One more Criterion musical watched after last month‘s spree, and this one has the most interesting story. Envisioned as an On The Town sequel with Gene Kelly, but Sinatra and Munshin got replaced by Michael Kidd (choreographer of Seven Brides) as a short burger chef and Dan Dailey (Ethel Merman’s partner in There’s No Business) as a tall corporate sadsack. The three play war buddies who promise to reunite after ten years, and they come through but don’t like each other/themselves much anymore. Through Dan’s advertising job their story catches the attention of Cyd Charisse (her boxing-ring song is the best scene), who tricks them into appearing on live TV with overbearing host Dolores Gray (Kismet the same year). The show coincides with boxing promoter Gene Kelly’s ambush by some gangsters angry that he has messed up their fixed fights, the cameras catch the ensuing brawl and confession, and the guys realize that they still like each other/themselves as long as violence is involved. A drunken dance with trashcan-lid shoes goes on for hours, and Kelly shows up Melvin with a roller skate dance where you can tell the skates aren’t locked.
Tag: Stanley Donen
The MGM musicals on Criterion Channel are starting to blur together – musically, at least. This one has a memorable plot: a Broadway star walks out, and auditions narrow down her replacement to three girls, each the favorite of one of the casting men.
Producer Larry Keating talks show director Gower Champion into auditioning his former partner Marge Champion (the Champions had remade Ginger & Fred’s Roberta the year before) – she’s a established star and right for the role, but they’re both uneasy about it. Composer Kurt Kasznar (Anything Goes, Kiss Me Kate) is hot for the extremely flexible Helen Wood (a future porn actress). Kurt is mostly terrible but surprisingly competent as a dance partner.
For some reason, these three give the time of day to the coffee boy (Bob Fosse!), who falls for Debbie Reynolds. I mean you can’t expect a girl to be excellent at everything, so the better the dancer, the worse the actress. Debbie Reynolds does tap, and is somehow in competition with super-flex girl and established star – but she’s Debbie freakin’ Reynolds so we’re rooting for her.
The dance sequences are fun – conveyor belts, dream sequences, a dance mostly in reverse featuring balloons unpopping. The poor composer does not get his girl, since she turns out to be married and pregnant, and the Champions decide to reunite romantically instead of working together, so Debbie’s dream comes true (plus she gets to date a coffee boy, but Fosse is cute and enthusiastic). From the screenwriting couple behind The Pirate, and IMDB says both movies bombed. Our seventh Stanley Donen movie!
Yeesh, we had no idea. One brother goes into town, finds a gal who’s eager to escape, convinces her to marry him, and heads back into the woods. So far so good… but then his six brothers sneak into town, kidnap six girls, cover their tracks with an avalanche, hold the girls hostage until the thaw, and when their family members arrive in spring with rifles and pitchforks the girls have the stockholm syndrome and ask to get married.
Before the mass kidnapping, saddled with a flustered husband and six hungry boys, Jane Powell sure turns this rowdy bunch of crude mountain men into model citizens in a couple scenes. Sure the men have lapses, like when they get in a brawl and destroy the barn they were supposed to be building, but the men from town were attacking them with boards and hammers! Maybe after Jane’s lessons in manners, they realized that the men in town are the savages, and deserve to have all their eligible young ladies stolen away to the hills.
Donen made this between Singin’ in the Rain and It’s Always Fair Weather. In scope with bold and bright (but shaky) color. I’m not sure any of the songs were great, but the staging and dance were all tops. Giant dude and oldest brother Adam was Howard “Not Richard” Keel of Annie Get Your Gun, and his bride Jane Powell is from Royal Wedding. Too many burly, beardy, identical-looking dudes and pretty girls without any character to mention – we focused on Russ Tamblyn as the youngest brother, didn’t realize Julie “Catwoman” Newmar was in there too. Remade in the 80’s with River Phoenix, then again with Amitabh Bachchan
Unaccountably wonderful movie… seems like the usual madcap romantic comedy business (three sailors have a day of shore leave, spend it picking up girls) but the very end, returning to the ship as three more sailors head out, and the movie’s overall sense of the city (simultaneously huge and cozy) gave me a happy glow. Although is it weird that it’s a musical and I’ve already forgotten all the songs?
Katy took a break from Fred Astaire, got us Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra this time. It’s actually the same three guys from Take Me Out to the Ball Game (“O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg”) with Jules Munshin as the goofy third fellow. Gene is wide-eyed naive about the city, immediately falls for a girl pictured on subway posters (Miss Turnstiles for June). Gene acts like she’s a celebrity and insists he’s going to meet her. The other two guys know this is unlikely, but it keeps working out. Miss Turnstiles aka Ivy is Vera-Ellen (Rosemary Clooney’s sister in White Christmas), the assertive cab driver who likes Sinatra is Betty Garrett (not Frank’s girl but Gene’s in Take Me Out to the Ball Game) and the random anthropologist following Ozzie is Ann Miller, who I know best from Mulholland Dr.
TCM says it was groundbreaking for using real locations, shooting with hidden cameras on the NYC streets, and indulging Gene’s interest in modern dance (seen in full bloom in An American In Paris).
Katy found some rare free time to watch a movie (she was sick), so we watched another Fred Astaire musical (our sixth). SHOCKtober will resume shortly.
For once, Fred Astaire’s costar isn’t his romantic partner but his sister. Fred was in his 50’s, looking slightly rough in close-up but having lost no charm, and sister Jane Powell was only 32, of course. The two are dancing partners in a hit show in New York – he’s the consummate professional and she’s always out with a different guy. Their agent books them a gig in London (supposedly it’s the same show, but prefiguring The Band Wagon, none of the music numbers we see from it seem vaguely related to each other) and they each find true love. Jane Powell recognizes a kindred spirit in royal womanizer Peter Lawford (who costarred in Easter Parade with Astaire and Judy Garland in 1948, the same year Jane Powell starred in A Date With Judy), and Astaire meets pretty redhead Sarah Churchill (who wasn’t in a ton of movies, but guess whose daughter she was). And they live happily et cetera.
Of course the group/duo dances are very nice, but Astaire kills it in the solo segments. He does two of his most famous and elegant dances – one on the walls and ceiling (even after I explained, Katy still can’t figure how he did this), and one ingeniously with a coat rack as his partner, a clear influence on David Byrne in Stop Making Sense. For her own solo numbers, Powell sings. And I did not have to turn to IMDB to know that she’s a big fan of Jeanette MacDonald, the piercing Snow White soprano of Monte Carlo and Love Me Tonight. Powell isn’t as horribly shrill, and recording equipment was of higher quality in 1951, but it’s still not my favorite vocal style.
Young director Stanley Donen’s next musical would be Singin’ in the Rain, and this was the first movie by writer Alan Jay Lerner, who’d write Gigi and My Fair Lady. Sarah’s bartender dad is Irishman Albert Sharpe, who returned in Lerner’s Brigadoon. Keenan Wynn seemed awfully proud of himself, but was frankly stupid as both the couple’s New York agent Irving, and his twin brother in England, Edgar. He would improve into the 60’s, appearing in Dr. Strangelove and Point Blank, before falling to the depths of Laserblast and Parts: The Clonus Horror.
A lighter picture from the year of Vertigo and Touch of Evil. It’s Ingrid Bergman’s second Hollywood film after returning from her European Exile From Hollywood (where she’d met Jean Renoir, just back from his Hollywood Exile From Europe – she starred in his Elena And Her Men). Cary Grant, right between An Affair to Remember and North by Northwest, was still a household name. Movie about a potentially scandalous love affair starring two lead actors who had publicly scandalous love lives at the time must’ve added up to big box office bucks.
Based on a play, and you can tell since most of the big scenes take place in the same location. Rich actress (Bergman) meets rich NATO diplomat (Grant), they date and fall in love. Only catch is he claims to be married – not true, but an escape clause for someone who never plans to settle down. There’s lots of talk of “making love” (which we all know only meant “kissing passionately” in 1958, since sex-before-marriage wasn’t invented until the mid 60’s) and late-night sneakings-around. Katy points out that Cary seems awfully comfortable lounging in her bed during one visit. There is one time when they’re in bed “together”, actually a clever split-screen effect during a phone conversation.
Cary’s secret finally comes out in a convoluted final scene. He’s leaving town for months, plans to surprise Bergman on her birthday the night after he supposedly left. She finds out about the surprise and about his single status, plans to humiliate him by having Another Man (actually the servant in a robe) lurking in her bedroom at the appointed hour. All cleared up at the end, she forgives his huge lie because he decides he wants to marry her after all. So there’s never any actual scandal except among the six characters in the movie. Good, light movie with some snappy dialogue, mostly worth watching for the star acting.
Director Donen (still alive, sued The Gap this year for their classic-film-thieving marketing) had made three comedies the year before, would put out Charade five years later. Writer Norman Krasna was also behind Let’s Make Love and the stories for Lang’s Fury and Borzage’s Big City.
No big, memorable moments by the supporting cast, which means I probably won’t recognize ’em next time I see ’em. Skittish servant David Kossoff, who pretends to be Bergman’s suitor in the final scene, had been in a bunch of British films with interesting names in the 50’s (The Bespoke Overcoat, A Kid For Two Farthings). His pushy wife Megs Jenkins was in Green For Danger, a late 40’s film of The Monkey’s Paw, and something called The Gay Dog. Then there’s Bergman’s ever-present sister (Phyllis Calvert, later in Twisted Nerve) and brother-in-law (Cecil Parker, the colonel in Quartet, also appeared with Bergman in Under Capricorn).