Archive for Alexander Mackendrick

Newshounds

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2017 by dcairns

“Whatever made Eddie Buzzell think he could direct?” mused Groucho Marx, a thought captured by the eager pen of Steve Stoliar in his essential memoir Raised Eyebrows. Like it had been bothering Groucho for thirty-plus years since making AT THE CIRCUS and GO WEST and he finally had to give voice to it.

I’ve been more inclined to give Mr. Buzzell a pass — he did some OK films with some nice shots in them. But looking at the original LIBELED LADY, which Buzzell remade as EASY TO WED, does make me feel a bit less charitable. Neither film is great, both have enjoyable moments, but Buzzell’s tends to miss the joke a lot of the time.

(You can expect a lot of late-thirties / forties stuff for a while as James Harvey’s book Romantic Comedy causes me to look up films that have passed me by.)

Sleeves by Dolly Tree.

Of course, Jack Conway doesn’t have a huge directorial reputation either, but he knew his business, I reckon. And he has the unbeatable William Powell and Myrna Loy to work with instead of Esther Williams and Van Johnson, and Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy in place of Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn. And best of all, he doesn’t have Ben Blue anywhere his version. Hate is a very tiring emotion, so somebody please name a film in which Ben Blue wasn’t a repulsive, unfunny bore so I can let go of this hate for him which is eating my soul.

“I didn’t think Spencer Tracy could do this kind of fast-talking newspaper thing,” said Fiona early on.

“Well, he can talk fast. I don’t know how funny he’s going to be,” I pondered.

“Oh he’s not FUNNY,” clarified Fiona.

But he’s not too bad. Outclassed by Wm. Powell, of course.

“I*am* too funny!”

Buzzell got the help of Buster Keaton for his main bit of visual comedy in EASY TO WED, as he had done for GO WEST. Conway and Powell work it out alone, and their gags aren’t as smart but Powell’s playing is a joy. The main fun in this, though, apart from Dolly Tree’s outlandish costumes (she mainly runs amuck on Harlow) is Loy, introduced with her back to the camera but instantly recognizable, and instantly FUN. Esther Williams could certainly be fun, but being a swimmer rather than an actress, she wasn’t as resourceful at finding the fun.

On paper, everyone in this story is kind of awful. Spencer Tracy stands Harlow up at the altar then makes her marry Powell for business purposes. Powell is trying to frame Loy on an adultery rap to kill off her libel suit against his newspaper. Loy ought to be sympathetic, but she and dad Walter Connolly (Cecil Kellaway in the remake) are terribly rude to Powell, BEFORE they know what a rat he is.

As you’ve never seen them before

What we have is the offspring of the hardboiled newspaper comedy and the screwball — unlike in THE FRONT PAGE and its offspring, nothing is really at stake here (the wellbeing of a muckraking newspaper doesn’t count) but the abrasiveness owes more to Hecht & McCarthy’s acerbic spirit than to the usual romantic comedy. In fact, Maurine Dallas Watkins, one of the writers, wrote CHICAGO — she has a bigger claim to inventing the newspaper comedy than anyone else. As the movie gets away from the newsroom and into the haunts of the wealthy, it does introduce a little more sweetness, but as the rich folks have been introduced as pretty tough, deceitful and boorish, we carry a lot of that sour feeling with us.

In both versions, the jilted bride is harshly treated and seems the most blameless figure. There are the usual dumb blonde jokes — when Powell marries Loy while still married to Harlow, her keen legal mind pounces: “That’s arson!” But her being dumb or common doesn’t justify any of the loutish treatment she gets from Tracy and Powell. It’s a colossal relief when Myrna is nice to her (as Harvey points out, Loy is always sympathetic to other women, always projects a sense of companionship rather than judgement). Sympathy may be the enemy of drama, as Alexander Mackendrick warned, but if you build a drama without any bonds of sympathy between the characters… you’re David Mamet.

Loy – instantly recognizable ESPECIALLY when incognito.

What I’m saying is that this is a rare case where I disagree with James Harvey, who likes this film more than we did. But the good news is, the original CHICAGO is playing at Bo’ness. THAT one I like!

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100% Talking

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on January 11, 2017 by dcairns

SUDDEN LOUD JAZZ! Yes, it’s time to continue our audiophonic journey through the surviving sound discs of John Cromwell and A. Edward Sutherland’s CLOSE HARMONY. Last we heard, Charles “Buddy” Rogers had failed to land a contract at the Babylon Club.

Now read on…

close_harmony-1

The latest song is Buddy’s competing act, which allows the film to bring in someone a bit more musical. I mean, Buddy’s OK and everything… but it is kind of tragic to watch him simpering through It’s Only a Paper Moon in TAKE A CHANCE, when the cast includes Cliff Edwards who could really put it over beautifully.

Back to the “plot” — applause, rhubarb, and non-sequiturs smother the soundtrack for twenty seconds after the song, but then order is restored and one of the singers becomes identifiable, through dialogue, as Jack Oakie, although much of what he says is a touch hard to make out. I think he’s talking to Nancy Carroll, and they seem to be getting on swell. Someone else says, apropos of something or other, “Their notes are high but their thoughts – are – LOW!”

Nancy invites Jack and friends to some kind of party. Then he and his pals do a bit of actual close harmony, which slowly fades away, perhaps suggesting that they’re leaving at last, and then Buddy chimes in, reflecting morosely that with Oakie and friends so popular with the crowd, his chances of landing another gig are diminished. Various other career possibilities have been mentioned — Buddy started the film with the thought that his band would break into vaudeville (a little late in the day) but the budget is too limited, seemingly, or the running time too short, for these possibilities to be explored, so all Buddy can do is mope about backstage in a joint he doesn’t work at anymore.

Right away Buddy starts feeling jealous of Oakie, and declines to attend Nancy’s party (so he can stew and feel MORE jealous, a smart plan). But then Nancy says she’ll call the party off, just for him, which seems typical of the plot so far: a predictable but potentially compelling dramatic situation is immediately by an act of niceness. “Beware of sympathy,” wrote Sandy Mackendrick, “Sympathy is the enemy of drama.”

close-harmony-nancy-carroll-buddy-rogers

Inaudible discussion between Nancy Allen and her fifty-foot-tall black maid. I *think* it goes something like “A regular Damon and Pythias,” “Yeah, they might be Oddfellahs too, but that triumph in valet’s room,” (or possibly “ballet school”) “tole me, that every now ‘n’ then they falls out, about some woman. Mm-hmm!” maybe the narrative will take an interesting turn after all, into Dadaism.

Now it turns out Nancy IS going out with the comedian harmonists, which makes Buddy cross, a welcome development but one that could have been accomplished two scenes ago, losing nothing but some indecipherable badinage.

But no! From sweet nothings cooed by the alluring Jack Oakie at the party, we deduce that Nancy Carroll is playing the femme fatale (!), accepting simultaneous dates with each of the incoming band, thereby to bust up their act by making them “falls out over some woman.” Thus Buddy will be able to get his job back while they’re all murdering each other. This seems incredibly low-down and dishonourable, but at least it’s a narrative development…

To be continued…

Mediocre Time Girl

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2014 by dcairns

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I’ve come to rely on Brit B-list director David MacDonald for at least one ludicrous moment per film. THE BROTHERS has a guy set bobbing in the ocean with cork tied under his arms, a fish in his hat to attract a passing sea-bird to swoop down and crack his cranium like an eggshell — a scheme served up as an alternative to murder. It’s not murder if a seagull does it. And DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS is a movie wholly composed of ludicrous moments.

Most of the mistakes in GOOD-TIME GIRL (1948), alas, are the kind that make it less fun. The story is narrated by Flora Robson to Diana Dors, a juvenile offender in need of a cautionary tale — this means that the mighty Dors is on screen for mere instants, and the rest of the flick concentrates on Jean Kent, who is OK but we can’t forgive her for not being Diana Dors. As a matter of fact, I often encounter this problem in real life: I’ll be talking to somebody, a shopkeeper, my bank manager, or the like, and I’ll think, “You’re OK, but you’re no Diana Dors.” It can sour a person’s whole life.

“I was present on the set of DANCE HALL,” said Alexander Mackendrick, “when Diana Dors was dragged away because you could see her nipples through her jumper, and she had to go away and have them stuffed with cotton wool, and her indignation at this was something to be seen.”

The film peaks early on with some whacky staging. Kent loses her job, and her drunkard father goes all MOMMIE DEAREST with a belt. As Kent cowers in bed, the hulking inebriate advances… and begins to lash the empty bit of mattress to Kent’s right. She screams! — in mystification, presumably, at this odd behaviour. I think we’d all feel like that if our father started taking his frustration out on the bed like that.

“I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the dirt.”

There’s also Dennis Price, Herbert Lom, Bonar Colleano, and the nice shot you see up top — a throwaway moment in a film otherwise free of style, and one that appears for just a couple of seconds, for no reason at all.

Still, I suppose Dors’ fleeting appearance gave her more free time to de-virginize Tony Newley, so it’s an ill wind etc.