Sunday, April 06, 2014

Guest Wife (1945): Comedy w/ Don Ameche & Claudette Colbert


A couple's second honeymoon to New York picks up an unwanted addition when the husband's best friend drops into their lives.

Guest Wife (1945) would mark the second of three films in which Don Ameche and Claudette Colbert would star together. The others are Midnight (1939) and Sleep, My Love (1948), both of which find the two actors paired as love interests. Here, Ameche is the best friend, Joe, abusing the hospitality of Colbert's character Mary and her husband Chris, played by Dick Foran.

Ameche and Colbert still spend the bulk of the movie together as Joe has - for career expediency- convinced his employer and everyone else, that he's married to Mary. Why Mary and Chris go along with the charade is anyone's guess. (The New York Times calls Chris a "curiously generous spouse," which is an apt description.)

The rest of the film is a comic cautionary tale of the tangled web of deception. This is what the screenwriters, Bruce Manning and John Klorer, call a "kibble." You must love 1940's movie slang, whether fabricated or actually popular in society.

Even the advertising copy picks up the term and pastes it on the posters. "Kibbling," the poster above reads, "is romantic hocus-pocus by an experienced perculator (sic)." Sometimes mid-twentieth century movies use completely nonsensical combinations of terms to create innuendo and excitement.  But -Oh!- doesn't this sweet mamma jamma sound up on the downbeat? When she's cool she really sizzles, ya dig? Hmm?


The musical score, by Daniele Amfitheatrof, is mercifully sparing, allowing the comedy to stand on its own or fall flat on its face. The score is most frequently used near the end when Mary plays her own trick or two on the guys. You'll hear it in its most lavish iteration under the credits. With its upbeat, jazzy horns and drums, the score is very much a part of its time. It almost sounds like the score of a Tom and Jerry short. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Amfitheatrof's work.

Guest Wife is a tangled marital farce that you've seen before that asks the audience to dig down deep and suspend disbelief for 90 minutes. However, it's still worth a look.


Further Resources

Download for later or listen now to the Lux Radio Theater production of  
Guest Wife (with Don Ameche, Dick Foran and Olivia DeHavilland from December 10, 1945):
(Flash player required) (Duration: approximately 60 minutes)




Download for later or listen now to the Screen Guild Production of     
Guest Wife (with Claudette Colbert, Fred MacMurray and Dick Foran from May 20, 1946):    (Flash player required) (Duration: approximately 30 minutes)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mister Cory (1957): A Tony Curtis Drama

A poor man from Chicago becomes an unsuccessful busboy at a country club, then a prominent gambler in the big cities.


Writer-director Blake Edwards presents an episodic, coming-of-age tale of a young man from the slums named Cory (Tony Curtis) who wants more in life than his current surroundings afford him. Cory (whose first name we never learn) drifts to a country club, lands a job as a busboy, where his supervisor, Mr. Earnshaw (Henry Daniell), gives the lad a title - "Mister."

This new appendage to his name is at first comical to Mister Cory, then it becomes a stranglehold. The title symbolizes the rules and decorum expected at the country club, as well as basic rules for living. (Cory laughs at the idea of washing his hands when working in the food service industry.)

Mr. Earnshaw, a Father Figure

Mr. Earnshaw -with a rigid posture and attention to social boundaries- is the very symbol of what both attracts and repels Cory. This is one of two father figures for the orphaned Mr. Cory, who rebels against Mr. Earnshaw's strict rules, but who also adopts them in his own way. 

Author Sam Wasson notes that Mr. Earnshaw is an exasperating authority figure, the kind of person who must be "cut down to size" in a Blake Edwards film. Wasson calls this violation of dignity the "splurch," the sound a pie makes when it is slammed into someone's face.


"Quite often, in fact always, those in Blake Edwards' movies who ascend by way of socially or philosophically unethical means are wide open to a good splurching."
By this definition, Mr. Earnshaw does not deserve a splurch, but Mister Cory provides one or two anyway by constantly violating the rules even fighting in the kitchen and breaking dishes in a very raw action scene.

"Biloxi" Caldwell, a Second Father Figure

Once he's on the road again, however, Mister Cory is never the same. Perhaps the discipline expected of him at the club remains with him, because our lead character engages bigger goals. He now understands where his interests and talents lie - not in serving others but in serving himself at the poker table. Our anti-hero uses these skills to parlay a new career as the owner of a gambling den under the tutelage of "Biloxi" Caldwell (Charles Bickford).

Cory gains another father-figure in Biloxi - a guest at the country club with whom Cory plays a poker game. Learning that Biloxi makes his living as a gentleman's card sharp (a dramatic version of what Charles Coburn does in The Lady Eve) the two become business partners and swindle people all over the U.S. They finally have a sizeable enough bankroll to set up a gambling den in one place - Cory's hometown of Chicago.

Cory is like both of his mentors - resenting and appreciating the benefits of society's rules.

Themes of Isolation
Cory also appreciates and resents himself. He has good instincts, drive and ambition. Unfortunately they are mostly selfish and on the wrong side of the law, which leaves him with a trail of enemies. Despite the presence of two mentors and a casino full of customers, Cory is a man alone. 


Tony Curtis in a poker scene. Source: acertaincinema.com
There is a poignant scene when our lead, now wealthy, returns to his old neighborhood in Chicago one night. It is eerily quiet. No one is stirring. Looks like a ghost town. There's no "hail the conquering hero" welcome and he's not expecting one. It's almost like a scene in My Fair Lady when Eliza returns to the slums of Covent Garden after having been trained to trick aristocrats into believing she is of them. She feels homeless; Cory might feel the same.

His loneliness is pronounced in the pursuit of women. The lusty young lad runs into wealthy country club sisters Abby and Jen Vollard (Martha Hyer and Kathryn Grant). The movie spends a lot of time watching Cory pursue one while the other pursues him. It is in these relationships where class distinctions are the most pronounced and frustrating for him, providing social commentary.

In stories set in the present day, a gambler is contaminated by association, if not in fact, with the mafia and other underworld types. Thus, gamblers do not mix with "respectable" society in the movies, according to author David Hayano.  Any romance between the two worlds is doomed from the beginning. Period movies -such as that set in the Old West- tend to treat gamblers with indifference or even as heroes, still a romance with a reputable citizen is doomed.

There seems to be no place in the world that Mister Cory may call home.


Tension with Authority
Curtis, Hyer and director Edwards . Source: acertaincinema.com

Director Blake Edwards called Mister Cory, his "first film of any consequence." According to author Sam Wesson, this film would set the stage for most, if not all, subsequent Edwards films, whether drama or comedy. They all include themes of tension with authority figures. In fact, once Mister Cory begins his ascent, there are forces in place to flout his progress in much the same aggressive way in which he disregards authority earlier.


The very title hints at this theme of authority. The honorific "Mister" originally referred to English gentry, later becoming the standard title for any adult male. By the time this movie was made, there was still the air of gentility about the title; something the tough street kid Cory can rail against.

The Title Changes

The poster from Denmark
The movie title changed as it traveled around the world. France and Italy each chose a fairly innocuous one, roughly translated "The Flamboyant Mister Cory" and "The Adventures of Mister Cory," respectively. Turkey and Spain peak your interest with "The Mysterious Mister Cory" and "The Fearsome Mister Cory," respectively.

Perhaps the most intriguing title is from Brazil. It roughly translates to "Hyenas of the Green Cloth," referring to the aggression often played out over the green felt of a gambling table. This title gives the most accurate tone of the film, but with the plural, takes the emphasis off the main character.

Denmark ("The Gambler from Chicago") and Austria ("Cory, The Cheater") hint at Mr. Cory's proclivities and give you a better idea of the film.

------------------------------------------------

Mister Cory is a rugged coming-of-age story in which the protagonist might not make it to prominence alive. Watch it for the social commentary and intense drama.


Further Resources
  • Mister Cory is available for purchase on Amazon in Region 2 DVDs by clicking here: Mister Cory. These DVDs will not work in most players from the US and Canada, but will work in multi-regional DVD players.
  • This film is currently available on Youtube here: Mister Cory. 
  • There is a section on gambling movies in the book Poker Faces: The Life and Work of Professional Card Players by David Hayano 
  • Mister Cory is discussed in the book A Splurch in the Kisser: The Movies of Blake Edwards by Sam Wesson
  • A detailed criticism of the themes of Mister Cory can be found at the International Federation of Film Critics: Mister Cory: The Centre Still Holds by Dan Sallitt

Monday, March 10, 2014

2 Movie Music Cues (And How They Comment on the Scene)


Movie music can exist inside or outside of the characters' world.


When there is a logical source for the sound (such as when Rhoda plays "Clare de Lune" on the piano in The Bad Seed), this is called diegetic music. It is within the narrative.

Music which characters do not hear or otherwise interact with or has no logically source within the movie is non-diegetic music. For example, in The Bad Seed when Rhoda walks the streets at night, the score plays "Clare de Lune" with an orchestra; this sound is outside of her world. It's not within the narrative.


Today we peruse two examples of diegetic movie music - sound that the characters technically could be aware of- and how it boosts or comments on the plot.

All About Eve (1950)
Margo (Bette Davis) suspects Bill (Gary Merrill) has been unfaithful to her and has argued with him and her other guests all evening at Bill's welcome home-birthday party. As she bids everyone a biting farewell, she turns to walk upstairs alone in her misery.

At that moment, what song does the pianist she's hired for the evening play in the other room? "Stormy Weather" by Harold Arlen. Not only does it reference the bumpy night everyone has had due to Margo's rudeness, the lyrics of this popular torch song (which are not sung in this scene) mirror Margo's feelings. As the lyrics in the song say,"Since my man and I ain't together, keeps raining all the time."

This torn relationship is a central point of the plot.

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

In Millionaire, myopic Pola (Marilyn Monroe) thinks eyeglasses make her appear less attractive. She puts them on in the powder room and takes them off to go back to her date in the dining room.

During the powder room scene, listen for a musical cue. It's distant and tinny, it's meant to be music coming from a band in the dining area. What is the band playing while Pola hides her "cheaters" away in her purse ? "I Got a Feelin' You're Foolin'" by Nacio Herb Brown


Many filmmakers make subtle music cues to comment on the scene. Which ones have you noticed?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The Restless Years (1958)- Sandra Dee's Suburban Drama

This plot is a roller coaster ride. Twisting this way and that, introducing characters that you think are completely innocuous but are not (or vice versa), The Restless Years (1958) keeps your interest.

Melinda Grant (Sandra Dee) leads a sheltered life. As often happens in a Dee film, her character's innocence is at risk. In this film, what's at stake are her innocent notions about romance, her uninformed understanding of her family history, her above-reproach reputation. The tension lies between those who wish to alter these things and those who wish to preserve them.

The Restless Years is one of those suburban dramas that we've discussed before  - the kind of film that exposes the rotten core of a "good" apple. They seem to say, "This could be your town."


Melinda's widowed mother Elizabeth Grant (Teresa Wright) has never healed from some unknown psychological trauma which has left her a recluse. Melinda is subject to the same lifestyle and often parents her parent.

Everywhere but school is off limits to the daughter, including the bandstand on the hill, especially the bandstand on the hill. The mother mentions that bandstand so much, you wouldn't fault a kid's curiosity about what makes a crumbling gazebo so powerful as to illicit screams from her mother at the mere thought of it.

School is an escape from the confusion. Even there, however, life for the young lady is unpleasant. Popular kids taunt Melinda for not having a social life.

Enter Will Henderson (John Saxon), the son of a traveling salesman with a knack for sizing up new schools  and a strong affinity for the underdog. He instantly gravitates towards Melinda, despite rumors that the Grants are nutty.

Melinda's costume gives Will ideas.
Will has family problems of his own. Thus, with his new buddy (or budding love interest) Melinda, the two lose themselves in a school play in which they star. The popular kids are desperate for the coveted roles. One classmate in particular, Polly Fisher (Luana Patten), suddenly befriends Melinda. Might Polly have ulterior motives?


Revelations about Polly's parents, Will's parents and Melinda's family history with that benighted bandstand might ruin everyone's carefully-preserved public image.

Based on a Patricia Joudry play, called "Teach Me to Cry," where stone-faced Melinda learns to emote through acting and cultivating a relationship with Will, Restless strays from the play. In casting a warm actor like Sandra Dee, Melinda is immediately a relatable, human character responding to her problems as any teen might.  From stage to screen, the story is no longer a strange teen in a fairly normal world, but a mature teen in a weird community.


With all the hubbub happening at once, some of the story lines are never resolved - not in that wonderful, "I wonder how it ends after "The End" kind of way" (as in The Heiress) but in that "Well, that subplot was completely pointless" kind of way.

It still works.


Sandra Dee and John Saxon also play opposite each other in The Reluctant Debutante with Kay Kendall and Rex Harrison. As charming as they are in the urbane comedy Debutante, I prefer the grody-ness of their situation in Restless. There is no one to rescue them; anything can happen, which keeps you guessing.


Watch The Restless Years for beautifully nuanced performances from Dee and Saxon.



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Evil Under the Sun (1982) - An Agatha Christie Island Mystery


Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is back, this time solving mysteries at an exclusive island resort in the Adriatic for Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun (1982).


Daphne (Maggie Smith) holds the position of proprietress at a former summer palace-turned-hotel. Her guests hold murder in their hearts.


Rex Brewster (Roddy McDowall) is desperate to sell his tell-all book about one of the other guests, and is livid that he cannot get a release form signed; one of the characters made off with an expensive jewel piece owned by Sir Horace Blatt (Colin Blakely) and he is not happy.

The film has its share of squabbling married couples.

The Redferns (Nicholas Clay and Jane Birkin) do not get along with each other; Arlena Marshall (Diana Rigg) flirts outrageously with other men in front of her new husband, Kenneth (Denis Quilley), and is unkind to her teen-aged stepdaughter Linda (Emily Hone); the Gardeners (James Mason and Sylvia Miles) are theatrical producers desperate to coax Mrs. Marshall back to the stage.

Even Daphne has a complicated history with one or two of the guests.


Everyone has a motive to kill someone else. However, the tension is handled with humor. The barbs and slings are often funny and sometimes shocking coming from the mouths of your favorite classic movie and television stars.
 
Costumes by Anthony Powell are recreations of 1930s long, trim, elegant silhouettes - the very thing for stylish men and women of the day.

It's an island, so we get lots of great beachwear and coveralls.



Some of the costumes, however, are handled with humor. When the movie wants to poke fun at someone, it interrupts the signature vertical line with outrageous horizontals, outlandish colors or details.


 Poirot in a swimsuit with a pocket square is hilarious.

However, some outfits are too clown-like and odd. Take Mrs. Gardner - a loud unpleasant woman who, at cocktail hour, wears puffed sleeves that are larger than her head. You want to kill her just for wearing that.


The comic tone of the costumes leavens the gruesome event of murder, but it is sometimes difficult to accept.


The characters all have some outfit which pairs white and/or black with bright red, navy blue or, occasionally, yellow. They could take a big family photo at almost any moment and look perfectly coordinated. Daphne's earrings match Rex's red socks. Rex's blue polka-dot neckerchief matches Mrs. Gardner's dress. Linda's blue swimsuit is reminiscent of the blue stripes in Rex's robe, etc., ad infinitum.


 

If this color coordination means something, the relevance is not apparent. It's disconcerting to behold an entire hotel full of guests who are perfectly united in color scheme and nautical theme, as if they were about to put on a production of Anything Goes.

Speaking of Cole Porter projects, the composer of "Begin the Beguine" makes his mark on the film. His music abounds in the score to set the era and the tone -luxurious, elegant and humorous.


Another interesting artist of the 20th century, Hugh Casson, architect and interior designer, lends his talents to the film. Casson created the watercolors under the title sequence. They are initially beautiful in and of themselves; they become especially meaningful on subsequent viewings. He doesn't reveal any clues to the mystery, but he does brilliantly set the tone for the film to follow.

When an actor's title card comes up, you'll notice some prop which represents the character, something you'll see him/her using during the movie.


Arlena's dashing red sun hat can be seen on Diana Rigg's title card.




Mr. Gardner's ubiquitous polka dot ascot and white pageboy hat is seen on James Mason's title card.


One of the characters loves to sketch, which becomes a plot point. Perhaps these little pictures belong to that person.

Daphne's resort on the Adriatic was actually filmed on the island of Mallorca in Spain. Every shot is stunningly beautiful. EMI Films -which also released Death on the Nile and The Mirror Crack'd- is known for lush production values in Christie films.


 

Though Evil Under the Sun has some distractingly funny costumes, watch this film for the impossible-to-solve mystery and the breathtakingly gorgeous location shots.


Further Notes






Monday, February 24, 2014

Ladies in Love (1936) - Dramedy with Constance Bennett and Loretta Young

Three young ladies are practical about romance. They share an expensive apartment to improve their future. In Ladies in Love (1936), (based on a play by Ladislaus Bush-Fekete) not one female lead is interested in love... until they each discover someone special.

 
Yoli (Constance Bennett) wants the finer items in life and sets her cap for a rich guy.  She is torn between Ben (Wilfred Lawson) the generous wealthy guy and John (Paul Lukas) the kind poor guy.

 
Martha (Janet Gaynor) is tired of odd jobs and wants a home of her own; she'll take a guy if he goes with it. She is torn between Dr. Imre (Don Ameche) who keeps rabbits and The Great Sandor (Alan Mowbray) a magician who never pulls a rabbit out of a hat.

Susie (Loretta Young) claims she wants to be independent of men and run her own shop. She is torn between Count Karl Lanyi (Tyrone Power) and her idea of independence. Actually, she drops her business idea in a hot second for the promise of a serious relationship with a man who can take her out of the chorus.

All three women are selfish and shallow, which the movie addresses. There is the possibility throughout the story that they might feel the consequences of any mistakes, which is refreshing. Usually in stories like this, the lovers can be as silly as they please and everything works out fine.

Not in this movie. There is suffering.



Ladies in Love would be Tyrone Power's last film credited as Tyrone Power, Jr. It had been five years since his famous father, the Shakespearean actor Tyrone F. Power had died in his son's arms. Power loved his father dearly; it was likely a studio decision to drop the "junior" on his credit card. Still, it was a fitting adjustment as Tyrone the younger made his own mark in acting and would later become more famous than the man who taught him the essence of his craft.

Power isn't in this film much, but that's ok. This is only his sixth out of fifty-two films. The world would later see a lot more of him at Twentieth Century Fox Studios.

 

The world would also see Ladies in Love (or similar stories) recycled. Two years later, Loretta Young would play the Constance Bennett role - the leader of the operation- in a comedy about three sisters on the hunt for wealthy husbands at an expensive resort. That film would be based on a play by Zoe Akins and would be titled Three Blind Mice.  In a neat bit of unintentional foreshadowing, Young sings "Three Blind Mice" in Ladies in Love.

In 1953, Fox would make another film based on the same Zoe Akins play about three women looking for husbands, this time with Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable in How to Marry a Millionaire.

Though Ladies in Love has a familiar theme, and the three leads can be silly, their immaturity is not always rewarded. There is a remarkable self-aware quality to the writing that you won't find in the remakes. As the story twists and turns, you think you know how it will end, but you might be wrong. 

Recommended.










Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How Classic Movies Use the Conga, the Mambo and the Waltz to Shape the Story


Three popular dances -the Conga, the Mambo, and the Waltz- each have their own reputation in classic movies (up to the mid-1960s). They are treated almost as movie characters, and, consequently, have a role to play in the story.


 
CONGA
The Conga, a Cuban carnival march, is a treat to see. Three steps and a kick showcase unbridled fun in the movies. Often it's shown in the Conga Line. Each dancer grabs the waist of the person in front  and walks in a line to the rhythm.

The Conga is presented as your best buddy and the life of the party. You might not dance it well, but the Conga doesn't care. Just have fun!

Strike Up the Band (1940)
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Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney choose "1-2-3- Boom" as their count to the Conga in Strike Up the Band (1940). This dance is used to display the youth and vitality of the stars. The lyrics refer to this as a new dance, but it had been around for a while; it was simply new to U.S. mainstream pop culture at the time. The fact that the two young people know the Conga emphasizes their modernity.

It Started with Eve (1941)


This film uses the energetic Conga to show the improved health of an older man (Charles Laughton), a man who was lately on his sickbed. Who teaches him the "new" dance? The woman he hopes will become his daughter-in-law - Anne (Deanna Durbin). She's a good match for this family and these two seal their friendship with the Conga.

Ball of Fire (1942)
Source
 
"DA DA da da DA. BOOM. DA DA da da DA. BOOM,"  is how Sugarpuss O'Shay (Barbara Stanwyck) counts out the Conga in Ball of Fire (1942). The burlesque dancer teaches stodgy old professors how to jump into the 20th century with both feet. The Conga Line seems to be the perfect choice. The steps are not intricate; you can ruin the dance and no one will care. (At least in the movies.)

My Sister Eileen (1955)

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My Sister Eileen (1955) ends with a Conga Line of people. The Cuban Navy is in town and looking for fun. They start an impromptu Conga, scooping up all the main characters and their wacky Greenwich Village neighbors for the finale.

In a home office or out on the street, the Conga in classic movies is used to show likeable people having fun with abandon.


MAMBO

As with the Conga, Cuba is the place of origin for the quick-paced, and relatively complicated Mambo. The dance was invented in the 1940s by Perez Prado to accompany the music which was invented ten years earlier.

The Mambo is the peacock in the room. He will outstrip you with his flourish and spectacle. Just get out of the way, you'll be fine.

Because of the fast pacing, it takes time for people to learn to do it properly. Consequently, the Mambo is used to show division in a movie between the sophisticated and the socially awkward. It's also used to emphasize a character's competitive nature.

Teacher's Pet (1958)


Jim (Clark Gable), a rough-hewn newspaper editor who graduated from the school of hard knocks, is an old-fashioned guy. Erica (Doris Day), young and fresh-faced, is his counterpart - a journalism professor who represents a new way of communicating news.

Jim takes Erica to the floor for a slow Foxtrot. When the band quits the slow tempo and picks up the pace with a cacophony of percussion, Jim is lost. Erica proclaims, "It's the Mambo!" Jim doesn't know that dance.

So here he is at the table, contemplating Erica and her new dance partner, another professor, Dr. Pine (Gig Young), who seems to know everything, including the Mambo. Jim is in stiff competition with this guy, who is besting him in everything, including romance.

The Mambo is just another way to make a distinction between Jim's hardscrabble, boot-strapping reality and Erica's and Dr. Pine's easy, breezy, erudite world of theory.

The Mambo conquers another square.


Phffft!(1954)
Source


 A divorced couple (Jack Lemmon and Judy Holliday)  want gaiety and excitement in their new lives. They each trot down to Arthur Murray's dance studio for classes in the latest terpsichorean craze, neither knowing the other has the same idea.


Later, the ex-spouses accidentally show up to the same nightclub. They are so angry with each other they show off their new skills with a dance-off to a Mambo, pushing the other dancers off the floor with their antics. They make fools of themselves.

In this film, knowing the Mambo is a sign of sophistication. This new worldliness is used to highlight the competitive nature of two people who can no longer stand each other.


West Side Story (1961)

http://www.auburnsymphony.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/West-Side-Story-Mambo.jpg
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It's the big dance at the gym. Rival gangs dance out their frustrations. Finally they can't take the tension anymore. They challenge each other to the ultimate face-off  -Mambo!

We'll see who's hep, Daddy-o!  The Mambo is crazy cool until it gets hot. [Insert your own badly-mangled, mid-20th century slang here.]

Does this challenge settle anything? No. But it looks pretty.


The Mambo's relatively complicated, fast-paced steps make this dance the weapon of choice in classic movies for deciding who's the most up-to-date.


WALTZ
There was a lot of group dancing for "respectable" people, and then came the Waltz. This one-on-one public dance- was a scandal in the early 1800s, often banned for being too intimate.

A couple twirls together. 1-2-3, 1-2-3 (strong accent on 1), and a box step in three-quarter time. It's so beautiful, especially with the voluminous fabrics that people wore at the time swirling around.

As the 20th century slowly turned, so did the Waltz. It turned from too new to too old; too brazen to too square. You could still request the Waltz at a dance during the classic movie era, but it was the stuff of nostalgia by the 1930s, something your grandparents might have preferred.

Because of its advanced age at the time of this new industry called moving pictures, the Waltz tends to be brushed aside in classic movies, or otherwise displayed in mothballs.

It's like your great-great-aunt Agatha who's nice and everything, but you've got nothing in common with her, except you exist on the same planet.

The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)

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There is a big, fantastic production number devoted to the Waltz in The Big Broadcast of 1938. It's a history of Western dance which recounts the idea that other dances may be fads, but people still dance the Waltz.

"The Waltz lives on," Shirley Ross sings. Though it is respectful of the dance, the song is like when you hear that someone is "still alive." It's slightly cringe-inducing. There is the implication that they might pull the plug at any moment, but, for now, that old Waltz is still hanging in there.

It's a great number, though.

Anchors Aweigh (1945)
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Going to the dance floor with Kathryn Grayson, Frank Sinatra seizes up in Anchors Aweigh . The band has changed the tempo. He apologizes, "I only know how to Waltz...."

They return to the table where Gene Kelly -playing a "wolf," a guy who knows how to seduce women- takes the lady back to the floor. She's swept off her feet by Kelly's charm.

Sinatra goes back to the table to contemplate this male peacock on the dance floor who knows the new "exotic" dances. In this film, the Waltz is for schlubs, for a young guy who cannot function in society.


Harvey Girls (1946)
http://www.doctormacro.com/Images/Garland,%20Judy/Annex/Annex%20-%20Garland,%20Judy%20(Harvey%20Girls,%20The)_01.jpg
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When a Waltz is shown in a period piece, the movies take a break from ridiculing the dance. It's there to undergird the time frame of the story.

In the Harvey Girls, women from all over the U.S. are waitresses in the Wild West for the Fred Harvey restaurants. They show something new to the cowboys -a dance "where the fella puts his arms around the lady's waist." Everyone gets excited over this possibility.

Here, the Waltz puts you in the period of the story. It also gives the audience a chuckle that the prospect of not dancing in a group is so thrillingly new.

An American in Paris (1951)

Written in 1936, George and Ira Gershwin's song "By Strauss" is a tribute to and a mocking of the Waltz.  The song makes an appearance years later when Georges Guetary, Oscar Levant and Gene Kelly sing it in An American in Paris. They lean heavily on the mocking aspect. According to this film, the waltz is out.

Here they playfully deride a rather stiff, traditional guy:

Kelly: He doesn't like Jazz?
Levant: He's against it.
Kelly: What else is there?
Levant: I know what he likes. He's strictly a three-quarter man.

In a classic movie set in the modern day, the Waltz is often compared to some other form of music or dance; it cannot stand by itself and/or cannot be presented without derision.

And who demonstrates the Waltz as Kelly and friends are yucking it up? A white-haired lady of a certain age. This is the only time they tamp down the jokes and give the least bit of dignity to the Waltz; that's more out of respect for the lady than the dance. The Waltz is in mothballs by the 1950s, and they don't mind saying so.



Flower Drum Song (1961)


There is a party at Mr.Wan's house. The guests perform many popular dances in the U.S., including a Waltz.

 After that blast from the past, they "have a ball." The pace picks up and soon Mr. Wan's teenaged son (Patrick Adiarte) and friends take over the floor with modern dance and Jazz, as the older people stand back and observe.

In this film, the Waltz is a charming old piece for grown-ups that is contrasted with, and must make way for, something newer.


The Happiest Millionaire (1967)
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It's the 1910s and Cordelia (Lesley Ann Warren) is growing up. She wants to be like all the other girls and know the latest dances.

"The Waltz is for old people," Cordelia exclaims, repeating her father's words earlier. (Her boxing-enthusiast father prefers a lively jig for exercise.) This declaration comes on the heels of the number, "Bye-Yum-Pum-Pum," which rehearses the merits of slinking around to modern, sensuous music -the Tango.

Again, the Waltz is compared unfavorably with something newer in pop culture.

But this Disney movie does not leave the dance defeated; the Waltz makes an awesome comeback. It punches up from the floor and knocks Cordelia out with its grace and poise. She falls in love with Angier (John Davidson) while dancing -gasp!-  that old 19th century relic, the Waltz.

The dance regains its dignity. Thank you, Disney.

Though the Waltz is often used in classic movies to mock a character or era for being old fashioned, the gentility of the form still leaves the audience nostalgic.

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Classic movies use the Conga, the Mambo and the Waltz to categorize a character or an era, sometimes unfairly.  Ultimately, they are still a thrill to watch.

Further Notes






Friday, February 14, 2014

Tomorrow is Forever (1946) - Claudette Colbert & Orson Welles


This Valentine's Day let's discuss mature love in a classic movie. Not puppy love, not a new romance. Not a couple on the verge of infidelity or bickering constantly about their finances, but a couple who is happy. And love beyond the romantic type.

Tomorrow is Forever (1946) fits the bill.


John Andrew MacDonald (Orson Welles), whom the U.S. Army mistakenly declared dead long ago in the European War, returns to the U.S. decades later to discover that he has a son and that his widow Elizabeth (Claudette Colbert) is remarried to a another loving man -Lawrence Hamilton (George Brent).

John now lives in the U. S. as a former citizen of Austria under the name of Kessler. His wounds have disfigured him beyond recognition, so when Kessler shows up as consultant to Hamilton's business, Elizabeth has no clue she's shaking hands with her first husband.

World War II is burgeoning and his son Drew (Richard Long), now nearly 21 years of age, wants to join the Allies, which brings even more conflict to the plot.

Great conflict is an opportunity to express great love. If we define love as doing what's best for the other person regardless of the benefit to oneself, there's plenty of love to spare with these characters.

There is
  •  the compassionate man who becomes loving husband and adoptive father to a lonely widow and her son.
  • the biological father and son who share an ability to see beyond personal discomfort and express a love of family and country despite the risk of the ultimate sacrifice. In fact John says to his wife on his way to war, "Let me love you in my own way."
  • the love the son has for his parents, never wanting to bring sorrow to their lives.
  • the love of a mother for her son. Elizabeth doesn't want Drew to  die as her first husband did.
  • the love and respect John has for his wife's new family. You can see him gauging his options, never wanting to intrude.
Dilemmas abound in this movie. Will John tell Elizabeth that he is her husband? Will that change her perspective? What will everyone end up doing? The stakes are so high. One wrong move and everyone will be miserable.

Despite the fact that its title sounds like that of a cheesy James Bond film, Tomorrow is Forever is a solid story about love -actual love- on many different levels between and among its characters. It'll keep you guessing and hoping each character makes the right decision. Highly recommended for Valentine's Day (or any other day).

 Further Notes
  • Watch for a charming performance from Natalie Wood as a war orphan that Kessler has adopts.
  • For a comic version of a similar story of a spouse believed long-dead who shows up again, watch My Two Husbands  with Jean Arthur and My Favorite Wife with Cary Grant.






 
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