Bob Hope springs eternal…

There’s not much Mitchell Leisen on YouTube, but fortunately this clip from THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 was there, saving me the trouble of loading it. It’s not really a film, as such, more a collection of songs and skits, and as a result it doesn’t really show Leisen’s true abilities at sculpting emotion, although there is a Mexican number, reflecting his rampant obsession with that land, and this heart-tugging moment.

Heart-tugging, with Bob Hope? Watch it and see. Deprived of any real emotional meat in the film, Leisen sinks his teeth into this scene, going for the tear ducts with his usual discreet ruthlessness. The blocking and cutting is extremely simple, but the choice of hitting the big weepy moments with close-ups really pays dividends, and shows how effective such tight framing can be if it’s held back for when it’s needed.

Hope’s partner here is Shirley Ross, and she’s the real heart of it, and Leisen knows it.

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12 Responses to “Bob Hope springs eternal…”

  1. Chris B Says:

    I recently picked up the new US disc of MIDNIGHT, my first Leisen film!

  2. Good man! Even Billy Wilder admitted that was a near-perfect film. You like John Barrymore, don’t you? So it’ll be a treat for you.

  3. Midnight is a masterpiece. Everyone in it is perfect and at the end they all get a curtain call. Quite a tricky thing to do in the movies. The only other one I can think of is the finale of Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train. But that’s not a comedy.

  4. Maybe the flying polka dot heads in The Gangs All Here count?

    The release of Midnight and Easy Living seem like a major step in the long-awaited Leisen revival. Now we need To Each His Own and Hold Back the Dawn and No Man of Her Own and Remember the Night.

    Strange how it works. The general public has zero awareness of Leisen and Borzage, and little is available, but the cinephiles are more likely to know and appreciate Borzage. They’re both great and I wouldn’t compare them, but I just think it’s interesting how one has a reputation and the other barely seems to.

  5. A tremendous amount of work needs to be done about the thirties. The kind of cookie-cutter regimenation we know of as “The Studio System” didn’t really take hold until the 40′s. In the 30′s you can find all sorts of inventiveness in films like Love Me Tonight, Trouble in Paradise, The Merry Widow, Sylvia Scarlett, The Old Dark House, Bride of Frankenstein, The Great Garrick and Midnight.

    Meanwhile on the other side of the pond: Boudu Saved From Drowning, Lumiere d’ete, Le Crime de M. Lange, L’Atalante and Les Enfants du Paradis.

  6. Yes, that expresses exactly what I love about the period. In the 40s it’s somewhat more about a finely honed system and artists who either used it or struggled against it, while in the 30s it’s more about eventually creating that system through frantic experimentation. There WERE some standard practices, of course, but many of them were open to being challenged. And pre-1934, the lack of a standardised censorship system meant movie morality was a lot less cut-and-dry.

    In Hollywood, I’d add Sternberg’s stuff, in Germany Lang’s. Britain somehow missed out on all this exuberance, with only Hitch pushing the envelope creatively, or so it seems.

  7. I love Leisen, and I love “Midnight” in particular. I’ve even been known to love “”Arise, My Love” … if nothing else for that seen where Colbert can’t sleep and the band keeps playing “Dream Lover” (the Schertzinger one).

    The first “curtain call” film that comes to mind is the Leroy adaptation of “The Bad Seed,” which I saw a lot when I was young. Corny, or Brechtian “Alienation effect”? *You* decide!

    There’s also a really obvious John Ford example that eludes me. “How Green”? “Quiet Man”? Can you tell that Ford isn’t one of my primary auteurs?

    Frankly, given a choice for empathy between Ward Bond in “Searchers” and Rex O’
    Malley in “Midnight,” I’d pick O’Malley every time.

  8. While we’re at it, we might as well name the team who wrote the song “Thanks For The Memory”: Ralph Rainger (music), Leo Robin (words).

    Other songs of theirs that I love are “Here Lies Love” (in THE BIG BROADCAST) and “If I Should Lose You” (in ROSE OF THE RANCHO)

  9. I sympathise re Ford — he’s not my favourite and I haven’t found a Ford film I really want to wallow in. The Searchers is clearly GOOD… but I’d watch a Mann film in preference just about every time.

  10. B. Kite, AKA the Leaping Shadow, points to the near-literal curtain call (no curtain, but everybody bows) in The Nutty Professor. And Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? has the cast line up at the end and recite the homily, I think.

  11. lump516 Says:

    I’ve loved this song ever since I saw the film a few years back, and I think Bob Hope carries almost as much of the emotional center as Ms. Ross (although she is wonderful).

    As for curtain-call endings, I can think of a couple more; the bit in the last sequence of LA DOLCE VITA when the characters each get a turn in the lamplight to the tune of “Patricia” while Mastroianni throws feathers at them.
    The other is in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, when the passengers on the train toast each other with champagne and Sidney Lumet gives each of them a very nice closeup.

  12. Good choices! Eight and a Half has something like a curtain call too, only it’s the circus ring version.

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