Kings

WAIT TILL THE SUN SHINES, NELLIE stars Bensinger; Lena Lamont; Dr. Cyclops; Dr. Russell A. Marvin; Phoebe Dinsmore; and Lt. ‘Doc’ Ostrow.

Missed this in Bologna — the Leon Shamroy Technicolor would have been worthwhile — Youtube’s copy, though good by Youtube standards, is terribly dark at times.

But I don’t know what the film’s thesis is — what it’s trying to demonstrate, explicate or make us feel, except on a scene-by-scene basis. David Wayne’s small-town barber is from the “variations on an asshole school of characterisation, but to what end? The final line, after fifty years of story have been covered, celebrates the virtues of a good shave, and that does seem to be the chief lesson imparted. Actually, I kind of liked that bit.

We do, however, get to view the second and third most terrifying shaves in screen history (after THE COLOR PURPLE), one where Wayne is so drunk he can’t walk, and one where he’s contemplating murdering the man in the chair.

King is celebrated for his Americana, the nearest thing to a personal interest displayed in his cinema. There’s more of it in ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND (1938).

King claimed his staging of the musical numbers in IN OLD CHICAGO got him this gig, which reunites stars Power, Faye and Ameche from the earlier quake-fest, but his song-and-dance stuff here is far, far better. IOC basically observed Faye in three shot sizes as she transmitted a bunch of oldy-time standards from her big face. This one has proper PRODUCTION NUMBERS and I became a fan of capering imp Wally Vernon.

You also get a chance to contrast the performing styles of Alice Faye and Ethel Merman. Merman at this point is not an actor, but she speaks her lines with an appealing and convincing simplicity. And she sings the same way, only of course she has that powerhouse voice. Faye, giving the best performance in the best role I’ve seen her in, can do a lot more with inflection and phrasing and meaning, but lacks the ability to vibrate an iron bridge to pieces with her vocal cords.

The IMDb promised us cameos by Rondo Hatton (memorable in IN OLD CHICAGO in the role of “Rondo”) as a barfly, and Lon Chaney Jr as “photographer on stage,” but the on-stage photographer we see clearly ain’t Chaney and Hatton’ s barfly does not appear (how could you miss him?) so it’s left to John Carradine to bring the horror (which no fantasy about the birth of a musical movement should be without). John does not disappoint.

Carradine’s role is officially that of cabbie, but his plot function is to play Cupid, and who better? Picture him nude with a little bow and arrow. Charm itself! Hired by Power, he basically abducts Faye to bring her to his Carnegie Hall concert. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? You let John Carradine kidnap you.

JC’ s laidback manner is terrifying: the more relaxed he gets, the more death seems imminent, and preferable to his company. His Dracula was never this alarming. He was really a fine actor, but needed to be aimed in the right direction. King appears to have launched him straight up, to land wherever he may.

At first, we suspected John was probably going to drive Alice Faye to a lock-up somewhere and torture her to death with pliers.

But, as the sequence went on, we became sure of it. An improbable end to a musical, but the only thing that would have made sense of his performance.

The actual ending is quite a bit happier than that. But as for the history of ragtime, its origins and purpose are still a total mystery.

ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND stars Leonard Vole; June Mills; Mortimer Duke; Lieutenant Hurwitz; The Tin Man; Dr. Paul Christian; Parthy Ann Hawks; Maj. Cassius Starbuckle; Larry Talbot and the Hoxton Creeper.

7 Responses to “Kings”

  1. DBenson Says:

    Speaking of Broadway belters, one of Mary Martin’s few movies was “Birth of the Blues”, 1941. It’s an upbeat Bing Crosby musical about white musicians who nobly listen to jazz in the black neighborhoods of New Orleans and take it upscale. Brian Donlevy is a fellow jazz cat and romantic rival. Eddie “Rochester” Anderson plays Crosby’s sidekick, who heartily endorses Crosby’s efforts to make his people’s music acceptable to rich whites. My own reaction wasn’t so much outrage over cultural appropriation as just “Wha-?”

  2. Continent of Mo Says:

    There are other ways to Carnegie Hall:

  3. The method of Mssrs Mael are probably less painful than the Carradine route.

    The origins of ragtime as portrayed in ARB — Faye has some sheet music from New York (wrong) which falls into the hands of classically-trained Power, who now is rechristened “Alexander” and they become stars. No explanation of the source of the music, so we MIGHT imagine it was black music originally, but the actual origins of the music are both offscreen and totally unexamined.

  4. DBenson Says:

    Another weird moment of appropriation: “Star”, the epic biopic of Gertrude Lawrence, has a bit where Lawrence is unable to get down and dirty for “The Ballad of Jenny” in “Lady in the Dark”. A boyfriend takes her to the Cotton Club, where a floor show Shows Her How It’s Done. The floor show is kept emphatically off camera, as if it were obscene or gory, even though the audience reactions are cheerful and happy. This was in 1968, and you’d think they’d be a bit less squeamish about showing black performers.

  5. Fiona Watson Says:

    They probably just didn’t want to take the spotlight off Julie Andrews and have her upstaged by a black performer. That’s my take on it anyway.

  6. I can kind of see the idea being to keep the dance moves a surprise for when Julie does them, but it clearly backfires in a number of ways.

  7. […] 1937 concert at that venue must have inspired the fictitious protagonist’s climactic gig in ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, released the following year. Clearly, if only Donna Reed had had John Carradine to drive her, she […]

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