Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Year 10, Day 52 - 2/21/18 - Movie #2,853

BEFORE: It's the final day of the Howard Keel chain, and I'll explain tomorrow why I put this one last.  Really, it's the end of the chain I began on January 1, and it feels like old home week where the cast is concerned.  I'm tying up a lot of loose ends tonight, with the lead actress from "Royal Wedding" returning, and the 2nd male lead from "Kiss Me Kate" also playing one of the 7 brothers.  There's even a guy in here somewhere who played in "Daddy Long Legs", so everything sort of connects to everything else, even if there's no actor from tonight's film carrying over to the next film.

But we're back out on the frontier in the 1800's, just like in "Annie Get Your Gun" and "Show Boat", for whatever reason the people who made musicals in the 1950's were obsessed with this time period, it seems.

Here's the schedule for tomorrow, February 22, on TCM's "31 Days of Oscar", and they're back on Best Actor nominees and winners:

6:00 am "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1932) - Fredric March, winner
8:00 am "Bright Victory" (1951) - Arthur Kennedy
9:45 am "Fanny" (1961) - Charles Boyer
12:00 pm "Watch on the Rhine" (1943) - Paul Lukas, winner
2:00 pm "Life With Father" (1947) - William Powell
4:00 pm "Love Me or Leave Me" (1955) - James Cagney
6:15 pm "Babes in Arms" (1939) - Mickey Rooney
8:00 pm "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1939) - Robert Donat, winner
10:15 pm "Marty" (1955) - Ernest Borgnine, winner
12:00 am "Sergeant York" (1941) - Gary Cooper, winner
2:30 am "Cyrano de Bergerac" (1950) - José Ferrer, winner
4:45 am "The Goodbye Girl" (1977) - Richard Dreyfuss, winner

I can only claim three tonight, "Marty", "Sergeant York" and "The Goodbye Girl".  I've seen the OTHER version of "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (the one with Peter O'Toole) and I've got the OTHER version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (the one with Spencer Tracy) on my list, so those don't count.  Another 3 out of 12 brings my total up to 84 seen out of 246.  Down to 34.1%

THE PLOT: In 1850's Oregon, when a backwoodsman brings a wife home to his farm, his six brothers decide that they want to get married, too. 

AFTER: Going in I knew very little about this musical, other than the fact that there would be seven brothers at some point, and it seemed like they'd all be getting married.  Yep, there are those crack movie instincts kicking in, all right.  But since this is set in the 1850's in addition to that plot we get a whole lot of outdated attitudes about men and women's roles out on the frontier.  Seems like the wimmenfolk are only good for cooking and laundry and keeping a fella warm on a cold winter night (and wouldn't you know, winter's about 8 months long up in this part of Oregon...)

It starts when the oldest brother, Adam, comes into town to do a little trading, and decides to find himself a wife there.  But since he knows very little about romance, having been raised in the back woods, it's more of a business deal to him - so naturally he chooses the woman who cooks and serves at the local eatery, because he needs someone who can cook for all of his brothers.  Umm, and he sort of forgets to mention his 6 brothers when he sweeps poor Milly off her feet - instead she falls for the promise of co-owning a piece of land and running a farm, which she's kind of always wanted to do. (This is how the Portland area works, one day you're working at a diner, the next you're starting your own farm to raise artisanal eggs and locally-sourced grass-fed beef...)

Milly not only serves food, but gets the brothers to shave and clean themselves up and learn some manners, she even teaches them how to dance and how to court women, lessons that she probably wished her own husband had learned.  When the brothers finally come to town for a social event, they accidentally end up inventing the dance-off - who knew?  It seems there are only so many women to go around in this part of Oregon, so if the brothers want to get brides, they kind of have to take ones that are already promised to other men.  Hey, that's just manifest destiny, how our country grew - if you see something you like, feel free to take it from whoever's already got it.

And this becomes quite literal after the brothers are pining over the women they met - Milly suggests they "go out and get 'em", but Adam takes this the wrong way, using the Roman story about the Sabine Women as a guide.  Ha, ha, the kidnapping of teenage girls is just rife with comedy, isn't it?  What could be funnier than throwing a blanket over a woman's head, dragging her back to your wagon and bringing her to your isolated cabin in the woods?  (Do they want to marry them, or eat them?).

A convenient avalanche means that no one from the town can pursue the kidnapped women until the snow melts, and even though Milly makes the brothers sleep in the barn, and Adam heads up to his trapping cabin on the mountain, a form of Stockholm syndrome kicks in, and the women end up falling for the brothers in the end, anyway.  Well, they did take them away from their parents, and they did at least bring some excitement into their otherwise drab lives.  Sure, why not start six relationships with a mass kidnapping?  (Really?)

NITPICK POINT: If there's a barn raising event, is it really smart to have four teams compete to see who can raise their wall the fastest?  I mean, it's played for comedy here because it turns into a brawl (after the brothers promised Milly that they wouldn't fight) but what if there wasn't a fight?  Do you really want a barn to be constructed by people trying to do it as quickly, and therefore as shoddily, as possible?  I bet nobody ever built a barn this way more than once.

This was a really great film to watch on a day when the weather really started to feel like spring - which happens at a key moment near the end of the film.  I also just realized that I passed the end of the show-within-a-show musicals, there were eight of them in a row, but the last one was "Kiss Me Kate".  Tomorrow I'm going to watch a different kind of musical, a more modern one.

Also starring Jane Powell (last seen in "Royal Wedding"), Jeff Richards, Russ Tamblyn (last seen in "Drive"), Tommy Rall (last seen in "Kiss Me Kate"), Matt Mattox (last seen in "Easter Parade"), Marc Platt, Jacques D'Amboise,  Julie Newmar (last seen in "The Band Wagon"), Ruta Lee (last seen in "Funny Face"), Virginia Gibson (ditto), Nancy Kilgas (ditto), Norma Doggett, Betty Carr, Ian Wolfe (last seen in "Reds"), Howard Petrie, Russell Simpson (last seen in "Meet John Doe"), Marjorie Wood (last seen in "Annie Get Your Gun"), Earl Barton, Dante DiPaolo, Kelly Brown (last seen in "Daddy Long Legs"), Matt Moore, Dick Rich.

RATING: 6 out of 10 snowballs

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Kismet (1955)

Year 10, Day 51 - 2/20/18 - Movie #2,852

BEFORE: I've been sifting through my list of what's available on Netflix, looking for connections to the films already in my collection, or thematic tie-ins to the films I have access to on Academy screeners.  I've realized that I have another long list of documentaries that has built up, mostly on Netflix.  If I get to a point this year where I can't extend my chain any longer, another break in the linking, I can always switch over to docs for a while, and waive the linking rule for the duration.

Last year, about a month after Comic-Con, I did a great week (and a half) of documentaries about geek stuff, behind-the-scenes docs on Star Trek and Star Wars, Back to the Future and Ghostbusters, plus fan films and poster artist Drew Struzan and then just people who go to Comic-Con, and I thought that all came together rather well.   Now I seem to have access to a bunch of documentaries on music stuff, like one about the "Sgt. Pepper" album, two docs about David Bowie, that new one about Eric Clapton, and more docs on Netflix about Chicago, the Eagles and even Pentatonix.  Plus I never got around to seeing that film about Amy Winehouse - there's a week of programming right there.

There's at least another 15 documentaries that I could program - like "Going Clear", "Life, Animated", "Life Itself", "The Wolfpack", "The Queen of Versailles", "Being Elmo" and so on.  I'll have to find a good time to work in one or two documentary breaks before these films start disappearing from Netflix, because then it will cost me cash money to watch them.  Only it never seems to be a good time.  So, I'll have to wait for the next break, which won't come until mid-May at the earliest.  Maybe it's just good to have this ready as a back-up plan in case my linking system doesn't work any more.

For now, it's Day 4 of the Howard Keel Film Festival, with one more day to go.

Here's the schedule for tomorrow, February 21, on TCM's "31 Days of Oscar", and now it's time to celebrate the Best Actress nominees:

6:15 am "Coquette" (1929) - Mary Pickford, winner
7:45 am "Min and Bill" (1930) - Marie Dressler, winner
9:00 am "The Divorcee" (1930) - Norma Shearer, winner
10:30 am "Lady For a Day" (1933) - May Robson
12:15 pm "Theodora Goes Wild" (1936) - Irene Dunne
2:00 pm "Ball of Fire" (1941) - Barbara Stanwyck
4:00 pm "Kitty Foyle" (1940) - Ginger Rogers, winner
6:00 pm "Jezebel" (1938) - Bette Davis, winner
8:00 pm "The Three Faces of Eve" (1957) - Joanne Woodward, winner
9:45 pm "Born Yesterday" (1950) - Judy Holliday, winner
11:45 pm "The Lion in Winter" (1968) - Katharine Hepburn, winner
2:15 am "Sunrise" (1927) - Janet Gaynor, winner
4:00 am "Blue Sky" (1994) - Jessica Lange, winner

Yet again, I've only see ONE of these, "The Lion in Winter".  These films from the 1920's and 1930's are dragging down my score.  One out of 13 (!!) brings my total up to 81 seen out of 234.  Down to 34.6%

THE PLOT: A roguish poet is given the run of the scheming Wazir's harem while pretending to help him usurp the young caliph.

AFTER: This is another case where the same story was made into Hollywood films, over and over.  This 1955 musical is the FOURTH version of this "Kismet" story to be filmed, although it's based on the 1953 stage musical, and the other three were based on the original 1911 (non-musical) play.  But either way, the story was turned into films in 1920, 1930, and 1944 before this.  So exactly how necessary was it for the film to be made yet again?

Especially since it doesn't seem to portray anything like an accurate version of real life in Baghdad - not ancient Baghdad, not current Baghdad, not any Baghdad that ever was.  I guarantee that no writer involved here ever set foot in Iraq, or did anything but the most basic of research - it's all based on this Americanized version of what we THINK that Muslim life is like.  (Is Iraq Muslim?  I thought it was Shiite or Sunni - is that the same as Muslim?  See, I don't even know, and just by asking this question, I've done more research than the screenwriters here.)  They basically just bought a bunch of turbans and robes, framed a basic mistaken-identity storyline and then started rehearsals.

So this has got to be offensive to millions of people, right?  Reducing the entire Iraqi city of Baghdad to a bunch of stereotypes - someone's either a beggar or a royal person, there's nothing in between.  OK, I guess there are merchants in the marketplace, but if someone's not a royal or a merchant, then he must be a beggar.   The lead role is a poet, which means he might as well be a beggar.  He couldn't possibly have a steady job like cobbler or camel herder, now could he?  Circumstances of the mistaken identity type dictating that the poet gets mistaken for a beggar who put a curse on another man 15 years ago, and that man's son was kidnapped after he was cursed.  The poet (as the beggar) asks for 100 gold pieces to remove the curse, so the man pays him, because everyone in this society is simple and superstitious.  

But when the poet starts spending the money, someone sees that the purse contains the insignia of a wealthy family that was robbed, so now the poet is mistaken for a thief.  (Oh yeah, thieves, forgot about them.  OK, anyone who isn't a royal, a merchant or a beggar has to be a thief.)  This brings the poet into the palace, where the Wazir tries him for robbery.  Another unbelievable set of coincidences not only clears him of the crime, but also makes the Wazir believe that the poet is really a mystic - again, everyone in this society is either simple or superstitious.

Meanwhile, the Caliph is exercising his right to go traveling around the city disguised as a commoner, another storytelling convention that probably doesn't ever happen in real life, but which is necessary so that he can meet the poet's daughter and fall in love with her.  And when the Caliph announces his intention to marry, the Wazir needs to ensure that he doesn't marry the woman he wants, but instead marries a princess of Ababu, which would benefit the Wazir financially, or something.  So the Wazir tasks the poet (now an Emir) with breaking up the intended marriage.

But wait, there's more - one of the Wazir's wives (he's got a harem, naturally, as all Iraqi bigwigs do) takes a liking to the poet, and agrees to let him live in the palace with his daughter.  They hide the daughter in the harem (naturally) and the Caliph sees her there (because the Wazir spies on his own harem for some reason) and then Caliph then assumes she's one of the Wazir's wives, so his wedding to her is off, and the poet accidentally succeeds in the task of breaking up the marriage, but also simultaneously hurting his own daughter.  The Wazir didn't recognize her as one of his wives, so of course he drugs her and marries her against her will.  That's a shameful little turn of events.

More contrivances and trickery is needed to get her out of this marriage (as in "Kiss Me Kate" there's a rather grim off-screen turn of events that somehow makes everything OK again) but by this point, my head was spinning.  Not even a Shakespearean mistaken identity plot of epic proportion would be this confusing.  I wasn't crazy about any of the songs, either - and overall this just felt like it was made by some producers who predicted that in 1955, Arab-based stories were going to be some kind of hot trend, and then they turned out to be very, very wrong.

Also starring Ann Blyth (last seen in "Mildred Pierce"), Dolores Gray, Vic Damone, Monty Woolley, Sebastian Cabot (last heard in "The Sword in the Stone"), Jay C. Flippen (last seen in "The Wild One"), Mike Mazurki (last seen in "Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hollywood"), Jack Elam (last seen in "Artists and Models"), Ted de Corsia, Norman Leavitt (last seen in "Show Boat"), with cameos from Ross Bagdasarian (last seen in "Rear Window"), Aaron Spelling, Jamie Farr.

RATING: 3 out of 10 watermelons (really? in Iraq?)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Kiss Me Kate (1953)

Year 10, Day 50 - 2/19/18 - Movie #2,851

BEFORE: Howard Keel carries over again in my tour of movie musicals, and I've got two more films with him before I can get back to contemporary cinema.  I'm so eager to start the new chain, because it's going to lead me to "Black Panther" and "Avengers: Infinity War" eventually, and I'm very excited about that.  I saw the preview for "Infinity War" again yesterday when I saw "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" for the second time (with my wife, who was seeing it for the first time) and it really looks fantastic - though I worry about a film with that many characters.  (However, fitting it into my schedule was a breeze...)

Here's the schedule for tomorrow, February 20, on TCM's "31 Days of Oscar", and they're back to more nominees and winners for Best Supporting Actor:

6:30 am "Come and Get it" (1936) - Walter Brennan, winner
8:15 am "Tortilla Flat" (1942) - Frank Morgan
10;15 am "The Story of G.I. Joe" (1945) - Robert Mitchum
12:15 pm "The Best Man" (1964) - Lee Tracy
2:00 pm "Broken Arrow" (1950) - Jeff Chandler
3:45 pm "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962) - Ed Begley, winner
6:00 pm "The Subject Was Roses" (1968) - Jack Albertson, winner
8:00 pm "Viva Zapata!" (1952) - Anthony Quinn, winner
10:00 pm "A Thousand Clowns" (1965) - Martin Balsam, winner
12:15 am "All the President's Men" (1976) - Jason Robards, winner
2:45 am "Ryan's Daughter" (1970) - John Mills, winner

I'm striking out today, I've only see ONE of these, "All the President's Men".  (Hey, TCM, why not flip the Monday and Tuesday schedule, so that this film could air on President's Day?)  But in my defense, some of these films feel really obscure - I haven't even HEARD of some of them before. This brings my total up to 80 seen out of 221.  Down to 36.2%, I've got to finish strong in the remaining categories.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Taming of the Shrew" (Movie #2,597)

THE PLOT: An ex-husband and wife team star in a musical version of "The Taming of the Shrew"; off-stage the production is troublesome with ex-lovers' quarrels and a gangster looking for some money owed to them.

AFTER: I'll admit that everything I know about Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew", I learned from watching the Richard Burton/Liz Taylor movie last year.  Which is fine, because before that all I knew about it came from that spoof they did on "Moonlighting" in the late 80's...  But here it serves as the show-within-a-show (and that makes EIGHT films in a row using the show-within-a-show framework...) and the means by which two exes work together again, and we all know what working together in close quarters can do, behind the scenes. 

It's essentially your basic love quadrangle here, each of the ex-partners has a new life partner, leading to awkward moments when Lilli comes over to the apartment she used to share with Fred as they start to rehearse for the new show.  Soon the younger new dancer shows up (her name is Lois Lane, but it's just a coincidence, no connection to Superman or the Daily Planet...) and she's very affectionate toward Fred.  Lilli then reveals that she's engaged to her new man, who's a Texas cattle baron.  Sure, all this won't make each other jealous at all...

Comedy (even more than the bard intended) ensues when Lois Lane's other boyfriend (again, not Superman or even Clark Kent) has a gambling debt, and signs Fred's name to the IOU.  Two junior mobsters show up on behalf of the big gangster and try to get the money from Fred (they weren't present when the IOU was signed).  Fred convinces them he can only pay them if the show runs for a week, so the gangsters have to convince the leading lady not to quit, and this leads to them donning period costumes and appearing in the show, almost like an additional Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who are in the wrong show. 

But it feels like more than half of Billy Shakes' original play gets jettisonned here, and I was thinking maybe we'd get to see more of "The Taming of the Shrew" here, while also getting a peek behind the curtain - more of a "Noises Off" type of production, but that's not the way they went with it here.  Where's all the discussion about Katharina's dowry?  That was another important motivation for Petruchio to marry her, after all.  He didn't just do it to win a bet, or to "take one for the team" so that the other suitors could marry Bianca.  And what about Lucentio and Hortensio disguising themselves as tutors so they could get closer to Bianca, then Lucentio's father appearing in Padua at precisely the wrong time?  All that gets cut out of this production?  I'd seriously ask for my money back, the play's the thing, and now the play is only about 10 minutes long. 

It's more Cole Porter songs tonight, and I didn't really care for most of them, except maybe there were some clever rhymes in "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?"  Of course, I was already familiar with "Too Darn Hot", which was apparently so darn hot that it got cut from the show-within-the-show, only nobody told Lois, so we see her do the dance number in the spacious apartment before the rehearsals begin.  Sneaky, I see what you did there.  But also late in the film comes the song "Brush Up Your Shakespeare", how did I not know that this song comes from this musical?  This song I know, with its rhymes that are alternately clever and cringeworthy. 

Clever: "With the wife of the British Ambassida, Try a crack out of "Troilus and Cressida"
Cringeworthy: "If your girl is a Washington Heights dream, Treat the kid to "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Clever: "If she says your behavior is heinous, Kick her right in the Coriolanus."
Cringeworthy: "Better mention "The Merchant of Venice" When her sweet pound o'flesh you would menace." 

And since it's Cole Porter, some of the lines are a bit racy.  (I think they cut that last verse from the film, it was also "Too Darn Hot" for a Hollywood movie.)  But this was filmed back when you COULD kick a woman right in the "Coriolanus" and not get into trouble for it.  Or you could spank a woman right on stage if she started to have her own opinion about things, or if she threatened to walk out of the show.  (And you could put that spanking image right on the movie poster, and nobody would find that either strange, or oddly tantalizing...)  Again, this was a different time.  The poster just ends up giving off a real Russ Meyer or John Waters vibe to me.  ("Faster, PussyKate! Kiss! Kiss!")

Also starring Kathryn Grayson (also carrying over from "Show Boat"), Ann Miller (last seen in "Easter Parade"), Keenan Wynn (last seen in "Annie Get Your Gun"), James Whitmore (last seen in "Them!"), Bobby Van, Tommy Rall (last seen in "Pennies From Heaven"), Kurt Kasznar (last seen in "A Farewell to Arms"), Bob Fosse, Ron Randell, Willard Parker, Ann Codee (last seen in "Daddy Long Legs")

RATING: 4 out of 10 broken pitchers

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Show Boat (1951)

Year 10, Day 49 - 2/18/18 - Movie #2,850

BEFORE: It's Day 2 of musicals with Howard Keel, as he carries over from "Annie Get Your Gun". I still have the dreaded link in the chain coming up in just 3 days, but I think I've found a way to deal with it.  Also, I've blocked out the schedule for March, April and early May, taking me all the way from Easter to Mother's Day, working in both "Black Panther" and "Avengers: Infinity War".  Now I have to try to plan to reach the film "Solo: A Star Wars Story" and then maybe Memorial Day and Father's Day.  I promise not to think about a July 4 film until then.  Just kidding, I already have one picked out.

It's occurred to me that having access to Netflix now (in addition to iTunes), and a pile of Academy screeners from the past few years, has simultaneously made my linking both more difficult and a lot easier.  It's more difficult because I have to pay attention to what's available on each platform, plus keep a working list of what I have on DVD that I haven't watch, scan the cable guide not only weekly but also DAILY to see if anything new has popped up, and then also keep one eye on the release schedule for the theaters, so that when something like "Black Panther" rolls around, I've already saved a slot for it.  (As it is, I'm going to see this film on Wednesday, but I don't have a space to review it in February or March, so I can't post my thoughts until April.)

As it is, I can't plan more than two or three months ahead, because things keep changing - even the Hollywood release schedule, like "The New Mutants" just got pushed back from this April to February 2018 - so I'm glad I hadn't worked out a way to link to it.  But my collection is also changing, so there may be films that I record off cable in 2 weeks that could play a part in the linking in June or July, and there's no way to know now what will be of use to me then.  BUT, I think that having access to more titles now does also make linking easier - in addition to the watchlist, I now have a second list of films that I know are on Netflix, or coming up in theaters, or available to me on a screener.  So if I want to check if an actor or actress is in more than one film that I want to see, it's just a quick search of two lists I'm maintaining on the IMDB.

It's a bit like traveling across the country, let's say from New York to the West Coast, and I've given myself several months to see everything interesting along the way.  The starting point is fixed, I've got an endpoint in mind, let's say the Pacific Ocean, only I'm not too picky about exactly where or when I reach it.  The different platforms available to me (DVD, premium cable, Netflix, iTunes, screeners) are just like different ways of getting to the next city or town - sometimes I may take a train, or a bus, or rent a car, or even walk to the next town, depending on the circumstances.   As long as I'm making continuous progress, and I stay on track to reach the destination by the target date, it doesn't matter how I get there.

Here's the schedule for tomorrow, February 19, on TCM's "31 Days of Oscar", and they're bouncing back to more nominees and winners for Best Supporting Actress.

7:00 am "None But the Lonely Heart" (1944) - Ethel Barrymore, winner
9:00 am "Key Largo" (1948) - Claire Trevor, winner
11:00 am "The Little Foxes" (1941) - Patricia Collinge and Teresa Wright
1:15 pm "Anna and the King of Siam" (1946) - Gale Sondergaard
3:45 pm "The Bad and the Beautiful" (1952) - Gloria Grahame, winner
6:00 pm "California Suite" (1978) - Maggie Smith, winner
8:00 pm "The Great Lie" (1941) - Mary Astor, winner
10:00 pm "The V.I.P.s" (1963) - Margaret Rutherford, winner
12:15 am "Separate Tables" (1958) - Wendy Hiller, winner
2:15 am "The Last Picture Show" (1971) - Cloris Leachman, winner
4:30 am "The Year of Living Dangerously" (1982) - Linda Hunt, winner

I've seen 3 of these: "California Suite", "The Last Picture Show" and "The Year of Living Dangerously", plus I'm going to watch "The V.I.Ps" in early March, so I'm counting that.  I'm also recording "The Last Picture Show" because even though I've seen it, I don't have a copy in my collection. Another 4 out of 11 brings my total up to 79 out of 210.  Score stays flat at 37.6%, but I still expect to do better in the last 2 weeks.

THE PLOT: The daughter of a riverboat captain falls in love with a charming gambler, but their fairytale romance is threatened when his luck turns sour.

AFTER: I didn't realize that these musicals with Howard Keel would share so much DNA with the Fred Astaire films - not just from sharing actors, but also their stories' framing devices.  Having the characters put on a show is the easiest, best way to get a lot of musical numbers into the film, even if that show is a traveling Wild West Show, or a revue on a riverboat going up and down the Mississippi.

Of course, in all cases some of the song and dances take place on the stage, and some don't.  It seems that once you're in the show business life you may break into song at any time, when you're with your sweetheart on a train, or even when you're by yourself.  (Annie Oakley mused that "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun" when there was nobody else around!  Was she trying to convince herself?).  And in "Show Boat" we're treated to people singing Jerome Kern classics like "Ol' Man River" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" as people just muse about life on the river when they're all alone.

Oddly, this is the third romance film this month where people are concerned about interracial romance (again, this was a different time, made in 1951, based on a stage play from the 1920's and set in the 1880's) and the second to bring up laws against interracial marriage.  In "Show Boat", after a crewman is denied attention from the show's married leading lady, he exposes her as being half-black and married to a white man, which was illegal.  And though her husband tries to cover with a weird half-truth, claiming to be part black himself, they still have to leave their jobs, because blacks weren't allowed to perform on stage, either.  (I'd argue that if the performance is taking place on the river, then they're technically not IN the state of Mississippi, but what do I know?).

This creates two openings in the cast, which a riverboat gambler, Gaylord Ravenal, takes advantage of by claiming to be an actor to get free passage to New Orleans.  (But, if he's pretending to be an actor, doesn't that MAKE him an actor, by default?).  He's been smitten by Magnolia, the boat captain's daughter and suggests that she step up to the leading lady position, with the side benefit that he then gets to kiss her during the course of each performance.  And while her stern mother is against this at first, it still takes place, and the leading lady falls for the leading man.  The "show within the show" affects the reality it takes place in, yet again.

Eventually the deception is revealed, but the damage is done - the young girl is now in love with a gambler, and leaves the ship for a life on the road.  (I'm not sure why he couldn't just stay in place, I mean, don't people gamble on the riverboat?). And when his luck turns bad, this turns them into the kind of people who have to sneak out of hotels in the middle of the night to avoid paying the bill.  When she finally tells him off, he leaves her in a one-room furnished rental in Chicago.  From there it's a long road back to the riverboat, filled with coincidences like the old dance team from the boat just "happening" to get a job in Chicago, and just "happening" to end up at the same boarding-house.  Yeah, right.

Further coincidences allow Magnolia to audition for the same club that Julie (the half-black woman from before) is singing in, and then put Magnolia's father in the club during his daughter's first performance.  And a final coincidence puts Julie and Gaylord in the same place, which allows for him to be updated on Magnolia's life, so he can consider going back to her.  That's an awful lot of coincidences for one dance-hall circuit.

It turns out that this is really the THIRD filmed adaptation of the "Show Boat" musical, prior versions were released in 1929 and 1936.  There are substantial differences in the plot for this third one, but since it's the only one I've seen, I won't get into them here.  But I wonder if audiences in 1951 wondered how many times Hollywood was going to re-make this film, in the same way that I wondered why "Spider-Man" needed to be re-booted a third time.

Also starring Kathryn Grayson (last seen in "Rio Rita"), Ava Gardner (last seen in "The Band Wagon"), Joe E. Brown (last seen in "Around the World in Eighty Days"), Gower Champion, Marge Champion, Agnes Moorehead (last seen in "The Swan"), Leif Erickson (last seen in "Kiss Them For Me"), Robert Sterling, William Warfield, Norman Leavitt (last seen in "Harvey"), Sheila Clark, Frances E. Williams, Regis Toomey (last seen in "Meet John Doe"), Emory Parnell (last seen in "You're Never Too Young"), Owen McGiveney.

RATING: 5 out of 10 pawned diamonds

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Annie Get Your Gun

Year 10, Day 48 - 2/17/18 - Movie #2,849

BEFORE: Keenan Wynn carries over from "Royal Wedding", one of several choices I had to link between the Fred Astaire films and the Howard Keel films - Keenan also appears in "Kiss Me Kate", and Jane Powell is also in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers".  The actor who played the bartender in "Easter Parade" is also in tonight's film, plus Ann Miller's in "Kiss Me Kate", so I could have flipped the last two Astaire films and still found my way in to this set of five films, and I could have watched them in just about any order - I'm going with (mostly) chronological.

Here's the schedule for tomorrow, February 18, on TCM's "31 Days of Oscar", featuring nominees and winners for Best Supporting Actor.

6:00 am "The Westerner" (1940) - Walter Brennan, winner
7:45 am "Crossfire" (1947) - Robert Ryan
9:15 am "Johnny Eager" (1942) - Van Heflin, winner
11:15 am "Topper" (1937) - Roland Young
1:00 pm "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (1945) - James Dunn, winner
3:30 pm "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) - Sal Mineo
5:30 pm "Cool Hand Luke" (1967) - George Kennedy, winner
8:00 pm "Being There" (1979) - Melvyn Douglas, winner
10:30 pm "Mister Roberts" (1955) - Jack Lemmon, winner
12:45 am "Stagecoach" (1939) - Thomas Mitchell, winner
2:30 am "Twelve O'Clock High" (1949) - Dean Jagger, winner
5:00 am "The Life of Emile Zola" (1937) - Joseph Schildkraut, winner

Hmm, they aired a film with Barbara Bel Geddes yesterday, and today it's one with George Kennedy. Combine that with my Howard Keel films, and it's something of a "Dallas" reunion.  (It's too bad Larry Hagman was in "Ensign Pulver", and not "Mister Roberts".)

I'm going to count this as 6 out of 12, because "Topper" is on my list, I'll get to that in a bit, and I'm fairly sure they showed us "Stagecoach" in film school.  I've also seen "Rebel Without a Cause", "Cool Hand Luke", "Being There" and "Mister Roberts". Another 6 out of 12 brings my total up to 75 out of 199.  Up to 37.6%

THE PLOT: The story of the great sharpshooter Annie Oakley, who rose to fame while dealing with her love for professional rival Frank Butler

AFTER: Full disclosure: I've never seen the film before, but I was in a high-school production of the stage musical, where I played Chief Sitting Bull.  So I'm familiar with the plot and the songs, plus watching this will probably bring back some flashbacks to my theater days.  I do remember on the night of the performance, someone in Act 2 missed their cue and failed to come in, leaving me alone on stage with the actress playing Annie, and I had to think fast and come up with something to ad-lib with, so we wouldn't be standing there saying nothing for 5 minutes.  I crafted a very quick origin for the "teeth of many bears" necklace, and riffed for what was probably just a couple minutes, but was told later that I kind of saved the show.

So I don't think I can be impartial tonight, just as I can't when I review a film that I had a hand in making, it's too relevant to my life, but in this case, maybe not in a good way.  I had to wear a big Indian headdress as Sitting Bull, and I couldn't wear my glasses in character, so I was half-blind during the show, but fortunately the role didn't require too much moving around.  I didn't think much about how bad it was that the show reduced Native Americans to a bunch of stereotypes, based on the way they dance, they don't talk much, but they make that whooping "war cry" noise - it kind of makes me sick to think about all that.

The actor playing Sitting Bull in this film was actually of Irish descent, and was born in New York.  But according to his IMDB bio, his complexion and gift for doing different accents meant that he often played Italians, Mexicans, Arabs and Italians in movies.  Still, there's no valid reason why a Native American wasn't hired - if they tried to pull this today, like they did when they cast Johnny Depp as Tonto, you'd never hear the end of it.  The fact that his dialogue here is mostly broken English with the occasional "Ugh!" thrown in seems very racially insensitive in retrospect.  Not to mention Annie Oakley's song "I'm an Indian, Too", with her Indian dialogue basically being "Ooo-Ooo", as if "Indian" and "caveman" were interchangeable.

Then there's Betty Hutton as Annie - replacing Ethel Merman, who made the role famous on Broadway.  For the latter half of the picture, she's got this "Aw, shucks!" attitude that shines pretty well, but at the start of the picture, when she's covered in dirt make-up, and sings "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly" with her brothers and sisters, and speaking in "Redneck English", that's pretty cringe-worthy, too.  Was it OK back then to make fun of country folk from Ohio?  (I guess she was from the part of Ohio that's closest to West Virginia?)

Howard Keel (in his first movie role here) has a similar folksy sincerity, but on him somehow it works.  Before this film, he had played on stage as the lead in both "Carousel" and "Oklahoma", so it made sense that he'd transition to a film based on another Rodgers and Hammerstein production.  (But the songs in this musical are not by R & H, they're from Irving Berlin, so there's another connection to "Easter Parade"...). Originally this film was going to star Judy Garland as Annie and Frank Morgan as Col. Buffalo Bill, but Garland was unavailable due to "exhaustion" and dealing with her divorce, so there would be no "Wizard of Oz" reunion here.  Morgan, meanwhile, filmed the opening number for this film, then died of a heart attack.

But this is still where several famous songs came from, most notably "There's No Business Like Show Business", but also "Anything You Can Do".  So it's got that going for it, plus it's right on point with the love theme for February, with the on-again, off-again shooting match rivalry between Annie and Frank.  And since it's a 1950's representation of the 1880's, Annie learns that there's nothing more important than becoming a pretty girl, and that she has to lose in order to win.  Another thing you probably couldn't get away with today.

Also starring Betty Hutton, Howard Keel, Louis Calhern (last seen in "The Band Wagon"), J. Carrol Naish (last seen in "House of Frankenstein"), Edward Arnold (last seen in "You Can't Take It With You"), Clinton Sundberg (last seen in "Easter Parade"), Benay Venuta (ditto), Brad Morrow, Evelyn Beresford.

RATING: 5 out of 10 clay targets

Friday, February 16, 2018

Royal Wedding

Year 10, Day 47 - 2/16/18 - Movie #2,848

BEFORE: Now I've come to the end of Phase 2 of Fred Astaire's movies - Phase 1 ended last year right after St. Patrick's Day with "Funny Face", and with 14 films in 2017 and now another 5, I've just about seen it all.  Umm, except for "Ghost Story" and "Holiday Inn", which I'll try to get to in Phase 3. 

Tomorrow, February 17, on TCM's "31 Days of Oscar", they're finally reaching the acting categories, with the nominees and winners for Best Supporting Actress.  Here's the line-up:

6:00 am "I Remember Mama" (1948) - Barbara Bel Geddes
8:30 am "All This, and Heaven Too" (1940) - Barbara O'Neil
11:00 am "A Patch of Blue" (1965) - Shelley Winters, winner
1:00 pm "Cactus Flower" (1969) - Goldie Hawn, winner
3:00 pm "Sayonara" (1957) - Miyoshi Umeki, winner
5:45 pm "East of Eden" (1955) - Jo Van Fleet, winner
8:00 pm "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1943) - Katina Paxinou, winner
11:00 pm "A Passage to India" (1984) - Peggy Ashcroft, winner
2:00 am "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) - Estelle Parsons, winner
4:00 am "Shampoo" (1975) - Lee Grant, winner

I think I'll start doing better, now that we're into the acting categories.  I've seen 6 of these: "Cactus Flower", "East of Eden", "For Whom the Bell Tolls", "A Passage to India", "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Shampoo". So another 6 out of 10 brings my total up to 69 out of 187.  Back up to 36.8%

THE PLOT: Tom and Ellen Bowen are a brother and sister dance act whose agent books them in London for the same period as the Royal Wedding.  Each develops a British love interest. 

AFTER: Wow, what a way to go out, with Astaire's famous "dancing on the ceiling" routine, which probably blew a lot of people's minds back in 1951.  And the walls, I think he doesn't get enough credit for dancing on the walls, which is also no easy feet, unless you've got a special effects team that can create a rotating room.  Any magic trick seems impossible until you know how it's done, and since earlier in the film there was a lot of tilting camera work as Tom and Ellen danced on the cruise ship.  I would have predicted that they used the same low-rent trick they did on the first "Star Trek" series, with every actor just leaning one way, then the other when the ship was attacked, except that we see fruit bouncing across the tilted floor, and then a couch that moves in the direction of the lean.  So the simplest explanation is that they built a giant room that could be tilted hydraulically in one direction, even though that's not exactly how ocean liners lean.  (I've been on a cruise ship during rough seas, it doesn't just lean to one side and stay there, it's more of a back-and-forth...)

It's still an amazing achievement, when you figure that somebody had to build a room that looked like a hotel room, but with all the furniture bolted down, and unable to move an inch.  Then of course, the camera had to be bolted to the floor so that it would rotate with the room, and give a constant view from one angle, even though it was rotating.  Simple to conceive, really, but I bet there was nothing simple about the execution.  They didn't just cut to him on the wall, because that wouldn't give the same effect.  But there's definitely a sort of "pause" in the action, when Fred is sort of deciding between the wall and the ceiling, for example, and that's obviously when the room is being rotated - but they did their best to make it as seamless as possible, and he even goes around the horn twice for good measure. 

Astaire also dances with a hatrack as a partner earlier in the film - this is also aboard the ship going from New York to London, and here the seas appear to be much calmer, the "ship" isn't leaning to one side. (Why, it's almost as if they weren't on a real ship, go figure...)  But I'm assuming that hatrack had to be custom-made and perfectly balanced for him to manipulate it like that, roll it around, kick it over and then kick it back upright.  This takes place in the ship's gym, (because don't all cruise ships have gymnasiums?) and then he dances with some parallel bars and a pommel horse, so we get a glimpse of what the Olympics might look like if they let professional dancers compete in the gymnastics section to musical numbers. 

Oh, yeah, the story - apparently this was set during the wedding of Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth, although that happened in 1947 and this film came out four years later.  Tom Bowen and his sister, Ellen, have a dance act, and are asked to come over for some kind of command performance, or maybe it's just that their agent wants to do a tie-in show?  This is a little unclear.  But at least there are no love triangles, and no chance of the dance partners falling in love with each other, this brother-sister thing ends up making a much simpler story. 

Or does it?  The course of true love never did run smooth, and there are still bumps on the road to love for both of them.  Ellen's the kind of girl who'll juggle two or three boyfriends at once, never getting serious about any of them, and on the ship she meets her male counterpart, who also happens to be a British Lord, and also happens to be headed back home for the wedding.  Tom starts a relationship with one of the showgirls (who he happens to meet accidentally on the street first) but she's in love with a man in Chicago who she hasn't seen in two years. 

Keenan Wynn gets to play two roles, as their agent in New York and his twin brother in London, and Astaire's romantic partner is played by the daughter of Winston Churchill.  Lots of good trivia bits surrounding this film.  Partially based on real-life events, too, since Fred Astaire danced for many years with his own sister, Adele, who left the act to marry a British Lord.  And apparently they once danced together on a ship, which inspired the "Open Your Eyes" number.

Also starring Jane Powell, Peter Lawford (also carrying over from "Easter Parade"), Sarah Churchill, Keenan Wynn (last seen in "Nashville"), Albert Sharpe, Viola Roache, John R. Reilly

RATING: 6 out of 10 Union Jack flags

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Easter Parade

Year 10, Day 46 - 2/15/18 - Movie #2,847

BEFORE: First I have to apologize for watching "Leap Year" in 2018, which is NOT a leap year, and now I'm watching "Easter Parade" when that holiday doesn't occur until April 1.  Clearly this is not a normal calendar year, with Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday coinciding, and then Easter's going to share a calendar square with April Fool's Day.  Has this ever happened before?  I know that occasionally Easter can take place in March, not April, but I don't ever remember it coinciding with another holiday like this.  Last year I was able to tie-in the Fred Astaire chain with St. Patrick's Day when TCM ran "Finian's Rainbow" (I only had to skip a few days to make things line up right) but I guess I can't be that fortunate two years in a row.

Sure, I could sit on this film until April 1, but my possibility of linking to it then becomes quite remote - I got really lucky with the Leslie Caron link to "Daddy Long Legs", how can I possibly link back to Fred Astaire again?  As it is, I also have Astaire scheduled to appear in "Ghost Story" and "Holiday Inn", but those seem more like Halloween-y and Christmas films, and currently I have no way to link to them, but maybe I can figure something out before October or December.  Then again, my whole linking process might be outdated or impossible by then, you never know.  But I refuse to watch those films so very out-of-season.

Because it's bad enough that I have to watch an Easter-themed film here, at the START of Easter season, the second day of Lent for chris'sakes, just because I've got other Easter movie plans, and I don't think I can circle back around to Fred Astaire again.  (Then I thought, maybe flip this film with tomorrow's, so that I can at least say it's on the first Friday of Lent, which is a thing, and I could do it, just use a different entry to the Howard Keel chain.  But then I reconsidered and flipped it back again, I suppose it doesn't really matter in the end, I'm still staring down a break in the chain next week.)

Tomorrow, February 16, on TCM's "31 Days of Oscar", it's the nominees and winners for Best Original Story.  What?  How is that a category, Best Story?  That's certainly not a category now, but apparently it was a category between 1928 and 1956, which must have morphed into Best Original Screenplay.  So I guess it's just old-time films today on TCM, which is fine, because I'm doing the classic Hollywood musicals thing myself now, with Fred Astaire and Howard Keel coming up.

Other discontinued Oscar categories include: Best Assistant Director, Best Dance Direction, and (I assume) Best Blackface Make-Up.

6:00 am "Manhattan Melodrama" (1934)
8:00 am "One Way Passage" (1932)
9:30 am "A Guy Named Joe" (1943)
11:45 am "My Favorite Wife" (1940)
1:30 pm "Mystery Street" (1950)
3:30 pm "White Heat" (1949)
5:45 pm "Action in the North Atlantic" (1943)
8:00 pm "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939)
10:30 pm "The Champ" (1931)
12:15 am "A Star Is Born" (1937)
2:15 am "Boys Town" (1938)
4:00 am "Vacation From Marriage" (1945)

Another tough category for me, perhaps because of the date limitations on this category.  I've only seen three: "My Favorite Wife", "White Heat" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington".  I watched the 1979 film titled "The Champ", but not the 1931 film,  and I watched the 1954 and 1979 versions of "A Star Is Born", but not the 1937 version.  Another 3 out of 12 brings my total up to 63 out of 177.  Back down to 35.6%

THE PLOT: A nightclub performer hires a naive chorus girl to become his new dance partner, to make his former partner jealous and to prove he can make any partner a star.

AFTER: I think I made the right call, this film is not as Easter-based as I thought it might be.  There are two Easters seen in the film, and two Easter Parades, but they book-end the film and the main story is really about the time BETWEEN the two Easters, as hoofer Don Hewes (Astaire) trains a new dance partner (Garland).  Whew, what a relief - I thought if this whole film was about Easter then I was really screwing myself by watching it here.  But it's about getting READY for Easter, the two leads have a standing date for the Easter Parade, about two people coming together and learning to work together (and become a couple!) in time for their Easter date.  So, the film does belong in February after all.

There was still a 23-year age difference between Astaire and Garland, presumably between their characters as well, therefore - but for the whole film, he's the senior member of the dance team, the 49-year old professional training the 26-year old newcomer.  Who's to say love can't blossom under those circumstances?  Right now the Winter Olympics are going on, my wife's watching a lot of figure skating, and with all those skating teams, you kind of can't help but wonder - are the teams only partners on the ice, or are they romantic partners in real life as well?  I guess some are and some aren't, and the same goes for dance partners.  Any two people who spend so much time together, engaging in a physical activity where they have to touch each other a lot, certain things are likely to happen, assuming they're both straight.

But that means that dancing is a metaphor for sex, right?  I think I came to the same conclusion last year after my 10th or 12th Fred Astaire film in a row.  When two people are dancing on-screen, and we're admiring their dance moves or appreciating how well they move together, in the back of our minds, they're doing a different kind of dance, the horizontal mambo.  But I don't want to make this tawdry, to some people dancing is just dancing.  And we're back in 1948 tonight, which in many ways was a more conservative time - not like "Flying Down to Rio" back in 1933, those people were out of control!  (Actually, "Easter Parade" was released in 1948, but takes place in 1912 for some reason.  I guess back then you could write a sonnet about a bonnet and not seem out of place.)

The opening number has Fred Astaire trying to buy a stuffed bunny in a toy store, but first he has to get it away from a kid who grabbed it, so he does a number with a drum set that's really great, and now I see tap-dancing in a whole new light.  By playing drums with sticks, his feet, his head WHILE tap-dancing, I realize that tap-dancing is another form of percussion - so mixing it with drums somehow makes complete sense!  And then more complicated rhythms are possible when he starts to mix the drumbeats and the tap beats.

Then Nadine, Don's dance partner, breaks up with him - and this seems like it was a purely professional dance-based relationship, with no hanky-panky, because it seems like she's dating his best friend, Jonathan (but we never really know for sure, do we?) - Don takes on a new dance partner, plucking her out of the chorus girl line-up at a bar, no less.  He does this JUST to prove that he could make a great dance partner out of anyone.  Gee, it sure seems like this is a rebound relationship of sorts - so maybe there was some attraction between Don and Nadine after all.  After you break up with someone, isn't the temptation there to go out and date someone right away, just to prove you can?

This sets up two love triangles of sorts, the Don-Nadine-Jonathan one, and then later Jonathan's attached to Hannah, but Hannah only has eyes for Don.  So the second triangle is Jonathan-Hannan-Don, but it only works if each person is after someone who's after someone else.  Aw heck, let's just call it a love quadrangle and be done with it.  This way each person has a back-up partner in case things don't work out with the partner they're pursuing.

Nadine moves on to the Ziegfeld Follies, while Don trains Hannah.  And this means Garland and Astaire have to do something very difficult, which is to dance poorly while rehearsing.  (Again, I know nearly nothing about dancing, but I'm going to assume it was hard for Astaire to work what looked like dancing mistakes into his routines.)  The goal is to put a show together with the rather arbitrary deadline of the following Easter.  And Astaire's character acts professionally, doesn't put any moves on the younger Hannah - which, of course, ends up making him the irresistible father figure to her, something we also saw in "Daddy Long Legs".

It turns out the easiest and best thing to do with Fred Astaire was to make his character a dancer putting a show together, this was done time and time again, like in "The Band Wagon" and "Second Chorus", etc.  When his character had another profession, like business millionaire or film producer, it just wasn't as believable, and it was harder to justify the inclusion of so many dance sequences.

And we've got music from Irving Berlin tonight, not Cole Porter like last night, and I think this is a step up.  "Easter Parade" is obviously the headliner tune, but "A Fella With an Umbrella" isn't bad, and neither is "It Only Happens When I Dance With You", if you can avoid adding extra innuendo to that title.  Heck, "I Want to Go Back to Michigan" is also a clever tune, and then near the end, we get "Steppin' Out With My Baby", which of course was another big hit for Berlin.

There's one point during the "Steppin' Out" number that's very memorable - Astaire's dancing in the foreground and he starts moving in slow-motion, but the chorus in the background keeps moving at regular speed.  God, I'd love to know how they did this with 1948 technology, it couldn't have been green-screened, was it rear-projection?  Was the camera sped up to film Astaire, or slowed down to film the background performers?  Was this filmed as one shot, or as some kind of combination?  Must research this...

There's a great deal of behind-the-scenes injury and drama associated with this film.  First off, it was originally going to star Gene Kelly, but he broke his ankle after a volleyball game.  And Cyd Charisse was going to play the role of Nadine, then dropped out due to a torn knee ligament.  Her role went to Ann Miller, who had to perform her numbers in a back brace, since her husband Reese Milner had (allegedly) thrown her down the stairs.  And finally the film was originally going to be directed by Vincente Minnelli, Judy Garland's husband, only they were fighting too, and her psychiatrist strongly recommended that they not work together any more, and then they divorced three years later.

Also starring Judy Garland (last heard in "Gay Purr-ee"), Peter Lawford (last seen in "Mrs. Miniver"), Ann Miller (last seen in "You Can't Take It With You"), Jules Munshin (also carrying over from "Silk Stockings"), Clinton Sundberg (last seen in "The Barkleys of Broadway"), Richard Beavers, Jeni Le Gon.

RATING: 6 out of 10 talkative waiters