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!
Oscar for best actress, obviously, and also seven more (director, cinematography, supporting for Joel Grey) but picture went to The Godfather. I don’t know Liza Minnelli from much – just this and Arrested Development – but she’s perfect in both. The movie though, eh, not my favorite nazi musical. Could’ve stood to be more musical, blurrier and more insane a la All That Jazz (I guess Fosse hadn’t had his drug-addled breakdown yet).
Brash dancer Minnelli gets a new roommate, closeted scholar Michael York. Both roomies have affairs with wealthy Max (Helmut Griem of The Damned and Les rendez-vous d’Anna) and help to hook up two of York’s English students (Fritz Wepper of The Bridge and Marisa Berenson, wife of Barry Lyndon). The nazi stuff is less foregrounded than I would’ve thought – they’re slowly going from a violent street cult to the dominant political party in the background of a story full of sympathetic gays and Jews. Fun times while they lasted, though. Interesting to watch this right before Phoenix, eliding the whole war in between.
A singing, dancing musical fantasy taking place in the mind of a lead character confined to a hospital bed, who doubles the filmmaker’s own hospital illness/fantasies. But enough about The Singing Detective…
Bob Fosse ended up in hospital trying to obsessively re-edit his film Lenny while launching his musical Chicago, and Fosse’s stand-in Roy Scheider (the guy in Jaws whom I disliked less than Richard Dreyfuss) is in a similar fix, plus he’s juggling too many drugs and women, including ex-wife Leland Palmer (that’s the actress’s real name, also of Ken Russell’s Valentino) and dream-girl Jessica Lange. Inspired by 8 1/2, Scheider always surrounded by women in his profession and home life.
Lost the big oscars to Kramer vs. Kramer and Apocalypse Now, but still won a bunch, including editing, which it deserved. Most impressive part of the movie is the dance scenes, which include the camera and editing as part of the dance.
Joe’s great curse is that he knows everything can be improved with more time and effort — himself included. More than once in the movie, he shows his work to someone who’s exasperated with him for all the time he’s taking and all the money he’s spending, and in each case, they shake their heads, annoyed to have to admit that all his fussing has made the finished product more brilliant. A skeptic might say this is Fosse congratulating himself, but it’s really more of an explanation. It’s impossible to create something as lasting as All That Jazz without doing a lot of personal and collateral damage.