There has been a great deal written over the centuries about how the idea of a story almost always breaks down into one of seven great plots.
Those are overcoming the monster, rags to riches, voyage and return, rebirth, the quest, tragedy and comedy. If you make it broad enough, almost every story fits into one of those categories. Even a teenage slob comedy where a bunch of kids are trying to lose their virginity. Hey, it’s a quest.
Of course, after a while almost all of the various plots get done to death. The two that seem to fascinate audiences the most — particularly the young male demographic Hollywood seems to love so much — are overcoming the monster and the quest. But as I said earlier, when the particular quest is nothing more than getting laid, it’s tough to have too good a movie.
I’m not sure there has ever been a more interesting age for film than the 1940s, the last decade before television took center stage and destroyed movie attendance. It was pretty much the last decade when nearly all films were made for people of all ages. Sure, there were movies just for kids, but there were none that would have been rated, R, X or NC-17.
There were plenty of what were known as “B” movies that were shot quickly with second-string actors, and if Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride never won Oscars for their roles in the Ma and Pa Kettle films, they certainly made plenty of people laugh.
These films were part of an interesting little genre, in which city people were able to laugh at the simple country folks and country people laughed at the city fish out of water in the country.
The Kettles were the subject of 10 films between 1949 and 1957, and if you think they don’t make movies like that anymore, remember the dozen or so “Ernest” movies starring Jim Varney in the 1990s.
It isn’t just an American thing, either. A few weeks ago I wrote about Australian singer Eric Bogle and his song, “The Waltzing Matilda Waltz.”
One of the later verses, in which he bemoans the immorality of young Australians ends with what what I thought was the line, “We’ve come a long way since Diamond Day.”
The actual verse went like this:
“Saturday night outside a King’s Cross hotel, There stands our future and it’s halfway to hell. Kids with hard drugs and young bodies to sell, hey Australia, what progress we’ve made. We’ve come a long way since Dad and Dave.”
I had never heard of Dad and Dave, but when I Googled “Dad and Dave,” I found out it referred to a pretty large chunk of Australian entertainment. There were films — movies like “Dad and Dave Come to Town” (1938) — and a radio series that ran from 1932-52. Oh, and there were plenty of jokes in that special Aussie vein.
Dad and Dave are walking in the bush when they come upon a dingo crouched over licking its testicles.
Dad smiles and says, “I’ve always wanted to do that.”
Dave is taken a bit aback. “I don’t know, Dad. Those dingoes can be pretty vicious. You’d probably better pet it for a while before you try.”
Heck, comedy is always a great plot, whether it’s Woody Allen, Ma and Pa Kettle or just Dad and Dave.