Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 17
October 9, 1908
M. Hulot Arrives

Just eight years into the new century in the Paris suburb of Le Pecq, France, Jacques Tatischeff (which he later shortened to Tati), was born. According to his own story, Tati was a descendent of a Russian aristocratic family who emigrated to France when his father married his Dutch mother, Marcelle Claire Van Hoof. A natural athlete, Tati became a professional rugby player and then later a stage mime who would impersonate athletes. After the war (in which he fought for the free French Army), Tati returned to show business, making a few films and appearing in a number of others. But it wasn’t until 1953, when Tati directed and starred in Mr. Hulot's Holiday, that he found his true comic self. His silent, oblivious, pipe-smoking alter ego Mr. Hulot, bumbling about his life, revealed a world of comic possibilities. But Hulot wasn’t so much the center as the vehicle by which Tati realized his complicated, comic landscape, Rube Goldberg cinematic contraptions that highlighted the absurd, hilarious, often cruel, mostly mechanized modern world. M. Hulot would return in three more comedies: Mon Oncle (1958), Playtime (1967), Traffic (1971). While many came to look on Tati’s humor as a French throwback to golden age of silent-film slapstick (think Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton), others have championed his special touch. As Roger Ebert wrote of Mr. Hulot's Holiday, “It is not a comedy of hilarity but a comedy of memory, nostalgia, fondness and good cheer, [giving] us something rarer, an amused affection for human nature––so odd, so valuable, so particular.”


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Dec. 17, 1946
Eugene Levy born

Whether it's as Jim's dad in the American Pie movies, Max Yasgur in Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock or the dastardly Walter Kornbluth, one of the scientists out to nab Daryl Hannah in Splash, Eugene Levy has become instantly recognizable to movie audiences.

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December 17, 1982
Tootsie Not a Drag for Hoffman

26 years ago today, when Tootsie was released in the U.S., Dustin Hoffman went from being one of the most respected dramatic actors working in film to, well, something very different. Hoffman, who had his breakthrough role in Mike Nichols' wry charmer The Graduate in 1967, had never truly shown his comic side on screen, despite the fact that he played Lenny Bruce in Bob Fosse's biopic of the controversial comedian, Lenny. Instead he had carefully picked roles, in films like Little Big Man, Midnight Cowboy and All the President's Men, which played to his incredible skill as a committed method actor. As a result, he was incredibly nervous about his idea to make a movie about a struggling actor who drags up as he pretends to be an actress in order to get a role in a soap opera. The film had a troubled and prolonged history, taking four years to reach the screen, during which time directors Dick Richards and Hal Ashby dropped out of the project, to be replaced by Sydney Pollack. The film, however, was a huge success: Hoffman's female foils, Jessica Lange and Teri Garr, excelled in their roles while Charles Durning (ala Joe E. Brown in Some Like It Hot) gave a killer supporting turn as the man who falls for Hoffman's “Dorothy.” And Hoffman himself was a revelation, displaying impeccable comic instincts and brilliant timing in a role that could easily have been his undoing and the source of infinite mockery from his peers. Tootsie was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay, while Lange beat out Garr for the Best Supporting Actress award. Most importantly for Hoffman and Columbia, the studio that bankrolled the movie, Tootsie was a box office titan, rapidly passing the $100 million mark and ultimately racking up nearly $180 million.

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