Archive for Bob Cummings

Ack-Ack

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2008 by dcairns

MARRY ME AGAIN may be the first romcom snuff movie. Early on, we see hero Robert Cummings flying his plane in WWII, a big picture of his fiancee, Marie Wilson in his cockpit. He scores off his kills on this pic, all part of the movie’s cartoony approach (it’s by Frank Tashlin, a former Warner Bros animator).

What slightly chills the marrow is the way Cummings’ activity is intercut with real WWII aerial combat footage — real exploding aeroplanes, real death.

When later on Marie Wilson dreams of her honeymoon, we see a Spanish bullfight with a real, bloody beast, spears sticking from its sides.

There’s funny. And then there’s NOT funny.

In general, the movie has a stop-start quality stemming from Tashlin’s tendency to think only of getting from one gag to the next in the shortest possible time. Only later would he master feature-length story structure and pacing so that his great features, like WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? don’t appear like a series of black-out sketches, but as coherent narratives — even with all the whizz-bang visual gags exploding in every corner. The jokes become architecture rather than decoration.

Marie Wilson, whose work I didn’t know, is very cute and endearingly goofy, but maybe she and Cummings are trying a little too hard. Cummings certainly is. When somebody isn’t a natural comedian, but they want to show how keen they are, the results are apt to get a little gruesome. I think of Jeffrey Hunter’s efforts in Tashlin’s final, misbegotten abortion of a film, THE PRIVATE NAVY OF SGT O’FARRELL*, and can scarce suppress a shudder. Every time Hunter pulls a funny face a Japanese fighter pilot explodes.

*Although this last film is indeed bad — horribly, savagely bad — it is not entirely devoid of interest. When a plane full of women is flown in to satisfy the libidinous grunts in Bob Hope’s unit, Tashlin cranes in on each of the expectant faces, awaiting the disembarkation of Lollobrigidian lovelies. Hatchet-faced Phyllis Diller appears and Hope’s erect bouquet promptly wilts. It’s not exactly witty but it’s served up with surprising filmic gusto for such an arthritic comedy. (Bob Hope, at this stage in his life, has acquired a crinkled, harsh, cruel face which does not inspire laughter, ever.)

Joe Dante, a Tashlin fan, rightly disparages this last movie, but that didn’t stop him quoting the mass-crane-in sequence above in THE ‘BURBS, during what is nominally a Sergio Leone parody. What it actually is, is a Tashlin swipe. Dante trumps the maestro’s hand by tracking in on not only all of the main characters, but also the dog.

What? Ah! Way to go!

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2008 by dcairns

Pretty in Pink

So, WHAT A WAY TO GO! is available on DVD and SOME CAME RUNNING isn’t. That makes sense.

I’m hoping David Ehrenstein can tell me more about the history of this film, because the question of how it came to be is a vexing one. This piece is not so much a critique of the film as a cry for enlightenment. The film itself is a glorious horrible accident, like a twelve-car pile-up with multiple fatalities that’s somehow arranged itself into a pleasing composition on the motorway, just before bursting into flames.

The facts: Shirley MacLaine stars as a fabulously wealthy widow telling the story of how all her husbands became rich, successful and dead.

Big Night

The TRUE facts: Shirley MacLaine wears seventy-two insane Edith Head creations (including about four in the course of a single spoken sentence — honest, I’m not making this up!) and a half million bucks in jewellery, also Bob Mitchum, Dean Martin, Dick Van Dyke, Bob Cummings, Paul Newman, Gene Kelly…

The background facts: Arthur P Jacobs, soon to be responsible for the overweight turkey DR DOLITTLE, somehow was given the run of Fox, where he got gorgeous lifelike color by Deluxe and cameraman Leon Shamroy to shoot it. Comden & Green scripted, creating something like a musical without songs. And then very strangely somebody (though not Comden & Green) thought it would be a great idea to get J. Lee Thompson to direct it.

(Say goodbye to facts, we’re into the woozily subjective now.)

Phone Call

He was a good director in his day (there is an ignominious decline into Charles Bronson pictures — BAD ones) but I don’t recall anybody ever accusing him of having a light touch. Which I would guess is what’s needed here. Thompson is used to shooting Dutch tilts of Diana Dors looking homicidal, so he does the same with Dick Van Dyke. The effect is undeniably arresting.

His approach to comedy is to undercrank and have people run around — I guess he’s been looking at ZAZIE DANS LE METRO or something. It’s all very positively unfunny — the desire to laugh leaches away as soon as Van Dyke widens his mouth and juts his chin, or MacLaine squints or shrieks (she does a lot of shrill stuff in this one).

There ARE a few laughs, and a few surprises, though. A chimpanzee is dressed in mourning. Mitchum grabs a bull by the pizzle and gurns, “Forgive me, Melrose!” before being kicked fifty feet in the air. Gene Kelly plays a horrifically self-important movie star — “Ah, the little people — how I love them!” And there are those dance numbers:

Did you spot Terri Garr in the chorus? Me neither.

Meanwhile, surrounded by all-pink sets and chorus lines in sailor suits, the man who helmed THE GUNS OF NAVARONE asserts his heterosexuality as forcefully as he can:

Ben Dover

Backless

The Tit and the Moon

It’s the kind of film where, as Billy Wilder put it, the director spends half his time devising shots where the leading lady leans forward to pick up a pepperpot.

The ’50s-’60s studio taste for gigantism is everywhere to be seen. There are jokes at the expense of LB Mayer, Ross Hunter and CLEOPATRA, as if this movie were any different. Only expensive things are beautiful here. MacLaine and Newman are the most beautiful and among the most expensive. Newman, as artist Larry Flint (!) is actually kind of funny, and certainly enjoyable. He seems to be having fun, and Newman having fun can be infectious. Mitchum also gives one of his unique performances – -you think you know this guy and then he’ll pull a random variant on his style that knocks you for a loop.

During the major “what-will-she-wear-next?” number, there’s a swell slomo shot of MacLaine burling around in a yellow cape, and as Fiona says, you don’t notice her because the spectacle of Mitchum just WALKING in slow motion is so beautiful:

(This clip strobes a bit — sorry, not my doing — but you sort of get the effect.)

Because everybody involved has some kind of (mis-matched, out-of-control) talent, the effect is never less than watchable, and never actually unalloyed pleasure. In fact, it may be the most heavily alloyed light entertainment ever bolted together.

But, you know, worth a look.

The Couch Trip

How did it happen, David?