The brilliant but neglected satirist Frank Tashlin once defined his subject matter as “the nonsense of what we call civilization,” and these three features, which open a rare, monthlong retrospective at the Gene Siskel Film Center, encapsulate two sides of his genius. Realism dominates in The First Time (1952, 89 min.), a black-and-white comedy about new parents (Robert Cummings and Barbara Hale); Tashlin evokes Tristram Shandy by having the baby narrate, but the details about parenthood and its economic squeezes are painfully authentic. (One of the writers, Hugo Butler, also worked with Luis Bunuel and Jean Renoir.) Tashlin got his start as an animator for Disney and Warners before turning to live action, and his sense of the fantastic is evident in Son of Paleface and Hollywood or Bust, both in color. Bob Hope’s wildest comedy, Son of Paleface (1952, 96 min.) takes place in a cartoonlike universe swarming with detail–the movie equivalent of Mad comics, which first hit newsstands that same year. In Hollywood or Bust (1956, 95 min.) movie-mad Jerry Lewis wins a convertible in a lottery, and he and Dean Martin drive cross-country to Los Angeles, hoping to meet Anita Ekberg (the bust of the title). As Jean-Luc Godard once wrote, “Tashlin indulges a riot of poetic fancies where charm and comic invention alternate in a constant felicity of expression.” Sat 7/1, 5:15 PM, and Tue 7/4, 3:15 PM (The First Time); Sat 7/1, 3:15 PM, and Wed 7/5, 6 PM (Son of Paleface); and Sun 7/2, 3 PM, and Thu 7/6, 6 PM (Hollywood or Bust); Gene Siskel Film Center.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paramount Pictures/Photofest.