Archive for George Roy Hill

The Sunday Intertitle: The Whoring Twenties

Posted in Dance, Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2019 by dcairns

As far as I know, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE is the only roadshow musical about the white slave trade, but I could be wrong.

We watched it partly in honour of the late Carol Channing and André Previn, both of whom make excellent contributions to whatever this film is, and partly just because I’d picked up the DVD for cheap and had never watched the film properly. An odd DVD, whose Greek subtitles seemed to switch on automatically whenever there was an intertitle.GOOD use of intertitles, though — the movie is a twenties pastiche, fine, but they’ve worked out a specific way of using intertitles in a talkie — they use them as thought bubbles. So Millie (Julie Andrews) will look to the camera at a key moment and the intertitle will pop up, giving us her take on whatever’s just happened. And they don’t overuse the gimmick.

The Hallelujah Chorus, wrote editor Ralph Rosenbaum, is “always a sure sign of a film in trouble,” and so are wipes, and this film liberally uses both. Iris in and outs are fine, period-appropriately, and I wish people would use them for no reason in non-period movies, but wipes are the devil’s own transition devices. They should be shunned. And those flip-flop things, where one image blurringly spins like a revolving door and another replaces it, make me want to take an axe to the next optical printer I see.

(DEEP BREATH) Everyone in this is perfectly good, OK, and it’s terrific to see Beatrice Lillie in a rare movie perf (but in a problematic role) but James Fox is the stand-out. The glasses are clearly aiming at Harold Lloyd (I overcomplicated things by wondering if Creighton Hale was also an influence), confirmed when he gives the matte lines a work-out by scaling Millie’s place of work, human fly fashion. It’s a shame his big number, the Tapioca, is quite poorly filmed (they over-edit and cut off the feet). George Roy Hill is not a musicals guy, I fear.

Oh, and Fiona was impressed by how sexy Julie Andrews managed to get during her vamp scene. Apart from THE AMERICANISATION OF EMILY, where James Garner seems to animate some hitherto iced-over aspect of the Andrews persona, she’s not really known for her blistering eroticism, is she? And yet, here it is, however briefly.

Being a long, sprawling roadshow affair, the movie by rights ought to offer a PANOPLY OF TWENTIES AMERICANA, but this it has no interest in doing. Mary Tyler Moore’s character’s putative stage career leads to absolutely no Broadway business, and the settings specifically evocative of the period are limited to a vaudeville show, a country house (with biplanes), a Chinatown knocking shop. Most of the action seems to take place in a nondescript hotel (it’s written as eccentric but the art department keep things TV-movie-looking) and an office.

Oh, the movie does come up with one of the great actor/drug combos of all time. You know how Dennis Hopper performing a sense memory of nitrous oxide became an iconic image in BLUE VELVET? The combination of John Gavin and curare proves similarly apt. The filmmakers must have known they were onto a good thing with this business, because they blowpipe the poor bastard twice.

Gavin is GOOD in this. He gets the joke, he knows he’s the butt, and he goes at it. Admirable.

The sex trafficking angle (no, we don’t see Calvin Coolidge as a customer: it was a different era) is handled… weirdly. The movie opens with a choloroforming/abduction scene shot like a giallo, lit and designed like a TV movie of the week. In Chinatown, the whorehouse-warehouse is a Man’s Adventure magazine style bdsm fantasia. And, when James Fox, looking rather fetching in flapper drag, is kidnapped and his captors go “Ugh!”, thinking him less than glamorous, Beatrice Lillie shrugs, “I know she’s not much, but in a dark corner on the late, late shift…” which puts the whole thing into a really horribly clear picture and any amusement kind of does a death rattle. We’re openly being invited to imagine a line of sweaty customers doing a train on a drugged-up, cross-dressed James Fox. I know it’s A Ross Hunter Production, but I can’t imagine they really wanted to do that to their audience.

The racism is another spectre haunting the story. Jack Soo & Pat Morita get a sinister gong on first appearance, as if we’re meant to be scared of them purely because they’re Chinese (in fairness, one can imagine a movie pastiche portraying any pair of spying henchmen of whatever race in a similar way: but here, it has a particular ethnic flavour). Philip Ahn as a sympathetic servant can’t do enough to remove the yellow peril undertones, as he enters too late and does too little, and that in a subservient capacity. The otherwise pointless Jewish wedding scene is presumably meant to make things feel inclusive, which is a pretty clueless idea. Seeing four white protags beat up a couple of stage Chinamen and stand triumphantly over their crumpled bodies has an uncomfortable feel to it, nowadays. The period pastiche patina should help alibi this, but it’s a strain.

And you don’t want strain in a musical.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE stars Maria Von Trapp; Chas; Mary Richards; Flo; Sam Loomis; Sammy Fong; Mr. Miyagi; Dr. Fong; Mrs. Lorelei Dodge-Blodgett; and Molly Molloy.

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Peter Sellers’ Shagging Palace

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-01-07-23h59m33s2

Peter Sellers, as a version of Oscar Levant with a phony Hungarian accent, prepares to entertain. Dig the slippers.

Read all about it over at The Forgotten, care of The Daily Notebook.

The World Of Henry Orient

Euphoria #43: Don’t ever hit your mother with a shovel…

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on February 9, 2008 by dcairns

Warm and mellow-making movie moments, chosen by YOU, the Shadowplayers

My Mum, Sheila Cairns, picked this Bacharachian bachanal from BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, pointing out that she couldn’t imagine why Katherine Ross would be interested in Robert Redford anyway, with Paul Newman around.

It’s a beautiful scene (faint shades of JULES ET JIM?), and George Roy Hill deserves more credit as, at the very least, a second-tier commercial filmmaker (he was among the first to assimilate the influence of the Nouvelle Vague, for one thing). I reviewed a book about him once and, I can only say, he deserves a better book. The first edition must have been pretty good, but somewhere between then and the revised updated version, something pretty bad must have happened to the author (maybe just TIME?) and all the life and precision had gone out of his writing. And since Hill, at his best, had a lot of both qualities, he definitely deserves a better book.

Hmm, this sequence maybe could use some better GAGS (the “prequel” BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS has plenty) but GRH makes up for that by finding pretty and surprising and playful ways of filming stuff.

I just wish they’d tweaked it in the edit so that the snatching of the apple from the tree branch coincided with the word “did” in the lyrics. Wouldn’t that be nicer, musically?

But it’s great that they get away with the song. Of course, it’s not as extreme in its anachronism as Ennio Morricone’s surf guitar masterpieces, but its very airy and confident and sweet and is pretty clearly a modern popular song with nothing but tone to justify its presence (the lyrics run defiantly counter to the action). It did lead to a lot of inferior imitations, which rather deface movies like THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE and THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN (not a particularly strong contender at the best of times).

I think it’s funny that my Mum would choose this scene as she has a morbid fear of cows.

Go West

*

Otherstuff: screenwriter William Goldman still prefers his original title, THE SUNDANCE KID AND BUTCH CASSIDY (they changed it when Newman, the big star, wanted to play Butch).

He’s CRAZY.

BCATSK is obviously much nicer than TSKABC, as you can see for yourselves just by singing each title in turn. You see? You SEE?

And: my folks just recently watched NORTH BY NORTHWEST together again, on the exact anniversary of the day they first saw it, on their first date together, on the film’s first release.

And: the Donald Westlake novel I’m reading, Drowned Hopes, lifts Hitchcock’s original idea for the climax of NBNW — a man climbs into the nostril of the Mount Rushmore Lincoln, it’s dusty in there, and he sneezes. I’m going to forgive Westlake this little plagiarism, as it happens in the perfect place in the novel and anyway, Hitchcock never actually used it (the Mount Rushmore people objected).

the man in Lincoln's nose