Archive for MGM

Rashomon Amour

Posted in Dance, Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2018 by dcairns

Fiona was VERY taken with Kay Kendall’s drunk scene in LES GIRLS. I was too, but also taken aback. We’ve all learned, supposedly, to be more sensitive and thus to be a touch affronted at Hollywood’s flip treatment of alcoholism. But I find I’m rarely that bothered by Arthur Housman doing his detailed dipso routine in Laurel & Hardy films. Kendall playing a solitary drinker who gets riotously blotto a la Judith Hearne is a bit stronger. But she does play it magnificently.

Lots to enjoy in this one, even if George Cukor could never be bothered staging his own musical numbers: here he passes them to Jack Cole, so they’re in safe hands.

It’s all a meditation on the nature of truth and the elusiveness of reality, conducted by MGM. Like RASHOMON with better songs. Although not many of the numbers are that memorable — the set design makes the biggest splash when Gene Kelly pastiches Brando in THE WILD ONE.

 

It’s Kelly’s last real Hollywood musical leading man role, and already he’s somewhat sidelined: you might think making him the object of desire for three glamorous women (Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor and the more obscure Taina Elg, who is actually very good despite the Scrabble-score name — “She’s got a great LOOK!” diagnosed Fiona — some credit belongs to Orry Kelly here). The narrative emerges via three competing testimonies in a libel case, which ought by rights to be delivered by les girls, but Kelly still had enough clout to elbow Gaynor out the way and deliver the denouement himself.

A sexy masterstroke by the naughty Orry — backless dresses that manage to make perfectly decent leggings look as rude as bare bottoms ~

The story is by Vera Caspary of LAURA fame, who must deserve some of the credit for the waspish dialogue. Brandishing a placard at us declaring WHAT IS TRUTH?, the  movie can seem at times too impressed with its own cleverness — a religious sandwich-board would be unlikely to quote Pontius Pilate, methinks — but it’s tastefully lavish, oddball and hugely entertaining, which is what we wanted over the festive period.

Last Christmas Fiona had acute depression, anxiety, horrible medication side-effects, and we both had flu and chronic insomnia and the cat was dying. This year Fiona only broke her ankle slightly so it can be considered a great improvement.

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Festive Cheer

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 18, 2017 by dcairns

New, big, special limited edition Blu-Ray of Billy Wilder’s THE APARTMENT from Arrow. Very proud and pleased to have contributed a video essay, The Flawed Couple, dealing with Wilder’s work with Jack Lemmon, which is included as part of the bulging bag of extras, along with a hardback booklet featuring pieces by Neil Sinyard, Kat Ellinger and Travis Crawford & Heather Hyche, commentaries from Bruce Block and Philip Kemp, interviews with Wilder, Hope Holiday, a video appreciation by Kemp, a making-of featurette, a Jack Lemmon profile, and the screenplay as a BD-ROM attachment.

MGM’s lawyers were kind of a nightmare to deal with on this one (that’s a legal term, I believe) which is why the Billy Wilder ABC that Stephen C. Horne and I put together could not be included, but maybe it’ll show up separately. The strange thing was, having to talk about Wilder’s other films with Lemmon without being able to show them, and sometimes without even being able to show stills, forced us to be creative. At one point we found ourselves trying to illustrate an anecdote about Cecil B. DeMille’s KING OF KINGS using only footage from THE APARTMENT. It worked out quite well, I think. You can judge for yourselves by buying a copy…

Here.

Maybe there’s an algorithm describing how working within constraints can enhance your creativity up to a point, until suddenly a balance is tipped and it doesn’t. (I once described writing for kids’ TV — supervised by anxious bosses — as like juggling in a strait-jacket.) This one got to just about Prime Restraint Level, so the results are grand.

I’ve done quite a bit on Wilder now — there are also text essays on THE LOST WEEKEND and FEDORA for Masters of Cinema. Collect ’em all!

 

The Thin Red Lion

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on November 23, 2017 by dcairns

Sometimes you need entertainment that CHALLENGES you. So we looked at FEARLESS FAGAN, a Stanley Donen lion comedy. Scripted by Charlie Lederer, so there are some good lions lines, but unfortunately they’re mostly in the introductory voice-over.

This is Fagan.

These are his teeth.

This is Fagan’s master, Floyd.

These are his teeth.

I guess the movie should really be termed a service comedy, since that’s a bigger sub-genre than lion comedy, and our hero does get drafted (Floyd, not Fagan). The story is about the serviceman trying to find a home for Fagan while he’s serving his country.

Janet Leigh is the leading lady, and sings the film’s only song, so technically you might have to screen this lion comedy if putting together a complete retrospective of Stanley Donen’s MGM musicals. But since you’d also have to program DEEP IN MY HEART, I don’t see what you’re looking so concerned about.

This is Janet. These are her… oh, never mind.

Floyd is played by Carleton Carpenter, who’s quite winning, but not somebody we’d heard of. There are two possibilities: Donen went down the list of MGM stars and they all, to a man, took suspension rather than make a movie where they have to wrestle a full-grown lion on screen, until he got to an unknown contract player with nothing to lose; or, Donen simply chose the studio’s least valuable actor, one they didn’t mind too much getting eaten.

Carleton didn’t get eaten! But then he pretty much went back into obscurity, which was mean of Fate or somebody.

Although the good jokes are at the start, the emotion is at the end, where it belongs — we shed a tear, collectively.