Walter Mencken 4 p.m., Dec. 14
When letterboxing fails: the Joe Besser edition
Maybe my editor, Ernie Grimm, is right. From Ann Miller's door frame splintering headdress to Joey Bishop's putting green coiffure, I do have a fascination with celebrity hairdos.
With my birthday right around the corner, the Lickona youngins asked what I wanted for a gift. Having just recently lucked upon a used copy of Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, I told the kids my second choice: Jerry Lewis' Which Way to the Front?
It's been at least 25 years since I've had the good fortune of seeing Lewis' wacky 1970 Nazi romp in it's entirety. It was the only Jerry Lewis film that I ever saw in a Jerry Lewis Cinema. I was 15 when it opened. My father initially balked at the thought of driving all the way from Chicago to Elk Grove Village, IL to see it, but there was no getting out of it. Either dad's hands or brains were going to be on the steering wheel.
I'll have more to say about WWTTF? in a future post, but for now please allow me to focus on the film's one image that I've never quite been able to shake. Never mind Sid 'Hitler' Miller in rapturous slow-mo or even Jan Murray getting pummeled by goosestepping goons: I needed to see the Besser-flip.
It was 1970, a time when men wore their hair long, no matter how foolish they appeared. Older guys vainly trying to blend in with the counter-culture generally proved to be the most amusing.
For whatever reason, I had this image in my head of a reverse angle shot of the back of former Stooge Joe Besser's head with a wave so wild even a world champion surfer dare not ride it.
This is where it becomes tough to explain. WWTTF? was shot soft matte 1.85:1 to be cropped in the projector as opposed to hard matte 1;85:1 which is cropped during post production.
Here are two examples from Howard Hawks' Red Line 7000, a film shot soft matte 1.85.1. There is more head and bottom room in Shot 1, but when properly masked no visual information is lost.
It is the first time letterboxing has let me down. In place of the Besser-flip in all its glory, I found a letterboxed barber shop that chopped off Joe's hippie locks.
All that remains of the Besser-flip can be seen in this long shot:
It's sad that Besser's tenure as a Stooge didn't extend into the '70's. Think of follicles Moe could have uprooted.