We mostly fast-forwarded through my public-domain DVD of TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, having deduced that its slender, fraudulent plot (Jerome Kern biopic my eye) was an excuse to string musical numbers together. We’d slow down for anything that looked interesting and make jokes about Kern, who’s played by Robert STRANGERS ON A TRAIN Walker, leaving a trail of strangled women behind him as he soars to Broadway success.

One bit we slowed down for was the gold-painted circus elephants. We had to. You don’t see that every day.

Greasy in their gilt body paint, the great beasts fumble and slide over one another like Greco-Roman wrestlers in a grotesque parody of the physical act of love. That’s entertanment!


In a sense, one can sympathise with the filmmakers: ordinary grey elephants are so drab. The John Majors of the veldt. But gilding a pachyderm is fraught with risks. What about skin suffocation? Did Shirley Eaton die in vain? However, I’m told that if you leave a small patch of skin uncovered at the base of the… the trunk, all will be well.

The other best bit is the finale, a medley of Kern sung on a giant cake in heaven. I guess that qualifies as a happy ending.

9 Responses to “Pachydermatology”

  1. Here’s the best bit from this “catalogue musical” : Judy with an elephantine pile of dishes —

  2. And that bit’s directed by her hubby, so the standard is higher. Nobody had to be painted gold to make it interesting.

  3. True. Oh and the title number is also good.

  4. Jim Cobb Says:

    I think the early sequence which is essentially SHOW BOAT in about ten minutes is pretty good, if only to see Lena Horne play Julie. Had MGM been a bit braver when they made their version of the show she would have gotten the part instead of Ava Gardner. Horne commented about this situation in one of her recorded concerts.

  5. Yes, that bit’s quite good, but it does just make you want a definitive version. I’ve actually never seen the colour one, just the Whale one, which I like.

  6. Jim Cobb Says:

    The remake is slicker and gets further away from the initial concept. Gardner is actually pretty good though Horne would have brought a new dimension to it. The Whale version is closer to the original play and novel and of course has the added advantage of much of the original Broadway cast. Great score in either case. But the MGM bio/life of the composer musicals do tend to stink on ice when no one is singing.

  7. It’s been a while, but I somehow remember that movie sort of forgetting WWI, just as the Technicolor SCARAMOUCHE managed to slip past the French Revolution after making the rising tide a plot point.

    The elephant musical you must see is JUMBO, the unnamed but easily identified epic Ignatius J. Reilly joyfully heckles in “A Confederacy of Dunces.” Early on you sense they were working around the title character’s lack of acting ability (or lack of interest). He only appears briefly in the movie’s loonfest closing reel, and even there he’s replaced by a revolving statue at one point.

  8. I long ago ceased being able to watch elephants ‘performing’ or being otherwise enslaved, degraded, diminished. What magnificent and glorious beasts they are, Crowns of Creation (or evolution, anyway). The best piece of news this past month was the public statement by Ringling that they would no longer use elephants in their circuses. I was exposed to a number of circuses and circus people when I was growing up; for some reason my hometown – Southend, Essex – was a magnet for those dubious ‘entertainments’ and the behind-the-scenes brutalities visited on the animal acts – wild and domesticated animals both – violated any moral sense a 5, 8, 10 or 12 year old might be developing as my young years accumulated. My feelings on this have become so fired up throughout my life that I still was compelled to turn off ‘Jumbo’ when it lurched onto Turner Classics the other week, utterly unable to watch. The only ‘pulchritudinous pachyderm’ I wanted to see shackled and silenced was Durante; his Borscht-Belt mugging has always made me want to throw things at the screen (elephant dung perhaps, of which Chris Ofili might approve). I remember watching tv in Chicago 45 years ago, and Durante turned up as a guest on The Sonny & Cher Show, a rather pathetic crumbling ruin of a man (Durante, not Sonny) who long ago outstayed his welcome with The Man Who Came to Dinner.

    JeezusGod, I’m in a foul mood tonight. And yet, curiously, I make no apologies.

  9. REJOICE in your foulness of mood.

    I recall as a kid seeing a circus with a camel whose humps were sagging sideways, and I asked why. My parents didn’t know. I wasn’t surprised to learn later that a healthy camel’s humps don’t do that.

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