Archive for the literature Category

The chances of anything coming from MGM are a million to one, he says

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2017 by dcairns


HULLABALOO (1940) is an odd thing. To be clear, we were only watching it for Virginia O’Brien’s debut.

Here’s the story with Virginia: when she first sang on stage she got stage fright, but carried on singing. The audience was comvulsed in hysterics at the sight of this frozen rigid, erect young girl with her eyes wide in panic, belting out her song like a song-belting machine. She liked the laughter, and incorporated the big eyes and stiff stance into her act.

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(In DUBARRY WAS A LADY, Red Skelton asks “Are you sure?” and Gene Kelly says “As sure as she’s alive!” and Red retorts “Aw, you’ll have to give me better proof than THAT!” and all the while Ginny is standing right there, and walks off mechanically as if she hasn’t registered any of it.)

But the plot in this one, though thin and constantly supplanted by random novelty acts, is interesting — it’s MGM’s response to Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast. Here, a radio novice performs a play about invaders from Jupiter and panics America. This film followed pretty swiftly on the heels of the real incident, and came out a year before the first product of the Hollywood contract Welles won with his little stunt.

How does MGM re-imagine, or de-imagine the story? Well, the whole thing must be an innocent misunderstanding. The radio performer is a talented but innocent, lovable fellow who certainly didn’t mean to start a rumpus, and certainly wasn’t attempting to prove anything. He should be played by someone cuddly, muddleheaded and appealing. Someone like… Frank Morgan!

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Interesting to see Frank Morgan co-starring here with Dan Dailey before THE MORTAL STORM and with Billie Burke after THE WIZARD OF OZ. And Morgan is pretty enjoyable  doing his schtick. It’s just pretty weird to think this was somebody’s idea of Orson Welles.

One conceit of the plot is that F.M. radio relies on F.M. being a man of a thousand voices, which the actor wasn’t. So they dub him a lot whenever he does his impressions, except occasionally — he seems to be doing Charles Boyer without the aid of a man hidden behind a curtain (EVERY film we see lately seems to have a Charles Boyer impression, and we haven’t even been looking at Pepe le Pew cartoons… YET). Since all the celebrities — Gable, Lamar, Rooney — are from the MGM stable, I assumed they were providing their own vocals, but NO — impersonators, apart from an audio clip from BOOM TOWN that allows Morgan to lip-sync to Gable, Colbert and Tracy in a clip from BOOM TOWN, thus forcing the paying audience of HULLABALOO to sit through an ad for another MGM release.

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Mad genius costume designer Dolly Tree outfits Ann Morriss as Dan Dailey’s castrating fiancee with a set of scissors hanging from her throat.

You can tell it’s an MGM film also because the comedy punches down — we’re meant to laugh at a carny who has to give away all his prizes, and a love-starved widow, and a butler who doesn’t get paid, etc. Tenor Charles Holland gets to sing two songs, but the first is Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny, because he’s black, and the second, though it’s Vesti La Giubba from I Pagliacci, he has to sing dressed as a bellhop, in case we forgot he’s black.

Headroom

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , on January 25, 2017 by dcairns

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Finished off disc 3 of Season 3 of The Twilight Zone — as good a place to start as any — with the legendary To Serve Man. Which is not as smart a piece of science fiction as ARRIVAL, I’d say. Just the question of translation is not as well handled. The earthlings have been working on alien Richard Kiel’s space book for some time, but all they’ve managed to translated is the title, To Serve Man. One would think that the word “to” might turn up somewhere in the body of the text as well as in the title, and that might help…

If you start describing the story to a modern human who hasn’t heard it or seen the Simpsons parody of it, at a certain point they will say “It’s a cook book, isn’t it?” and this certain point will occur long before you get to that revelation. Which I don’t mind: it just gives you an insight into a more innocent time.

Despite having smart SF scribe Damon Knight as its original author, the episode has a number of “innocent” moments. “What time is it?” demands the UFO abductee, only to be told that time is a meaningless concept in outer space. “What time is it ON EARTH?” he insists, oblivious to the fact that his question is stupid. It’s not one time on Earth. It’s not even one time in the USA. Nevertheless, the giant Richard Kiel alien says “It’s noon.” Maybe he’s just humouring the jerk.

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What was most striking was the fact that poor alien Richard Kiel has to stoop to come through the door — on his own spaceship! Wouldn’t it be built with him in mind. I can imagine poor Richard’s expression on viewing the set: even when they build a set just for my character, they don’t put in enough clearance.

Alien Richard Kiel has a big bulbous bald head, like many space aliens before and since, but what’s especially good about it is it looks like he’s wearing a chef’s hat inside his scalp. Combining astronomy and gastronomy.

The door thing made me think of MOONRAKER, where Richard Kiel as Jaws never seems to hit his head on any doorways, despite the fact that it’s NOT his spaceship and you’d think they’d want to keep costs down by ignoring the slender possibility of one of their passengers being seven feet tall. The spaceship makers could have saved a fortune and the filmmakers could have gotten quite a lot of value out of Big Richard banging his forehead on every door frame in the joint. I mean, it’s not like such business would be beneath the dignity of a late-period Roger Moore Bond film…

It also made me think of KING KONG, which has the opposite problem. The natives have built a wall, a great big beautiful Donald Trump wall, to keep Kong on his side of Skull Island (how old is Kong anyway?) The trouble is, in a fit of political correctness they have thoughtfully built into their wall a Kong-sized door, despite the fact that the one thing one guesses they would not want to happen is —

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Oh well…

All Wet

Posted in Dance, FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2017 by dcairns

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An octopus (Fernando Lamas) who has read to many hentai attempts to get grabby with Esther Williams.

Just when I’m supposed to be watching Ozu, Lang, Borowczyk and probably a few other great auteurs, we get fixated on Esther Williams. This was partly because during our somewhat traumatic Christmas “break” (or maybe “breakdown” would be more apt) we needed something lightweight and distracting, which isn’t really the right category in which to place TOKYO STORY, M or THE STORY OF SIN. And then we both started reading Williams’ autobio, Million Dollar Mermaid, and got so we pretty much wanted to see her whole bizarre oeuvre.

This is a tell-all-and-then-some memoir. Here are some highlights — but which of them are actually taken from the book and which did I make up?

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Williams’ co-star and lover Victor Mature suffered from — or perhaps enjoyed — the mystery condition “pica” which caused him to eat non-food materials. He would burst into Esther’s dressing room, grab a piece of cardboard, say, then spread jam on it and eat it.

Victor also suffered from — or perhaps enjoyed — a condition whereby his extremities would swell up if he became overexcited. Thus he was able to play the golfing colossus Big Victor in the Monkees’ film HEAD without the aid of special effects.

Cary Grant helped Esther take LSD under controlled conditions, after which, standing naked before a mirror, she hallucinated a vision of herself as a hermaphrodite. The new body parts were “sensible to touch as well as vision,” leading to a scene anticipating Martine Beswick’s famed mirror encounter in DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE.

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Preparing to swing from the studio ceiling in MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID, Esther clung so tightly to the trapeze she broke a toe. And Busby Berkeley hadn’t told her he was going to release red and yellow smoke which made it impossible to see the pool she was supposed to dive into. “You’ve already seen it, you know where it is!” he yelled.

Another dive on the same film resulted in Esther breaking three vertebrae when the aluminium crown she was wearing hit the water and forced her head back. She had to tread water with a broken neck, and the director had just yelled “OK, great, everybody go to lunch!”

Most of Esther’s co-stars couldn’t swim for shit. Van Johnson had to be held up by Esther.

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But Fernando Lamas was a champion swimmer as well as a bit of a playboy. “They tell me you can swim,” said Esther. “My dear, I used to be the fifth fastest man in the world!” “I know all about that, but what about your swimming?”

When Esther had the dressing room next to Lana Turner’s, she used to listen to the neighbouring sexual gymnastics with a glass held against the wall.

Lamas was a master of kickboxing — savate — who once forced Jim Brown to back down from a fight by lashing a foot out and missing his face by an inch. “You could have broken my jaw!” “I chose not to.”

Lamas explained that he gave the false impression of being spectacularly well-hung because he was “hung very high,” his genitals being situated further up his body than normal.

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When performing at a Vegas casino with a colour bar, Esther got one over on the management by inviting her children’s nanny and her boyfriend, who were both black, to attend disguised as Indian royalty.

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Go, Esther!