Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Quote of the Day: Burt Lancaster

"I woke up one day a star. It was terrifying. Then I worked hard toward becoming a good actor." - Burt Lancaster, actor

Flower Drum Song (1961) & Unrequited Love

Often the love triangle in a romantic comedy or musical film ends showing the 2 leading characters in love and very happy. Meanwhile you can almost hear the 3rd character's off-screen sobs, muffled only by the cotton balls in his bottle of antidepressants. Who hears the cry of the loveless supporting character? Rodgers & Hammerstein
In Flower Drum Song (1961), the prolific duo who brought you Oklahoma! (which contains another tragic 3rd wheel) brings you their Broadway play about a love pentagon with 2 gentlemen and 3 ladies who are hit by cupid's darts. The third lady, Helen Chao (Reiko Sato), who pines for Wang Ta (James Shigeta) who thinks of Helen as a sister (don't you just hate that sometimes?), is obviously going to lose out.

The happy couples: "We're having fun and you're not, Helen. Nyah! Nyah!"

R&H allow the lovelorn seamstress
to get some tough stuff off her chest. When Helen realizes the inevitable she expresses her loss in the song "Love, Look Away."
Love, look away! Love look away from me
Fly when you pass my door, fly and get lost at sea.
Call it a day, love, let us say we're through.
No good are you for me, no good am I for you.
Wanting you so, I try too much; after you go, I cry too much.
Love, look away,
Lonely though I may be, leave me and set me free
Look away, look away, look away from me.
In Flower Drum Song
" In the original novel, the character Helen Chao (who sings the song in the stage version) commits suicide over her unfulfilled love. Hammerstein cut the death from his libretto, but the power of 'Love, Look Away' is great enough that it still seems to portend tragedy. " - R&H Encyclopedia
This song is about as fair a shake at expressing unrequited love as a supporting character is going to get in a RomCom. What I really like about the Helen character is that she is not that unpleasant person who you can't wait to get out of the picture so that the leads can get on with their lives. Because she's the most self-sacrificing player and she remains quiet for so long, it would be almost cruel not to give her that torchy spotlight to let her hair down.

And let her hair down she does, quite literally, in the song's accompanying abstract ballet. As Helen sings she walks out onto the patio/roof where there is a heavy San Francisco fog. As the lyrics end we follow Helen into a dream about her life with Ta. It's like following Dorothy as she walks into Oz for the first time. We're not in Kansas anymore; we are no longer in reality.

Helen walks into a cavernous room whose walls seem to be made of curtains. A sewing mannequin on wheels draped in a flowing white outfit (designed by Irene Sharaff) passes by and the next thing we know Helen has swapped clothes with it. The reserved lady's usual bun is replaced with a long ponytail and her conservative dress becomes a diaphanous creation with long slits at the legs for ease of movement. It reminds me of Walter Plunkett's dreamy outfit with the long train for
Cyd Charisse in Singing In The Rain (1952).


Dream World Helen has a great time with Dream World Ta for a few minutes then a sewing mannequin wearing Linda Low's
(Nancy Kwan) provocative nightclub costume (that we've seen in the earlier striptease number "Fan Tan Fanny") rolls by. Ta chases the mannequin and Helen is left alone. Suddenly the spurned woman is met by men in masks who are all wearing copies of Ta's outfit but she never again has the same relationship with the real Ta.
By using masks on Ta's doppelgangers and inanimate objects for other characters, the only human faces we see in the dream ballet are those of Helen and Ta, keeping the focus on their relationship. The wheeled mannequin also conveys how Linda Low, from Helen's perspective, seems to breeze in and "steal" Ta without much effort.

Back in real life things only get worse for Helen.
It's a heartbreaking situation, but at least she gets to say so onscreen.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Quote of the Day: Jessica Tandy

"I'm most comfortable on the stage. Because of the nature of film and television, you'll very often do the climactic scene on the first day and the other parts weeks later. It's hard to remember exactly what state you were in.
"It's easier when you start at the beginning and go through to the end. Any new project, new play, new film, you're really starting from square one every time. You can't be sure enough of yourself to say, 'Well, this is just a piece of cake.' It's not like that at all -- not for me." - Jessica Tandy, award-winning stage and screen actress


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Vacation

Java Bean Rush is taking a vacation for 2 weeks so that she can . . .



relax



celebrate her birthday



and watch more Classic Movies


Why not?


In the meantime you may peruse
See you in a fortnight!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Melvyn Douglas

I've only just decided to obsess over Melvyn Douglas. I took notice of him a few years ago in That Certain Age (1938) when on my Deanna Durbin movie collection fit.




It seems that he's often not the central character, often just reacts to the craziness that goes on around him. I can't believe how easy it was for me to overlook this suave man of the world, but apparently those various awards committees didn't overlook him.

Douglas is one of few people who has received an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy. I notice, though, that he achieved that status in his later career, suggesting that awards committees may have finally taken notice of him not only because of his superb performances, but because of his advancing years.

Douglas is so relaxed onscreen that he makes his work in comedies look effortless. It's almost as if he is an audience member who somehow got sucked into the screen and is observing the proceedings and commenting with wry wit until it's all over. He's fun to watch.

I remember viewing Ninotchka (1939) a while ago, and the first thing that I think of now when that movie is mentioned is Douglas cooing at Greta Garbo's title character, saying her name over and over again, which causes his lips to purse and that little brush of a mustache to fly up.


Director Ernst Lubitsch, Melvyn Douglas, Greta Garbo and that cushy kissing couch

But I haven't seen all of his 100+ screen appearances, so I could be completely wrong and may have just stumbled upon a few of his lighter movies.

I need recommendations. What are your favorite Melvyn Douglas films?

Quote of the Day: Betty Comden

On people thinking Betty Comden and writing partner Adolph Green were married to each other:

"We never thought we were. That's the important part." - Betty Comden, screenwriter, playwright, composer, and wife to Steven Kyle


From left, Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Ms. Comden and Mr. Green in 1944, rehearsing On the Town

Friday, June 12, 2009

Movie Patterns: Elevators and Long Lost Wives

Noticed a movie pattern, thought I'd share it.

Lord Tennyson's "Enoch Arden" poem and Kaestner's novel Das Doppelte Lottchen (The Two Lotties) each have a theme of at least one person in a marriage seeing the other again after a long time apart.

4 movies (among others) have adapted at least one of these two stories and show the moment of first meeting in much the same comic way: (1)Husband sees long lost wife, (2)wife waves, (3) husband leans over to get a better look.

You've guessed it. Those 4 movies are:
My Favorite Wife (1940)
Parent Trap (1961)
Move Over, Darling (1963)
Parent Trap (1997)

My Favorite Wife (1940)
Wife, thought drowned, has been living on an island for 7 years, has been declared dead, and suddenly makes her way back home, to the surprise of her recently remarried husband.


Husband (Cary Grant) in elevator with new bride (Gail Patrick)



Long lost wife (Irene Dunne) waves


Husband tries to get a good look as elevator door closes.


Move Over, Darling (1963)
Granted this is a remake of My Favorite Wife, so it shouldn't come as a shock that the newer film also uses the same comic gag.


Husband (James Garner) on elevator with new bride (Polly Bergen)


Long lost wife (Doris Day) looks.


Husband tries to get a good look as elevator door closes.


Parent Trap (1961)
Here the married couple is separated by divorce instead of by a mistaken death.


Husband (Brian Keith) is at home with no elevator, so the filmmakers use the pastor (Leo G. Carroll) to block husband's line of vision. Husband's fiance is in the room but is not pictured here.



Wife (Maureen O'Hara) waves



Husband cranes his neck beyond Reverand Mosby to get a better look.

Parent Trap (1997)
It's a remake of Parent Trap (1961), but they bring back the elevator from My Favorite Wife (1940).


Husband (Dennis Quaid) with his "leggy, barebacked fiance" (Elaine Hendrix)


Wife (Natasha Richardson) waves


Husband tries to get a good look as elevator door closes.


There may be a similar scene in another story based on the Tennyson poem: Too Many Husbands (1940) with Jean Arthur, Fred MacMurray, Melvyn Douglas. I haven't yet seen this film so I wouldn't know.

There may also be this same comic gag in these twins-getting-divorced-parents-together films: Twice Blessed (1945) with Lee and Lynde Wilde and Twice Upon A Time (1953). Again, I haven't seen these films, so I wouldn't know.

Quote of the Day: Ralph Richardson

"Film is a wonderful medium and I love it, but I find that I cannot increase my talent by working in pictures, any more than a painter can do so by increasing the size of his brush." - Ralph Richardson, stage and screen actor

Java's 10 Favorite Classic Movie Stars

These are Classic Movie Stars who made it big in Hollywood's Classic Era (1930s - mid1960s) and big on Java's list of 10 stars (among many) to watch.
[A nod to the Hollywood Dreamland blog for the idea].

In no particular order they are these:

10) Bob Hope

First Movie That I Saw Him In: Road To Morocco (1942)
Two Favorite Movies: Fancy Pants (1950), Give Me a Sailor (1938)

One Reason That I Enjoy His Work: This comedian seems rarely to rest on his jokes. He'll snap out a one-liner and then will proceed straight for the next before you've finished laughing. This means you end up rewatching the film to see what you've missed and fall in love with Hope all over again.

9) Thelma Ritter

First Movie That I Saw Her In: Pillow Talk (1959)
Two Favorite Movies: Father Was A Fullback (1949), A Letter To Three Wives (1949)

One Reason That I Enjoy Her Work: This character actress can make any dialogue interesting, funny and relatable. She brings humanity and common sense to scenes that may otherwise seem false or overblown.

8)Bette Davis

First Movie That I Saw Her In: The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)
Two Favorite Movies: All About Eve (1950), The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)

One Reason
That I Enjoy Her Work: Time and again, people write about the indomitable spirit of this actress. It is that presence that brings me back to her films. She can chew scenery and spit out dialogue like no one else.

7) Sidney Poitier


First Movie That I Saw Him In: To Sir, With Love (1967)
Two Favorite Movies: No Way Out (1950), In The Heat Of The Night (1967)

One Reason That I Enjoy His Work: "Dignity. Always dignity," as Don Lockwood says. Poitier's presence on screen is arresting. I'm forever watching his eyes wondering what he would really say if his character were allowed to say it. He retains his cool when, given the circumstances that his characters are often in, he must be burning up inside. Fascinating actor.

6) Jean Arthur

First Movie That I Saw Her In: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)
Two Favorite Movies: The More The Merrier (1943), You Can't Take It With You (1938)

One Reason That I Enjoy Her Work: She is very generous with her costars, never seems worried about outshining anyone, she's just naturally the person you follow on the screen. Plus her voice is so unique that you can't help but pay attention to whatever she's saying.

5)Martha Raye

First Movie That I Saw Her In: College Swing (1938)
Two Favorite Movies: Give Me A Sailor (1938), Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962)

One Reason That I Enjoy Her Work: She can keep up with and surpass any comic business her counterpart(s) dredge up. Infectious personality, that one.

4) Cary Grant

First Movie That I Saw Him In: The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Two Favorite Movies: His Girl Friday (1940), I Was a Male War Bride (1949)

One Reason That I Enjoy His Work: Sure, he looks good in a tux; he looks even better with a one-liner dangling from his lips. And I'm with Audrey: how does he shave in there?

3)Deanna Durbin

First Movie That I Saw Her In: It Started With Eve (1941)
Two Favorite Movies: It Started With Eve (1941), That Certain Age (1938)

One Reason
That I Enjoy Her Work: Even in her character's more dramatic situations, she will arch that eyebrow (showing that she's completely in control) which makes me smile.

2)Ann Miller

First Movie That I Saw Her In: On The Town (1949)
Two Favorite Movies: Hit The Deck (1955), Easter Parade (1948)

One Reason That I Enjoy Her Work: Effervescent personality, quick tongue and killer tap dancing skills (Ok, so that's more than one reason.)

1)Tyrone Power

First Movie That I Saw Him In: Jesse James (1939)
Two Favorite Movies: The Mark of Zorro (1940) , Witness For The Prosecution (1957)

One Reason That I Enjoy His Work: If ever a man buckled a swash, Tyrone would be one. Although he's known for playing hero parts, I'm often drawn to his bad boy exploits on film.

Quote of the Day: Rosiland Russell

"At MGM there was a first wave of top stars, and a second wave to replace them in case they got difficult. I was second in line of defense, behind Myrna Loy." - Rosiland Russell, actress


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quote of the Day: Danny Kaye

On being an overnight film success:

"You bet I arrived overnight. Over a few hundred nights in the Catskills, in vaudeville, in clubs and on Broadway."-- Danny Kaye, comic, actor, philanthropist



Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Quote of the Day: Leslie Caron

"Cinema will always have an important role to play in society. " - Leslie Caron, dancer, actress, restaurateur


Monday, June 08, 2009

Relaxing with the "Wearing History" Blog

The author of the Wearing History blog has decided to introduce some leisure into her hectic life. "One of the things I'm trying to do for myself is take time for 'tea' in the afternoon, even if it's just in a mug while I watch a . . . Barbara Stanwyk movie."

Barbara Stanwyck and a hot beverage - what a lovely way to spend the afternoon.


Theresa Harris and Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face(1933)

Quote of the Day: Alfred Hitchcock

"There is a dreadful story that I hate actors. Imagine anyone hating James Stewart . . . . I can't imagine how such a rumor began. Of course it may possibly be because I was once quoted as saying that actors are cattle. My actor friends know I would never be capable of such a thoughtless, rude and unfeeling remark, that I would never call them cattle . . . What I probably said was that actors should be treated like cattle." -- Alfred Hitchcock, director



Sunday, June 07, 2009

Mario Lanza and the Crooner's Coffin

Update 06/08/09: The link is fixed

I have just found a link to a brief essay on Mario Lanza's contribution to the expansion of the image of the brash male singer, and also to that of the singing leading man in Hollywood. It's called "Lanza and the Crooner's Coffin" by Lonnie Barone.



Barone argues that since the invention of the microphone, popular singers with an "intimate sound," singers like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Vic Damone, became the standard for male singers to the exclusion of any guy who wasn't a "skinny, sweet-voiced boy with tussled hair and a spoonful of sugar in every note."

And then came Lanza in the late 1940s, chewing up scenery and singing loud. This was the beginning of the era of Gene Kelly and Marlon"Hey Stella" Brando, actors known for their rough, I'm-gonna-kiss-ya-honey masculinity.

Barone even claims that Lanza paved the way for Elvis!

Read the essay and tell me what you think.

Quote Of The Day: Bette Davis

"You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good . . . Joan Crawford is dead. Good." - Bette Davis, actress, commenting on the death of long-time nemesis Joan Crawford


Saturday, June 06, 2009

Quote Of The Day: Joanne Woodward

". . . . [I] don't think the[Academy] awards mean what they say they mean. The Oscar has become a political gesture, or a business gesture. People tell you it adds $5 million to a film's gross, and I believe it, but that's not what the Oscar is for. It didn't use to be that way." - Joanne Woodward, Oscar-winning actress

Friday, June 05, 2009

Quote Of The Day: Audrey Hepburn

"Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, it's at the end of your arm. As you get older, remember you have another hand: the first is to help yourself, the second is to help others." - Audrey Hepburn, actress, philanthropist


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Honorary Classic Movie: Duel (1971) starring Dennis Weaver

An Honorary Classic Movie, can be any movie of merit (according to Java's loose definition of the term) that was made after the mid-1960s.

It's road rage taken one step farther when traveling salesman, David Mann (Dennis Weaver), passes the driver of a massive multi-wheeled truck on the road who then irrationally tailgates and attacks Mann for the rest of the day.


Universal Studios wanted to make the film a major motion picture with Gregory Peck, but once the star refused, Duel ultimately was released as a TV movie. It was then re-released in theaters in 1983 after another of Spielberg's movies became popular (guess which one).

So why is Duel, an Honorary Classic? Because it's one more example that you can tell a suspenseful story very well even without much dialogue and without a big budget or fancy camera work. With less than a fortnight to make the film, some sequences were shot in the same area. But who can tell in a dry, arid backdrop? One curve looks like another. "I had an artist paint an entire map [of the area] . . . . and I try to cross things off," says director Steven Spielberg. "I'd try to progress eight or ten inches on the map . . . until the entire map was shot."

Spielberg gives you the hives with basically a car chase, and closeups of the antagonist's hairy forearm (you never see his face) and Weaver's profusely sweating forehead. . . and it works!



It works as camp, mostly, because 89 minutes of constant "Oh! He's trying to kill me!" is unintentionally funny. The camp is ratcheted up when Spielberg has the tanker truck get ahead of Mann and block his way so that the two vehicles are facing each other in the California desert, heat waves apparent, a tumbleweed out of nowhere, and a twiddle of guitar as Mann stares down his faceless nemesis then floors the gas pedal in an attempt to get past the truck. It's every Western movie standoff you've ever seen, but with cars.

And yes, the man (Mann) versus Other, David versus Giant, themes are intentional.
There may be a remake in the offing. That should be interesting.
  • See the preview here.
  • TCM airs Duel (1971) on Saturday June 6, 2009 at 4:30 am (EST)

Quote of the Day: Alice Faye

"Six films I made with Don Ameche and, in every one of them, my voice was deeper than the plot." - Alice Faye, singer, actress

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Quote of the Day: Judy Garland

"[MGM] had us working days and nights on end. They'd give us pep-up pills to keep us on our feet long after we were exhausted. Then they'd take us to the studio hospital and knock us cold with sleeping pills . . . Then after four hours they'd wake us up and give us the pep-up pills again so we could work another 72 hours in a row. I started to feel like a wind-up toy from FAO Schwarz." - Judy Garland, actress, singer

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

College Swing (1938) starring Gracie Allen & Bob Hope

College Swing (1938) [also released as Ritmi a scuola (Rhythms to School) in Italy and as Swing, Teacher Swing in the UK] is a musical comedy released by Paramount Studios as one way to cash in on the Swing Music craze while showcasing plenty of their comedy stars.


THE STORY
It is 1738 and the Alden family decides that if no Alden female passes the university's entrance exam within 200 years then ownership of their university will be turned over to the Guarantee Trust Company. Fast forward to 1938, and ditsy Gracie Alden (Gracie Allen) is the last hope to keep the college in the family.

Sleazy Bud Brady (Bob Hope) offers to help Gracie cheat, for a price. Gracie passes the exam, makes herself the Dean of Men, brings in a gaggle of kooky professors and turns the school into one big swinging party.

Of course, there are those who suspect foul play and would like to stop the party, including the Guarantee Trust Company representative, Hurbert Dash (Edward Everett Horton), and his assistant George Jonas (George Burns). And there are those who would like to stop the people who want to stop the party, including Bud and his new love interest Mabel (Martha Raye).


Mabel (Raye) and Bud (Hope) thinking things through.

Among the kooky new professors, who drive the current professors crazy, are these:

Mabel (Martha Raye), who is the professor of Love, but her only student seems to be Bud. She's the one who helps Bud scare away the woman-phobic Hurbert Dash.

Ben Volt (Ben Blue), who is professor of Physical Education for ladies. Basically he just conks himself on the head with weights in front of a lot of leggy female coeds in the gym.

Yascha Koloski (Jerry Colonna), professor of Music, who comes in to sing a song called "Please" and roll his famous eyes around. How he doesn't faint from squeezing out those notes, I'll never know.

Betty Grable, Jackie Coogan, and Skinnay Ennis are students who never seem to go to class and who are around basically to swing, sing and dance the title song.

The film takes a short breather, however, any time the star-crossed lovers, students Ginna Ashburn (Florence George) and Martin Bates (John Payne), come on to grieve over their romance being interrupted by circumstances. Though the tone is slightly less kooky in these scenes, somehow this storyline does not interrupt the flow.


left to right, Edward Everett Horton, Gracie Allen, Martha Raye, Bob Hope, George Burns, Ben Blue, Florence George, John Payne, Betty Grable and Jackie Coogan in a publicity still.

Lots of plot points run simultaneously (even Gracie unintentionally seducing Hubert) and meet up at the finale for a second exam and another huge party. High energy packs the zaniness into a mere 86 minutes.

By the way, look for the back of the head of a young Bob Cummings as the radio announcer in the finale. His unique cotton-mouthed voice is unmistakable.

MY FAVORITE SONGS
"The Old School Bell" - Robert Mitchell and St. Brendan's Choristers sing this song in the 18th century portion of this film. They anachronistically "swing" it, prompting one of the elders to ask the lead boy's name ("Benny Goodman"), to which he responds "No goodst will ever comest of thee!" Hilarious.

Musical comedy films of this time had a habit of swinging almost any piece of music they could get their hands on.

"College Swing" - [Frank Loesser (lyrics), Hoagy Carmichael (music)] is performed at the beginning of the film to highlight the kind of high swinging atmosphere the students prefer. It is also reprised with Martha Raye belting it out for the grand finale. Fun elaborate dances abound.

"What a Rhumba Does to Romance" - [Frank Loesser (lyrics), Manning Sherwin (music)] - Martha Raye's aggressive singing and Ben Blue's slithering Rumba steps (Does the man have bones?) crack me up every time in this song that has nothing to do with the plot.


See my College Swing (1938) photo set on Flickr.
See the College Swing (1939) trailer here.
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