Thursday, May 8, 2014

I Like Hamm

Like millions of other TV viewers, I was hooked immediately by the debut episode of Mad Men.  The main hook was the smart, layered dramatic performance of Jon Hamm as 1950s Madison Avenue advertising man Don Draper.  Draper is one of the most complex, infuriating, huggable, tough, tainted and interesting male characters to hit series television in a long time.  Draper is a company man.  Like Gregory Peck as The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and Fred MacMurray in The Apartment.  Hamm, with his Old School Hollywood movie star looks, is excellent in TV dramatic TV role.
As much as I totally dig him as Don Draper, I'm an even bigger fan of his solid comedy skills.    He's so good at goofy comedy that you might wonder if that is indeed the same actor from Mad Men.  If you've seen him hilarious guest appearances on Saturday Night Live, you know what I mean.  He's a natural for sketch comedy.  He can go from playing the dark side of Don Draper to being a dork in a snap.  Jon Hamm is one versatile actor.

I blogged last year that, if I was in Hollywood, I'd pitch for a smart remake of the 1970s Elaine May comedy A New Leaf with Jon Hamm and Melissa McCarthy taking on the roles originated by Elaine May and Walter Matthau.

Hamm has a Disney film opening May 16th.  I saw the trailer at a cineplex recently.  On the surface, it seems to be a "fish out of water" baseball movie.  We can tell that Hamm's character and the gifted foreign baseball phenomenons will learn that we're all one.

The movie co-stars comic actress Lake Bell.  It's called Million Dollar Arm.  Based on a true story, Hamm plays the sports agent who goes to India in a contest to find the next American baseball superstar.

I like Hamm a lot.  I want to see this new movie.  I hope it's really enjoyable and I hope it does home run business at the box office.

If you've seen it, leave me your reviews in the comments section.

For you serious classic film fans -- and I mean so serious that some of your all-time favorites are silent films -- take a good look at Jon Hamm.  To me, he has a very strong resemblance to actor George O'Brien, the big athletic and very talented actor who starred opposite Janet Gaynor in the silent film classic, Sunrise (1927).

Sunrise -- A Song of Two Humans, airs on TCM.  If you've not seen this tale of a young man and wife, treat yourself and rent the DVD.  What a beautiful, touching film this is.  In college, we studied this movie in one of my film history courses.

O'Brien had the gift.  He was a major piece o' beefcake who knew how to use his body effectively in his character work.  A fine actor, he could access his emotions for a scene.  That skill is very evident in Sunrise.  Like Jon Hamm today, George O'Brien in the silent era was a brawny athletic gent who was very comfortable in his own skin and brought great dimension to his roles.  He was expressive.  He moved well.  He did exciting westerns (John Ford's The Iron Horse, 1924), action movies, costume dramas, biblical epics (Michael Curtiz's Noah's Ark, 1928) and love stories.  In Sunrise, he's the loving husband with boyish charm who can later express dark emotions and fill the screen with his frame as he moves like the Frankenstein monster.  O'Brien did low budget, popular westerns in the 1930s.  In his silent film years, he was nicknamed "The Chest" because of his athletic frame.  He showed his chest frequently on screen.

He was quite the package.  And a patriotic American.  He went into silent films after Navy service in World War I.  After 1920s and 30s movie stardom, he enlisted again and served in World War II.  He was decorated for bravery.  1927's Sunrise, directed by F. W. Murnau, is probably his most famous film.  That drama is a masterpiece.  But, I saw him in a 1926 Howard Hawks silent comedy called Fig Leaves and George O'Brien knocked me out.  He was a hoot.  He had a definite flair for screwball and physical comedy.  He was doing bits in Fig Leaves that, come the 1940s, you'd associate with Danny Kaye or Joel McCrea during McCrea's association with Preston Sturges.  In fact, I could see Jon Hamm doing Fig Leaves -- with its wacky, slightly "Flintstones" prehistoric look at Adam and Eve in the past...and its look at a young Adam and Eve married couple in the modern world.  I bet he'd have been an even bigger star in the 1930s had been with a top studio like Paramount, 20th Century Fox or Columbia.  He could've done roles that Fred MacMurray got opposite Claudette Colbert in glossy 1930s films such as The Gilded Lily, The Bride Comes Home and Maid of Salem.  He'd have been perfect to play the boxer in the afterlife comedy classic, Here Comes Mr. Jordan later remade with Warren Beatty as Heaven Can Wait.  Come to think of it, that would be a good fit for Jon Hamm if made today.  George O'Brien was a heartthrob for the women and an accessible man-crush for the males.  If you were the little guy, no bullies picked on you when the George O'Brien hero was in the room.  He was the protector who'd give the little guy a hug and make him feel safe (see John Ford's 1926 Navy drama, The Blue Eagle.)

If someone makes a movie about the early days of Hollywood and George O'Brien is a character in the story, Jon Hamm would be perfect for the part.

I'm eager to see if he's the perfect guy to play the sports agent in Disney's Million Dollar Arm.  I have a feeling he is.   Million Dollar Arm previews at some cineplexes this coming weekend.

There you have it.  Notes on a new movie and mentions of some classic films that you find on DVD.  Enjoy.
For info on the Saturday, May 10th previews. check the website.

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