Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bells Are Ringing

Year 9, Day 57 - 2/26/17 - Movie #2,557

BEFORE: I added this one to the collection a few months back, and it was part of the romance chain for a long while, then I took it out of this year's chain, for a reason I'll explain in a minute, but then when I tore apart the February plan to add in the Debbie Reynolds movies, I realized that I needed to put it back in, because Dean Martin could carry over from "Who Was That Lady?", then it could serve as a necessary link to the Fred Astaire chain.  And if the Oscars go tonight the way that everyone's predicting, there couldn't be a better time than tomorrow to start a chain of singing-dancing Astaire films.

The problem with "Bells Are Ringing" is that I saw a stage production of it when I was a teenager - but a local production in my hometown, and that means that every time I tried to watch the film over the years, it felt too familiar, almost like I'd seen the film before.  But though I've now seen parts of the film here and there, I don't think I've ever watched the whole film through, start to finish.  So that's how I justified taking it off the list, but also why I've now put it back on the schedule.

Here's the TCM "31 Days of Oscar" line-up for tomorrow, 2/27:
6:45 AM Three Comrades (1938)
8:30 AM Three Little Words (1950)
10:15 AM The Three Musketeers (1948)
12:30 AM Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
2:15 PM The Time Machine (1960)
4:15 PM The Time, The Place and the Girl (1946)
6:15 PM T-Men (1948)
8:00 PM To Be or Not to Be (1942)
10:00 PM To Each His Own (1946)
12:15 AM Tom Jones (1963)
2:30 AM Tom, Dick and Harry (1941)
4:00 AM Too Young to Kiss (1951)
5:30 AM Top Hat (1935)

It seems that TCM and I are on the same page once again - they're running 2 Fred Astaire films tomorrow, just when I'm starting a 12-film chain featuring him.  I'm recording "Three Little Words" and "Top Hat" is already on my schedule for next week.  In addition, I've seen "The Time Machine", "To Be or Not to Be" and "Tom Jones", so if I count the Astaire films, that's another 5 out of 13 films, for a total of 113 seen out of 294.  4 more days until we reach the end of the alphabet together.

THE PLOT: A Brooklyn answering service operator who tries to improve the lives of her clients by passing along bits of information she hears falls in love with one of her clients, the playwright Jeffrey Moss, and is determined to meet him.

AFTER: Even though I saw a (local) stage version of this musical, it's funny that my memory is still somewhat unreliable.  I could have sworn that this was the musical featuring the song "We Need a Little Christmas", and that made me hesitant to program it during February.  But it turns out that Christmas song was in a different musical, "Mame".  I probably saw the same community theater group put on both shows, and my brain crossed the streams.

No, this is the musical featuring the Betty Comden and Adolph Green songs "The Party's Over", "It's a Simple Little System", "Just in Time", "Drop That Name", and of course the title track, and all of the "terrible" songs written for the play-within-the-play, "The Midas Touch" by the dentist character who really wants to be a composer.  It's a clever way to shoehorn in a bunch of little songs with seemingly random titles.

But first, let's take a step back, as we're traveling in the WABAC machine tonight to a time before cell phones, before answering machines, heck, maybe even before alarm clocks.  It seems there were a bunch of people in this mythical land of New York who relied on a phone service to answer their calls, take down and relay messages, and even wake them up at certain times.  (Other things I never understood about the old days of telephones include the "party lines", using operators to make long-distance calls, and that system of using words to remember phone numbers, as in, "Hey, get off the party line, I need to tell the operator to connect me with Fairbanks-9715!")  And apparently, back in the day, if you called someone and they weren't home, and you couldn't leave a important message, you were then legally obliged to hire, or propose to, someone else.  It's not like you could call them back later, don't be ridiculous....

But let's assume that phone operators were once as important to society as this film suggests.  A service called Susanswerphone (a horrible portmanteau, unless everyone who worked on the switchboard happened to be named "Susan") functions here as an important part of the lives of busy urban professionals, like playwrights, actors, opera singers and dentists.  And this service finds itself under investigation for getting "too close" to their clients.  This turns out to be a euphemism for some kind of prostitution, though I don't think I picked up on that implication as a teenager.  So as a result, our heroine, Ella, is forbidden to meet her clients in the real world, or to pass along outside information that could help their careers, unless it comes in a direct message left for them.  She gets very strict orders to NOT insert herself into the lives of her clients.

So, naturally, that's what she does.  To prevent the playwright from over-sleeping, she goes over to his apartment, lets herself in, and plays loud music to wake him up.  (Again, it's not like a playwright can afford an alarm clock, let's be reasonable...)  Before you know it she's getting him coffee, placing him in front of the typewriter, and giving him words of encouragement, while he's still wondering who she is and where she came from.

Once the play outline is done and approved, she also mysteriously enters the life of two other clients, a dentist who composes music and needs that big break, and a "method" actor (who might as well be named Schmarlon Schmando) who can't get cast because he keeps showing up in a t-shirt and jeans instead of a nice suit, which the role demands.  So Ella's kind of like a behind-the-scenes Broadway producer, I mean, she was involved in the writing, composing and casting of this play (which we never get to see) called "The Midas Touch".

Meanwhile, the answering service gets a new client, which is supposedly a record company (you can explain to your kids what a "record" is, right after explaining what an "answering service" is...) but is really a front for a bookie operation, with clients calling in to order "500 copies of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, Opus 6 on LP", which is code for betting 500 on the 5th horse in the 6th race at Belmont Park.  Beethoven is Belmont, Puccini is Pimlico, Tchaikovsky is Churchill Downs, and so on.  It works fine until the (probably) gay maintenance man knows a little too much about how many symphonies each composer wrote.

It's another case of events spiraling out of control, much of it due to mistaken identity or similar confusion, similar in ways to "Marriage on the Rocks" or "Who Was That Lady?".  The repetition of law-enforcement agents crossing over into people's personal lives sort of justifies putting this one exactly here in the chain.  I'm good with it - and once again, all the confusion and charades works out completely for the best for everyone involved.  Well, maybe not the gambling operation - but just about everyone else, which means that Ella was correct to meddle with people's lives.  And New York's a very unfriendly town, but not if you just introduce yourself to people on the corner and get to know them.  Yeah, right...

Also starring Judy Holliday, Jean Stapleton (last seen in "Klute"), Fred Clark (last seen in "The Mating Game"), Eddie Foy Jr., Dort Clark (last seen in "The Chase"), Frank Gorshin, Bernard West, Ruth Storey (last seen in "In Cold Blood"), Gerry Mulligan, Ralph Roberts (last seen in "This Property Is Condemned"), Valerie Allen, with cameos from Hal Linden, Len Lesser (last seen in "Some Came Running"), Mae Questel, Herb Vigran (last seen in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown").

RATING: 6 out of 10 blind dates

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