People like this one much more than I did… I’m losing my touch, I’m enjoying the wrong movies. I figured Minnelli plus Shirley MacLaine as an automatic good time, and throw in Frank and Dean for some buddy comedy, but everyone’s in morose drama mode, enacting a novel by James Jones and trying to replicate From Here to Eternity‘s oscar success.

The first problem is casting Frank and letting his brother be named Frank. They changed the ending of the novel, killing off Shirley instead of Sinatra, they couldn’t change a character name? Sinatra wishes the annoyingly intellectual Martha Hyer would fall for him, he shacks up with traveling gambler Dean, and finally settles for Shirley since she won’t leave.

L-R: Frank’s Brother Frank, the real Frank, Agnes and Dawn:

The silliest Hitchcock movie. The trouble is that Harry’s dead and everyone in town believes they’re responsible. First there’s old hunter Captain Edmund Gwenn (Santa in Miracle on 34th Street). He and Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick of some major John Ford movies) have just the friendliest chat over the dead body, signaling that this is not going to be a suspense film. The Beaver gets involved, and his mom Shirley MacLaine is glad Harry’s dead, then admits to having killed him. Local artist John Forsythe is hopelessly poor then suddenly rich, and meanwhile takes an interest in marrying newly widowed Shirley – and Harry is buried then exhumed over and over while this all gets sorted out. Some sound recording issues, but incredible color. The NY Times raved: “it does possess mild and mellow merriment all the way.”

Conspirators:

This was also an influence on Blow-Up:

One of the greatest forgotten comedies with the best casts ever. Shirley Maclaine is super as a long-suffering woman who wanted a simple life with true love, but all the men she married came into money and became obsessed with success, driving them to their deaths and leaving her with increasingly massive inheritance. My favorite, self-referential part: in telling her story, Maclaine imagines each of her marriages as a different style of movie.

Undercranked silent with Van Dyke:

Maclaine (just after her oscar nomination for Irma la Douce) spurns self-important department store heir Dean Martin in her hometown, instead marrying Dick Van Dyke (of Bye Bye Birdie). After some idyllic months in their crumbling shack, he finds he has a knack for salesmanship and devotes the rest of his short life to business.

Arty Foreign Film with Newman:

Next comes bohemian painter Paul Newman (character name: Larry Flint) who makes a fortune selling artworks painted by machines (and by a monkey). Then to switch things up, Robert Mitchum, who’s fabulously wealthy when he meets her and dies as soon as he attempts to retire to a simpler existence. Finally Gene Kelly, a hack café comic who becomes a star the first time she convinces him to perform without his costume and makeup.

Spendy Hollywood production with Mitchum:

All this is being told to psychiatrist Robert Cummings (Jean Arthur’s love interest in The Devil and Miss Jones) in framing story after she’s caught trying to give away her fortune to the IRS. Maclaine then finds a financially ruined Dean Martin, working as a janitor in the building, who has come to appreciate the simple life after being driven out of business by Dick Van Dyke, and it’s true love.

Musical, of course, with Kelly:

Won a well-deserved oscar for costumes (although it kinda cheated with the parade of self-consciously glamorous dresses in the Hollywood meta-film), and another for art direction, presumably for the house that Gene “Pinky” Kelly has painted entirely pink. Writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green did The Band Wagon, Singin’ in the Rain and On The Town, and Thompson had just made The Guns of Navarone and Cape Fear. Thanks to Joanna for the recommendation.

Feels a bit like The Informant!: a small-scope crime story with a nice fellow who becomes a criminal without losing our sympathy. Jack Black reigns it in, and even Shirley MacLaine, playing a crazy-mean old rich lady, doesn’t get to go gonzo, Linklater trying to keep anything from playing too Meet The Parents-broad. McConaughey arguably reigns it in too much, barely registering as himself. Katy didn’t love it, but dug the appearance of “76 Trombones”.

While everyone is pretending to count down the minutes until the academy awards (I’m not convinced that most people care as much as they let on), we’ve declared February to be TCM Essentials Month, catching up on past Essentials (and yes, oscar winners) that we’ve missed. There’s nothing more essential than The Apartment, which is on every list of great American films made since it came out. Unsurprisingly, we both loved it (much better than Avanti!, that’s for sure).

Jack Lemmon works at an insurance company where all the executives are terrible connivers, cheating on their wives with floozies and office girls they bring to Lemmon’s apartment in exchange for the promise of promotions. He does a good job fitting in, pretending to be a selfish skirt-chasing careerist himself, even outside the office with his neighbors, but ultimately he’s too nice a guy. He’s got a crush on Shirley MacLaine (doing well for herself five years after Artists & Models), a sweet elevator operator who happens to be carrying on a long-term affair with big boss Fred MacMurray (weirdly in the midst of starring in family-friendly Disney films). It all goes wrong, Shirley attempts suicide in Lemmon’s apartment, and he (with his doctor/neighbor) nurses her back to health. All very intense and dark for what’s supposed to be a comedy.

I enjoyed a small Tashlinesque attack on television, as Lemmon tries to watch Grand Hotel on TV only to be put off by the constant commercials.

TCM sez:

Billy Wilder created in The Apartment what many consider the summation of all he had done on screen up to that point. He was the master of a type of bittersweet comedy that had a sadness and a barbed commentary of modern life at its core. … With this film, he managed to make a commercially successful entertainment that, for all its laughter and romance, took a serious stab at the prevailing attitudes and way of life of a country where getting ahead in business had become the greatest measure of personal success.

Won best picture, writing and directing, all for Wilder who did it all himself, but lost the acting awards for Lemmon, MacLaine and Jack Kruschen who played the neighbor/doctor. The writing especially was pretty wonderful, my favorite dialogue of any Wilder movie so far. Also did not win for its glorious b/w widescreen cinematography, which surprised me until I found out a Jack Cardiff movie won instead.

Story by the HJNTIY team, screenplay by the creator of some show called Army Wives and directed by the dude behind The Other Sister, so there was no guarantee of quality here, but the movie safely occupies the competent, innocuous middle ground between piece-o-shit HJNTIY and surprisingly-good Love Actually. Light and predictably happy, with a cameo from Kristen Schaal of Flight of the Conchords which I enjoyed far too much compared to its surrounding scenes.

So. Ashton Kutcher (Butterfly Effect) runs a flower shop with happily married George Lopez (Sharkboy & Lavagirl). Ashton proposes to career girl Jessica Alba (Love Guru) instead of longtime friend Jennifer Garner (Invention of Lying), who has fallen for a married guy (AK & JG end up together). Jamie Foxx (Miami Vice) is a sportscaster whose boss Kathy Bates (The Waterboy) assigns him to cover valentine’s day, during which he meets Jessica Biel (Elizabethtown) who throws an anti-val-day party every year because she is lonely. Shirley MacLaine (Artists & Models) tells 50-year husband Hector Elizondo (Georgia Rule) that she cheated on him decades ago, but he forgives her at a park screening of Hot Spell (a movie with Shirley and Anthony Quinn which nobody remembers). Patrick Dempsey (McThingy on Katy’s shows) is in the movie but I already can’t remember why. Topher Grace (Spiderman 3) likes Anne Hathaway (Becoming Jane), finds out she works as a kinky phone sex operator but learns to deal with that. Eric Dane (McThingy on Katy’s shows) is a sports star who is gay, managed by Queen Latifah (Stranger Than Fiction) who I think works with Jessica Biel and is Anne Hathaway’s boss and there are other connections that aren’t important. Lastly, Julia Roberts (Duplicity) is on a plane flying home on military leave to see her son for a day, sitting next to Bradley Cooper (Midnight Meat Train) who is gay for Eric Dane. Then there are some 18-year-olds whom we can safely ignore, including a pop idol or two.

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 Rivette’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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