Archive for Jimmy Durante

Zero Displacement

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2017 by dcairns

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Two more Esther Williams movies, but they don’t make much of a splash.

ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU is supposed to be about a besotted air force pilot abducting a movie star to a tropical island so he can have a dance with her. The pilot is played by Peter Lawford, who I don’t think is a terrible actor, but he lacks chemistry — with anyone. Chemically, he is inert. Most straight guys, placed in a scene with Es, would be able to muster some excitement, but Lawford remains flat and petulant.

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To overcome this considerable problem, the movie tries deferring its plot indefinitely, spending a full 45 minutes mooning around a hotel before the romantic kidnapping gets started. Fortunately, Xavier Cugat is on hand. If you want to stop a storyline from ever getting underway, Xavier Cugat is just the man you need. He assails us with Latin swing music, and keeps pressing chihuahuas onto Jimmy Durante. This business was apparently judged to be a suitable delaying tactic by the suits at MGM, and it does pass the time in a desultory sort of way that is yet not as desultory as watching Peter Lawford drily articulate his yearning.

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The main entertainment is actually provided by little Kathryn Beaumont as an English child actor. She was the voice of Alice and Wendy for Disney. She’s supposed to play the young Esther in a movie, but Durante declares she’s too English. “But mother,” asks Kathryn, “How is it possible to be too English?”

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If ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU never gets started, the clumsily titled THRILL OF A ROMANCE gets started immediately, then smashes to a halt and expires in Yosemite Park. Esther is wooed and wed by the oddly creepy Carleton G. Young, who is not the same guy who says “Print the legend” in LIBERTY VALANCE. Something has been added — the letter G. Admittedly, this character is a sort of schnook set up to make Van Johnson look more marriagable (the plot ends in bigamy, a surprising recurring feature of Esther vehicles). And admittedly this is wartime, so all the proper leading men are in the army. Some casting director must have cried, “Get me a young Carleton Young!”

This 4F weirdball picks Esther up after seeing her dive, and gets her address from a naked Mexican boy he romances. But when the boy, still undressed, turns up at the wedding, Carleton is displeased. I was seriously expecting this to go in some kind of weird NAKED KISS direction.

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Without any narrative momentum among the redwoods, the film reaches not for Xavier Cugat but for opera singer Lauritz Melchior, who satisfies Louis B. Mayer’s demand for classical music to lend class to his pictures, while also allowing a lot of fat guy jokes. I wondered allowed if the Danish tenor was related to Ib Melchior of REPTILICUS! and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES fame. “Not everyone in Denmark is related,” admonished Fiona. “Everyone called Melchior is related,” I admonished back.

And it turns out the ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS guys is indeed the son of the fat singer.

“This opera singer has some comedy chops,” says Fiona, part way through. And then, “Ib Melchior’s dad was really the whole show in that film.”

Yes, I agree, it was all Melchior all the time. It couldn’t BE any Melchior.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Marion of the Movies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2013 by dcairns

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Round at Marvelous Mary’s for steak pie, and sought to follow-up our previous screening of Clarence Brown’s THE SIGNAL TOWER with something more modern. We tried my disc of THE PALM BEACH STORY, but because Mary’s TV is stone age, the DVD player has to be connected to the TV through a VCR, and that set off the disc’s anti-piracy thingamajig, rendering the image unviewable. So we’ll have to have Mary round here to see it.

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No copy protection on SHOW PEOPLE, however. King Vidor’s comedy about going Hollywood is pretty simplistic compared to the elevated joys of Preston Sturges, but it’s truly charming. Stuffed full of guest stars, of whom we recognized John Gilbert and Charlie Chaplin (because they’re named) and Doug Fairbanks, William S. Hart and King himself. Oh, and Marion Davies as Peggy Pepper gets to glimpse Marion Davies As Herself, which takes the celebrity cameo gag to a whole new level. But as you can see, there’s a lot more I should have recognized.

Leading man Billy Haynes is a convincing boy-next-door, and the whole thing spoofs Gloria Swanson pretty heartily — Davies does a killer Swanson imitation whenever she’s acting stuck up. Vidor’s visual style is tamped down, but his compositions are very crisp as always, which helps the comedy.

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The purist in me notes that despite spoofing that part of Swanson’s career when she was a reluctant participant in Keystone comedies, the movie is one of those late silent era films which gets most of its laughs with the aid of intertitles. In a way, the silents were already straining towards talk. Slapstick is celebrated in a way that’s already nostalgic, for its simple sincerity rather than the skill of the participants. A wind of change is already rustling the stage scenery…

Insert Marion Davies boilerplate here — better at comedy, more talented than her CITIZEN KANE counterpart, etc. We recently watched BLONDIE OF THE FOLLIES (1932), a backstage melodrama notable mainly for the understated perfs director Edmund Goulding obtains from such masters of schtick as James Gleason and Zasu Pitts. (Perhaps Goulding was making up for the same year’s GRAND HOTEL, upon which nobody could possibly have imposed a unity of dramatic style.)  Davies herself is very fine in it. This had me in suspense as to how the movie would digest its Jimmy Durante cameo, since Durante underplaying was something I have trouble picturing. In the event, he explodes into the movie in full schnozz mode, and only the fact that he’s performing at a party prevents this explosion of vaudevillainy from tearing the film out of its sprockets.

Night of the Long Schnozz

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on May 30, 2012 by dcairns

In BOSKO’S PICTURE SHOW, we get to see an entire 1933 cinema programme, including wurlitzer sing-a-long, newsreel, short subject and feature, condensed into a single cartoon. We also get a particularly startling gag in that fake newsreel. After an intertitle announcing that a famous screen heartthrob is taking a European vacation, we cut to this image —

Jimmy Durante: “Am I mortified! Am I mortified!”

The joke is as funny as cancer, but since this is Warner Brothers we can at least be sure it comes from a warm place.

It all hang from Durante’s nose — let’s see if we can unpick it, if you’ll forgive the expression. The first assumption (and all jokes are based upon shared assumptions, often in the form of stereotypes) is that Jimmy Durante has a big nose, and some Jewish people have big noses, therefor J.D. might be taken for a Jew (he was Italian-American and Catholic). This means that if Jimmy Durante went to Nazi Germany, he would be in danger of being personally murdered by Hitler. Hilarious!

While the idea of laughing at this stuff seems ghastly now, Warners probably deserve points for talking about this stuff so early, even if they’re not doing it in a way that treats the subject with the seriousness it deserves.