Archive for Billie Burke

Feet by Thousands, Gowns by Plunkett and Greer

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2018 by dcairns

Kate Hepburn vorkapiches out of control ~ spoilers ahead.

We weren’t really all that taken by CHRISTOPHER STRONG (1933), I’m sorry to say. Of course Katherine Hepburn’s costumes are striking and there’s plenty of pre-code content and it’s interesting to see Colin Clive in as close to a straight leading man role as he ever got. And he doesn’t seem nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous — as he usually does (and which usually suits what he’s playing). But, as Fiona protested, “This is a soap opera!” And as it came at the end of a double-feature with THE PETRIFIED FOREST, the whole romantic suicide things was getting old. And almost any Paramount film is likely to seem unendurably languid after almost any Warner film from the period.

Fiona loudly wished that Kate didn’t have to crash her plane. I reasoned that, working backwards as Conan Doyle advises, the sole reason for Hepburn being an aviatrix in the first place is so she can crash her plan at the end.

Other pluses — we get to see a household consisting of Henry Frankenstein from FRANKENSTEIN, Mina Murray from DRACULA, and the Good Witch of the East from THE WIZARD OF OZ (that thing gets everywhere). Plus a gratuitous Jack La Rue in lounge lizard mode, and “Transitions by Slavko Vorkapich.”

But, I asked Fiona, have we ever really loved a Dorothy Arzner film? We’ve WANTED to. Fiona suggested DANCE, GIRL, DANCE. I argued that it’s a pretty poor film with one absolutely incredible scene, with Maureen O’Hara berating the audience (us). Fiona argued that that one scene is SO good it makes the film a masterpiece, and I couldn’t really argue with that. Are there any other films elevated from trash to classic by a single sequence? And are there any prime Arzners we should have seen?

We have seen and enjoyed, but not massively, the following —

GET YOUR MAN, NANA, THE WILD PARTY, MERRILY WE GO TO HELL. CRAIG’S WIFE and THE BRIDE WORE RED (a favourite of Mr. Wingrove) seem the obvious missing links. But what else?

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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.