Brooklyn Heights of Delirium

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Somehow, BELLS ARE RINGING escaped my notice when I was last hoovering up unwatched Vincente Minnelli films. It’s a charmer!

A pomo Cinderella story, it sees Comden & Green adapting their stage play with star Judy Holliday, their former revue partner. Judy plays a former switchboard operator (for the Bonjour Tristesse Brassiere Company) now working at an answering service, and getting involved in her client’s lives, like Amelie or something.

Judy really WAS a former telephonist — for the Mercury Theater. While there, she made her film debut in Orson Welles’ TOO MUCH JOHNSON as an extra. We went looking for her in it, and Fiona spotted her ~

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Second from left.

Judy’s dreamboat is Dean Martin, also cunningly cast, as a playwright suffering a crisis of confidence after splitting with his partner. Dino broke up the Martin & Lewis act five years before, though having done RIO BRAVO and SOME CAME RUNNING in between should have bolstered any sagging confidence. Oh, and Dino’s character avoids writing by drinking. Not in any way typecasting. (Would a modern star make such play of his alcoholism, and would we think it was cute?)

Fiona was delighted by Judy’s menopausal co-worker, constantly overheating. I was delighted by the long-take number where Minnelli stages a musical version of Hieronymus Bosch’s Christ Carrying the Cross ~

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High angle trucking shot swarming with Felliniesque New Yorker extras enthusiastically barging their way through frame…

We were both delighted by another incredible long take in which typically corny-silly-clever Comden-Green dialogue vies for attention with ridiculously sexy gyrating girls, for AGES. Most Minnelli comedies have an escalating nightmare qualities (THE LONG, LONG TRAILER is fucking harrowing), but this being a musical that’s softened considerably.

Excellent use of Frank Gorshin’s mimickry, playing a Brando parody. Fred Clark’s hulking ebullience is somewhat underexploited. A VERY interesting accent/speech impediment from Eddie Foy Jnr, someone I should look into more deeply.

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Judy herself — boy can she sell, and interpret, a song! Argument 1 against the existence of a merciful God might be His removal of her from planet world right after this film. OK, she got to sing The Party’s Over, heartbreakingly, but we shouldn’t have to take it literally. For once, she’s not playing dumb, or brassy, but her multiple voices on the telephone allows to show off her versatility and we briefly get to hear that brazen bray.

What she does in this song is hilarious. Especially at the two-minute mark. But you have to watch the whole thing.

Sorry about the aspect ratio — it wasn’t me.

Minnelli and producer Arthur Freed not only fulfill their roles, but appear as lyrics in the Name-Dropping number.

We can probably sense the coming end of the musical genre as a cinematic mainstay — the film aims to be light as a feather and is over two hours long. Very few films that followed it would pull that trick off, but of course they all had to try…

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6 Responses to “Brooklyn Heights of Delirium”

  1. chris schneider Says:

    Ah, the Bonjour Tristesse Brassiere Company! There’s an earlier version of that joke in the ON THE TOWN movie, where a (female) subway rider talks about working for The Grand Illusion Girdle Company.

  2. Lordy I feel old. I saw this when I was 10. In 1960. (Dearie me.) I loved it so much I decided I had to see it again, the very next day. My parents indulged me (funny, they still didn’t have a clue… ) I was particularly fascinated by the notion of telephone answering services; an example, to a post-WW2 British kid, of American genius. My family didn’t at that point even have a ‘fridge.
    Best of all there was the Comden/Green song The Party’s Over, ‘heartbreakingly’ performed, as you say, and which is to this day one of the loveliest melodies and one of the most poignant lyrics to emerge from Broadway and Hollywood.

  3. Jim Cobb Says:

    Oddly enough what I remember is seeing BELLS ARE RINGING in a drive in with my family. And the most memorable thing was the trailer shown with the film for THE TIME MACHINE. Those Morlocks freaked me out. BAR does have a nice score and good moments…. and yes “The Party’s Over” is a real heartbreaker. I have read though that Comden and Green felt that Minnelli did not understand the show. I was impressed tonight looking at some of the numbers on the dvd how long the takes were, only a few cuts if any at all. Minnelli was a master of that.

  4. Yes, Jim, GIGANTIC takes. Not all of them necessarily complicated from a camera point of view, but all of them really interesting for the effect they have. That one with Dino and his two fellow schnooks and the dancing girls…

    No Morlocks, admittedly, though I’m not sure about the genetic heritage of some of those New Yorkers.

    The whole thing being wrapped up as a commercial for “Susanswerphone” is a hilarious formal trope. Minnelli may not have been wholly in on the gag, but it ties in with similar playfulness in, say, Designing Woman (multiple narrators).

    I feel a double-bill of Bonjour Tristesse and La Grand Illusion coming on.

  5. “They’ve burst your pretty balloon and taken the Moon away” is Way Beyond Poignant.

    Comden and Green are GODS! The husband and I have been trying to drum up interest in a documentary about their careers. So far no takers for a study of the people responsible for On the Town, Good News, Singin’ in the Rain, and ever so much more. Here’s the great Madeline Kahn with the show-stopper from On the Twentieth Century, their indelible musical version of the Hecht-McArthur classic

  6. Damn, you’d think such a doc would be a natural for TCM, but they don’t have a big budget for docs. And Hugh Hefner only comes in when there’s a glamorous actress in the spotlight (he knows his brand).

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