SMOKEY & THE BANDIT (Dir. Hal Needham, 1977) 

The second biggest grossing movie of 1977 (STAR WARS was the biggest – duh!) had its share of dumb visual jokes, but this one which had Sherrif Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) leaving the men’s room at a truckstop with a line of toilet-paper following him out the door really made me giggle as a kid. According to Wikipedia, Burt Reynolds said that it was Gleason’s “idea to have the toilet paper coming out of his pantleg” in the scene. I may just have to agree with writer Tyler Coates, who said in his Decider post about seeing the film for the first time, that the shot may be “the greatest toilet-paper sight gag in the history of motion pictures.”

5. A 23rd century McDonald's in SLEEPER (Dir. Woody Allen, 1973)

Many of Woody Allen’s movies have sight gags, especially his “early funny ones,” but this particular one has stayed with me as it’s a really outdated, but still funny joke. In the film, which concerns Allen’s Miles Monroe, a nebbish NY neorotic (duh!) waking up 200 years in the future, our protagonist walks by a 23rd Century McDonald’s that has a sign boasting “Over 795,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000" Served.”

In the IMDb trivia section for SLEEPER, it is noted that “if translated into American numeration this value would be Seven Hundred, Ninety-five sexdecillion," a value with 51 zeroes. By comparison, Avogadro's Number, 6023E23 (or 6.023^23), or "mole," is a value normally used to count atoms or molecules, and, incidentally, thought to be about the number of grains of sand on all the beaches on earth, give or take a couple orders of magnitude. The value of 795 sexdecillion is very nearly a mole of moles.”

As McDonald’s was a somewhat seemingly new fad of a fast food chain in the early ‘70s, you can see why Allen made this joke. Though these days, it seems like a hell of an under-estimate.

6. Combing the desert in SPACEBALLS (Dir. Mel Brooks, 1987)

Another Jewish comedian turned ‘70s comedy star, Mel Brooks, also had many sight gags in his films. In the late ‘80s, Brooks’ schtick was pretty played out, but that didn’t stop him from making a spoof of the STAR WARS films and modern movie sci-fi in general called SPACEBALLS. One of its most memorable involved Rick Moranis’ Darth Vader spoof Dark Helmet ordering his troops to “comb the desert” for the missing Princess Vespa, and, of course, they do just that.

Maybe a funnier sight gag in SPACEBALLS was in the film’s few minutes, in which there was a parody of the opening of the original STAR WARS’ long, continous shot of a ginormous starship. That one, isn’t as well captured in a gif though.

7. The Black Knight's limb loss in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (Dirs. Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones, 1975)

More ‘70s sight gag funniness comes from the iconic British comedy group Monty Python, whose films are full of them. I’ll go with this one from their 1975 classic MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, in which a black knight gets both his arms chopped off yet afterwards still continues fighting. The blood gushing was a new thing for a comedy film in that era (Dan Aykroyd's Julia Childs SNL bit around that same time  hit the same vein - sorry), so this was as groundbreaking as it was hilarious.

As a runner-up, I’ll go with this shot from MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN which happens after Brian (Graham Chapman) has been up all night following a strict Roman Centurion’s (John Cleese) orders (again with the literal following of orders) to paint “Romani ite domum,” which means “Romans go home,” a hundred times all over the Roman Palace’s walls:

8. Steve Martin cleans his gun in DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID
(Dir. Carl Reiner, 1981)

Okay, so either the ‘70s-‘80s is the glorious age of cinematic sight gags or I’m just old and that’s the era that I most identify with, but I have to go with either this Steve Martin should be comedy classic’s shot of Martin’s detective character Rigby Reardon cleaning his handgun in a sink with a bottle brush, or the tie shot that has him shaving his tongue. How either of these really satire the world of Humphrey Bogart-era gumshoe film noir is debatable, but I still find both damn funny.

9. TIE: THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (Dir. David Silverman, 2007) & AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY (Dir. Jay Roach, 1997)

Both of these films feature sight gags involving the obscuring of the male member. I don’t feel I need to explain any more than that.

10. Brick Tamland's reaction to his dismembered TV image in ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGANDY (Dir. Adam McKay, 2004)

Although Will Ferrell's big deal newscaster Ron Burgandy could be seen as a walking sight gag (as could just about every character he's ever played), it’s Steve Carrell’s character in the 2004 '70s news spoof, Brick Tamland, freaking out because his green pants made his legs disappear on a weather green screen that makes the cut here.

Okay! So what are your favorite sight gags? Let me, and other readers, know in the comments below.

More later...

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