Short, portly comedian whose eccentric personas often were whiny, child-like, cautious or bratty, Joe Besser is best recalled as Stinky, the "man-child" dressed in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit who ca...
Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
Seventeen years ago, Harrison Ford grumbled four simple words that defined a genre, a demographic, and a country: "Get off my plane." In a pre-9/11 world, there was no shortage of jingoistic glee in a movie like Air Force One, in which a man's man American president doled out justice to a militia of Russian loyalist terrorists who made the silly mistake of attempting to hijack his flight home from Moscow. In 2014, we don't have the luxury of facing a plotline like this with reckless merriment. There's a damp gravity to the premise behind movies like Non-Stop, which in another time would have been nothing more than Taken on a Plane. But rigidly conscious of the connotations that attach to a story about a hijacking of a civilian international flight into John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, Non-Stop doesn't play too fast and loose. It still plays, and has some good fun doing so, but carefully.
From the getgo, we're anchored into the grim narrative of Liam Neeson's U.S. Air Marshall Bill Marks, who settles his demons with a healthy spoonful of whiskey. A dutiful officer even when liquored up, Marks eyeballs every nameless face in London's Heathrow Airport, silently introducing the bevvy of characters who'll come into play later on. After takeoff, Marks finds himself on the unwitting prowl for the anonymous party who's attempting to take down the red-eye through a series of manipulative text messages, well-timed threats, and clandestine killings. Chatty passenger Julianne Moore and flight attendant Michelle Dockery join Marks in his efforts to identify the mysterious criminal before the entire aircraft falls to his or her whims. So less Taken, more Murder, She Wrote.
Our roundup of suspects challenges our (and their) preconceived notions, and quite laughably — most vocal among Neeson's fellow passengers are a white beta-male school teacher (Scoot McNairy), a black computer engineer with an attitude of entitlement (Nate Parker), a softspoken Middle Eastern surgeon whose headwear gets more than a few focal shots (Omar Metwally), a middle-aged white businessman whose latest account landed him more than your house is worth (Frank Deal), an irate black youngster draped in irreverence (Corey Hawkins), and a white, bald, machismo-howling New York cop who secretly accepts his gay brother (Corey Stoll). Just a few talking heads short of Do the Right Thing, Non-Stop manages to goof on each man's (notice that they're all men — Moore, Dockery, and a barely-in-the-movie Lupita Nyong’o are kept shy of the action for most of the film) distaste for and distrust of one another as they each try to sidle up to, or undermine the harried Marks.
Non-Stop plays an interesting game with its characters and its audience, simultaneously painting the ignorance of its characters with a thick coat of comedy while pointing its finger straight out at us with accusations that we, too, thought it was whoever we just learned it wasn't, and for all the wrong reasons. "Shame on you!" Non-Stop chides, adding, "But let's keep going, this is fun!"
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It is fun — that's the miraculous thing. Without any "Get off my plane"s or "Yippee ki yay"s, Non-Stop keeps its action genre silliness in check (okay, there is a moment involving an airborne gun that'll institute some serious laugh-cheers), investing all of its good time in the game of claustrophobic Clue that we can't help but enjoy. It sacrifices some of its charm in a heavy-handed third act, tipping to one side of what was a pretty impressive balancing act up until that point. But its falter is not one that drags down the movie entirely. Fun and excitement are restored, sincerity is maintained, and even a few moments of sensitivity creep their way through. We might not live in a world of President Harrison Fords any longer, but Air Marshall Liam Neesons could actually be a step up.
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Played Mr. Know It All on the radio show "Let Yourself Go", starring Milton Berle
Member of The Three Stooges, performing in final 16 two-reel shorts for Columbia
Worked in various capacities in vaudeville
Performed bit roles in more than 40 motion pictures
Did voices for Hanna-Barbera cartoons, including Puddy Puss, Babu, and Scarebear
Toured vaudeville partnered with Dick Dana
Went solo as a comedian
Played Stinky on "The Abbott and Costello Show"
At age 13, stowed away on train carrying his idol magician Howard Thurston; joined Thurston's act as a magician's assistant
As a teenager, decided to become a magician
Had featured spots on radio shows including "The Jack Benny Show", "The Fred Allen Show" and "Tonight on Broadway"
Teamed with singer Lee Royce
Made appearance on "Hour Glass", one of the first live hour-long entertainment series produced for a TV network (NBC)
Featured on Broadway in "The Passing Show of 1932"; also in cast were Ted Healy, Shemp Howard. Moe Howard and Larry Fine
Became magician's assistant to Madame Herrmann
Played Mr. Jillson on the ABC sitcom "The Joey Bishop Show"
Signed by Columbia Pictures
Appeared as an exasperated child in Olsen and Johnson's stage show "Sons of Fun"
Raised in St. Louis, Missouri
Became regular on first TV series, "The Ken Murray Show"
Made TV movie debut, "The Monk" (ABC)
Short, portly comedian whose eccentric personas often were whiny, child-like, cautious or bratty, Joe Besser is best recalled as Stinky, the "man-child" dressed in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit who caused Lou Costello much consternation, and for joining The Three Stooges for the last of their 16 two-reel shorts at Columbia after the death of Shemp Howard. A burlesque and vaudeville performer who emigrated to Hollywood at the demise of those two stage genres, he began doing bits in radio and in films, usually as weak, frightened passive characters. Besser began to attract more audience recognition as Mr. Know It All on radio's "Let Yourself Go" (from 1945 to 1949) and then in 1950, when he spent a year as a comedy performer on the CBS variety program "The Ken Murray Show". Audiences enjoyed him as the skipping, brat Oswald, a.k.a. 'Stinky', who threatened "I'll harm you" whenever he was grasped by the arm on TV's "The Abbott and Costello Show" (syndicated, 1952-54).<p> When Shemp Howard died in 1955, Besser was tapped as his replacement in the Three Stooges, but his nervous-nellie shtick didn't really mesh with the more knockabout slapstick of Moe Howard and Larry Fine. When the Stooges ended their affiliation with Columbia Pictures (with whom Besser had been under contract in the 30s and 40s) in 1958, he was dropped in favor of 'Curly' Joe DeRita. For Besser, that turn of events proved favorable as he went on to a career as a character player in films and TV. He co-starred as the building superintendent Mr. Jillson on the ABC sitcom "The Joey Bishop Show" from 1962 to 1965 and made memorable guest appearances on shows like "Batman" and "Love American Style". For much of the 70s, he provided character voices for animated series, many produced by Hanna-Barbera.
Orthodox Jew; immigrated from Poland to USA in 1895
Polish immigrant; Orthodox Jew; moved to USA in 1895
married on November 18, 1932
Glascoe Elementary School
"Y'craaaaazy" --Joe Besser
"I love working for kids. They are my best fans, my best audience and my best friends. My biggest thrill is having the kids like me. As long as this happens, I've got it made." --Joe Besser