Archive for MGM

Robert R. Service with a Smile

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 24, 2015 by dcairns


Start as you mean to go on — the opening shot of THE SHOOTING OF DAN MCGOO.

I got out my French Tex Avery box set — the gift that keeps on giving — and we ran two toons, both based on the same Robert W. Service — DANGEROUS DAN MCFOO (Warner Bros, 1939) and THE SHOOTING OF DAN MCGOO (MGM, 1945). The former features a Droopy prototype voiced by Mel Blanc to sound almost exactly like Elmer Fudd. The latter features Droopy himself, along with the wolf and the ubiquitous Red Hot Riding Hood figure, here recast as “the lady known as Lou.” Lou in the first film is a little dog styled after Bette Davis (though I still say the voice sounds more like Katherine Hepburn, a hound of a different pedigree). In the second film, Lou has a Mae West purr and a fuller figure. Plus, she’s a human, which I find helps make her attractive, though it does raise uncomfortable questions about her exact relationship with Droopy.



In a few years, Avery’s comic style had advanced markedly, with more absurd jokes and violations of filmic reality, and also much better character design. The WB films are still trying to be cute, even though Avery’s cartoon universe has only limited, and very subversive, uses for cuteness.

Both films rely heavily on puns to take the mickey out of the serious V.O. (the exact same extracts from the poem are read in both films), but the imagery this results in is far more bizarre in the MGM film. Oddly, for a wolfie movie this is fairly restrained — his reactions to Lou’s showgirl routine, apart from the initial eye-pop (“Go ‘way, boys, you bother me,” Lou tells the hovering orbs), are just about physically possible, or anyhow they’re versions of things that are physically possible. The wolf kicks himself in the head, howls, bays like a donkey, and bites chunks out of a wooden beam. The gags in RURAL RED RIDING HOOD reach far loftier heights of insanity. My favourite here is the wolf seizing his own neck and bashing his head off the tabletop — his head and neck become a long, flapping, fapping length of semi-tumescent gristle — Freudian readings are, as ever, quite redundant with Avery.


Though a lesser work on every level, the earlier film, viewed as a sort of preliminary sketch, is fascinating, and there are some good, bizarre gags. When the referee of the impromptu boxing match between the proto-wolf and proto-Droopy investigates an allegation that the bad guy has something in his glove, he shakes lose a horseshoe, then another, then another, then an entire horse. Sort of predictable, but it does yield the delightful image of a horse emerging from a glove. Freeze frame it!


You see — nothing impossible about that at all.

The boxing match (pretty sure there isn’t one in the Service poem) naturally requires a bell to signal the rounds, so Avery naturally has a trolley-car rocket into the saloon for that purpose.


On the other hand, the remake-thing has a barroom piano player say, in Jimmy Durante voice, “What a repulsive way to make a living!” which is inexplicably the best thing ever. And it has this ~


And this ~


And this ~


The Anachronism, and how to get it

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2015 by dcairns


In Robbe-Grillet’s Czech shot early opus, THE MAN WHO LIES, the sixties look of the principle actresses seems like some kind of clever idea — the film seems to be set during WWII, some of the time, and at a non-specific time after WWII the rest of the time. Given that the comparatively youthful Jean-Louis Trintigant (ah! it was all so long ago!) claims to have been involved in said war as a resistance hero/traitor/hero, it doesn’t seem likely that the post-war part of the narrative is meant to be set in the sixties. So it seems like Robbe-Grillet is up to his usual games with time and memory and reality.

In another Czech film of the sixties, CLOSELY OBSERVED TRAINS, however, experiments with narrative do not seem to account for the wildly anachronistic appearance of the women. Bushy eyebrows, bob, no makeup, a hat that could have sat on Rita Tushingham…


Was it Marshall McLuhan who said that you cannot see an environment when you’re in it? Are we to assume that certain sixties filmmakers were unable to recognize that women had not always styled themselves in beehives and white lipstick? The hair and makeup department of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO likewise let the side down, but was David Lean, the great perfectionist, unable to spot that Julie Christie was being arrayed in a manner that suggested Carnaby Street rather than Imperial Russia?


CLOSELY OBSERVED TRAINS is an excellent film, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is at least partly an excellent film. I’m not too sure about PARTY GIRL, because I can never make it through that one. The wilful trashing of any period atmosphere in what is supposed to be a prohibition-era gangster film throws me badly (so does the cast, I admit). And director Nick Ray had lived through the era he was portraying, so it makes no sense. We could blame the studio, but then look at the rather convincing historical sense displayed in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.

I’d love to hear your favourite examples — not wristwatch-and-toga combos, just period moves where the whole feeling screams aloud the period when it was made.

Having a Ball

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


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?


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.


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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