Friday, March 17, 2017

The Barkleys of Broadway

Year 9, Day 75 - 3/16/17 - Movie #2,569

BEFORE: I'm back from a 6-day self-imposed exile of not watching movies - OK, that's not really true.  But I've been relatively inactive while waiting for TCM to catch up with me (for once...) and run this Fred Astaire film from 1949 that reunited him with Ginger Rogers after ten years apart.  They ran a whole vaudeville-themed "Let's put on a SHOW!" marathon today, but this was the only film that interested me - thankfully one of my DVRs allows me to search films by actor, so I was alerted that more Fred Astaire was headed my way, if I could just wait a few days.  Because why watch 12 Astaire films when I can watch 14?

I tried to make good use of my downtime - I gave the house a good spring cleaning, and really focused on filling my brackets properly for the "March Madness" tournament.  Just kidding, I read several weeks worth of comic books, bought a picture frame for a poster I've been trying (for YEARS) to hang in the living room, and I went out to see "Logan" on the big screen - my review will be posted in a few weeks, between two other Hugh Jackman films.  Speaking of linking, I went on a real tear over the course of a few nights last week, and I've not only got a plan to get me to Easter, I've gone WAY past that, almost to Mother's Day.  My linking may run out around May 10, unless something changes, at which point I can re-assess the plan, or program some documentaries, or stream something, I hear the kids are all doing that these days.

But first I have to wrap up this song-and-dance thing, which really began nearly a month ago with "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", and wound its way through Debbie Reynolds, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin films, in addition to Astaire.

THE PLOT: A successful but constantly-feuding husband and wife musical comedy team threatens to break up when the wife entertains an offer to become a serious actress.

AFTER: Music for this film was written mostly by Harry Warren and Ira Gershwin (this was after George Gershwin passed away) but the screenplay came from Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who also wrote "Bells Are Ringing" and "The Band Wagon".  Once again, the best excuse to get musical numbers into a film is to make a film about people performing in a stage musical - into that framework, you can work in just about any number, even though they'd never work on a real stage, or form a coherent whole show when put together.  Ah, but if it's a "musical revue", then anything goes. (Even a number that uses optical effects, which could never have been presented this way live on stage.).

The other "play within the play" is the dramatic story of actress Sarah Bernhardt, which Dinah Barkley is convinced to take part in, even though she's not really a dramatic actress - one has to wonder how much of this was really based on Ginger Rogers trying to prove that she could do more than just sing and dance.  Umm, wait, I've heard her sing, so let's just say she could dance.   You know, people often try to make a feminist statement by saying "Ginger did everything Fred did, but she did it backwards and in heels."  But that's not entirely true, because they didn't always dance in circular ballroom style - as you can see in this film, they often danced side-by-side, yes, doing the exact same thing, but then, that's not really MORE difficult, it's just the SAME level of difficulty.  And Fred did many solo numbers in their films, like the "Shoes With Wings On" piece here, so in fact he did frequently do more than Ginger did.  It's a nice thought that maybe Ginger's job was harder, but I think it's just not very accurate - and I'm an expert on the subject now.

They still had to fall back on that tired "mistaken identity" plot, even after all this time together.  Josh Barkley phone his wife after they separate, pretending to be her new French director (and possible lover?  It's not clear...) to give her tips to improve her stage acting - and the ploy is not revealed until much later.  Then once Dinah's in on the deception, she uses that to tease her husband, and this brings them back together.  Or was it the dancing at the benefit that brought them back together?  In their previous films, it was usually the dancing that resolved things.

I still don't know much about Oscar Levant, because I didn't know he could play the piano so well - I think he played piano in "The Band Wagon", but nothing on the level of Khachaturyan's "Sabre Dance" or Tchaikovsky's "Concerto in B-Flat Minor", as seen here.  The problem is that he seemed to play very difficult piano pieces and make them look very easy, so there's a bit of a disconnect.  If a piano player isn't seen struggling, and looks like he's having too good of a time, then that now calls Chico Marx to my mind.

Also starring Ginger Rogers (last seen in "Carefree"), Oscar Levant (last seen in "The Band Wagon"), Billie Burke, Gale Robbins (also carrying over from "Three Little Words"), Jacques Francois, George Zucco (last seen in "House of Frankenstein"), Clinton Sundberg, Inez Cooper, Hans Conried.

RATING: 4 out of 10 dress rehearsals

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