Archive for the MUSIC Category

Brooklyn Heights of Delirium

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on May 20, 2016 by dcairns

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Somehow, BELLS ARE RINGING escaped my notice when I was last hoovering up unwatched Vincente Minnelli films. It’s a charmer!

A pomo Cinderella story, it sees Comden & Green adapting their stage play with star Judy Holliday, their former revue partner. Judy plays a former switchboard operator (for the Bonjour Tristesse Brassiere Company) now working at an answering service, and getting involved in her client’s lives, like Amelie or something.

Judy really WAS a former telephonist — for the Mercury Theater. While there, she made her film debut in Orson Welles’ TOO MUCH JOHNSON as an extra. We went looking for her in it, and Fiona spotted her ~

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Second from left.

Judy’s dreamboat is Dean Martin, also cunningly cast, as a playwright suffering a crisis of confidence after splitting with his partner. Dino broke up the Martin & Lewis act five years before, though having done RIO BRAVO and SOME CAME RUNNING in between should have bolstered any sagging confidence. Oh, and Dino’s character avoids writing by drinking. Not in any way typecasting. (Would a modern star make such play of his alcoholism, and would we think it was cute?)

Fiona was delighted by Judy’s menopausal co-worker, constantly overheating. I was delighted by the long-take number where Minnelli stages a musical version of Hieronymus Bosch’s Christ Carrying the Cross ~

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High angle trucking shot swarming with Felliniesque New Yorker extras enthusiastically barging their way through frame…

We were both delighted by another incredible long take in which typically corny-silly-clever Comden-Green dialogue vies for attention with ridiculously sexy gyrating girls, for AGES. Most Minnelli comedies have an escalating nightmare qualities (THE LONG, LONG TRAILER is fucking harrowing), but this being a musical that’s softened considerably.

Excellent use of Frank Gorshin’s mimickry, playing a Brando parody. Fred Clark’s hulking ebullience is somewhat underexploited. A VERY interesting accent/speech impediment from Eddie Foy Jnr, someone I should look into more deeply.

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Judy herself — boy can she sell, and interpret, a song! Argument 1 against the existence of a merciful God might be His removal of her from planet world right after this film. OK, she got to sing The Party’s Over, heartbreakingly, but we shouldn’t have to take it literally. For once, she’s not playing dumb, or brassy, but her multiple voices on the telephone allows to show off her versatility and we briefly get to hear that brazen bray.

What she does in this song is hilarious. Especially at the two-minute mark. But you have to watch the whole thing.

Sorry about the aspect ratio — it wasn’t me.

Minnelli and producer Arthur Freed not only fulfill their roles, but appear as lyrics in the Name-Dropping number.

We can probably sense the coming end of the musical genre as a cinematic mainstay — the film aims to be light as a feather and is over two hours long. Very few films that followed it would pull that trick off, but of course they all had to try…

Venice 2 Society

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on April 25, 2016 by dcairns

Cary Grant’s debut in THIS IS THE NIGHT is pretty eye-catching!

The movie “stars” Lily Damita (Mrs. Errol Flynn) but the best work is done by the ineffably unassuming Roland Young, with strong support by Grant, Thelma Todd, and Charlie Ruggles (in non-annoying mode).

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There’s a running gag about Thelma getting her dress ripped off, usually when Young is around, so he can be made to seem like the culprit, a role he is hilariously ill-suited for.

We begin in Hollywood Paris, and as Lubitsch said, “There is Paramount Paris, MGM Paris, and the real Paris. Paramount Paris is the most Parisian.” It’s 1931, so the film, a romantic farce, has elements of operetta seeping in at the edges. There’s no actual songs, but a fair bit of recitative.

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Cary Grant plays a javelin thrower who is also a jealous husband (dangerous combination). Young is dismayed to learn that the married woman (Todd) he’s been fooling around with (it’s a pre-code) is married to a man who throws “those murderous pointed things.” He admonishes her, “Claire, the moment you meet a man, right after you say Hello, you must say My husband throws javelins.”

Frank Tuttle directs with considerable panache — he’s an undervalued figure who could bring surprising flair to multiple genres. Without his THIS GUN FOR HIRE, there might not be any recognizable Jean-Pierre Melville.

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Roland Young gets all the pussy.

Lily Damita is fine, I guess. She does a lot of acting with her breasts, wagging them in outrage or puffing them up as if to intimidate an enemy. Young is the real star, because he’s so unusual. His catchphrase is “Oh,” said with a kind of exhausted dread. Ruggles is his more energetic foil. After he’s tumbled into a canal, and Young threatens to throw him back, he says, “You can’t scare an old canal man like me.”

A small army of screenwriters hammered this thing together, affirming Preston Sturges’ complaint that Hollywood believed writers should work in teams, “like piano movers.” At least in this case, the instrument arrived at its destination gleaming and tuneful.

A Battleship In Il Trovatore

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2016 by dcairns

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A NIGHT AT THE OPERA — the first Thalberg reinvention of the Marx Bros. It lives on its excellent Groucho introduction, the contract scene, and the stateroom scene, and it has plenty of other nice one-liners and moments to sustain it. But I’m carrying on looking at the non-Marx Bros bits in Marx Bros movies.

Andrew Sarris is probably accurate when he writes, of the Bros, “They were a welcome relief not only from the badness of their own movies but also from the badness of most of the movies around them.” (But he’s dead wrong when he cites “Groucho’s bad habit of doing double and triple takes after every bon mot to give his audience a chance to laugh.” Groucho’s reactions to Chico’s inanities are simply part of the performance of the scenes, and are funny in themselves. Groucho is crtainly never surprised by his own jokes.)

So, on to the badness. Zeppo is gone, to be replaced by Allan Jones, whose singing has, I suppose, some plot significance but which I can take or leave alone, with a preference for the latter. He does have the admirable ability of seeming to disappear entirely during the comedy scenes, despite occupying equal screen space to, say, Harpo. Where Harpo has presence, Jones has absence, his finest quality. He doesn’t get in the way except when required to hold up a scene. And when he holds up a scene, boy does he hold it up. “Can we please get on?” is the cry.

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Jones is paired with Kitty Carlisle, who sang about marijuana in MURDER AT THE VANITIES the year before, but always insisted she thought it was a girl’s name. The harshest thing I can say about her is that’s probably the truth. She is fetching, but unfortunately the one she usually fetches is Allan Jones.

The fact that both of these leaden leads are credited above Margaret Dumont is tantamount to a war crime, but Dumont’s treatment is otherwise flawed anyway. After scene one, she is never charmed by Groucho. To have Margaret realize once and for all that Groucho is a moth-eaten scam artist is to deprive us of the central joke of Margaret Dumont in Marx Bros movies, her very foundation. So although she’s great in her first scene, and great throughout, after the opening she has a lot less to work with.

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There’s always Sig Rumann, that great schnook, here playing a Groucho love rival, so he’s a stooge who thinks he’s a smart guy — ripe for destruction. I could probably have used more mistreatment of the bearded one, though maybe less of him jiggling about in his undergarments. (When I was a child and saw drawings of men in their long johns in Disney comics, I always thought they were naked and just abnormally pallid and strangely genderless, like Action Man figurines. But Rumann has junk moving about, visibly. If the fledgling Hays Office can’t protect us from the outline of Sig Rumann’s swaying scrotum, what is the point of having them?)

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Speaking of beards, other figures falling prey to the Bros are the World’s Greatest Aviators, described by Groucho as either “three men with beards or one man with three beards.” They are treated unkindly. “World’s greatest aviators but you notice they’re traveling by sea,” remarks Groucho, before they are bound, gagged, shaved, and their beards absconded with, never to be returned.

The World’s Greatest Aviators who, like Harpo, never speak, sadly did not go on to their own film series. A pity, since the actors are Jay Eaton, Leon White and Rolph Sedan, and “comedy team Eaton-White-Sedan”” has a nice ring to it.

I was on the point of taking the scene where the Bros go all Black Lodge and speak a gibberish language which is actually English in reverse, and re-reversing it to find out what they’re really saying, when I realised of course that somebody would already have done this, and of course they have —

Good bit with Robert Emmett O’Connor, the cop — the Bros (and Allan Jones, I think) keep moving from room to room and back again to escape him unseen, and each time they move some furniture with them. The not preternaturally bright policeman struggles to understand what’s going on. Like David Bowie during his Berlin period, living on red peppers and cocaine and imagining the furniture moving about the room when he’s not looking, or like the hero of Guy de Maupassant’s paranoiac comedy horror story Who Knows?, O’Connor is driven to distraction by this to-him-inexplicable phenomenon. While the film has its fair share of MGM-imposed moralism, it’s reassuring to see that making a cop think he’s coming down with dementia praecox is still viewed as an inarguable social virtue.

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Sam Wood directs, pinned between Thalberg on one side and the Marxs on the other, which must be like playing superego to HAL 9000 and the Tasmanian Devil. His work here and in A DAY AT THE RACES has none of the fluidity he could bring to a film under less fraught conditions, and with William Cameron Menzies helping out. Horrific wingnut, yes, “But what a genius!”

Walter King as Lasspari the singer is another of the Marxes’ more charmless opponents, introdued flogging Harpo, Playing Harpo as a cute disabled waif is just wrong (see LOVE HAPPY for sentiment run amuck), and the weirdness is amplified when Kitty Carlisle’s objections to this brutality are supposed to establish her as sympathetic. But then Harpo is summoned back into Lasspari’s dressing room and the sounds of whipping continue, and Kitty can’t be bothered making any objection. She’s set up as self-centered and cowardly instead of righteous and noble. I have a good idea for improving her boring first scene with Jones — keep playing the sound of Harpo getting his hide flayed off in the background. It definitely improves things.

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