Archive for Preston Sturges

Paramount Unimportance

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2019 by dcairns

The title PARAMOUNT ON PARADE was taken.

Watching STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM because it’s an Alan Ladd – Veronica Lake movie is a bad idea — they share no scenes, aren’t in the good bits, and don’t really do the things we like to see them do. It’s moderately good fun to see Lake spoof her image in the Sweater, Sarong & Peekaboo Bang number along with Paulette Goddard (?) and Dorothy Lamour, none of whom can sing terribly pleasingly, and it’s, well, strange to see Ladd take part in a pointless, desultory little sketch set in an expressionist pool hall. But then, none of the sketches in the film is any damn good.

Some of the musical numbers are pretty fine, though —

Stick with this one! It’s all about the Golden Gate Quartette (sic).

There is actually a plot, though the movie is forced to suspend it for large swathes of its runtime. It gets us from one musical sequence to another, shoehorns in a bunch of cameos, and the best of these, for both film-historical and entertainment reasons, are those of C.B. DeMille and Preston Sturges. Sturges does a great trip as he angrily exits a screening room. Not quite up to William Demarest standards, but very funny, especially for his furious look right at the camera department.

George Marshall directs, but it’s no BLUE DAHLIA.

Advertisements

Lubitsch’s Final Touch

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2017 by dcairns

Ernst Lubitsch had a sensational end run, with TO BE OR NOT TO BE, HEAVEN CAN WAIT and the less celebrated but easily equal CLUNY BROWN. Before those three is the less stellar THAT UNCERTAIN FEELING, but then you have THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and NINOTCHKA. The only blots on this celluloid landscape are the Preminger intrusions, A ROYAL SCANDAL, produced and heavily supervised by Lubitsch, and THAT LADY IN ERMINE which Lubitsch began but died before finishing, with Otto Preminger stepping in to complete, uncredited.

A ROYAL SCANDAL isn’t all that bad, and it does have a wonderful moment where William Eythe (of Who the hell is William Eythe? fame) steps out of a tight two-shot with Tallulah Bankhead, paces the room, distracted, and is then surprised to have himself wind up back in a tight two-shot with Tallulah Bankhead, who has nipped round the back of the camera, unseen, and positioned herself in his path. A witty, self-conscious and wonderfully silly use of screen space.

THAT LADY IN ERMINE doesn’t have the benefit of a live Lubitsch to watch over its late production and post-production, and so it’s a lot more uneven. Still, it’s not exactly terrible. Preminger’s broad, ham-fisted approach to comedy (see SKIDOO and Vincent Price’s delicious line, “Otto had the sense of humour of a guillotine,”) pushes through the smooth understatement of Samson Rafaelson’s script, to create a giddy sense of goofiness that doesn’t feel under anybody’s control.

Hard to know if that script would have played markedly better under Lubitsch’s baton, because there’s a prevailing sense of derangement. The movie is a kind of operetta, with a few songs (by Frederick Hollander, so not bad, but not his best) and a Ruritanian setting. So it’s harkening back to Ernst’s early 30s Chevalier productions at Paramount. But, as they say, something new has been added, or several somethings.

First, Technicolor™! While it’s true that the colour in HEAVEN CAN WAIT is a little ugly and adds an unwanted heaviness to the proceedings (20th Century Fox tended to pump up the chroma to almost Goldwynesque levels of vulgar intensity), it really can’t harm such a surefooted and charming work, any more than the sexism and the contortions to get around the censor can. Here, with less ideal circumstances, the colour does hurt, even though it’s cinematographer Leon Shamroy’s trademark golden honey light and cobalt blue shadows, which I usually like. ladled over fairytale kingdoms and dream sequences and Hungarians, it gets a tad gooey.

Then there’s the cast. Lubistch had a genius for getting adept light comedy perfs out of unlikely thesps. Preminger didn’t. Lubitsch knew he could coast along on the sheer surprise of Gary Cooper being funny, and Jack Benny being dramatic (and funny). Here we have Betty Grable, who’s sometimes funny, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who can play anything, but can’t BE a husky Hungarian warlord. Preminger has good fun with his fatuousness, which Lubitsch might have tamped down. Further down the list, Reginald Gardner returns from CLUNY BROWN as milquetoast cuckold #1, and Cesar Romero plays milquetoast cuckold #2 a little uncertainly, as if he’s not quite sure why his character’s meant to be funny. His presence along with Grable’s recalls Preston Sturges’ THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND, another late film, the following year, where “Butch” is even more miscast. Fox films had this problem a lot, it seems to me — the contract players got shoehorned into movies they weren’t suited to. Walter Abel is a skilled farceur, and some of the weird innuendo is pleasing — there’s a sense of a sado-masochistic thing going on between Abel and Fairbanks, his superior officer, which is amusing. Plus, gratuitous Harry Davenport.

Betty sings, several times, a song with the lyric “What I’ll do to that wild Hungarian,” and Lubitsch seems very pleased indeed with his double entendre and with his use of the word “Hungarian” as a kind of all-purpose punchline. Or maybe it’s Preminger’s cackles we seem to hear.

A few gruesome cartoony sound effects showcase Otto’s leering comedy style, but mostly the problem is a subtler one of feeling, a sense that nothing is quite right. The story involves not only the fantasy of musical numbers and mythical realms, but paintings coming to life at midnight and a long flashback and a couple of long dream sequences. Double voodoo, and triple voodoo. And the feeling, as with yet another, but far better Sturges late film, UNFAITHFULY YOURS, that if so much of the movie is dream sequences, what’s left for us to take away rom it? (I never felt this really answered the question of what’s wrong with the often-brilliant UNFAITHFULLY, but it was Sturges’ own pet theory.)

Still, as a vaguely Christmassy (at the end) romance about marriage and dreams and fidelity, maybe you could double-bill it with EYES WIDE SHUT (also completed after it’s auteur’s demise, though at least shooting was finished) for a nice festive Fever-Dream Double Feature?

Hopalonging

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 15, 2017 by dcairns

“If you pandered to the public you’d still be living in the horse age.”

“You think we’re not? Look at Hopalong Cassidy.”

“YOU look at him.”

You probably know this one, if I know you. SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS. Joel McCrea (centre) is arguing with his bosses about the new picture he wants to make, O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? He has the first line and last line quoted, and Porter Hall (right) has the middle one.

The OTHER producer (left) is Robert Warwick, pictured below IN a Hopalong Cassidy picture. Sturges was hving a laugh, as was not unusual for him.

Ad you may have noticed, I’ve been watching a lot of trailers lately, otherwise I might never have discovered this in-jokery. I’ve never seen a Hopalong cassidy film (though I’ve seen a couple starring William Boyd, who played him). My dad, as an excited schoolboy, got to MEET Hopalong.

Warwick had an interesting life. Apart from being in the first HOPALONG CASSIDY, he had been a silent film star and for-real ran his own distribution company. As a jobbing actor in talkies, he would do literal walk-ons for Sturges as well as playing more substantial roles. In NIGHT LIFE OF THE GODS he plays Neptune in a toga and we discover that, My God, Robert Warwick is Really Buff.