Archive for Lillian Roth

The Rittenhouse Affair

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on March 2, 2016 by dcairns

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Otto Preminger: “Everything I know about camera blocking, I learned from ANIMAL CRACKERS. How to get the actors through a door, how to make them stand still so we can see them. How to make them go away again (yelling works for this).”

It had been an age since we’d watched ANIMAL CRACKERS, which is the most primitive Marx Bros film apart from of course THE COCONUTS, which is positively primordial. My love of Lillian Roth made me want to see this again — I became a fan back in the early days of Shadowplay, when this blog was in short trousers, so to speak, but I haven’t looked at her turn in this film in detail — my memory told me she wasn’t a very strong actress, though, and her musical number, like all the romantic numbers in Marx Bros films, was kind of a drag.

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In short, I may be the first person in eighty years to watch ANIMAL CRACKERS for Lillian Roth.

She’s not a very good actress, but she’s a very cute actress, It’s like watching a tiny child doing a school play. They say acting is reacting, in which case she does a lot of acting here, but she’s not really responding to the other actors, she’s responding, I somehow feel, to the lines in the script. It makes sense that she was a child actor — she uses a kind of artifice which would be acceptable in a kid, since we’re always a little impressed by kids acting at all, and a kid has a kind of built-in authenticity, like a dog or a very old person. We believe them, unless absolutely forced not to by the worst kind of ineptitude. We can tell they really are a child, a dog or an old person, actually performing for us.

She’s also the most improbably society girl outside of Jean Harlow in PLATINUM BLONDE, her astonishing Boston-by-way-of-everywhere vowels creating a funhouse mirror with the English language.

Her song is a dull one, and of course we don’t need relief from the comedy in a Marx Bros film, and we get plenty of it anyway, via the plot scenes. The fancy art deco set also functions as a kind of relief, since manoeuvering from one corner of it to another eats up a certain amount of screen time during which we can admire the woodwork.

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The other actors aren’t seen quite at their best. Margaret Dumont smiles too much, like she actually gets the jokes. She found more dignified ways to react later. Robert Greig, the archetypal, platonic ideal of the butler, is required to be a bit more nimble and excitable than his constitution can bear. Louis Sorin as the art expert is probably the best foil, although one appreciates Zeppo — pretty much his entire role is to be abused by Groucho, and anybody who comes in for plenty of Groucho abuse is worth having around.

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Censored lyrics —

(Mrs. Rittenhouse) You are the only white man to cover every acre.

(Spaulding) I think I’ll try and make her.

I see Hollywood is obliging us with a new film called ANIMAL CRACKERS, with Sylvester Stallone. Based on his appearance at the Oscars, he ought to make a superb Mrs. Rittenhouse.

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I Like Ike

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on December 22, 2011 by dcairns

Going into the peculiar TAKE A CHANCE I was already a big Lillian Roth fan. Coming out of it, I’m a big Ukulele Ike fan. He’d somehow passed me by until this moment, apart from his work as Jiminy Cricket. Of course, Ike (AKA Cliff Edwards) was uncredited in that, along with the rest of the voice cast (such strange, distant days those were — now, voice actors are cast not for their voices but precisely for name recognition).

But I read the name in Bob Balaban’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind Diary, since Spielberg had previewed his big UFO movie with the song at the end, to horrible reactions from the audience. Columbia stock dropped so fast they had to stop trading. The power of song…

Of course, Ike’s rendition, which is beautiful in its own right and works like a charm in the Disney, would have been fatal in Spielberg’s wide-eyed conspiracy thriller, unbalancing the thing and undoing all the credit it gets for having edgy seventies actors and cinematography, turning it into the big load of baloney it secretly wants to be but is ashamed of owning up to. Balanced on that knife-edge, it never quite becomes total kitsch, and is something I’m really quite impressed by, despite my cynicism about it.

(The live radio version heard 3.50 into the above clip is much preferable, I think, to the soupily orchestrated movie version — when vocals are as emotively quavery as these, you don’t need syrupy strings.)

Anyhow, for my reactions to TAKE A CHANCE, and for two Lillian Roth numbers and one Ukulele Ike, skip over to The Daily Notebook for the penultimate Forgotten Pre-Code.

Ain’t She Sweet?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 15, 2008 by dcairns

One of my favourite things on YouTube. Not so much for the Fleischer cartoon part, although that’s always fun. (If you could travel back in time to the 1930s, ram a telescope into the ear of a sleeping madman, and look into his dreams, THAT IS WHAT YOU WOULD SEE.)

I love Lillian Roth! When she comes on in all her live-action glory, my heart goes aflutter like a sparrow with strychnine poisoning. She has a performance style that’s all her own, and all of its era. Her “acting” in ANIMAL CRACKERS is really like a little kid playing dress-up. There’s no reality to it whatsoever, and yet it’s as sincere as can be. I also enjoy her eccentric dancing in Lubitsch’s THE LOVE PARADE, maybe the only IMPORTANT film she’s in. But the ephemeral is also part of life, and the glorious trivia of this toon should put a smile on even the deadest pan.