Archive for Comden & Green

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…

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Stab Me, Sugar

Posted in Dance, FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2014 by dcairns

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Vincente Minnelli’s THE BAND WAGON, which Fiona had never seen, was a big hit with us — viewed with friends Nicola & Donald. It has just enough story — it doesn’t plummet into an endless ballet like AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. Too much narrative might be a problem — musicals seem to exist in an unusual relationship to plot, with progress essentially halting for each number, which freezes a moment of happiness or sadness and extends it and wallows in it. This being a putting-on-a-show story, it has license to depart even further from the spine — especially since, as in most movies where a show of some kind features, the play being staged, inexplicably called The Band Wagon, seems to be a mishmash of disconnected songs, a revue of sorts, even though we’re TOLD it has a story, which is even summarised for us at the start. When you try to make the songs fit the outline, however, you find that they don’t, except the big one ~

The Girl Hunt, choreographed by Michael Kidd, spoofs Mickey Spillane, and allows screenwriters Comden & Green to extend their satiric twinkliness into a song-and-dance for once. We were particularly impressed by the various book titles displayed at the start, (KILL ME CUTIE, STAB ME SUGAR, THE BODY WITHOUT A HEAD) and by the surrealism of it all — it pinpoints the hysterical sense of nightmare that permeates noir, and which usurps any sense of reality in Aldrich’s Spillane adaptation, KISS ME DEADLY, and boils to the surface in the work of David Lynch.

In fact, if The Girl Hunt ballet were somehow to be a new production, everyone would be talking about how it plunders Lynch’s movies for imagery.

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Syd Charisse plays dual roles, like Patricia Arquette in LOST HIGHWAY. “She came at me in sections. More curves than a scenic railway.”

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Giant fireball like in WILD AT HEART — also LOST HIGHWAY, and others. Lynch, on how he got the idea for the exploding shack in LOST HIGHWAY, which seems like a clear echo or the blazing beach house in KISS ME DEADLY: “We had finished at this location, and then I suddenly got this image in my mind, and I called the effects guy over and asked him what kind of really powerful explosives he had. And he said that he had A LOT, but that he could GET MORE.”

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The clue of the shiny rag — obviously a reference to Dennis Hopper’s titular sex-swatch in BLUE VELVET.

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Nothing in this sequence specifically relates to the red room in Twin Peaks… but the general effect evokes it in every way.

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The fight amid the mannequins — now it’s Kubrick and KILLER’S KISS that seems to be the target. The pre-perfectionist Kubrick rather screws that scene up with some egregious eyeline-crossing, causing each piece of store dummy to change direction as it’s hurled. Minnelli and Kidd and Astaire have no such trouble.

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Back to Lynch, with the Greek sculpture and b&w floor irresistibly evoking Twin Peaks again. The palette is different, but you wouldn’t want red curtains in a bathroom — not restful.

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Lynch’s sets don’t usually have this level of stylisation, but in THE GRANDMOTHER he painted all the rooms black and then chalked in the edges in white for an abstract, graphic effect (painting his cast’s skin chalk-white too). Here, the highlight is the minimally-rendered skyscraper, it’s lower storeys obscured by other buildings that aren’t rendered at all.

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I guess what this sequence has in common with Lynch and particularly the world of Twin Peaks (returning to out screens next year), apart from some imagery, is that both exaggerate the incomprehensible plotting of the pulp mystery into abstraction — these mysteries can never be solved because their terms aren’t clearly defined. Suspects, clues, leads and corpses multiply absurdly, and Comden & Green mock these conventions by amping them up while Lynch pushes them further in order to enjoy the mysterious as an end in itself.

As I tell my students, never solve an intriguing mystery with a boring explanation.

 

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?