Archive for George Burns

Holliday Affair

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2016 by dcairns

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Well here’s a charming thing — THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC comes from a George S. Kaufman & Howard Teichmann play, stars Judy Holliday and Paul Douglas, and is directed by Richard Quine. A charming thing, maybe even a little classic.

Judy plays a pesky small shareholder of a huge company, Douglas plays the honest man who built the company, and there’s a delightful quartet of crooks who take over the business and hire Judy in order to stop her making a nuisance of herself at shareholders’ meetings. The crooks are, reading from left to right (1) blustering Fred Clark — a creep (2) dumpy Ralph Dumke — a dumkopf (3) oily Ray Collins — a louse, and (4) suave John Williams — a rotter. These guys are all tremendously good value, and though Judy has enough star power to keep the whole engine running beautifully by herself, it’s in the boardroom scenes with the wolves that Quine has fun with blocking, sliding his camera and his sleazeballs about in a graceful dance of deviousness.

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(1)                (2)               (3)               (4)

Quine’s formal prowess is also showcased in an ending which playfully blossoms into Technicolor™, some early freeze-frames on the rogues’ gallery, and a playful VO from George Burns. Elsewhere, office windows regrettably open onto grainy photographs of Manhattan, a cheapness which seems to have only materialised in the fifties (surely audiences have a right to expect sprawling miniature cityscapes with clouds moving on wires?).

The story is Capracorn with the corn seemingly reduced to homeopathic levels so that in fact the movie can pose as cynical and sophisticated, but thanks to Holliday and Douglas, who makes a genuinely affecting foil, it has a heart of pure mush. We found it delightful.

Ants In Your Plants

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2010 by dcairns

THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1937 is one of those uneven-by-design revue movies — with minimal plot and mismatched stars — of which poor Mitchell Leisen handled several. MURDER AT THE VANITIES is a kind of demented masterpiece, and there are definitely high spots amid the floating debris of THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938, including a touching rendition of “Thanks for the Memories,” (featuring Bob Hope, not usually Mr. Sentiment), a slapstick dance number by Martha Raye, and various comedic stylings by WC Fields, who plays pool and steps on a fellow human being’s head, but TBBO37 is lumbered by a script which unites disjointedness with witlessness, although there’s one good line: “Talking to her is like shaking hands with an empty glove.”

The empty glove is Gracie Allen, for whose comedy I’ve always had something of a blind spot. Her characterisation of kooky idiot-woman who gets everything wrong seems somehow… lacking in nuance. George Burns as a younger man just doesn’t make any sense to me. And he seems like a thug. Actually, all the men in this movie are louts, from venal agent Ray Milland (a Leisen favourite, which sometimes seems reasonable and sometimes, like here, inexplicable), snide radio producer Jack Benny, and egotistical singer Frank Forest.

Forest at least gets a good musical number, allowing Leisen to indulge his enthusiasm for mood lighting and all things South of the Border. He’s not the most coherent dance director, tending to pile together overlapping layers of dancers, all doing different things, the ones in the foreground too close to comfortably follow with the eye or the camera, but the designs and compositions here are sumptuous kitsch.

In fact, it’s best to ignore the slender plot and the weak comedy and savour the guest numbers — Benny Goodman and his band get a zippy number with animated wipes that dance to the music, while Leopold Stokowski and his band receive more solemn treatment, with Leisen lighting the conductor like Franchot Tone in PHANTOM LADY, all looming hands.

Leisen’s cameraman is Theodor “Mr Sparkle” Sparkuhl, and the two together create some marvelous effects, whenever there’s no plot or acting to get in the way. And Leisen contrives a walk-on, as Arkansan comedy turn Bob Burns hunts for Stokowski to demonstrate his musical bazooka (don’t ask). “Did you ever -” he begins to asks the brisk director. “Sure, lots of times,” snaps Leisen, and is off.

Here’s more musical malarkey to give you an idea of the skills Leisen brings to this somewhat unpromising material —