Archive for the Theatre 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…

The Speak

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on May 9, 2016 by dcairns

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The first film adaptation of Preston Sturges’ hit play STRICTLY DISHONORABLE (followed by a 50s musical with Janet Leigh) takes some time to get going. It’s miscast all to hell, and the poor condition of the sound on the copy I saw had a glooming effect on the ambience. What Guy Maddin calls “the warm bath of audio hiss” gets discomfiting when the volume rises above the dialogue — you feel the actors are drowning in that bath, their merry chatter a mere displacement activity to divert their minds as the lip of the water rises around their smiling faces…

Paul Lukas isn’t miscast, really, although he’s mean to be playing an Italian opera singer. By Hollywood standards, where anybody foreign can play anybody else foreign, a Hungarian as an Italian is practically typecasting. It should be easier to accept New Yorker Sidney Fox (nee Leiffer) as a southern belle, but it sure isn’t. Still, Fox with unexpected puppy fat is enticing to look at, if not to listen to.

The guy who runs the speakeasy in and above which the action takes place is an early Sturges funny dialect character is played by an actual Italian, William Ricciardi, a fatal error. Maybe Sturges hadn’t intended his usual babbling malaprop figure (Akim Tamiroff or Lionel Stander or Luis Alberni), but I can’t believe this illicit barkeep was meant to be played like an Italian count.

Lewis Stone, who never struck me as a comedian, still doesn’t strike me as a comedian, but manages a few laughs as a drunken judge. It’s hard to know how many other laughs he might be stifling, though — director John Stahl seems content to let the humour fend for itself as the cast trample all over it.

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It pains me to say that Sidney Toler, who made a very poor Charlie Chan despite his eyelids, and who has the kind of face the Germans talk about, gives the best performances as Mulligan, a stereotypical Irish-American cop character. The first time you’d know this was a comedy comes when Riciardi refers to his joint as a speakeasy and the friendly cop advises him, “How many times do I have to tell you that I don’t know what kind of place this is?” That’s half an hour into the film.

“I’m not getting much sense of Sturges from this dialogue,” remarked Fiona, and she was right — I don’t think it’s Hollywood rewriting, I think it maybe is just the cast clumsily smashing everything in their mouths.

The next great bit is, improbably, from Stone. “Speaking ex officio, I would say that honour should be tempered with the milk of human kindness, that is, if it’s possible to temper anything with milk.” Very Sturgesian — a platitude is derailed by the vagaries of language, leading a character up an unfamiliar and original branch line he hadn’t inteded to explore.

Then it takes a while but Fox gets a zinger: she’s contemplating sex out of wedlock, and Stone tries to dissuade her, stating that in all the instances he’s heard of, such decisions have ended in sorrow. “Well, maybe it’s just that when you don’t hear about them when they end happily,” she suggests, with faultless sex pixie logic.

Curiously, Lukas never really gets a classic Sturgesian moment, suggesting that while he seems to suit his role to the extent of never actually clashing with his surroundings, he can’t quite energize the material the way a Sturges actor would.

 

Holliday Affair

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2016 by dcairns

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Well here’s a charming thing — THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC comes from a George S. Kaufman & Howard Teichmann play, stars Judy Holliday and Paul Douglas, and is directed by Richard Quine. A charming thing, maybe even a little classic.

Judy plays a pesky small shareholder of a huge company, Douglas plays the honest man who built the company, and there’s a delightful quartet of crooks who take over the business and hire Judy in order to stop her making a nuisance of herself at shareholders’ meetings. The crooks are, reading from left to right (1) blustering Fred Clark — a creep (2) dumpy Ralph Dumke — a dumkopf (3) oily Ray Collins — a louse, and (4) suave John Williams — a rotter. These guys are all tremendously good value, and though Judy has enough star power to keep the whole engine running beautifully by herself, it’s in the boardroom scenes with the wolves that Quine has fun with blocking, sliding his camera and his sleazeballs about in a graceful dance of deviousness.

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(1)                (2)               (3)               (4)

Quine’s formal prowess is also showcased in an ending which playfully blossoms into Technicolor™, some early freeze-frames on the rogues’ gallery, and a playful VO from George Burns. Elsewhere, office windows regrettably open onto grainy photographs of Manhattan, a cheapness which seems to have only materialised in the fifties (surely audiences have a right to expect sprawling miniature cityscapes with clouds moving on wires?).

The story is Capracorn with the corn seemingly reduced to homeopathic levels so that in fact the movie can pose as cynical and sophisticated, but thanks to Holliday and Douglas, who makes a genuinely affecting foil, it has a heart of pure mush. We found it delightful.

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