Frank Tashlin double-feature

I started reading the BFI’s excellent, thorough book on Frank Tashlin, and realized I’ve hardly seen any of his movies. Here’s a quick remedy.


Susan Slept Here (1954)

A screenwriter with an oscar-winning career of “light, frothy comedies” wants to make a more serious picture, needs a dose of hard, cold reality (with the help of a girl who’s too young for him) to gain inspiration for his writing.

But enough about Sullivan’s Travels!

Dreamy teen Debbie Reynolds was actually 21:
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TCM notes that it “has the distinction of being the only film in history narrated by an Academy Award,” as the fictional screenwriter’s oscar presents the story in a framing device which doesn’t quite work besides providing some Tashlinesque self-reflexivity. Lead actor Dick Powell (selected by studio head Howard Hughes “after his first choice Robert Mitchum declined”) in his final film, retaining none of the energy he displayed in Christmas In July, is our author and Debbie Reynolds of Singin’ in the Rain, providing plenty enough energy for the both of them, is the girl. How they end up together is too stupid to relay in detail – friendly cops leave her with Dick over Christmas, they reluctantly bond, he marries her to keep her from being sent to a foster home (she’s 17) then leaves town to write his screenplay, comes home to annul their marriage but she decides to keep him and he’s not hard to convince.

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The whole situation aims to be risque, but comes off a bit icky. It’s still a fun movie, a bit awkward but light enough to write off any ickyness or awkwardness at the end, tell myself “gee, that was nice”, then forget most of it a week later.

Dick Powell doesn’t quite work in close-up:
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Anne Francis (Blackboard Jungle, Bad Day at Black Rock), seen below as the threatening spider-lady of Debbie’s dreams, is Dick’s girlfriend, who leaves him over some misunderstandings over Dick and Debbie (or are they understandings since those two end up together?).
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Alvy Moore (later one of the underground crazies in A Boy And His Dog) is perfect as Dick’s boy-wonder, a kiss-up assistant who tries to stay out of the sexual escapades.
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Glenda Farrell (of Little Caesar and star of the 1930’s Torchy Blane series), a Thelma Ritter type (Thelma was busy on Rear Window this year), is Dick’s drunken typist. Glenda and Alvy make the movie worth watching.
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Everyone notes the Red Skelton guest appearance. I’ll dutifully note it too, though I don’t know who Red Skelton is.

Noel Simsolo:

The key note is elegance. Frank Tashlin uses smooth camera moves, rigorous composition and classical editing to make a scabrous play and an already completed script even more subversive, lodging his directorial presence in a physical and moral space not of his own making. … As in the rest of Tashlin’s oeuvre, Susan Slept Here shows an immature character intruding into, and at first wanting to destroy, a closed adult world. … Tashlin then shows the way in which the character appropriates the space, and concludes with their desire to be integrated into it.


Hollywood Or Bust (1956)

Jean-Luc Godard wrote a glowing review of this when it came out, identifying Tashlin as an auteur whose style would be world-recognized in the future. This only came true among hardcore cinephiles, unfortunately.

This final Martin & Lewis picture doesn’t hold a candle to Artists and Models, but I still thought it was surprisingly good, especially considering the two leads were reportedly not speaking to each other anymore. Tashlin, right before his two terrific Jayne Mansfield movies, keeps things bouncing along quickly enough that there’s no time for a bitter showdown.

a plug for the widescreen process… Tashlin was into drawing attention to his color or aspect ratios, and congratulating his audience for leaving their couches and televisions to attend his pictures:
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Dean scams a winning ticket for a car raffle (by getting duplicates of every ticket) in order to either sell the car and pay his bookie, or skip town and avoid his bookie – it’s supposed to be the former, but sometimes it seems like the latter. But Jerry has the legitimate winning ticket, so they share the car, and Dean reluctantly shares Jerry’s dream of driving to Hollywood and meeting dream girl Anita Ekberg (of The Alphabet Murders, French Sex Murders, Killer Nun).

Jerry pushes the old oil-rig-in-a-hat bit:
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Complications ensue. Pat Crowley (the young latina girl in Red Garters) gives them a ride when their car is stolen (later recovered) then they give her a ride when hers is destroyed. Jerry’s dog threatens Dean when he tries to make off with the car. Jerry finds Anita but pushes her into a pool. After a nice cartoony soundstage chase, Jerry’s dog is cast to costar with Anita, everyone attends the premiere, and I can’t remember if the bookie thing works itself out but I suppose it does.

Dean’s seduction method of choice (see also: Artists and Models) is blatant sexual harassment:
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I thought Dean’s line “I’d have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that hound of yours” was a Scooby Doo reference until I realized Scooby was still a decade away from being created. Maybe Scooby was referencing Hollywood Or Bust, then!

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Anita (left) and Pat:
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David Ehrenstein:

Having just examined America’s obsession with comic books in Artists and Models, and poised to assault the world of rock ‘n’ roll in his next film The Girl Can’t Help It, Hollywood or Bust finds Tashlin in a relaxed, easy going mood. Hollywood may figure in the title – or more precisely the credit sequence, where Anita poses like a living statue before various Hollywood tourist sites – but the film isn’t about the world of movie making in any straightforward Rear Window way. Rather, through the figures of Dean and Jerry, Tashlin explores an American psyche populated by Hollywood imagery, particularly images of women. Images being static entities, it is therefore appropriate that the trip to Hollywood supposedly depicted in this early entry in the “road movie” sub-genre isn’t a real trip at all. Dean and Jerry’s adventures begin and end on a Hollywood sound stage as every artificial set, painted backdrop and second unit photographed exterior of the film makes clear. … The sets of Hollywood or Bust represent nothing other than movie sets.

Howard Hawks double-feature

Still not so sure I understand the auteur-stamp of Howard Hawks (some characteristics of which were discussed after watching His Girl Friday). But gosh does he make entertaining movies. Both of these built up tension and excitement, then came up with improbably happy endings for our heroes.

To Have and Have Not (1944)

A few years after His Girl Friday, same year as Wilder’s Double Indemnity. Novel by Hemingway, adapted by Faulkner – that’s some writing credentials. Bogart, so soon after Casablanca, is again trying to stay coolly neutral in a tense city occupied by wartime Vichy France (Martinique this time), falling for a girl who’s trying to skip town. This time the girl is smoky, deep-voiced Lauren Bacall (her first movie) and Bogie’s drunk friend and partner in his fishing boat business is triple oscar-winner Walter Brennan of Lang’s Fury & Hangmen Also Die. Clearly a great character actor, Brennan spiced up both movies considerably.

Bogie has been taking an obnoxious customer out fishing all week, catches Lauren picking the guy’s pocket before Bogie has been paid, but all is forgiven when guy catches a stray bullet during a police raid at their favorite hangout bar (a secret meeting place for the anti-Vichy free French underground). Now broke with no customer, Bogie takes a job ferrying a French couple in his boat, then helping the guy when he gets his stupid self shot. Suspecting Bogie’s involvement, the nazi collaborators hold Eddie (that’s Walter Brennan) hostage and refuse him alcohol until Bogie gives up the hostages. This is the point when I decided the movie is not trying to be grimly realistic. I hadn’t felt any sense of danger or suspense so far, not even when the boat was shot at, and now this kidnapping has hardly begun when Bogie shoots a guy through his desk, turns the tables on the baddies and escapes with the girl. He’s sort of an untouchable superhero version of his Casablanca character, and he’s got a sexier, younger and more independent woman.

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Bacall sings with Hoagy Carmichael in the “Sam” role. Hoagy wrote “Georgia On My Mind” (for real, not in this movie).
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Frenchy – the clockwork-loving party host of Rules of the Game – works the hotel bar and helps protect and organize the resistance.
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Johnson, Bogie’s customer, is rear-projection fishing. Looks like fun – and it’s six decades before the Nintendo Wii was invented.
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Walter Brennan manages to be a funny drunk without being a typical W.C. Fields-ish classic Hollywood drunk. In fact, he’s the most believable guy in the movie.
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Rio Bravo (1959)

I guess I’m spoiled, since the only westerns I’ve watched in five years are this one, The Searchers, and those Budd B. pics from last week – none of the standard-quality workman stuff which everyone watching this in ’59 would’ve seen, nor the 50’s hits this was supposedly reacting against (3:10 to Yuma and High Noon). The Searchers had a darker edge to it, while this one has a giddy, explosive shootout ending in which the heroes are hardly in any danger, just a buncha bonkers western fun. Wasn’t expecting that.

One of the last films by Hawks, less prolific in his old age. Six years after Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, same year as The Crimson Kimono, North By Northwest and Ride Lonesome. Apparently his beef with High Noon was that the sheriff runs around town asking everybody for help. Hawks and Wayne thought that wasn’t right, and wrote themselves a less wussy lawman, someone who’ll take on a hundred men if he has to, and won’t even accept help from most people, let alone ask for it.

I liked this movie even better than the other. Wayne, wearing a series of colorful shirts, arrests the brother of a real badass for killing a guy in a drunken brawl, with the help of disgraced, drunken former deputy Dean Martin (best acting I’ve ever seen from him). A few years after Artists & Models, Dean had blown off Jerry Lewis and gone serious – but Ocean’s Eleven was just a year away, probably put a small dent in his perceived seriousness. Ol’ Walter Brennan from the other movie is a wacky deputy who minds the jail. Walter’s the life of the party, as usual.

Dean checks out Walter’s John Wayne impression:
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Now Joe’s in jail and every bad dude in town is angry about it. The stage rolls into town carrying Wayne’s old buddy Ward Bond (a John Ford regular), hot chick Angie Dickinson (China Gate, Point Blank, elevator victim in Dressed To Kill) and quickdraw Ricky Nelson (teen idol and TV star). Ward offers to help, Wayne turns him down but a few hours later Ward is shot anyway.

The late Ward, and Wayne who has a colorful shirt for every occasion:
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Ricky and Angie:
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Eventully badass Burdette (John Russell of The Sun Shines Bright) shows up to help his brother (Claude Akins of The Killers, Merrill’s Marauders). Plans to raid the jail are derailed when they hear Walter will happily blow away the brother if anyone tries anything.

L-R: Walter, a jailed brother, a badass
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Action! Dean is kidnapped, Helpful hotel owner Carlos and his wife are kidnapped, shootouts on the street and in the hotel, Walter Brennan gets to use that shotgun, Ricky and Dean each sing us a song, movie ends with a suspenseless comic scene, our heroes all tossing dynamite at the building where Burdette has holed up, shooting and laughing – not the kind of grim, fateful finale you usually get in a violent western. So right, I don’t know what kind of Hawksian analysis the critics apply to scientifically prove this film’s greatness, but I sure thought it was a tootin’ good time.

Artists and Models (1955, Frank Tashlin)

1955 must’ve been a fun year to be at the movies, a heyday of widescreen and color in Moonfleet, Rebel Without a Cause, Lola Montes and even This Island Earth. This one looked great even on my portable player. Watched it about one and a half times, and would watch it again – full of bright color and good jokes and completely forgettable songs (sorry, Dean) and good characters (except for Dean, sorry Dean).

Jerry plays a grown adolescent (big surprise) addled by his addiction to comic books, and Dean is his friend/roommate trying to break into the art world. Dean’s an okay artist but also a ladies’ man in the creepiest, most stalkerish way, and the object of his lusty affection is successful (until she gets fired halfway through) comic artist Dorothy Malone (one year before she stunned in Written on the Wind). Dorothy’s Batgirl model, less hollywood-attractive but with a much cuter smile, is Shirley MacLaine (whose film debut was just one month prior in Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry). It’s complicated, but Dean lands a job for Dorothy’s ex-boss drawing super-violent action comics written by Jerry in his sleep (he dreams aloud) the same day Jerry attends a panel as a witness against comics as a corruptive influence on young minds, while Dean tries to get Dorothy as hard as Shirley tries to get Jerry (via an awful music sequence, the low point of the movie). Then totally out of left field, spies and government agents are after Jerry, and the plot gets so mad that I already don’t remember how it’s ties up, except that Dorothy & Jerry give in to their stalker partners and fall into last-minute “love” (a la Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby) and get married, all in a single few-second shot, the movie’s way of saying “WHEW!”

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Cameo by George Foghorn Winslow, the kid from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, nine years old and already halfway through his Hollywood career. I didn’t recognize Jack Elam (I keep doing that… gotta notice him next time I watch Kiss Me Deadly to see what he looked like in the 50’s). Eddie Mayehoff was wonderful as semi-hysterical Mr. Murdock, the somewhat pathetic boss at the comics company with no creative drive or ideas of his own – he appeared in a few other Martin & Lewis movies but sadly not anywhere else. I love how Dean and Jerry take turns doing impressions of his character.

Eddie Mayehoff:
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Tash made this a couple years after Son of Paleface with Bob Hope, and a couple years before Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?. I think this was the second to last Lewis/Martin flick – a few years later Dean would be starring in Rio Bravo and Jerry would get into directing with The Bellboy.

So this has got narratives written by dreams, the struggle to be an artist in a corporate world, an appreciation and condemnation of comics, government cold-war idiocy, and more attacks on television (after seeing this and Rock Hunter I think TV is a favorite punching bag of Tashlin’s). TV had already been mentioned as the downfall of the comic industry when this scene came along (right after Dean’s so-glad-to-be-employed song) with Jerry testifying against comics from inside a television (color, no less) while Dean discovers the futility of arguing with TV:
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The writers have some more fun with comics when Jerry’s love life takes an super/spider-man angle, as he’s in love with Batgirl but not her real-life “secret identity” Shirley MacLaine. Also some terrific bits with mirrors and frames and distortions. Jerry gets to sing most of a song, and in the other room Dean takes off his shirt and pants and sings to himself in the mirror (maybe this was to stall walkouts of female Dean fans who did not come to hear Jerry do the singing). But when Dean’s mirror image starts singing harmonies and looking back at himself in an unwholesome way, Dean splits. The music starts out okay and gets worse – sorry, songwriters Jack Brooks and Harry Warren (“That’s Amore”, “I Only Have Eyes For You”, “We’re in the Money”).

Rosenbaum says: “Five cowriters are credited along with Tashlin, but the stylistic exuberance is seamless, and this film eventually wound up providing the inspirational spark for Jacques Rivetteā€™s late, great New Wave extravaganza Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)”

Weird 1950’s Thing I Noticed: the want ads are divided into men’s jobs and women’s jobs. Suppose there was a separate page for negro jobs? More likely a whole separate newspaper.

The annual Artists & Models Ball. I’m guessing the kids at SCAD have parties like this all the time.
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Dean being creepy over Dorothy:
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Cover your ears, Shirley’s gonna sing:
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Jerry tries being a model:
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You’re Never Too Young (1955, Norman Taurog)

“Dig that crazy homework.”

I appreciate that none of Lewis’s movies have even vaguely believable plots. Plausibility is an unnecessary weight on the shoulders of comedy. This one has Jerry playing an aspiring barber in a fancy hotel who gets caught up in a jewel-heist plot along with haircut customer Dean and Dean’s girl Nancy (both teachers at a girls school in a distant town). Jerry mugs an oversized 11-year-old and steals his sailor outfit in order to get a half-price ticket home, but hiding out from the gun-toting jewel thief he bunks with Nancy. Once discovered, he has to keep pretending to be 11 so Nancy won’t be exposed for having a man in her private room. Of course he falls in love with her (and has to fight off teenage girls at the school), but Nancy still marries Dean, awww.

Besides playing the romantic straight-man, Dean sings five dreamy but unmemorable songs. I always think it must be hard to be the woman in those scenes, having to smile through a whole song without attracting attention away from Dean or looking too vacant.

Remake of Ginger Rogers/Ray Milland-starring Billy Wilder-directed The Major and The Minor, in which it’s the girl pretending to be a kid. Hmmm, it’s on TCM tonight. Bosley Crowther’s original New York Times review calls Lewis “noisy and ungraceful” and says the film is “on a mental level that will not demand an exertion from anyone.” Thankfully, Crowther didn’t live to see Neil Marshall’s Doomsday, but yeah, nobody would call You’re Never Too Young challenging. I just found it a cute comedy with Lewis actually at his most likeable and everyone else (Dean included) pleasant enough to watch without adding anything very distinctive.

Good DVD quality. I put this on while paying bills, expecting it to be the lesser of the Artists & Models double-feature disc, so I didn’t pay strict attention but it gradually roped me in. Perfectly fine cinematography by Daniel Fapp (Lord Love a Duck, Let’s Make Love, West Side Story) and direction by Taurog (everything from Andy Gump for President in 1924 to Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine in 1965). Written by Sidney Sheldon, screenwriter of Anything Goes and creator of I Dream of Jeannie. IMDB says his family can expect a big royalty check in 2010.

Look at these two. Hard to believe they were involved in a sinister bisexual mafia prostitute murder conspiracy. Oh wait, they weren’t… that was an Atom Egoyan movie.
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Dean’s girl Nancy was Diana Lynn, the youngest brother’s girlfriend Gwen in Track of the Cat, went straight to television after this and died of a stroke sixteen years later.image

Nancy’s uptight co-teacher (not pictured here, since I haven’t forgiven her for being a nosy, moralistic tattletale) is Nina Foch of a buncha period films like Spartacus, The Ten Commandments and Scaramouche.

Not the first time that American Hans Conried (left) played a Frenchman named Francois – and he was also Dr. T in The 5,000 Fingers.
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The very sinister Raymond Burr (center), fresh from playing the bad guy in Rear Window, is the jewel thief. Veda Ann Borg (left), vamped as the thief’s wife in this scene. Besides having a very awesome name, she costarred in the 1940 serial The Shadow and appeared in Guys & Dolls and Mildred Pierce.
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Orpheus! Don’t look back!
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Appropriate that in the water-skiing stunt-double chase scene, Lewis says “I don’t know how to do this!” against a rear-projection screen. It’s a great comic action scene, but I preferred the music performance that preceded it, with Jerry as conductor of Dean and the women’s choir. Similar to a section near the beginning when Jerry leads the girls at a march, only now instead of aping his spastic movements, they vocalize them.

All the “young high school kids” look to be in their twenties. IMDB says they were indeed. Gags involve a milk-shooting water gun, eating cigars, drinking disgusting liquids, falling into a swan pond, and other slapstick stunts, but it’s not over-the-top physical comedy. Or maybe in this post-Dumb and Dumber America, Jerry Lewis humor seems subtle. One of the gags, when Jerry pretends to be a gangster towards the end to escape the school, is referencing 1940’s William Castle movie series The Whistler. Weird how the happy ending involves the girl being left alone as Martin goes back on active army duty, which he’s been hoping to do all movie long. It’s the anti-Stop-Loss.

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