A Cavernous Moo


I think I’m going to start quoting lines of text from Preston Sturges scripts. We can enjoy the dialogue by watching the films, but only by owning the pricey published scripts can we get the added benefit of the scene descriptions. In other words, fresh Sturges sentences!

In REMEMBER THE NIGHT, subject of an early edition of The Forgotten, Fred MacMurray parks his car in a field and he and Barbara Stanwyck awaken to find themselves surrounded by cows, with one bold specimen actually thrusting its enormous head into the vehicle to munch on la Stanwyck’s Edith Head hat. The couple decide they might as well milk the cow for breakfast, with Stanwyck assigned to distract the ruminant with loving caresses while Fred does the business with the udder.

Stanwyck coos to the cow, whom she christens “Bossie”, asking if she likes her ears tickled.

From the inside of the car we hear a cavernous moo.

That is all.

19 Responses to “A Cavernous Moo”

  1. Just read THE FORGOTTEN — Agree it’s an underrated film; certainly more complicated than, say, “Christmas in Connecticut.”

    Fred also stars in an intriguing mess titled “True Confession”. Fred is a starving too-honest lawyer who makes his career by defending his wife (Carole Lombard) on a murder charge, proving legally and morally justified self-defense. The inspired twist is that a blackmailer — a barely vertical John Barrymore — threatens to reveal the career-destroying truth: She’s totally innocent of killing anybody. While there are some great comic moments (and a hint of commentary about women in the workplace), it just sort of falls apart. Fred sports a mustache as if he’s trying, unsuccessfully, to look a bit less upright.

  2. It’s fascinating to see what Fred can and cannot pull off — at his best he seems effortlessly wonderful, and then sometimes you feel a bit of effort might not go amiss, or that he’s just not the right man. I think his substitution for Paul Douglas in The Apartment was a bit of luck, though Douglas might have made Sheldrake more likable which would certainly have changed the dynamic.

    Fred’s easy charm somehow makes Sheldrake just about the most hate-able figure in Wilder’s oeuvre, whereas it acts as a redeeming quality in Double Indemnity. Very odd.

    My hope and belief is that Mitchell Leisen’s reputation is going to keep rising until he’s level with other Hollywood pros like Curtiz or Mann.

  3. I also enjoyed Sullivan’s travels and could not help but notice the similarity of the movie viewing scene to one from Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou.

  4. “O Brother Where Art Thou” was written by Sinclair Beckstein. I’m not familiar with his other works.

  5. Heh.

    The Coens’ O Brother is a cross-breeding of Sullivan’s Travels with Homer’s Odyssey. Oh, and it’s a musical and a hayseed comedy. It’s also a tour of the mythos of the depression dustbowl, with several real-life characters shoehorned in.

    The Coen’s cinema scene is equivalent to Ulysses conversation with his dead crew in the underworld in the Odyssey, which is why John Turturro (not dead but recaptured) in that scene speaks in a strange voice like a medium channeling a departed spirit.

    Of course, as DE well knows, Sinclair Beckstein is another crossbreed, incorporating Sinclair Lewis and John Steinbeck.

  6. I guess, DC, that if an adulterer has an easy charm it looks like he’s entirely comfortable with the situation, not weighed down with guilt. The audience (especially the American audience of those days) will let them off, but only if they’re tortured and leaving the poor girl alone would do more harm than good. I’m pretty sure he’s single and luckless in Double Indemnity (been a while since I’ve seen it) and being led by the nose the whole way. We just want something to go right for him and the fact that he has charm gives us some hope.

  7. He’s single in Double Indemnity, but seems like a bit of a wolf. he’s easily lured into a murder scheme and then gets interested in someone else, but we still kind of like him.

    Paul Douglas always looked harassed, which is why I figured he might make a more sympathetic Sheldrake. But I suspect Wilder would have a game plan to stop him being too mournful.

  8. revelator60 Says:

    The pricey published scripts are worth purchasing–the first two volumes have excellent introductions by Brian Henderson, while the last (“Three More Screenplays by Preston Sturges: The Power and the Glory, Easy Living, and Remember the Night”) is fascinating because its scripts were handled by other directors.

    “The Power and the Glory” originally had a much nastier ending, but Sturges himself volunteered to lighten it.
    Leisen did well with “Easy Living”–he left out a few sections and rearranged some scenes, but the script’s humor is still intact, and I don’t think Stuges could have done a better job with the automat scene.
    Leisen direction of “Remember the Night” is superb (Sturges couldn’t have improved on the acting and lighting) and several of his edits to the script are well judged–he trimmed the tortuous getting-lost scene and eliminated several racist gags with Snowflake. And yet…
    I read the script before watching the film and felt like I’d taken a sucker punch to the chest. It must be the most nakedly emotional script Sturges wrote, and that intensity of emotion doesn’t fully make it into the film. Some of Leisen’s cuts and revisions diluted the dramatic impact, especially when he snipped lines that are meant to appear more than once (like the first instance of the line about making a mistake and paying for it).

    As for the earlier script books, “Four More Screenplays by Preston Sturges” is worth purchasing for the full script of “Unfaithfully Yours,” from which Darryl Zanuck cut several sequences, including a flashback scene. Fortunately his editing was a model of restraint compared to Paramount’s butchering of “The Great Moment” (aka “Triumph Over Pain”) whose original script is also in the book. Anyone who hasn’t seen the film should read the script first. Sturges attempted to re-use the scrambled chronology of “The Power and the Glory”, but this time with greater assurance and skill and a greater command of tone, mixing comedic scenes with drama to prevent the film becoming a stuffy great-man-biopic. Sturges’s original cut “Triumph Over Pain” might have been a masterpiece–its rediscovery would be a major event.

    Lastly, I think there’s enough material for a book of un-filmed Sturges scripts. I read two at UCLA–“Nothing Doing” and “Look, Ma – I’m Dancin’!” and they prove that Sturges’s talent remained strong in his wilderness years, despite hiccups like the awful “Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend”. According to Diane Jacobs’s definitive biography (“Christmas in July: The Life and Art of Preston Sturges”), Sturges wrote a superb adaptation of Shaw’s “The Millionairess” and turned in a script of “Roman Holiday” so different from its predecessor that Wyler couldn’t use it. Both could go into another script collection.

  9. chris schneider Says:

    It’s been one of my jokes to compare the Leisen/MacMurray films to the Sternberg/Dietrich films. Director Leisen certainly had a sustained interest in MacMurray, where others — CONFESSION director Wesley Ruggles? — didn’t. Which is another way of saying that Leisen knew what worked for MacMurray.

    I haven’t seen TRUE CONFESSION, which people like Maltin badmouth. It does, however, sound like an attempt to build another NOTHING SACRED.

    As for unfilmed scripts by Sturges, the one I’m curious about is “Mr. Big In Smalltown” (or whatever it’s called), the proposed vehicle for Gable. But, then, I’m also curious about the Southern Gothic vampire script that Faulkner is rumored to’ve worked on.

  10. “I want a horse and plough,
    “Chickens too,
    “Just one cow
    “With a wistful moo.”

    ~ Noel Coward, “World Weary”

  11. henryholland666 Says:

    I’m a big Fred MacMurray fan, I’ve seen dozens of his movies. I recently saw “The Caine Mutiny” and “Double Indemnity” in quick succession and he’s fantastic in both of them (as is another favorite, Van Johnson, in “The Caine Mutiny”). Plus, I’d forgotten how much I wished Jose Ferrer’s lawyer character in “The Caine Mutiny” had gotten the snot beaten out of him after his pompous drunken speech at the end.

    I recently watched a couple of new-to-me Fred MacMurray movies recently. I really liked “Good Day for a Hanging”. He plays Marshal Ben Cutler, who has to convince the rubes in his dusty frontier town, including his daughter, that Robert Vaughn’s wonderfully slimy Eddie Campbell is Up To No Good, No Siree. Some really good horse-riding scenes, some bitter, pointed dialogue about crowds and the finale at a gallows is really well filmed and edited.

    Despite having one of my absolute film no-no’s –a cutesy child who doesn’t keep their cake hole shut– I loved “Face of a Fugitive”. Another western, something MacMurray should have done more of, he’s a falsely accused murderer who blends in to a small frontier town that he escapes to. I especially liked that the obligatory female love interest was a bit edgier than usual, Dorothy Green’s Ellen wants nothing to do with the cookin’/cleanin’/motherin’ that’s expected of her. It’s got another really well filmed and edited finale, and unlike a lot of these kind of genre films, there’s some moral ambiguity at the end.

    Watching these two movies reminded me, yet again, of how good the B-picture units were at the major American studios until TV made them rather irrelevant. Plus, it’s always fun to pick out faces that you’ve seen in literally dozens of movies.

  12. revelator60 Says:

    Chris, “Mr. Big In Smalltown” was another name for “Nothing Doing,” which I read at UCLA. It’s less frenetic than earlier Sturges and more of a back-to-the-land/self–reinvention story, with Gable’s character showing that he can succeed in business even when on vacation. It ties into Sturges’s personal belief that no matter how low his fortunes were, he could write something that would rescue him.

  13. I had a brief correspondence with the Sturges family about unpublished scripts, hoping I could have a look at some for free, but they politely declined, not because they intended publication, but because they wanted to “keep them to themselves.” I hope that policy changes!

    When Leisen was on his uppers, he asked Fred MacMurray for a job directing on his TV show, but Fred turned him down. He was worried about having a gay director around three young boys. I guess one has to remind oneself that it was a different era, but that seems pretty low, and lacking in gratitude.

    MacMurray was very popular with leading ladies because he never tried to pull focus from them. Diffident about his acting ability, he was more than happy for someone else to be centre of attention.

    Leisen’s admiration for MacMurray enriched both their careers, but I could never see what he saw in John Lund…

  14. Perchance Lund was dynamite in the sack. As for Leisen his grand finale has always had a special place in my heart.

  15. Also RKO’s last. “They were closing the studio, department by department, as we filmed it. It was eerie.”

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