Archive for Frank Sinatra

On “Top of the Town”

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2021 by dcairns

Devoted Shadowplayer Chris Schneider contributes an appreciation of obscure (to me, anyway) thirties musical TOP OF THE TOWN. You can watch the whole film on YouTube (bottom).

Someone was just saying, in connection with the writing of director Jacques Rivette, that the crazier your choice of “best” is, the more you’ve proved your (cinematic) love. This was extrapolation, mind you. Perhaps, then, I should prove my love of Thirties musicals by choosing the decidedly odd TOP OF THE TOWN (1937).

TOP OF THE TOWN is a dog’s-dinner of a picture, let’s be clear, but it’s not without interest. For one thing, it can be cited as the first Universal picture to employ the “twirling stars” studio logo. Secondly, it has a score by a very decent pair of songwriters — Jimmy McHugh (music), Harold Adamson (words) — which contains a genuine, soon-to-be “standard,” “Where Are You?” See recordings by Frank Sinatra and Chris Connor and Mildred Bailey.

Also of note is the historical oddity that TOP OF THE TOWN is one of that handful of pre-WW2 films, films like the Barbara Stanwyck/Robert Young comedy RED SALUTE, using interest in the Soviet Union as a source for comedy. What that means, here, is a flighty heiress (Doris Nolan) who has returned from the USSR with a tendency to call people “comrade” and now wants the nightclub on top of the family-owned skyscraper, the famed Moonbeam Club, to produce Important Art. This places her in conflict with the boyish musician (George Murphy) who simply wants to lead the club’s band and put on a good show. 

You might know Doris Nolan as Katherine Hepburn’s sister in HOLIDAY. She gets no songs here, only attitude. George Murphy, a talented yet not especially appealing dancer, was Astaire’s rival in BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940. He only gets one chance to dance, toward the end. Since nothing much happens between Nolan and Murphy, the strategy is to distract the audience with character performers like Hugh Herbert (as Murphy’s friend) and Gregory Ratoff (as his manager) and Ella Logan (as a diminutive song-belter) and Peggy Ryan (as a child doing an Eleanor Powell dance impersonation). Gertrude Niesen, as the band’s torch-singer, goes missing, but manages to sing “Where Are You?” And did we mention the trio of contortionists in sailor suits who do animal imitations?

Coherence is, shall we say, not one of the strengths of TOP OF THE TOWN. The director is Ralph Murphy, whose one notable film might be THE NOTORIOUS SOPHIE LANG. The script, allegedly, has uncredited contributions by Robert Benchley and Morrie Ryskind.

Another famous name, Mischa Auer, does put in an appearance. As part of the Moonbeam Club’s new Significant Entertainment, Auer shows up and does the “To be or not to be …” in full Hamlet drag — tn the accompaniment of a moaning choir in blackface. This is, um, problematic, as is a dance number involving salt-mine laborers being whipped. Luckily, the show is saved and the club patrons satisfied when a spontaneous jazz “jamboree” breaks out. Sorta like the number at the end of La Cava’s HALF-NAKED TRUTH.

TOP OF THE TOWN has its good points, to go with its silly or offensive ones. Notable among the plusses are the film’s gleaming look, in accord with its *moderne* title lettering, and Glasgow’s own Ella Logan scat-singing and dancing. This is the woman, let us remember, who later created the female lead in FINIAN’S RAINBOW.

And how can you say no to a film, I ask you, featuring Mischa Auer in his Hamlet Drag doing a conga-style pelvic thrust?

Surely Jacques Rivette would understand.

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.

Fuzzy Frank

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 13, 2017 by dcairns

I’ve just stolen a copy of John Frankenheimer: A Conversation, by Charles Champlin. It’s really good. Before I return it, I’ll quote a bit. Frankenheimer on Sinatra in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE:

His big scene in the picture is his confrontation with Raymond when he holds up a deck of cards and they’re all the Queen of Hearts. […] And Frank was incredible in his close-up. We embraced afterwards, he was that good.

But when I looked at the dailies the next day, the close-up was out of focus. The only thing that was in focus was the oak leaf insignias on Frank’s shoulders. The assistant cameraman had made a mistake.

Going to tell Frank–he didn’t watch the dailies–was the longest walk of my life. He was crushed; he almost cried. “My God, what can we do?” he said. I told him the only thing we could do was re-shoot it.

We re-scheduled the shoot, but he had laryngitis so he couldn’t do it. We re-scheduled again and he was so uptight about it he was physically sick to his stomach before we began. We did three or four takes, and none of them was really any good. We scheduled it again and did some more takes. But it wasn’t there; he couldn’t do it. So I finally said, “Screw it, I’m going to use the one that’s out of focus.” I put it in the movie, and it becomes Raymond looking at him, kind of brain-washing him.

I got the greatest reviews of my life for that shot.