Archive for James Harvey

Newshounds

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2017 by dcairns

“Whatever made Eddie Buzzell think he could direct?” mused Groucho Marx, a thought captured by the eager pen of Steve Stoliar in his essential memoir Raised Eyebrows. Like it had been bothering Groucho for thirty-plus years since making AT THE CIRCUS and GO WEST and he finally had to give voice to it.

I’ve been more inclined to give Mr. Buzzell a pass — he did some passable films with some nice shots in them. But looking at the original LIBELED LADY, which Buzzell remade as EASY TO WED, does make me feel a bit less charitable. Neither film is great, both have enjoyable moments, but Buzzell’s tends to miss the joke a lot of the time.

(You can expect a lot of late-thirties / forties stuff for a while as James Harvey’s book Romantic Comedy causes me to look up films that have passed me by.)

Sleeves by Dolly Tree.

Of course, Jack Conway doesn’t have a huge directorial reputation either, but he knew his business, I reckon. And he has the unbeatable William Powell and Myrna Loy to work with instead of Esther Williams and Van Johnson, and Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy in place of Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn. And best of all, he doesn’t have Ben Blue anywhere his version. Hate is a very tiring emotion, so somebody please name a film in which Ben Blue wasn’t a repulsive, unfunny bore so I can let go of this hate for him which is eating my soul.

“I didn’t think Spencer Tracy could do this kind of fast-talking newspaper thing,” said Fiona early on.

“Well, he can talk fast. I don’t know how funny he’s going to be,” I pondered.

“Oh he’s not FUNNY,” clarified Fiona.

But he’s not too bad. Outclassed by Wm. Powell, of course.

“I*am* too funny!”

Buzzell got the help of Buster Keaton for his main bit of visual comedy in EASY TO WED, as he had done for GO WEST. Conway and Powell work it out alone, and they’re gags aren’t as smart but Powell’s playing is a joy. The main fun in this, though, apart from Dolly Trees outlandish costumes (she mainly runs amuck on Harlow) is Loy, introduced with her back to the camera but instantly recognizable, and instantly FUN. Esther Williams could certainly be fun, but being a swimmer rather than an actress, she wasn’t as resourceful at finding the fun.

On paper, everyone in this story is kind of awful. Spencer Tracy stands Harlow up at the altar then makes her marry Powell for business purposes. Powell is trying to frame Loy on an adultery rap to kill off her libel suit against his newspaper. Loy ought to be sympathetic, but she and dad Walter Connolly (Cecil Kellaway in the remake) are terribly rude to Powell, BEFORE they know what a rat he is.

As you’ve never seen them before

What we have is the offspring of the hardboiled newspaper comedy and the screwball — unlike in THE FRONT PAGE and its offspring, nothing is really at stake here (the wellbeing of a muckraking newspaper doesn’t count) but the abrasiveness owes more to Hecht & McCarthy’s acerbic spirit than to the usual romantic comedy. In fact, Maurine Dallas Watkins, one of the writers, wrote CHICAGO — she has a bigger claim to inventing the newspaper comedy than anyone else. As the movie gets away from the newsroom and into the haunts of the wealthy, it does introduce a little more sweetness, but as the rich folks have been introduced as pretty tough, deceitful and boorish, we carry a lot of that sour feeling with us.

In both versions, the jilted bride is harshly treated and seems the most blameless figure. There are the usual dumb blonde jokes — when Powell marries Loy while still married to Harlow, her keen legal mind pounces: “That’s arson!” But her being dumb or common doesn’t justify any of the loutish treatment she gets from Tracy and Powell. It’s a colossal relief when Myrna is nice to her (as Harvey points out, Loy is always sympathetic to other women, always projects a sense of companionship rather than judgement). Sympathy may be the enemy of drama, as Alexander Mackendrick warned, but if you build a drama without any bonds of sympathy between the characters… you’re David Mamet.

Loy – instantly recognizable ESPECIALLY when incognito.

What I’m saying is that this is a rare case where I disagree with James Harvey, who likes this film more than we did. But the good news is, the original CHICAGO is playing at Bo’ness. THAT one I like!

The Birds and the Beef

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2017 by dcairns

Another “song” from KISS AND MAKE-UP. Why am I so good to you?

Edward Everett Horton was not particularly known for his singing, though his number in THE GAY DIVORCEE, paired with Betty Grable of all people, is oddly pleasing. Here, his vocal weakness is made exponentially greater by Helen Mack, who matches him bum note for bum note.

What a hot mess of a film. I’ve been reading James Harvey’s Romantic Comedy in Hollywood, from Lubitsch to Sturges, which I can’t recommend highly enough, and he makes a crack about how Paramount films of the thirties tended to fall apart in the third act with alarming regularity, something I hadn’t particularly noticed. But by God this film certainly makes that FEEL true, though in all honesty it starts falling apart shortly after the opening credits. Every time you think it can’t crumble any further, it manages to fracture a little more. Horton has some funny lines early on, so there was somebody of talent involved (asides from the design and camera department who make it all LOOK lovely — as Lubitsch said, “The Paramount Paris is the most Parisian”). My guess is the good stuff flowed from the typewriter of credited scribe George F. Marion, who has some amazing credits.

Some images ~

This last one, with the Venetian blind shadows infecting Cary’s robe, calls to mind THE CONFORMIST.

And because we need SOME quality to get us through the day, here’s James Harvey — who has little to say about this movie and who can blame him? — describing Grant and Constance Bennett in TOPPER ~

She is small and gleaming and sinuous: her body, draped in glittering bias-cut gowns, droops in a dramatic art-deco curve from shoulders to slightly out-thrust hips. She leans back, against a piano or a husband, with her long elegant fingers splayed and upraised, like someone who is always drying her nail polish. The effect is both voguish and feline. Grant, the one she leans into, is as big and dark as she is slight and fair. And there is something feline about him, too–a hint of danger, a look of sheathed-claw contentment. They look so smashing together that the production stills are almost better–certainly more elegant and suggestive–than the movie is. Grant’s role, practically a supporting one, doesn’t give him much to do, but with it he becomes an icon of thirties glamour and fun.

Good, eh?