Archive for Dean Martin

Times Two

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2021 by dcairns

A mystery of the universe —

First, the Discovery. We watched Pabst’s film of Brect & Weill’s THE THREEPENNY OPERA for the first time — I’d only seen his French version — and laughed at the clever, tasteless joke where Meckie is accused of having carnal knowledge of underage twins. “They told me they were over thirty,” he protests. “Put together,” he’s told.

I suddenly flashed on the notion that Billy Wilder had adapted/stolen this gag for my favourite line in KISS ME, STUPID, Dino’s “The Beatles? I sing better ‘n’ all four of ’em put together! And I’m YOUNGER — than all four of ’em put together.”

The Mystery: This led us to rewatch KMS and to my dismay the line wasn’t there. Dino says “I sing better ‘n’ all three of them,” Felicia Farr says “There’s four of them!” and Dino quips “Haven’t you heard? One of ’em got his hair caught in his guitar and was electrocuted.”

I could be misremembering, but I don’t think I could misremember a joke that good. If it’s an alternative take, it’s pretty interesting because it comes as part of a master shot well over a minute long.

The History: I last watched the movie on VHS, in an atrocious pan-and-scan version. The movie loses all of Billy Wilder and Doane Harrison’s beautiful blocking and cutting, but none of its leering grotesquerie. So quite possibly the VHS came from a different source from the DVD. And I suppose it’s just possible that Wilder shot two versions, maybe for censorship reasons. Since this scene shows a putatively single man (Dino is basically playing himself, and was married irl) getting into bed with a married woman, so it’s arguably the most risque in the movie.

A Secondary Discovery: the movie begins in Vegas, with Dino finishing a run and making a run for it — the whole chorus line wants to spend the night with him and even this Italian galleon doesn’t feel up to THAT. Among the women he’s fleeing, we’re told, are “those German twins, Sylvie and Mizzi.” Which feels like Wilder & Diamond giving Brecht credit for the gag they (in my memory, at least) are going to adapt later. Same as when Ray Walston calls his piano student “a male Lolita” — acknowledgement to Nabokov who first recognised and exploited the comic potential of Climax, Nevada.

The Side-Observation: In THE LADYKILLERS, Peter Sellers voiced Mrs. Wilberforce’s parrots, as well as appearing as one of the crooks. KISS ME STUPID started production as a Sellers vehicle (after Jack Lemmon, Wilder’s favourite star and Felicia Farr’s real-life husband, proved unavailable) but was shut down by his heart attack. Wilder recast with Ray Walston. Now, it would’ve been great if he’d recorded Sellers voicing Sam the Parrot (“Bang-bang!”) and then Sellers could have haunted the soundtrack, a ghost in the machine. We listened very closely to that parrot. “Sounds like Ray Walston to me,” said Fiona.

So that’s THAT cleared up, at least.

But does anybody else remember hearing Brecht’s joke in this movie?

The Bad, The Bad and the Bad

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2019 by dcairns

FOUR FOR TEXAS is the Aldrich movie which sent him running back to hagsploitation. Apparently he didn’t have a good time with Frank & Dino. Frank & Dino were enough to make Bette & Joan look like a rest holiday. Frank & Dino together in a western is altogether too much of a disputably good thing, I think — it matters in RIO BRAVO that Dino has Duke to balance out the goombah energy with some more “authentic” movie-cowboy attitude.

Talk about spaghetti westerns. In fact, the first ten minutes of this one, a stagecoach raid and a series of reversals with the two stars pulling guns on one another over a carpetbag full of loot, plays quite Leonesque. Cynical, amoral, with a cold-hearted attitude to the little guy, who in this case is Percy Helton so maybe we can say it’s justified? But it’s the “zany” Leone of MY NAME IS NOBODY, all trick opticals and flippancy. Still, it really feels like a miniature dry run for the Italian west, just as VERA CRUZ feels like a more coherent and successful early clue to the new direction.

Then, however, the film gets REALLY bad. It follows the basic pattern of anything that’s died: stinking, bloating and decaying before your watering eyes. Sure, lots of familiar Aldrich faces show up, including V. Buono and that irritating va-va-voom fucker from KISS ME DEADLY. Who tragically doesn’t get blown up in this one.

Admittedly, I was watching a 4:3 DVD (why do such things exist?) but once the movie moves into town and indoors, the effect becomes very televisual, apart from one or two eyeball-searing sets. I can’t be fair to the film having seen it in the wrong ratio, but somehow I don’t WANT to be fair to it.

“Ekberg! Dead ahead!

“Why does this film sound like Batman?” asked Fiona, wandering in like a small child. I looked up Nelson Riddle, composer — her diagnosis was spot-on. I could wish it sounded EVEN MORE like Batman, had the Batman TV theme tune, in fact, and maybe starred Adam West as Batman. Was Buono ever a Batman villain? Any speculations as to his probable villain name are almost certainly going to make me sound fattist, and I’m not skinny enough for that look.

(Here’s how you figure out your Batman villain name: you pick something you always do, and put “‘er” on the end of it and “the” on the front.)

New Batman villain: The Flasher.

The movie is written by a woman, Teddi Sherman, a western specialist. Aldrich liked to selflessly claim the blame for the script also, and IMDb has the great W.R. Burnett playing some kind of wisely uncredited writing role.

The women are all costumed as if for a porno western.

Charles Bronson is maybe the only performer to emerge with credit, and it makes sense that Leone selected him.

Maybe watch the first reel but then avoid avoid avoid.

Everyone’s in it! I really found myself hating the leads. Phonetic transcriptions of Ursula Andress’s line readings would be the only way to get any pleasure out of this one.

“I’m glat you feels zat way. Main who worry about little sings bo-arr me.”

“I like main whoh wurr about me.”

“I was afraid off der disaternoon you may sink my gown wuss too raivealing.”

“Ope erhaps you fail like most American mendoo.”

It’s not clear that the Three Stooges are CORRECTLY UTILISED.

FOUR FOR TEXAS stars Tony Rime; Matt Helm; the killer nun; Honey Ryder; Paul Kersey; Edwin Flagg; Daggoo; Pablo Gonzalez; ‘Knuckles’ Greer; ‘Moose’ Malloy; Lt. Pat Murphy; Dehlia Flagg; Wilma Lentz; Grandma Walton; Alamosa Bill; Miss Hearing Aid; Dr. Lehman; Mr. Peevey; ‘Dum-Dum’ Clarke; Og Oggilby; and Not Themselves.

Trash

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2019 by dcairns

I started out wanting to observe, for what it’s worth, that every single movie name-dropped in ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD is terrible, but that’s not quite true. THE GREAT ESCAPE is a fun movie, and FUNNY GIRL is OK. But it’s startling how many stinkers are featured. CANDY is a very unusual and kind of interesting bad movie, and John Dykstra worked on it, so I guess it’s an in-joke too, since he did this film’s model shots (the drive-in crane shot, and the Pan-Am jets). But then we get a poster for Mike Sarne’s JOANNA… holy crap.

Then we have THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S (described by its own director, before it opened, as a piece of crap); KRAKATOA, EAST OF JAVA (the most geographically inaccurate title ever?), THREE IN THE ATTIC (QT once tried unsuccessfully to get star Christopher Jones out of retirement), THE MERCENARY, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, DON’T MAKE WAVES (OK, the last two have Sharon Tate in them so one can understand them being mentioned — but DMW was such a miserable experience it caused Alexander Mackendrick to give up film-making), THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, THE SERGEANT, LADY IN CEMENT…

Vulture’s article on this cites a few actual good films I’d forgotten or missed: 2001, PRETTY POISON, THE BOSTON STRANGLER. So there are good films in the mix: I guess a recreation of 1969, if accuracy is the aim, ought to feature more bad films than good, since that’s the way the balance always swings. But I don’t understand the nostalgia for this kind of stuff.

I suppose true nostalgia could definitially be about ephemera and garbage, stuff that exerts an emotional pull on us despite or maybe even because of its seeming worthlessness. But that kind of nostalgia — “Remember Space Hoppers?” — is pretty useless. It gets its power from an unrelated source — “I was young once” — and the specific things it focusses on are meaningless to others of a different generation.

The weirdest hommage to me is THE WRECKING CREW, a Dean Martin “Matt Helm” movie — I’ve always regarded that series as genuinely toxic. We all know the sixties Bond films are chauvinist; the Flint movies with James Coburn are seriously sexist; but the Matt helm movies are actually misogynistic. The filmmakers sincerely seem to hate women and devote as much screen time as they can to demeaning them.

This makes for an odd, unreadable scene in OUATIH when Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate goes to see the real Sharon Tate in TWC. I like that they didn’t digitally replace Tate with Robbie, or reshoot the movie. But if the intention is to pay tribute, the material used seems a strange choice. But then Tate’s movies are not a glorious bunch, alas: THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS is probably the least obnoxious, and I guess VALLEY OF THE DOLLS has camp value.

I get the impression that the scene is supposed to show Tate enjoying the audience’s reaction to her performance. And I guess maybe it works that way for some. But THE WRECKING CREW devotes most of Tate’s screen time to humiliating her character, showing her as clumsy, stupid, annoying to the hero, while displaying her body at every opportunity. Margot Robbie seems to have a hard time overlooking this, or at any rate her reactions don’t totally convince as those of someone enjoying the experience in a clearly readable way. I think Tate was too smart to have behaved this way, and Robbie is too smart to convincingly act it. There’s some kind of barely-tangible discomfort that manifests itself in a kind of blankness — the smile is big, apparently sincere, but somehow empty and non-specific.

When you see interviews with B-movie starlets looking back on some trash they were in, there’s always a rueful quality, and also a little pride — “At least I was a trouper, I put up with it all.” To me, showing Tate with that attitude to a really dumb, obnoxious movie she was in would give her more credit as a thinking professional.

(Acting watching a movie seems to be hard: when the kids go to see Harold Lloyd in HUGO, it’s maybe the most forced bit of performance in any Scorsese film; Kiarostami, no slouch, made a whole movie focussing on an audience watching an imaginary film, and it’s weirdly pointless and unmoving.)

Look, I know it’s not great film criticism, but I just really, really despise the Matt Helm series. It may be what’s stopped me looking at director Phil Karlson’s earlier noirs, which are supposed to be very good. Although I stumbled on a few fun Henry Levin movies — Henry helmed the two Helms that Phil didn’t film — and they’re modestly enjoyable. Both men seem to be bone-weary, disenchanted and dyspeptic by the time they get to Dean Martin spy caper hell.

In the memoir of gap-toothed comedian Terry-Thomas, he writes about working with Sharon Tate. Like everyone else who knew her, he was struck by her sweetness. She told him she couldn’t act at all, but that he shouldn’t worry, it seemed to come out alright. And he observed that she appeared to be correct: she played her scenes quite naturally, didn’t seem to try to act, and was perfectly effective onscreen. That self-deprecating, insightful and carefree attitude MIGHT leave Tate able to look at her work in THE WRECKING CREW and smile. But I think it’s a more interesting insight than anything Tarantino offers.

TT ˃ QT