Richard Brody’s Diegetic Rumba

Via bearded savant Richard Brody on Twitter — the dance from PHFFFT which he calls one of his favourite diegetic dance sequences in cinema. It’s awfully good!

Mark Robson, not known for his comedy, is the director.

Early Jack Lemmon: Columbia paired him twice with the great Judy Holliday in the same year. Also features early Kim Novak, coming off like a messianic chipmunk who likes sex enough to like it with Jack Carson, a thought both appealing (she must like sex an awful lot) and unappealing (she’s done it with Jack Carson).

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We’ve watched nearly all the Judy Holliday movies there are, now. They do follow a bit of a cookie-cutter pattern, alas, but there is just enough variation to stop the formula getting stale. After all, if the writer is Garson Kanin, or Kanin and Ruth Gordon, or George Axelrod (as is the case here), the effect will be slightly different.

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The title is a Walter Winchell word — the sound of an extinguished match representing the demise of a romance. The film also has its opposite sound: the sound made by Judy’s retractable bed, which doesn’t fold down out of the wall in the Murphy manner, but instead slides straight out (from where? next door? do the neighbours sleep in shifts?) with a lusty WUFFF! sound. The marital romcom goes from divorce to remarriage, from PHFFFT! to WUFFF!

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10 Responses to “Richard Brody’s Diegetic Rumba”

  1. Jack and Judy made a great team. Both lightly sophisticated urban post-war types.

    Columbia launched a huge campaign for this film when it came out, making maximum play of the title.

    I adore Axelrod. Both this screenplays for others and films made by himself are witty and weird. I especially love the title of his last novel: “Where Am I, Now When I Really Need Me?”

  2. Billy Wilder said of Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine that they were both a little off-centre and so partnered beautifully. That’s even more true of Jack and Judy, though they never had a film as truly great as The Apartment to be in.

    Just written a big thing on It Should Happen to You which will appear here shortly…

  3. revelator60 Says:

    Axelrod’s interview in Backstory 3 is now freely available (http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft138nb0zm&chunk.id=d0e2422). Here’s what he said about PHFFFT!:

    “That was an original. But I had a sweet, dear, darling man, [the director] Mark Robson, who hadn’t a clue how to do comedy. Not a clue. I had Judy Holliday, one of the finest comedy technicians in the world, and Jack Carson, another great comedy technician, and Jack Lemmon too, but the director was miscast.

    Judy had a terrible time. She understood how to do the material, but Mark crushed the scenes up all the time. We were fighting the director and censorship. The seduction scene with Judy and Jack Carson—a brilliantly funny scene with these two masters—and Jack made it so erotic. In the case of that scene, we had it on film right. The two of them were left to their own devices with the camera. Afterwards, they cut the shit out of it. The censorship destroyed it, so it wasn’t even funny.

    Mark was an editor. He didn’t understand his own limitations. Good directors come in various ways, but editors are the worst because they are interested in editing. They don’t know about story. They don’t know about comedy. Or even acting. They only know about having a ‘match.’

    I had no say, really. I was at Columbia with Harry Cohn and Jerry Wald. Mark Robson had done some wonderful films. I said, ‘Does he know how to do comedy?’ They said, ‘Sure, comedy.’ I knew pretty much from the time we started that he was inept at comedy, that he didn’t quite understand what was funny, but he was so sweet, and I didn’t have any control over what we were doing.”

  4. That’s fascinating. Of course, it’s grossly unfair to suggest that editors are only interested in matching shots. You can see by Robson’s work with Lewton that he was primarily interested in drama, story and atmosphere. Comedy is another matter. But Phffft is deft enough that I’d rather have seen Robson wind up doing Doris Day movies than dreck like Avalanche.

  5. kevin mummery Says:

    Imagine if Robson had directed the film to maximize all the qualities Val Lewton would have emphasized, without having been told ahead of time that it was intended to be a comedy. THAT would have been interesting.

  6. It has a New York setting, so why shouldn’t it be The Seventh Victim? Or The Seventh Phfftctim?

  7. Don’t forget “The Seven Year Itch” which was written by Axelrod and rewritten by Billy Wilder for Marilyn Monroe.

    In the play our anti-hero does it with “the girl upstairs.” The production code wouldn’t allow that for the movie. But as the girl is Marilyn her sexy sweetness conquers all. She give Tom Ewell his Mojo back, just by being nice to him.

  8. George is in here too

  9. He’s wearing a pea-green jacket.

  10. Paradise! Mount Olympus!

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