Sunday, June 22, 2008

An homage to the 1920s

In general, I prefer older movies, but there are some that are evocative of an older time, and just as good. One such movie is Man of the Century, airing on the Independent Film Channel on June 23 at 11:35 AM and 5:20 PM.

Gibson Frazier stars as Johnny Twennies, a newspaperman at a struggling New York City newspaper. As the name implies, Johnny is straight out of the 1920s, which wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the fact that the movie is set in the Manhattan of the late 1990s. That, however, is no matter to our hero. He goes blithely through life with all the aplomb of a Harold Lloyd, having no idea whatsoever that he's a fish out of water and that everybody thinks he a bit odd. This is naturally the source of much of the movie's humor. When, for example, Johnny's long-suffering girlfriend asks him if he's gay, he replies, "I'm as gay as a day in May!" The idea that "gay" might mean "homosexual" clearly never crosses Johnny's mind -- nor does the idea that anybody would even be homosexual: Johnny's colleague is clearly openly gay, but Johnny has absolutely no clue about it.

The plot, such as it is, is simple: Boy meets Girl. Girl falls in love with Boy. Boy has to foil a criminal plot, but in the end does so and gets Girl. The story, despite its simplicity, is one that would fit in well with classic newspaper movies of the 1930s like Libeled Lady. The story is also executed well, with all the vintage touches, from the black-and-white cinematography, to an opening scene that would fit in in a silent movie, to the madcap finale that would not be out of place in a screwball comedy. The acting is just fine, from Frazier's channeling of Harold Lloyd, to the girlfriend reminiscent of a more dramatic equivalent of Jean Harlow's character from Libeled Lady, and to the gangsters who are suitably evil, but also suitably 90s; they too don't get Johnny. The one thing that's not vintage is the language; there is enough bad language (and one obviously sexual scene apart from the references to homosexuality) that you wouldn't want to show this to the kids.

If you enjoy the old movies, I think you'll find Man of the Century to be a delightful homage to those classics. If you're not yet a fan of the vintage movies, you might find Man of the Century a bit tough to take, and might be better served watching the classics like Libeled Lady and His Girl Friday first.

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