Archive for Ann-Margret

Capra Con

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2020 by dcairns

After years of intending to see LADY FOR A DAY, I finally watched POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES, the generally-judged-inferior remake by the same director, Frank Capra. I will get around to the original, I promise!Angelo Rossitto, top left. You don’t often see him there.

Maybe I ought to have a Capra week so I can mop up late stuff like A HOLE IN THE HEAD and early stuff like the silents and then DIRIGIBLE and FLIGHT and then BROADWAY BILL which I turned off in disgust when Warner Baxter hit Clarence Muse? I find I have to be careful with Capra — up to a certain point, I find his work admirable, incredibly skilled, then I can sour on him because of his undoubted excesses or bum notes, and then I can reach the point where I’m no longer able to appreciate the brilliance because the less pleasant qualities are shining too luminously. This may be what happened to his biographer, Joseph McBride, who wrote an excellent book which does not make you think more highly of its subject.Pros and cons. Pros:

  1. Lots of terrific character actors and comics, from Peter Falk, who brings the pre-code energy Ford tends to lack, to Edward Everett Horton, still magnificent, all the way down to little Angelo Rossitto. Arthur O’Connell plays a Spanish count, which seems bizarre on the face of it but he’s excellent in the role. Fernando Rey wouldn’t have been any better. And nice to see Thomas Mitchell again.
  2. Bette Davis is good, though the story, which has been inflated from the original, allows her to drop out of sight for what feels like hours at a time.
  3. Hope Lange is terrific.
  4. “Introducing Ann-Margret.” Charmed, I’m sure. It’s a nothing role, but she had to get introduced somewheres, hadn’t she?
  5. It looks really nice. The backlot throngs and feels alive. Randy Cook advised me to see this, pointing out how different it is from contemporaneous George Roy Hill period yarns that always look stark, clean and underpopulated. Museumlike.

Cons:

  1. Bette is unable to wring tears from this material, maybe because she’s too strong? But Hope Lange steps in and manages it. Remember Capra’s uncharacteristically modest late-in-life observation, “I made a mistake about tragedy. I thought tragedy is when the actors cry. It isn’t. Tragedy is when the audience cries.” Oddly enough, he’s right in general but wrong about himself: Capra’s most teary scenes always have the audience joining the actors — but often it’s the tears of joy, as at the unendurably effective climax of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
  2. They’ve added what feels like half an hour onto the start of the story. It’s all good stuff, but it stretches a sentimental farce out to 136 minutes. That’s obviously too long. There’s a point where the plot kicks in and I thought, “I bet that’s the opening scene of LADY FOR A DAY.”
  3. Glenn Ford, who was apparently such a dick as co-producer that Capra henceforth retired from features, is an effective lead, though with Ford I can see the talent but I usually wish I were watching someone else. Except in GILDA, where I think it kind of helps if you don’t much like Ford. You watch it rooting for Rita without knowing why. Anyway, Sinatra would have been better here.

Bette’s street person makeup is both good and bad. They’ve gone wild with the stippling, but it makes for an extreme effect that wins points for boldness. She’s once again wearing the big caterpillar eyebrows she sported in NOW VOYAGER. Fiona pointed out that older women LOSE their eyebrows. But I guess Bette is going for unkempt rather than aged.

For all the flaws, it’s not embarrassing, and it’s nice to see Capra going out with something large-scale, worthy of his skill in organizing group babble and spectacle. A shame he didn’t enjoy the experience more, but at least he wasn’t cut down to tiny, cheap stuff.

POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES stars Jubal Troop; Baby Jane Hudson; Mrs. Carolyn Muir; Parnell Emmett McCarthy; Columbo; Uncle Billy; Mr. Witherspoon; Hunk Houghton; Rip MacCool; Nick the barman; Ali Baba; Lady Booby; Lt. of Detectives Dundy; Carson Drew; Miles Archer; Xandros the Greek Slave; Grandma Walton; Lord Byron; Abe Vogel; Charlie Max; Sgt. Monk Menkowicz; Hannibal Hoops; Peter Pan; Mona Plash; Mrs. Laurel; BJ Pratt – Bill Collector; Arigeleno; and Cueball.

 

 

Poolsideburns

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on March 21, 2018 by dcairns

It is getting ridiculously cheap to buy second-hand DVDs in Leith’s charity shops. I can’t control myself. I thought the Blu-Rays of BICYCLES THIEVES, GREMLINS, PASOLINI and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, all less than a pound, were insane bargains, but the biggest may have been the Polanski box set for 25p, working out at 5p per Polanski. Then again, when I tried to give away my resulting PIANIST duplicate copy, none of my students had a machine that could play discs.

One recent bargain was VIVA LAS VEGAS, which I recalled had zestful musical numbers, staged by George Sidney with proper MGM gusto and glitz. Fascinating to think you could see this and A HARD DAY’S NIGHT in the same year. And you still don’t have to choose.

This is certainly one of the best Elvis pics (I should see the Curtiz), and while the music isn’t exactly rock ‘n’ roll, it’s at least lively and not the lugubrious, glutinous ballad stuff that oozed from the Presley lips in other movies.

They have eye-tracking software, don’t they, that can record where a viewer is looking in a given shot? I must never allow myself to be subjected to such a procedure while watching The Lady Loves Me (But She Doesn’t Know It Yet) number in this picture. I could just about survive Ann-Margret’s entrance in the picture with my reputation intact, first seen from under a car as a pair of disembodied legs, the camera then sliding forward as grease-monkey EP and his buddy ease themselves out from under on their aptly-named car creepers (those trolley things you lie on when inspecting your undercarriage) to slowly reveal more and more of the Swedish torso, ending on the girlish/predatory grinning face and amber locks. When she then walks THROUGH the camera at navel level, the lens somehow emerging from her butt as she walks away (“director as proctologist,” someone said) I can plead innocent because the angle isn’t exactly giving us any choice where to look.No, it’s the swimsuit scene that would get me in trouble. Elvis, though impossibly-beautiful and eerie-looking, has a somehow mask-like face, even though it’s clearly mobile — he’s an uncanny valley mo-cap creature — “Elvis was behind a sheet of glass,” said Sidney — so I turn to the animated, perhaps over-animated Ann-Margret, who Sidney was evidently smitten with. And then I’m in trouble.

Ed Sullivan’s Travels

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2017 by dcairns

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I don’t know if George Sidney needs to be elevated up a few notches among the cognoscenti, but he definitely deserves to be better known in general. his problem may be that his good bits — brazen, stunning musical cinema — are often contained in the same flawed films as his bad bits, but his good bits are transcendent.

Andrew Sarris lobs more backhanded compliments at Sidney in The American Cinema than you can shake Ann-Margret at, from the heading “lightly likable” to the specific putdowns (“has ruined more good musicals with more gusto than any director in history” and “There is a point at which brassiness, vulgarity, and downright badness become virtues”) which are very funny, but don’t do justice to the creativity and dynamism Sidney brings to his work.

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BYE BYE BIRDIE (1963), adapted from a Broadway show and reaching the screen rather too late to be topical about Elvis entering the army (five years previously), isn’t particularly clued up about the rock ‘n’ roll it attempts to satirize, but its gigantic parodies of pop culture still left us gaping at the screen like the first night audience of Springtime for Hitler.

The film stars Dick Van Dyke (his first movie), Janet Leigh and Ann-Margret, with Paul Lynde as secret weapon. Jesse Pearson plays Conrad Birdie, the Elvisalike, with roughly the same appeal Alberto Sordi brought to THE WHITE SHEIK — hard to spoof sex appeal when you’re mainly repulsive, but credit is deserved for courage and shamelessness.

First jaw-dropper: Pearson causes all the girls in a small Ohio town to faint, and Sidney cranes up a mile high, blasphemously parodying the giant pull-back of Confederate wounded in GONE WITH THE WIND.

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Second jaw-dropper: Lynde, who overplays like a starving actor seeing scenery for the first time in a year, is transfixed by the thought of appearing on television with Ed Sullivan (“My favourite human!”) and has a Grouchoesque Strange Interlude, wandering into the foreground and provoking a ripple-dissolve by sheer overintensity, leading to a musical dream sequence in which he and his family, attired as a heavenly choir, sing “Ed Sullivan” ad nauseam and Lynde’s face becomes progressively more purple, like Luca Brasi getting strangled in THE GODFATHER.

Third jaw-dropper: when Lynde refuses to let his daughter kiss the rock star, Mrs. Lynde worries about the kid losing face. “If he stays here, that won’t be all she -” begins Lynde, before choking off in an excess of emotion. The censorship of the word “loses” actually makes this mildly smutty joke seem about six times more obscene.

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Fourth jaw-dropper: Janet Leigh, frustrated by her mother-obsessed fiancé’s failure to propose, crashes a meeting of some random fraternal society (dressed like The Sons of the Desert) and basically rapes most of them under a table. Or so it would seem: hard to know how else we’re meant to interpret it, as one shriner after another is yanked out of frame below the furniture as if beset by Bruce the Shark.

I think Van Dyke basically inventing super-powered Benzedrine and giving it to a tortoise who then jet-propels from the room probably counts too.

Elsewhere, there are less startling pleasures: “Put on a Happy Face” and “I’ve Got a Lot of Livin’ To Do” are the most recognizable numbers. Maureen Stapleton plays Dick’s domineering mom, improbably enough — she was exactly his age, joining a select club with Jesse Royce Landis, whose character in NORTH BY NORTHWEST must have given birth to Cary Grant just as she was leaving the womb herself, like a kind of Russian doll, or a variant on that cartoon of three fish swallowing one another.

Sidney loses out on the chance to be a less sexist Frank Tashlin by staging a long, not-too-funny sequence where the conductor of the Russian ballet is slipped a capsule of Van Dyke’s speed, and proceeds to lead the production at 400% velocity. The anti-Americanism is funny, but this stuff is neither a sufficiently robust response to Kruschev, nor a questioning of the Cold War. It just dilutes the acerbic gusto (that word again) of the rest — but the prolonged, Hitchcockian build-up to the slapstick IS pretty funny, so outrageously does Sidney extend the wait.

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Oh, and there’s Ed Sullivan himself, who always looked to me like a version of Richard Nixon with third-degree burns, and it turns out the low-resolution TV picture was flattering him.

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Janet Leigh reprises her bra routine from PSYCHO, and Ann-Margret is alternately cute and terrifying (when her lips retract, yikes!), ending the picture by rattling her tits right at the camera. I think female viewers, or gay male viewers (at a musical?? surely not!) are slightly short-changed in the pulchritude department, since DVD is one of those hetero actors who projects no particular sexuality — he’s straight without ever seeming to want to do anything about it. I guess that’s a useful quality, since he has to be able to share screen time with “teenage” Ann-Margret without looking like he’s going to rip his shirt off and run amongst her.