Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Man-Child Through the Decades

Betty Bronson as Peter Pan

Film comedy's first man-child was French comedian André Deed.  Here is Deed causing the usual commotion in Foolshead Has Been Presented with a Football (1910).

The first comedian to establish a well-defined childlike image in American cinema was Roscoe Arbuckle.

More childlike comedians appeared in films in the coming decades.

The 1920s

Lloyd Hamilton
Harry Langdon
Charley Chase
Lupino Lane

Maturity was an important theme to Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.

Keaton, who has been a disappointment to his rugged father (Ernest Torrence), is desperate to prove his daring and ingenuity by freeing his father from jail in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928).

The 1930s

Laurel and Hardy often looked like small children dwarfed by the world around them.


But Brats (1930) used oversized furniture and props to make the comic duo looked greatly dwarfed within the confines of a children's playroom.


Their childlike qualities were emphasized in A Chump at Oxford (1940).

Of course, other childlike comedy characters turned up during this period.  These characters ranged widely from Harpo Marx. . .

. . . to Cary Grant.

The 1940s

The comedians of this era displayed a raw and authentic childishness.

It is evident in this scene from Three Little Twirps (1943) that the Three Stooges were rough and ready at addressing conflicts and complications, but the trio's poorly developed problem-solving skills had a tendency of making matters worse.

The decade introduced many man-child funnymen.

Lou Costello
Bing Crosby and Bob Hope

One of the most important woman-child films was a 1942 Paramount release, The Major and the Minor.

The 1950s
Tony Curtis acts boyishly shy and passive to woo skittish lover Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot (1959).

Jerry Lewis promoted the man-child in varied forms during the 1950s and 1960s.  One of his earliest and most restrained studies of the man-child can be found in That's My Boy (1951).  Junior knows that he can depend on motherly advice whenever he has a problem.

Lewis took his man-child character to an extreme in You're Never Too Young (1955).

Other man-child characters included Ensign Pulver in Mister Roberts (1955). . .

Alec Guinness's homicidal heist gang in The Ladykillers (1955). . .

and Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot in Mon Oncle (1958).  


The 1960s

Jack Lemmon was a perfect man-child for the 1960s.

Lemmon met his match when he teamed with Walter Matthau in The Odd Couple (1968).  The childish squabbles between Lemmon and Matthau made the film one of the great man-child comedies of the decade.


Another great man-child duo of the period was Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in The Producers (1967).

Peter Sellers and Graham Stark review the evidence in a murder case in A Shot in the Dark (1964).  Sellers' Inspector Clouseau always tries hard to appear capable, well-organized and self-assured, but he exposes his childish nature at every turn.

The 1970s

In Play It Again, Sam (1972), Woody Allen has no mother to whom he can turn for words of wisdom.  He instead seeks guidance from a cool and confident imaginary friend, Hollywood icon Humphrey Bogart (Jerry Lacy).

Peter Sellers finds plants easier to understand than people in Being There (1979).

Perpetually jumpy Alan Arkin is dismayed that Peter Falk has involved him in a dangerous caper in The In-Laws (1979).  This is the standard faraway look expressed by the man-child, who is so often plagued by fear and bewilderment.

The man-child became more defiant during this decade.  This attitude is well represented by the fraternity in Animal House (1978). . .

Cheech and Chong in Up in Smoke (1978). . .

and Monty Python's Flying Circus.

The 1980s

Jared Rushton and Tom Hanks in Big (1988)
Paul Reubens in Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)

In Stripes (1981), Bill Murray exhausts his girlfriend (Roberta Leighton) with his childish ways.  Murray gets on his knees to beg her forgiveness, but this forces his girlfriend to look down on him as if he was truly a little boy.

The 1990s

Adam Sandler in Billy Madison (1995)
Bill Murray remains stuck in time until he is able to develop a rapport with other people in Groundhog Day (1993).
Molly Shannon in Superstar (1999)
Jacques Villeret in The Dinner Game (1998)
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in Dumb & Dumber (1994)

The 2000s

Seth Rogen stands today as the reigning king of the man-child comedy.

Steve Carell ponders his life in this scene from The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005).  This, again, is the standard man-child faraway look.

A Freddy Krueger aficionado is a terrifying man-child in Buzzard (2014).

Modern film comedy has become a haven for a wide variety of man-child characters.

Robin Williams
Gérard Depardieu in Ruby & Quentin (2003)
Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Step Brothers (2008)
Henrik Rafaelsen in The Almost Man (2014)
Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms, in The Hangover (2009)
Danny McBride in The Foot Fist Way (2006)
Jonah Hill in Cyrus (2010)
Jason Sudeikis and Owen Wilson in Hall Pass (2011)
Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents (2000)
Thomas Haden Church and Paul Giamatti in Sideways (2004)
Joel David Moore, Christine Taylor, Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers (2005)
Steve Carell and Jonah Hill in The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)

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