Archive for George Sidney

The Sunday Intertitle: Snubbed

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2017 by dcairns

Snub Pollard (and unidentified frail) in YOUNG MR. JAZZ, a Harold Lloyd-Bebe Daniels comedy from 1919. Very nice, slightly disposable sort of film. To be really memorable, Harold needs more at stake, and he needs to suffer more. In this one he’s beset by an entire bar-room full of plug-uglies, and it just isn’t enough.

But Snub turning up like this reminded me of his surprise appearance in 1960’s WHO WAS THAT LADY?, playing a terrifying illustrated man. He has the job of tattooing the sole of Tony Curtis’ foot for plot reasons, which he sets about with grim relish.

Wasn’t going to write about WWTL? because we really couldn’t get on with it. It’s full of the sexism of that era, courtesy of scribe Norman Krasna. George Sidney directs with appropriate vulgarity, but the whole thing is too sinister, Snub’s alarming appearance being an early symptom.

New York chemistry professor Tony Curtis (!) is caught kissing or, as he argues it, being kissed by, a foreign exchange student. The one who catches him is Mrs. Curtis, AKA Janet Leigh. Curtis turns to TV scenarist friend Dean Martin to invent an alibi. Dino proposes that Tony is in reality and FBI agent and that he was kissing the girl as part of a mission. Of course, this pretense leads to real spy stuff (eventually) and lots of stress for the real FBI, who are all presented as chronically dyspeptic and long-suffering schmoes.

The main interests, in the absence of laughs, are the strange inverted resemblance to TRUE LIES (in which Arnie really IS a secret agent but his wife thinks he’s cheating on him, if memory serves, and she’s played by Janet & Tony’s daughter) and the deeply unpleasant nature of Dino’s character, which of course he plays to the hilt while apparently thinking he’s being charming. Having invented the foolproof cover story for infidelity, he then blackmails Tony into joining him on a double date (with the pneumatic Joi Lansing and her wobbleganger). Dino’s unseemly interest in forcing his best friend to have extramarital sex leads Tony to denounce him, quite accurately so far as we can see, as a psychopath. Superficial charm, pathological lying, complete lack of moral compass… yep, that’s Dino, or at any rate his screen persona in so many films one starts to wonder.

The whole thing ends with a kind of mushroom cloud hovering over the Empire State Building — just as the comedy terrorists in TRUE LIES are probably part of the reason that movie seems to have been written out of James Cameron’s CV, this lively yet ugly entry from George Sidney seems unfortunate whenever it’s interesting, and boring whenever it’s on track. Need to watch his SHOWBOAT or something as a palate cleanser.

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Ed Sullivan’s Travels

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2017 by dcairns

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I don’t know if George Sidney needs to be elevated up a few notches among the cognoscenti, but he definitely deserves to be better known in general. his problem may be that his good bits — brazen, stunning musical cinema — are often contained in the same flawed films as his bad bits, but his good bits are transcendent.

Andrew Sarris lobs more backhanded compliments at Sidney in The American Cinema than you can shake Ann-Margret at, from the heading “lightly likable” to the specific putdowns (“has ruined more good musicals with more gusto than any director in history” and “There is a point at which brassiness, vulgarity, and downright badness become virtues”) which are very funny, but don’t do justice to the creativity and dynamism Sidney brings to his work.

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BYE BYE BIRDIE (1963), adapted from a Broadway show and reaching the screen rather too late to be topical about Elvis entering the army (five years previously), isn’t particularly clued up about the rock ‘n’ roll it attempts to satirize, but its gigantic parodies of pop culture still left us gaping at the screen like the first night audience of Springtime for Hitler.

The film stars Dick Van Dyke (his first movie), Janet Leigh and Ann-Margret, with Paul Lynde as secret weapon. Jesse Pearson plays Conrad Birdie, the Elvisalike, with roughly the same appeal Alberto Sordi brought to THE WHITE SHEIK — hard to spoof sex appeal when you’re mainly repulsive, but credit is deserved for courage and shamelessness.

First jaw-dropper: Pearson causes all the girls in a small Ohio town to faint, and Sidney cranes up a mile high, blasphemously parodying the giant pull-back of Confederate wounded in GONE WITH THE WIND.

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Second jaw-dropper: Lynde, who overplays like a starving actor seeing scenery for the first time in a year, is transfixed by the thought of appearing on television with Ed Sullivan (“My favourite human!”) and has a Grouchoesque Strange Interlude, wandering into the foreground and provoking a ripple-dissolve by sheer overintensity, leading to a musical dream sequence in which he and his family, attired as a heavenly choir, sing “Ed Sullivan” ad nauseam and Lynde’s face becomes progressively more purple, like Luca Brasi getting strangled in THE GODFATHER.

Third jaw-dropper: when Lynde refuses to let his daughter kiss the rock star, Mrs. Lynde worries about the kid losing face. “If he stays here, that won’t be all she -” begins Lynde, before choking off in an excess of emotion. The censorship of the word “loses” actually makes this mildly smutty joke seem about six times more obscene.

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Fourth jaw-dropper: Janet Leigh, frustrated by her mother-obsessed fiancé’s failure to propose, crashes a meeting of some random fraternal society (dressed like The Sons of the Desert) and basically rapes most of them under a table. Or so it would seem: hard to know how else we’re meant to interpret it, as one shriner after another is yanked out of frame below the furniture as if beset by Bruce the Shark.

I think Van Dyke basically inventing super-powered Benzedrine and giving it to a tortoise who then jet-propels from the room probably counts too.

Elsewhere, there are less startling pleasures: “Put on a Happy Face” and “I’ve Got a Lot of Livin’ To Do” are the most recognizable numbers. Maureen Stapleton plays Dick’s domineering mom, improbably enough — she was exactly his age, joining a select club with Jesse Royce Landis, whose character in NORTH BY NORTHWEST must have given birth to Cary Grant just as she was leaving the womb herself, like a kind of Russian doll, or a variant on that cartoon of three fish swallowing one another.

Sidney loses out on the chance to be a less sexist Frank Tashlin by staging a long, not-too-funny sequence where the conductor of the Russian ballet is slipped a capsule of Van Dyke’s speed, and proceeds to lead the production at 400% velocity. The anti-Americanism is funny, but this stuff is neither a sufficiently robust response to Kruschev, nor a questioning of the Cold War. It just dilutes the acerbic gusto (that word again) of the rest — but the prolonged, Hitchcockian build-up to the slapstick IS pretty funny, so outrageously does Sidney extend the wait.

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Oh, and there’s Ed Sullivan himself, who always looked to me like a version of Richard Nixon with third-degree burns, and it turns out the low-resolution TV picture was flattering him.

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Janet Leigh reprises her bra routine from PSYCHO, and Ann-Margret is alternately cute and terrifying (when her lips retract, yikes!), ending the picture by rattling her tits right at the camera. I think female viewers, or gay male viewers (at a musical?? surely not!) are slightly short-changed in the pulchritude department, since DVD is one of those hetero actors who projects no particular sexuality — he’s straight without ever seeming to want to do anything about it. I guess that’s a useful quality, since he has to be able to share screen time with “teenage” Ann-Margret without looking like he’s going to rip his shirt off and run amongst her.

Fifty Shades of Kathryn Grayson

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on January 31, 2017 by dcairns

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ANCHORS AWEIGH! may not be ON THE TOWN, but then, what is? It’s jolly good, and George Sidney directs with colossal, cartoonish energy. The score is so enthusiastic, so animated, it’s no surprise when Tom & Jerry turn up in person (though it’s a somewhat disturbing surprise when Jerry speaks, with a woman’s voice.

However, despite enjoying the wit and visual invention of the storytelling and filming, and the songs, and Gene Kelly’s dancing and the relentless portrayal of Frank Sinatra as an utter chump, which does not seem, in retrospect, like an obvious idea — I *did* feel occasional pangs of existential angst at Kathryn Grayson’s insanely chirpy countenance and incessant trilling and twinkling. And when the screen faded to black leaving only her eye-gleams, like pinholes into the Beyond, I was somewhat chilled.

But here’s a lovely transition caught halfway —

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And this bit is hilarious. Fascinatingly so, since it shows our heroes forced to improvise a song for plot reasons. Now, characters in musicals seem able to improvise songs at the drop of a hat, and we never question their preternatural skill. Now, just because the story requires it, Gene and Frank really have to struggle — even though the basic song, “If You Knew Susie,” is a familiar one. Think about it. What gives?

Bonus: a wildly improbably Grady Sutton as love rival.