Wednesday, March 20, 2013


That guy in the back is Tod Browning.
Just ask my wife, she'll tell you.

When I started dating my wife -- that is, before she was my wife -- I think her only exposure to old movies was The Wizard of Oz and Freaks. I say that because those were the only classic movies I ever heard her mention. Freaks really isn't her kind of movie, but whenever the name Tod Browning comes up in conversation (as it does in your home, I'm sure), she makes sure to remind me, "Tod Browning! I know him, he directed Freaks!" It's as if she thinks she's part of a secret club:

"What's the password?"
"Tod Browning.
"OK, let her in."

Then she goes in the door and discovers there about ten million other people inside who know the secret word.

Yes, Chaney's drinking tea with
his foot in The Unknown. Oddly, this
wasn't the scene that drove my wife
into the kitchen.

Remember the last post I wrote about Ace of Hearts? When I mentioned that my wife walked out on The Unknown? That was a Tod Browning movie. So were the other movies featured in the PBS documentary on Lon Chaney -- the movies that made my wife gag in disgust. That Tod Browning she conveniently forgets.

And usually it's not a movie-watching experience without my wife asking, "What is this called again?" twenty minutes into it. The best example was when we were watching Charlie Chan at the Opera. Maybe you haven't seen it, but after two reels of Warner Oland questioning stagehands while Boris Karloff lip-synchs arias, you'd probably figure it out. 

But my wife needed to maintain her batting average. "What is this called again?" she asked with confusion, like we were watching some Kenneth Anger movie.

It could have been
"Charlie Chan Goes to Hell."
I tried to keep my cool. "Well, let's see," I replied. "There's Charlie Chan. He's at the opera. It must be... Charlie Chan at the Racetrack." Then I exploded. "It's Charlie Chan at the Opera, what the hell do you think it's called?!"

"Alright, alright, alright!" she scqueaked, as if it were somehow my fault that the answer wasn't plainly in front of her eyes.

My wife has sat through many old movies with me -- but not after putting up some resistance. I'll ask her if she wants to watch a movie I've DVR'd off TCM. Her eyes are a dead giveaway, bouncing back and forth so that I look behind me in case there's a Ping-Pong match I'm unaware of. Once her eyes settle down, she'll give me the same line I've heard a thousand times: "I think you've shown me that movie already."

Even Stan & Ollie are flummoxed.
It doesn't matter what the movie is. I could have just discovered the long-lost Laurel & Hardy short Hats Off, which hasn't been seen since 1928 and she'll say "I think you've shown me that movie already." It's spoken as more of a wish than a statement of fact.

"OK," I reply, "then what's it about?" That's when the fun starts. Ever hear a seven year-old trying to come up with an excuse for how the antique vase got broken? It's very similar. "Reaching" doesn't begin to describe it. I mean, it's like she's got arms seven feet long.

Last Friday it was the same routine. I kid you not, this is how it went down:
ME: So, you wanna see Double Indemnity tonight?
WIFE: Uhh... I think you showed me that already.
ME: Really? What's it about?
WIFE: (pause) Insurance.

There's still an impression on my forehead where I slapped my palm. The sad part is, I could have given her any title and gotten the same kind of response.
The Lost Weekend. "Sleeping late."
A Day at the Races. "Horses."
North by Northwest. "Oregon."
Strangers on a Train. "Strangers on a train."

The same thing happened a while ago,when I wanted to show my wife and daughter the Lionel Barrymore movie The Devil Doll. When it comes to titles, my girls are strictly superficial, so it took a few weeks to finally convince them that it wasn't gruesome or gory. 

I flick on the DVR and start the show. The credits come up -- "Directed by Tod Browning" -- and my wife fractures her arm patting herself on the back. "Tod Browning! You should have told me! He directed Freaks!

You don't say.



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