Sex Poodle

Billy Wilder never had a good word to say about THE EMPEROR WALTZ, a post-war mis-step on the path to SUNSET BLVD. This Bing Crosby period musical really deserves to be seen — not that it’s a good film, but it shows Wilder’s talents straining and grinding against thin air in a way they never had to again. Fascinating!

This fortnight’s Forgotten, over at The Notebook.

9 Responses to “Sex Poodle”

  1. david wingrove Says:

    Is that Joan and Olivia’s mother Lilian Fontaine in the photo with Bing and the canine? I know she appeared in some of her daughter’s movies. Reading Joan’s memoirs, I got thoroughly fed up with both sisters…but I always thought mother was FAB!

  2. The credits and the IMDb don’t list her, but oddly, one of her few non0Joan related appearances was in Wilder’s The Lost Weekend…

  3. chris schneider Says:

    I mainly remember the film, if at all, for the gag of Bing in the waiting-room having his phonograph mistaken for a bomb. Crosby had a certain Art Deco yearning elegance, circa GOING HOLLYWOOD, but the additional years plus Technicolor were not to his benefit. “It wasn’t that [Crosby] had anything against Mr. Wilder,” Joan Fontaine is quoted as saying, “He just didn’t pay much attention to him.” Which provided more reason, I suppose, for Wilder to concentrate on valiant swimming dogs.

  4. Ha! Well, if you didn’t pay attention to Wilder, you would NOT BE ASKED BACK. I kept imaging other actors in the role, and I liked all of them better. Not all of them could sing, but I didn’t really regard that as a disadvantage,

  5. chris schneider Says:

    I’d be curious what you think, David, of Crosby in THE COUNTRY GIRL. Not that I claim much for it as a movie, mind you, but it does give Crosby a character — an alcoholic performer trying to get by on “charm” and memories of his fame — that’s well-suited to his abilities. Nice Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin songs, too. In the show-within-the-movie, of which we catch glimpses, he plays a lovable-but-suspect con man peddling “feel good” remedies. That seems about right.

  6. I’m curious what I’ll think of it too. Though it’s suffered a bad rep for years, I know one or two people who like it a lot.

    I have never seen those Leo McCarey movies where he plays a nun or whatever.

  7. bensondonald Says:

    In the Road pictures Crosby, the eternal nice guy, plays a mellow SOB opposite Bob Hope, who’s more of a dupe than usual. Did Bing depart from his public persona anywhere else in those years? When paired with Fred Astaire, it was Fred — stylish mensch in his own films — who’d turn slickery and scheme to steal the girl.

    I’m guessing audiences accepted it because the Road films were so cartoony, more like sketches on a variety show than “real” movies, bolstered by the illusion Hope and Crosby were real-life chums goofing around in the presence of a camera. Bing wouldn’t REALLY smooth-talk Bob into danger, would he?

    Might have been fun if “Waltz” at least started with Crosby being less decent, smoothly and consciously trading on his charm and using others as he used Hope onscreen.

    Thinking of Robert Morse in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”. He was an up-front caricature of merciless ambition with a veneer of boyish charm, both as his ladder-climbing character and as a stage performer playing to the camera. The winking brazenness of his bid for lovability was a big part of the joke; the few scenes in the film where they try to “humanize” him feel wrong. Compare to Jerry Lewis, whose pleas for lovability were devoid of irony.

    What if Crosby had done something like that early in his career, either comically like Morse or savagely like Andy Griffith in “A Face in the Crowd”? Most of Morse’s success remained on stage (A one-man show as Truman Capote was a huge hit). Griffith, amazingly, prospered with a persona close to the one he dissected and torched in “Crowd”.

    Hope himself dabbled in cynical characters before he calcified into America’s Comedian (in “Beau James”, a fairly straight life of Jimmy Walker, and in much of “The Seven Little Foys”); even some of the comedies would introduce him as a jerk / coward who had to climb to sympathetic.

  8. I like the Road pictures, which have an endearing crazy/silliness. Not as safe as the two stars’ reputations might lead you to expect. Did Bud Abbott’s scheming shiftiness influence Crosby, or the other way around? Dean Martin’s mercenary meanness in his Lewis films seems the natural evolution of this trend.

    Here, Bing’s part would be more charming if played by William Holden, more sympathetic if played by Jack Lemmon (neither of whom would really have been an option), more salesmanlike if played by Pat O’Brien. Although Bing can talk fast, I’ll give him that.

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