Archive for MGM

Having a Ball

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , on June 9, 2015 by dcairns

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Taking the magic out of Cinderella is a risky stratagem, like taking the songs out of a musical — the Leslie Caron vehicle THE GLASS SLIPPER does both, which accounts perhaps for its minor status in the MGM canon. I can’t help thinking that when building films around Caron — an actress and dancer but not a singer — the studio might have compensated for her vocal lack by surrounding her with singers, or dubbing her (but how to mimic that wondrous, unpredictable delivery?). Musicals without songs like this and LILI are strange animals — and how much actual ballet does the movie audience want, even with a talented director of musicals like Charles Walters running the show?

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If it doesn’t have songs or magic — for some reason, somebody thought a more naturalistic version of the Cinderella story was the way to go, even if it still looks as fanciful as any other MGM musical– it at least has charm. Caron makes sure of that, something to do with the way she can be gauche and elegant, vulnerable and belligerent, innocent and sophisticated, all at once. Michael Wilding, as “Prince Charles,” was always going to seem a little insipid by comparison — if he gets the girl, she’s going to make a dessicated husk out of him in one night, the vivacious minx — but he has a sweetness that always makes me want to put up with him and maybe slap him on the back and buck him up. And Estelle Winwood is a fantastic idea as the fairy godmother, here transmuted into an eccentric recluse who takes a shine to Ella. Huge eyes practically spilling out the sides of her head.

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None of this, and Elsa Lanchester as evil stepmother too, would be quite enough if Helen Deutsch, screenwriter, hadn’t turned the scenario at least partway into a feminist fable, with an acerbic narration spoken by Walter Pidgeon and some terrific dialogue for Winwood which disguise sound sense as madness.

“All women must endure these discomforts,” says Winwood of the agony of wearing glass shoes, “For fashion. It fascinates men; makes them marvel at women; fills them with Awe — because they know they couldn’t stand it.” It’s not quite a radical sentiment, but it comes at traditional gender roles from a non-traditional angle, which opens up the ability to question things. And for 50s MGM, that’s something.

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Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2015 by dcairns

Okay, now this happened.

It suddenly occurred to me that subtitling Leo was the way to go, and wouldn’t be that hard. So that’s what I did. I rewrote it slightly from yesterday’s version for purposes of timing, so there are some new lines in there. Enjoy!

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More limericks, like this one on Greenstreet & Lorre

More schinkenworter (ham-words) — in which I attempt to condense movie stars of the early thirties into single compound words. It may make more sense if you just go look at it, care of The Chiseler.

 

George of the Jungle

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 13, 2015 by dcairns

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I got sparked off by this touching piece at Movie Morlocks.

The MGM lion — originally the Goldwyn lion, when embodied by a feline named Slats in 1917 — is an enduring icon of cinema. There’s something wonderfully incoherent about the image of a disembodied lion head — as if mounted on a wall, yet still conscious and roaring, accompanied by a latin motto saying “Art for Art’s Sake.” What does the lion have to do with the motto, or the motto with the lion? What does Metro Goldwyn Mayer mean? Two guy’s names and a random word? It only got better when I discovered that Goldwyn himself wasn’t part of the company, had in fact got his own company.

It’s not quite as confusing as Twentieth Century Fox — what IS a twentieth century fox and how does it differ from an earlier or later member of the canidae family?

Anyhow, MGM as a whole is not my favourite studio — Mayer’s personality comes across too much — but I love enough of their movies to get a buzz each time I see Leo, or Slats, or any of the intermediate lions. But not George. George makes me go “Aaaach, not HIM!”

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George was the MGM lion only briefly — 1956 to 1957. They obviously realized they’d miscast, and badly. His predecessor, Tanner, lasted twenty years. He existed in b&w and colour, he had a great bassoprofundo roar, and there seems no obvious reason to make a change. Maybe Tanner had “gone Hollywood” and was making unreasonable demands? A Winnebago with a giant cat flap, a saucer of milk with his name on it, and christians. Lots of christians. Or maybe MGM management, drunk on the heady wine of revolution having recently deposed one head, CEO Louis B. Mayer, determined to symbolize this triumph by ejecting another head from its logo-collar and replacing it with an upstart in their own faceless image.

It’s possible that fame went rapidly to George’s unkempt, shapeless head (the rest of him being shielded by the logo), but I think the execs got rid of him because he just wasn’t up to snuff. George’s hair, for instance. His hair is terrible. A weird, boxy-looking mane, quite unconvincing, practically filling his celluloid circle. Like Charlton Heston’s wig in leonine form. And George himself has no decorum. Previous and future incumbents would pause, looking regal, then give vent to an impressive bellow, and then relax back into a noble stance. Dignity, always dignity.

George, by contrast, just lets rip immediately, and won’t stop. He seems like he quite literally wants to chew the scenery. It’s a great big wildcat strop, a hissy fit, a coke-fuelled tantrum. “I want a sack of Kibble the size of Stubby Kaye and I want it now!” he seems to demand. A charmless approach, quite lacking nuance. He was swiftly retired to “the Cat House,” an LA ranch for retired predators (I believe Darryl F. Zanuck enjoyed a stay).

In a way, George’s vertiginous rise and fall foreshadows that of his famous namesake, Mr. Lazenby. And, as it turns out, “Lazenby” is derived from the Old Norse word “leysingr,” meaning “dishevelled or inadequate lion.”*

*Untrue.

1) “Hey, lookee, an audience! Lots of tiny people for me to munch, potentially.”

2) “What? What the heck? How did I get inside this circle? Oh, and grrr, by the way.”

3) “What is that, a tennis ball on a stick? Well why you wavin’ it around?”

4) “I can talk! Stick around folks, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet! This is my best side. Rather Barrymoresque, don’t you think? Or do you prefer three-quarters face?”

5) “Small roar. Big roar. Small roar.”

6) “My colour is fading and it’s pissing me off. Quit it. I said QUIT IT!”

7) “Me again. Still surly.”

8) “I can’t decide which of you two mugs I detest more heartily.”

9) “What do you mean, I’ve changed? I’m positively the same lion.”

10) “This is more like it. I’ve got poise, gravitas, in a word, class.”

11) “I’m GEEEEOOOORGEE! Get used to me, I plan on being around for decades.”

12) “I’m still here, you sons of bitches!”

13) “Hi, sorry about that, Normal service has been restored. I’m Leo and I’ll be your lion this evening.”

14) “Still me, but my voice has gotten deeper. Have I been dubbed, or is it all those cigars?”

15) “Deeper again. I sound like a Harrier Jump Jet taking off. How much further can this go?”

16) “YouTube can’t even handle this level of bass. All the needles are in the red at this point.”

17) “In a homage to James Finlayson, I’m going to do a little double-take at the end of this one just before they fade out. Hope you enjoy it.”

18) “That seemed to go over well, let’s make it a regular feature.”

19) “What the hell are you doing with that camera? Lock that thing off, Michael Bay, or I’ll eat your stupid face!” (does double take)

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