A punny name theme today, with three groan-worthy theme answers:
WATTSTHEPROBLEM (17A: James is keeping me from getting a steam engine patent?)
HOWESBUSINESS (35A: Hockey, to Gordie?)
HULETTHEDOGSOUT (56A: A former leader of China gave his shar-peis some exercise?)
Yeeaahh... now I like a pun as much as the next guy, but these are not exemplars of the form, in my opinion. The last one is the funniest, I guess, but only because that song is so ridiculous.
On the other hand, I liked many of the non-theme clues and answers. The NE corner, for example, had a lot of tricky ones:
16A: Wound up (SPOOLED)
21A: Discrimination (TASTE)
29A: Half-days, for short (AMS)
The first two had me totally fooled for a long time, and I couldn't make heads or tails of the last one until I had _MS, and then it finally came to me. Not a bad clue, I guess, to salvage a thing like AMS.
I'm guessing the potentially tricky little French stack of AMI (48A: Brest friend) (cute clue!) and ECOLE could cause problems for those who are both ignorant of French, and ignorant of middling movie stars.
My problem today came at EDT. I entered EsT somewhat confidently after my first guess of "bal" was thwarted by the first theme answer. Then, I guess, when I saw EXEsOUT, I did not go back to check the tense of the clue (15A: Edited, in a way). Rookie mistake.
This played a little tough, I think, for a Thursday, partly due to esoterica like LOBAR, ISAAC Pitman, NIT (37D: Coll. hoops competition) (?), and OLEOOIL.
1A: Hitchcock film with Laurence Olivier (REBECCA) - B. Nice trivia.
Favorite: Tough today. Maybe 48D: Big heart? (ACE) or 28D: Big butte (MESA). Or both.
Least: CUTTO (6D: Screenplay directive). Do. Not. Like.
Let's call it a wash.