Archive for Jack Cole

Another Fine Mesopotamian

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on September 11, 2013 by dcairns

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Minnelli’s KISMET — for some reason Fiona was reluctant to watch this, despite being a confirmed fan of  choreographer Jack Cole and having enjoyed a ton of Minnelli recently. Maybe because she generally prefers his melodramas to his musicals. About ten minutes in she pronounced this “great” — maybe by the end it isn’t quite up there with the very top films of the Freed unit, but the witty lyrics, zesty playing, strong plot based around improbable reversals of fate, and some bracingly disrespectful use of Borodin results in something very enjoyable.

Weirdly, it starts out looking kind of cheap — interior exteriors often have that effect, however lavish they may be. The “Not Since Ninevah” number is a riot, and a moving mass of gaudily coloured costumes make the eye rattle around like a pinball, but it’s all happening against a Star Trek cyclorama in a sand pit.

What makes the film start looking suave is the slow fade to dusk and night — the story has an unusual 24 hr runtime and Minnelli takes the gradations of the day seriously — the later it gets, the more beautiful Joseph Ruttenberg’s cinematography becomes, and the better E. Preston Ames’ sets look.

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Dick the First and His Eight Wives

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on July 17, 2012 by dcairns

LYDIA BAILEY — they needed to give it a dull title otherwise it would have been TOO EXCITING. The plot concerns the battle for independence in Haiti, into which Napoleon’s armies got mixed. The title character is the lovely Anne Francis, the nominal hero is Dale SON OF SINBAD Robertson who comes to get her to sign some papers to help sort out her father’s will (he’s left his fortune to the still-fragile United States), but Robertson’s mission is soon forgotten about (we never see the papers signed and I imagine he lost them around the time he jumped into the waterfall) as is Robertson, even when he’s onscreen. The star of the show is William BLACKULA Marshall in his first movie, as revolutionary warrior King Dick.

King Dick talks softly and carries a VERY big stick, and has eight wives, each a specialist in her own field — cooking, sewing, love-making, voodoo, and so on. He’s always singing the praises of polygamy — “One woman is too much, two are just about bearable, eight is ideal!” The movie, directed by Jean Negulesco in vivid colour, knows full well who the star is, and ends on a shot of King Dick rampant against a burning city.

At times it looks like the movie is going to forget about its new star and focus on beefcake breezeblock Dale Robertson, and only the delights of Anne Francis stave off ennui, but then King Dick springs up again and everything is hunky dory. He should really have had his own movie series: solving crimes; espionage; hitting things with his stick. The possibilities limited only by King Dick’s immenseness, which is to say that they are UNlimited.

Throughout all the luridness and camp excess, Negulesco keeps his camerawork relatively muted — and he was a director who certainly knew how to lunge into hysteria if required. I presume he deduced that in this case he could let the Technicolor, the unruly passions, and the general air of madness do all of that for him. He serves up the fervid antics with the nearest thing to understatement the film has to offer, apart from Marshall’s delivery, which is frequently drily drôle.

The film seems progressive not just because it has a major black character, but it also has different factions of Haitians, rather than treating them as a single unified mass. There’s the political leader, described as the nation’s George Washington, and there’s Juanita Moore, too, in a substantial yet uncredited role. 20th Century Fox’s crediting policy was obviously not as up-to-date as their storylines: Robert Evans gets a prominent cred for playing a nameless soldier, but black actors with major named characters get zip.

Maybe a decade or so later Robertson could have been left out of the movie altogether and we could have allowed chemistry between Anne Francis and Marshall (the movie tries hard to stop them ever appearing at once), which would be REALLY interesting. They’re both pretty potent.

The voodoo dance is directed by Jack Cole, who also appears, quite convincingly, in blackface (because there just aren’t any good black dancers, apparently). And the plot, less believably, has several characters smearing mud on themselves to pass as mulattos — I was waiting for Dale and Anne to dry out in the sun and start cracking and flaking.

I Don’t Give a Hang(way)

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on June 9, 2012 by dcairns

Old Jack Cole was a merry old soul.

Regular Shadowplayer La Faustin pointed me in the direction of THE I DON’T CARE GIRL, an iffy MGM Fox musical with some spectacular musical numbers by Jack Cole. Cole is famous for directing the songs in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and LES GIRLS and SOME LIKE IT HOT, but turned loose on a full MGM musical (though produced not by Arthur Freed but by comedian George Jessel, who appears as himself) he excels himself.

First, the numbers are an object lesson in how to make a limited colour palette even more eye-searing than the typical MGM or Goldwyn rainbow hemorrhage. Second, they turn indifferent songs into funny, entertaining blasts of excitement. Third, they make you go GAY all of a sudden. They should have shown these to Malcolm McDowell in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Skip the aversion therapy and drugs, just turn him! Of course, he might not be safe to release after that, but it’d on the whole be safer than keeping him in prison…

I don’t really know Mitzi Gaynor much. But she can dance.

Number one features Oscar Levant, MGM’s resident intellectual.

Number two features Levant again, and David Wayne, the child-killer from Losey’s M. They make pretty good combination, better than FEATHERS and FIRE, anyway — was Cole plotting to assassinate his star?

I quite like this song, but the lyric “I’m Eva Tanguay / I don’t give a hang(way)” is really unforgivable.

(Milos Forman tells the story of filming a scene in AMADEUS in an 18th century wooden theatre with candles for stage lighting. An actor wearing elaborate plumage wafted too close to a footlight and flames started to flicker up his costume. Forman watched in disbelief as everybody just carried on as if nothing was happening, including the ablaze singer, despite the elaborate fire drills they had been through. Finally he yelled “Cut!” and got the fire extinguishers in — it turned out the whole crew were so scared of Forman’s temper they hadn’t dared to interrupt a take.)

In number three, you may be able to spot Gwen Verdon and Julie Newmar.

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