Friday, March 10, 2017

Three Little Words

Year 9, Day 69 - 3/10/17 - Movie #2,568

BEFORE: Fred Astaire once again, carrying over from "Second Chorus".  But after tonight I'm taking 5 days off, to catch up with TCM's programming next week, when they're running two more films with Fred in them.  But honestly, I really could use the break, I'm burned out on song and dance routines.  Plus I've got a lot going on at work, one studio is moving to a new location a few blocks away, but I've got to organize everything like the phone and internet and the mail switching to the new address so we can continue on.  It's going to take some focus, so it's probably best if I'm well-rested for a little while.  Maybe I can catch up on some comic books too - not just reading but also logging them in to my collection and putting some in plastic bags for protection.  So after tonight, no movies until next Thursday, 3/16.  

THE PLOT: The story of the successful Tin Pan Alley songwriting team of Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby.

AFTER: I've learned a lot about music from the 1930's in the last two weeks, especially songs written by Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with a little Cole Porter thrown in for good measure.  But tonight's focus falls on Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, and if you don't recognize their names, you may know their songs "Who's Sorry Now?", "I Wanna Be Loved By You" and the title track, "Three Little Words".  They also wrote songs that appeared in Marx Brothers films like "Animal Crackers" and "Duck Soup", like "Hooray for Captain Spaulding".

But I'm not sure that their life experiences were particularly notable, or worth making a biopic about.  The value of a songwriter would seem to be in the success of their songs, not in the story behind writing them.  I mean, like, put it on the page or on the record, there may not be a need to make a movie about writing the songs.  But in recent years this sort of vehicle has come back to the world of stage shows and movies, like "Jersey Boys" for the Four Seasons, "Beautiful" for the songs of Carole King, "Get on Up" for James Brown and "Love & Mercy" for the songs of Brian Wilson.  The behind-the-scenes stuff would seem to be the best way to cram a lot of that person's together into one film and rack up some music royalties (especially useful if that songwriter and performer is usually hesitant to allow their songs to appear in movies...)

But that's the problem, I don't know enough about Kalmar and Ruby to be able to tell if this is really the way it all went down - and I'm not sure I care enough to research it.  I think it was just a way to get Astaire dancing again (and in color, for once...) and a way to get the popular comic Red Skelton in there too.  Did Kalmar really have secret desires to be a stage magician?  Did Ruby really go and play baseball with the Senators during spring training, which mercifully got him out of destructive relationships with women?  Who knows?  (Who cares?)

But it's at least an interesting portrait of what it takes for two people to work together in a creative partnership, even if they're not the best of friends - and that makes this relevant for a lot of people, whether they work in music, film, dance or any kind of art.  No man is an island, and no writer, choreographer, musician or filmmaker is either.  Collaboration (before) is always an important part of the process, and feedback (after) is as well.  Otherwise an artist is just making art for himself, and that means he has a fool for a client.  Umm, or something.  You know what I mean.

But collaboration is always a two-way street, and sometimes the cars on those streets crash into each other.  Now, the IMDB tells me that a lot of the tension between Kalmar and Ruby was manufactured here for dramatic purposes, because the two real guys got along very well - but that hardly makes for an interesting movie, see?  But on the other hand, I kind of believe that people back then wrote very racially insensitive songs like "So Long, Oolong". 

Also starring Red Skelton (last seen in "Ocean's 11"), Vera-Ellen (last seen in "On the Town"), Arlene Dahl, Keenan Wynn (last seen in "Song of the Thin Man"), Gale Robbins, Gloria DeHaven (last seen in "The Thin Man Goes Home"), Phil Regan, Harry Shannon, Debbie Reynolds (last seen in "The Tender Trap"), Paul Harvey (last seen in "Spellbound"), Carleton Carpenter, George Metkovich.

RATING: 4 out of 10 theater marquees

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