Archive for December, 2017

We’re three happy chappies in snappy serapes

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on December 28, 2017 by dcairns

The above title has nothing to do with today’s post, but I did watch highlights of Disney’s THE THREE CABALLEROS and now I have the lyrics (by Ray Gilbert) swirling round in my head like your hopes and dreams going down a drain. Be that as it may, over at The Chiseler I continue my random quest through Marlene Dietrich’s films with Josef Von Sternberg. This time it’s MOROCCO, Marlene’s first Hollywood film, which always sends me to sleep. But it fascinates me too.

You don’t know Jack

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on December 27, 2017 by dcairns

This is a magnificently awful thing.

JACK THE GIANT KILLER is a terrible film already, a cynical and actionable rip-off of Ray Harryhausen’s classic THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, with pretty much every set-piece, character and story point duplicated in an inferior way (it even casts the same actors as hero and villain).

But in the seventies, it was decided to turn it into a musical. Not by remaking it, like HAIRSPRAY or HIGH SOCIETY. Not by filming new musical numbers and cutting them into the original, like… no film ever, that I can think of, though I daresay it must have been attempted sometime. Tip-offs on this subject received with interest. No, the geniuses responsible simply wrote songs that could be dubbed onto the film, turning existing dialogue into lyrics and repeating shots in order to turn simple statements (“We have failed, master!”) into choruses.

Yes, this song appears to be called, “We Have Failed, Master,” and a more fitting title could hardly be imagined, unless it were “What Were We Thinking?” or “We Are the Stupid Men.”

We’ve all seen failed musicals where the songs caused the plot to grind to a halt. But we’ve never seen that concept literalized so spectacularly, with shots going magically into Cocteauesque reverse, and recurring on seemingly infinite GROUNDHOG DAY loops, in order to accommodate the musical styling of Mr. Moose Harlap Charlap. Yes, his name is Moose Harlap Charlap. Not actually the world’s worst songwriter, if you caught him on a good day. But with a tendency towards being on the nose. Which, in a medieval fairy tale about giants, could be an even bigger hazard than usual.

My Musical Theater Consultant tells me that Harlap Charlap was responsible for the Peter Pan musical that Mary Martin mad such a splash in, but that it was substantially worked over by greater talents. Harlap’s chief contribution of note was the number “I’m Flying,” which gives you an idea of the way his mind works. A song in which a character flies about and sings about how they’re flying about. As does the above number, which is extraordinary in its redundancy. Two characters sing at each other about what’s going on, but nothing is going on. And they’re not really singing. And the flag is billowing in curiously repetitive motions, time suspended in a listless loop.

But this is the crowning un-glory. Director Nathan Juran rips off the skeleton fight from SEVENTH VOYAGE, a movie he’s credited with directing (with the same hero and villain actors), but which BELONGS to Ray Harryhausen. The sequence also seems to anticipate the skeleton fight in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, released the following year, with deathless warriors grown from teeth, but I am unwilling to give the makers of this ugly film any credit — they must have somehow stolen that from Ray H also, either with industrial espionage or time travel.

What ole Moose does with the music is truly appalling, and he achieves the impossible: by dubbing on a jaunty comedy track, he actually makes this cheap-ass sequence disturbing.

Nunsplaining

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2017 by dcairns

Bing upstaged by kitten in boater. I guess this is what you’re reduced to when you can’t allow your comedy any trace of meanness.  But I admit I like the funny awkwardness of the composition.

A kind of morbid seasonal curiosity drove us on, remorselessly, into THE BELLS OF ST MARY’S, Leo McCarey’s follow-up to GOING MY WAY. It’s exactly the same length, two hours and five minutes, making this quite a Bing-binge. It’s exactly as shapeless as its predecessor but somewhat more amusing.

Bing walks into view from the side, just as he walked out of GOING MY WAY, a touch you can only appreciate if you watch them together, but he exited GMW walking right to left and enters this one left to right. What’s the matter, Bing? You call your movie GOING MY WAY, but just what IS your way? You seem UNCERTAIN.

The pleasure-needle briefly wobbles into the red when we meet Una O’Connor who warns Bing balefully about the deleterious effects of being “up to your neck in nuns.” Fine words, delivered by a woman with just the right Gothic horror comedy credentials to put them over big. But in fact, the nuns are fine, and Bing gets on perfectly well with them, and the movie resolves this inconsistency by having Una largely disappear for the next two hours so as not to remind us of the false promise of dramatic tension.

There are other amusing issues of continuity. Teenager Joan Carroll (one of those weird little adults they have as teenagers in the forties) shows up with lipstick and Bing wipes it off, revealing one of the few un-touched faces to be seen in Hollywood films of the period. But in her very next scene she has lipstick again, just paler, the kind we’re not supposed to notice. And she needs it, I guess, to stop us noticing that Ingrid Bergman, a nun, also wears subtle but quite apparent lipstick throughout. (In THE NUN’S STORY the sisters all wear make-up but it’s cunningly invisible.)

Bergman brings the entertainment, though. It’s the entertainment of seeing a lusty woman in a habit. When she smiles, it’s not only one of the most beauteous smiles in cinema, it’s far from beatific. It’s full of sex. When she tells Joan Carroll about all the things she should experience before deciding if she wants to be a nun, she seems to be really getting into it, and when she says “not until you’ve known all this…and more,” it’s not “more things that we have time to get into here,” it’s “more things than I can tell you about while the Breen Office is eavesdropping — wait until the fade-out.”

Also having her natural exuberance stifled is Ruth Donnelly, the Frank McHugh of this movie, a zesty pre-code malefactor now tamped down and smothered in vestments for the repressed post-war world. It’s like McCarey was on a personal mission to leach the good, dirty fun out of everything. William Gargan also turns up, simpering — he’s a different case, since his attempts at pre-code stardom fizzled, and he got a new lease of life in wartime while some of the proper leading men were away fighting.

Who else? henry Travers as the millionaire from whom the nuns want to get a new school. Casting someone convincingly irascible and Scrooge-like would seem the minimum requirement to generate some dramatic zing and tension, so McCarey, naturally, goes the other way in order to flatten and confuse his film, casting a mild, befuddled performer who was about to play an angel. McCarey’s strategy in these films is to throw a wet blanket over anything threatening to become suspenseful. It’s not incompetence, it’s genuinely his aim. But I can’t really sympathise with it.

Henry Travers upstaged by dog. See top.

He does pull off one terrific moment with this approach, I’ll admit. When Travers has his conversion and becomes a saintly philanthropist, he tells Ingrid she can have her new school and he’s just off to sign the papers. Those of us who have seen a few films, and noticed Travers’ jaywalking one scene earlier, wonder if he’s perhaps going to be struck down by an automobile before he can reach the office. He exits, there’s a pause, then a screech of brakes and cries of alarm. Ingrid opens the door in time to see him emerging from under a truck, waving. He’s fine! A sort of heart-warming narrative double-cross. Pull off a couple more of those and you might have a picture.

I will admit that the nativity play rehearsal is funny and charming and uses McCarey’s way with improv to get very natural performances from kids who are supposed to be giving bad performances in a play. I especially like the lead boy who can’t breathe. This is the only film I know of where “Happy Birthday Dear Jesus” is sung apart from FULL METAL JACKET. McCarey reports that the sequence worried the studio suits, who feared it might be blasphemous, “But they weren’t Catholic.”