Year 9, Day 58 - 2/27/17 - Movie #2,558
BEFORE: Hey, how about that crazy Oscar ceremony, huh? The confusion over the Best Picture winner was no doubt aided by the fact that most reviewers had considered "La La Land" a near lock. So did I, as you can tell by the fact that I've scheduled 12 Fred Astaire films to run, starting tonight, and I felt it was important to do the background research on great singing & dancing before watching "La La Land".
I was up late watching the Oscars live - I started about an hour late, but this enabled me to speed past the commercials and the slow parts, and catch up. But what is it lately about the way these big events finish? Ever since that Miss Universe mix-up in December 2015, it seems like every major event has one of these last-minute surprises - and of course, if you live on the East Coast they all seem to take place late at night and I have to resist the urge to wake up my wife and tell her that something shocking has happened. We had the Cubs winning the World Series, then there was that Presidential election thing, and then the Patriots came back from way behind to win in overtime. It's like whatever force in the universe is responsible for endings decided that not enough people were staying tuned, too many people were giving up and going to bed. Well, I hope people are going to start paying attention now to last-minute upsets!
For linking, I looked very hard to find an entry point to the Astaire chain, and I finally found one - Herb Vigran, who played notable sidewalk pedestrian Barney Lampwick in "Bells Are Ringing", carries over to play the uncredited "Man on Train" here - but he's like the second actor with lines seen in this film, so I'm going to allow that. Most uncredited performances I wouldn't dare use to link from film to film. I'd end up using some contract performer like Franklin Farnum again and again, and that doesn't seem sporting.
It's also not sporting to ask my bosses if I can borrow their Academy screeners - if I did that, I would have seen more of this year's nominated films. Without doing that, I only saw two prior to the ceremony - "Rogue One", which was up for a couple technical awards, and "Suicide Squad", which I think won for Best Make-up (certainly not Best Viola Davis Performance...)
Anyway, I'll be sure to get to "La La Land" and "Moonlight" in due time - but I'm still waiting to see "Spotlight" and a couple other films that were nominated LAST year, like "Mad Max: Fury Road" (on the list), "Bridge of Spies" (airing now on premium cable), and "Room" (available on Demand now for $1.99, I think I'll buy it this week...). Once I finish getting the nominated films from 2015, I'll consider borrowing the screeners for 2016's films - actually, I may need to borrow "Café Society" for linking purposes in March.
Now here's the TCM "31 Days of Oscar" schedule for tomorrow, 2/28:
7:30 AM Topper Returns (1941)
9:15 AM Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
11:45 AM Torch Song (1953)
1:30 PM Torpedo Run (1958)
3:30 PM Tortilla Flat (1942)
5:30 PM Trader Horn (1931)
8:00 PM The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
10:30 PM A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
1:00 AM Tristana (1970)
3:00 AM Tulsa (1949)
4:30 AM 12 Angry Men (1957)
I never got around to "Topper", even in my huge Cary Grant chain, so there's little point in watching "Topper Returns". So I'm only hitting for 3 films tonight - "Tora! Tora! Tora", "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and "12 Angry Men". That brings me up to 116 seen out of 305 films.
THE PLOT: A pretentiously artistic director is hired for a new Broadway musical and he changes it beyond recognition.
AFTER: I've got 12 Fred Astaire films on the docket, why start with THIS one? Besides the linking from "Bells Are Ringing", it's great that this film was nominated for three Oscars, AND it's the film that features the song "That's Entertainment" - there's your real Oscar tie-in. Plus it was directed by Vincente Minnelli, who also directed "Some Came Running" and "Bells Are Ringing", so that's three films from the same director in under a week. Also, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who wrote the screenplay and lyrics for "Bells Are Ringing" also wrote this screenplay - so they carry over as well. But after this, I'll get to the films Astaire made with Ginger Rogers, and I'll try to cover those in chronological order.
Now, for the problems involved with watching this film - the actor who plays the artsy director, Jack Buchanan, is very screamy and hard to understand. He talks very fast, like Katharine Hepburn used to in her early films - I think it's an "old Hollywood" sort of thing. Many times I couldn't even understand what he was saying. I get that he was playing a person who was full of himself and hard to work with, but there must have been a way to get that across and also deliver his lines clearly.
The director wants to take this light comedic stage show and turns it into an interpretation of "Faust", complete with dark sets, mood lighting and plenty of fleshpots - but when the audience hates it, the artsy director at least admits that he's wrong, and lets Astaire's character turn it back into a musical revue.
The problem here is, the musical numbers are very disjointed - it's hard to imagine a stage play that would have the "Triplets" number, the "Louisiana Hayride" number, and also the long, complicated "Murder Mystery in Jazz" segment. What possible bridging material could there be that would make some sense of all this? It's just all over the place, and I can't take it seriously as the play-within-the-play.
A little research on IMDB and Wiki tell me why it's like that - the writers took some bits from the original Broadway production of "The Band Wagon", but also worked in other numbers from other shows they did over the years, so really it became a mixed bag of incoherence. Astaire's dancing trip through the penny arcade at the start of the film, "A Shine On Your Shoes", for example, came from a 1932 stage review called "Flying Colors" - and so did that dreadful "Louisiana Hayride" number. The "Triplets" routine came from a stage musical called "Between the Devil", but I can't imagine such a silly piece, with three adult actors dressed as babies (dancing on their knees to look shorter) fitting in anywhere, honestly.
The implication here is that if you take a show out on the road, essentially re-writing it on the fly, everything will come together by the time you hit New York again. OK, the show must go on and all that, and I get that the more you perform it, the better it may get, but what about those poor audiences in Philadelphia and Boston, who don't get to see the best version of the show? This means they have to sit through sub-par performances, right?
This still qualifies as a romance film, because Astaire's soft-shoe hoofer and Charisse's ballet dancer don't get along at first, so you can probably guess where their relationship is headed after they work on the show together, spend a lot of time riding on trains together in close quarters, and finally find some common ground in choreography.
Also starring Cyd Charisse, Jack Buchanan, Oscar Levant (last seen in "An American in Paris"), Nanette Fabray, James Mitchell, with cameos from Henry Corden (last seen in "Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"), Ava Gardner, Julie Newmar.
RATING: 4 out of 10 stagehands