Archive for George Sidney

I can’t die! I haven’t seen The Eddie Duchin Story yet!

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on August 22, 2018 by dcairns

Apparently the above is a line in a Three Stooges short. Well, I was surprised to find this relatively obscure Columbia Pictures biopic in a charity shop, so I bought it. It’s George Sidney! I figured it had to have some interest.

Well — it stars Tyrone Power, who taught himself to play piano in the distinctive Duchin style. And Kim Novak, who has entirely different makeup from her later roles, and looks VERY different — different mouth, different eyebrows — not those big painted Groucho jobs she sports in VERTIGO. The movie makes a surprising effort to create period style — I guess nostalgia is what it was selling, otherwise why the hell make a film about this guy at the height of rock ‘n’ roll? — but, as Fiona said, “Kim’s hair is just Kim’s hair.”

Good support from the dependable James Whitmore  “It’s him from THEM!” I declared.And it’s written by VERTIGO scribe Samuel Taylor, who has to struggle with Eddie’s apparent failure to live an eventful, dramatically structured life. The key moments — his wife’s death, the war and his own illness and death — are problematically random. Taylor comes up with some partial solutions, tying things together with little foreshadowings and callbacks, but he can’t really make a story out of decades of playing the piano. The best stuff is when Duchin struggles with fatherhood after losing his wife.

And the best best stuff is with Rex Thompson as that son. He plays piano real good for a little guy (he was about thirteen) and all his line readings and responses seem marvelously spontaneous and raw. Tyrone Power, rather too old for the role, works hard and attacks the emotional moments head-on, rather too bluntly sometimes, but Thompson just seems to exist, in character and in the scene. The only problem with this is he rather shows up the artifice in the performances by the eager and earnest adult leads,He’s still alive, Rex. Let’s toast him! Good job, kid.

George Sidney, an old hand at musicals, creates a couple of set-pieces here, but after all, there’s only so much he can do with a man playing the piano. But, fair play to him, he does it: swish pans, dutch tilts, overhead views of the keyboard, and several shots taken from inside the instrument itself, looking out through the lid by some kind of X-ray vision. He refuses to let things get any duller than they absolutely have to.

And Taylor’s writing and Sidney’s filming really get it together for the ending, which stage’s the protagonist’s demise in non-literal, poetic terms, with a subjective camera shot that pulls back out of the character’s position and up into space, like an out-of-body experience only the body has gone. Eddie has, in a sense, BECOME the camera shooting this movie — that invisible, intangible omniscient observer, the ghost or soul that sees all and remembers all.

STOP PRESS: DVD of PAL JOEY found in charity shop. Purchased. More George Sidney, yay!

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Poolsideburns

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on March 21, 2018 by dcairns

It is getting ridiculously cheap to buy second-hand DVDs in Leith’s charity shops. I can’t control myself. I thought the Blu-Rays of BICYCLES THIEVES, GREMLINS, PASOLINI and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, all less than a pound, were insane bargains, but the biggest may have been the Polanski box set for 25p, working out at 5p per Polanski. Then again, when I tried to give away my resulting PIANIST duplicate copy, none of my students had a machine that could play discs.

One recent bargain was VIVA LAS VEGAS, which I recalled had zestful musical numbers, staged by George Sidney with proper MGM gusto and glitz. Fascinating to think you could see this and A HARD DAY’S NIGHT in the same year. And you still don’t have to choose.

This is certainly one of the best Elvis pics (I should see the Curtiz), and while the music isn’t exactly rock ‘n’ roll, it’s at least lively and not the lugubrious, glutinous ballad stuff that oozed from the Presley lips in other movies.

They have eye-tracking software, don’t they, that can record where a viewer is looking in a given shot? I must never allow myself to be subjected to such a procedure while watching The Lady Loves Me (But She Doesn’t Know It Yet) number in this picture. I could just about survive Ann-Margret’s entrance in the picture with my reputation intact, first seen from under a car as a pair of disembodied legs, the camera then sliding forward as grease-monkey EP and his buddy ease themselves out from under on their aptly-named car creepers (those trolley things you lie on when inspecting your undercarriage) to slowly reveal more and more of the Swedish torso, ending on the girlish/predatory grinning face and amber locks. When she then walks THROUGH the camera at navel level, the lens somehow emerging from her butt as she walks away (“director as proctologist,” someone said) I can plead innocent because the angle isn’t exactly giving us any choice where to look.No, it’s the swimsuit scene that would get me in trouble. Elvis, though impossibly-beautiful and eerie-looking, has a somehow mask-like face, even though it’s clearly mobile — he’s an uncanny valley mo-cap creature — “Elvis was behind a sheet of glass,” said Sidney — so I turn to the animated, perhaps over-animated Ann-Margret, who Sidney was evidently smitten with. And then I’m in trouble.

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Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on March 23, 2017 by dcairns

I figured, from the extensive cast list and from seeing other early George Sidney musicals at MGM, that THOUSANDS CHEER was going to be a bit plotless. In fact, it’s a perfect storm — a plot you can’t care about, interrupted regularly by musical guest slots that don’t relate to it. By the end, Fiona was getting pretty damn impatient, but even that harsh critic did perk up a bit at the sheer spectacle here ~

That’s part of Sidney’s thing, I guess — he can do visual things that are breathtaking, and is as likely to do them in a turkey (early Gene Kelly, when the studio’s policy seems to have been, “For God’s sake, don’t let him dance too much!”) as in one of his legit masterpieces.