A Farce and a Drama: Thoughts on I’ll Be Yours (1947)

Written for the Amazing Deanna Durbin Blog

I’ll Be Yours (1947) is an uneven film which seeks to blend farce and high drama seamlessly but does not quite succeed, leaving the audience with the feeling of having seen two separate movies at once. (Tom has made his notes and outlined the plot here)


A FARCE AND A DRAMA

I’ll Be Yours is a Felix Jackson adaptation of The Good Fairy (1935) - the Preston Sturges adaptation of Ferenc Molnár’s play,  A jó tündér. The play concerns a libertine woman who enjoys helping strangers.  In both the original film and in Jackson’s adaptation, the protagonist is instead an innocent young woman who goes to the big city, helps others and potentially falls prey to lechers. But whereas the The Good Fairy makes its two leads guileless individuals who discover the complexities of life together, the Jackson script makes attorney George Prescott (Tom Drake)a grave character throughout and usherette Luisa (Deanna Durbin) a child-like figure who never grows up.
 ...

Read more at The Amazing Deanna Durbin Blog

Dancing Chic to Chic

Dancing Chic to Chic is a fun little article on Fred Astaire's clothing. Although many attach the idea of  Astaire's classic sense of style to the star, Robert Sacheli emphasizes the dancer's modernity.

Mixing the polish of Savile Row with the effervescence of Hollywood, Astaire forged throughout his career a gallery of personal style that remained inimitably his own and perpetually modern.

[Let] the decades between us and Astaire’s movie theatre audiences dissolve. Imagine seeing him for the first time. Take in the wonderful surprise of his dancing and his look, both unlike anything seen before on the screen. To those moviegoers Astaire was boldly contemporary, with a masculine fashion finesse entirely different from other stars. And, to echo one of the Jerome Kern classics Astaire introduced, that’s just the way he looks tonight.

Read here at Dandyism.net

"I am going to tell you something unhealthy."

That line had me rolling in the aisles.

Saw a local theater production of the farcical take on Hitchcock's  The 39 Steps. Hardworking group of four who play dozens of parts in this spy thriller. Sitting center stage, second row, looking up at the frenzied performers,  seeing the details - a crooked hem, a hanging thread - I realized that I was accustomed to watching perfect actors.

Fellow playing the lead has to run from planes, like Cary Grant in North by Northwest. Somehow it was jarring to see him actually perspire. My beloved cinematic performers rarely ever sweat.

It was then that I began to enjoy these hard-working thespians, despite their jokes falling flat, and my nose being assaulted with London and Highland "fog" from their dry ice machine.  They worked their tails off for a twitter of laughter here and a bit of applause there. I couldn't hack it in that business. When my jokes fail I'm mortified and don't ever want to raise my voice in humor again (until the next time a one-liner presents itself and then I reenter the whole cycle).

Wasn't it Bette Davis who said that acting should appear as if you're working a little? It should appear a little real? The obvious hard work and frailties certainly helped me to appreciate this play.

I adore Grace Kelly's perfectly coiffed hair in films, but the sad little blonde mop precariously perched on the lady's head in 39 Steps engaged me a little more - I waited for it to fall off.

CMBA Hitchcock Blogathon: Thoughts on Rear Window (1954)

Discussing any Hitchcock film and expecting to say something new is like digging into a depleted gold mine and expecting to haul out a fortune. It could happen, but it seems all of the great stuff has already been harvested and disseminated in books, retrospectives, and courses at educational institutions.

Whether this blog post for Rear Window (1954) holds a gold nugget of analysis or  is mostly iron sulfide is anyone’s guess, but I enjoy the challenge. Let’s dig.


GIANTS AMONG US
We are all peeping toms, according to Alfred Hitchcock, so he forces the audience  for Rear Window to observe Jeff (James Stewart) and Lisa (Grace Kelly) as they watch other people in apartments across the courtyard. With very few exceptions, the audience sees only what  can be viewed at a distance from Jeff’s apartment, making the people outside seem small like little dolls and their apartments like tiny boxes.

Viewed in the movie theater, the gang of voyeurs in Jeff’s apartment  not only seems larger than the neighbors outside, they also seem larger than the audience. In Lisa’s introductory scene, she kisses Jeff. As she stares into the lens and leans into the camera for the smooch (ironically like a monstrous being in a 3D film who breaks the fourth wall to make the audience recoil), some reviewers claim that the licentious Hitchcock is merely “saving” the first kiss for himself as director, then allows the next cut to be of the woman kissing Jeff. To the director and to Jeff she’s an inviting presence - they are all the same size- but when Lisa looms overhead, to a cinema audience she’s a towering giant. It’s as if we have become the “little people” in a dollhouse and Glumdalclitch has come to play with us.


Viewing Rear Window on the small screen, (or even in a small screen cap like that above) however, makes Lisa and Jeff  less brobdingnagian and more like their neighbors. Not only are we watching them,  but they seem increasingly shoved into their own small box - our television or computer. With home viewing - pausing, rewinding, etc. - Lisa and Jeff are almost like Barbie and Ken dolls, performing at your command. 
Prepping for the blogathon; Rear Window in a small box

Of course the movie still holds up despite the change in technology. This is due in no small part because the film  invites the audience to compare size, proportion and space anyway. For instance, after Lisa kisses Jeff, she displays her new gown in his cramped apartment. As she twirls, the yards of fabric in the skirt brush against furniture, her matching shawl lightly caresses a desk that probably hasn’t seen a duster in weeks. She declares that the dress is right off the Paris runway, another narrow space that needs careful negotiating.



REAR WINDOW KISS VS. A NEW MOVIE KISS

That Lisa-Jeff kissing scene was helpful in understanding why a similar scene in a recent film did not work.

I watched  a new flick at a movie theater a few months ago. There was your standard two shot close up of a guy and his love saying something important about their relationship. He is trying to rekindle her interest, but they are on a tight schedule - rushing to save the free world or something. He has only seconds. What was meant to be an empathetic and ardent plea of a man desperate for the love of his ex was unintentionally predatory. All I could think of was, “he seems big enough to eat her.”  His head took up two-thirds of that big screen and hers less than a third. Every time he would speak I expected his jaw to unhinge and swallow her face.

It was not romantic - a fact which, for some reason, irritated at me for months.

In prepping for this blogathon, my mind began comparing that recent close up with the Lisa-Jeff introductory scene. When the film introduces Lisa smooching Jeff, both stars’ heads take up equal amounts of space in the frame, even though Miss Kelly has a relatively small cranium and Stewart is known for his elongated face. But in this close up you don’t see much  of  the actors’ heads, except the parts that move a lot - mouths, eyes, lashes.  You are concentrating on what they are saying and doing with their faces - smiling, talking, kissing, whispering, etc. The ears, tops of heads and Stewart’s chin are all but cut out of the frame.


Then it hit me - in that recent movie, you can see the entire profile of the two love birds - top of the head, chins, ears, everything. You see just how much bigger the actor is than his counterpart, which doesn’t help in that scene where the lady is supposed to be a dominant force and the man is emotionally at her mercy, since she’s moved on with her life and he wants her back. 

It’s a small point, but one that I appreciate because that contemporary scene kept nagging me and I couldn’t think of a way to fix it.  Rear Window is very instructive.

______________

The film’s plot and overall effectiveness holds well because of the attention to minutia. The intricacies of multiple layers of storytelling, down to the framing of a kiss make this film thoroughly re-watchable.  The details establish a certain atmosphere or feeling and you don’t exactly know why until you pick the film apart like an old watch to see how it ticks. It’s almost as if Hitchcock anticipated home viewing, or at least multiple viewings, people pausing it to look for the little things. Rear Window is just that good.

More Hitchcock Blogathon contributions are here at CMBA.

CMBA Hitchcock Blogathon: Monday Jan 17, 2011

The Classic Movie Blog Association is having a Hitchcock blogathon this Monday January 17. One day only will be devoted to the films of the master of suspense.


 More information can be found at the CMBA blog.

James Bond in 1967: Bits of Trivia

This entry is for Paragraph Review’s James Bond January blogathon.


By 1967, the first James Bond, Sean Connery, was ready to hang up his tuxedo. EON Productions (makers of the “official” Bond movies) had released four very popular spy thrillers and would release another that year - You Only Live Twice. (Clara has a fun review of that film here.) The British man of mystery now had a fervent global fan base who clamored for more. Connery, had become a household name associated with this franchise (well, usually) and the actor was ready to do something else.

The series was becoming a cliché of bombs and bosoms that was thoroughly lapped up by parasitic competing studios. The value of the spy movie was being diluted as other film companies began to draw life-blood from the famous franchise by making diet-Bond films. Many of them were hackneyed spoofs like Casino Royale (1967), starring David Niven and Peter Sellers.



Operation Kid Brother (1967)
However, other non-EON spy films attempted to fall in between parody and serious action film.  Case in point, Operation Kid Brother (1967) (aka Operation Double 007, aka OK Connery ). While Sean Connery was phoning in what he wished to be his last Bond film,  his brother Neil Connery was filming his first Bond-ish film.


Initially released  in Italy two months before Twice opened in the UK, Kid Brother makes no bones about cashing in on the Connery name as well as that of the supporting players, including Lois Maxwell, who plays Miss Moneypenny in the “real” Bond films. However, Kid Brother wants to be considered a decent action film in its own right by making Neil’s character an authority on psychology who is called in to help with some mayhem after the doctor’s brother (ahem) is away on an important case and can’t make it. It’s more like a fan fiction film than a spoof.

But then again, with the tagline, "Operation Kid Brother is too much for one mother," you have to wonder just how serious it's supposed to be.  In any case, Kid Brother lives on in infamy lampooned by the robots of the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, where Crow T. Robert declares, “No matter what‘s gone wrong with his life, Neil can always look in the mirror and say to himself, ‘well, at least I didn’t do Zardoz.’”


It actually works!
In 1967, Popular Science Magazine gushed over the fact that the autogyro at Bond’s beck and call in his latest film “is not a gimmick set up by special effects men and trick photography.” The author goes on to give dimensions, etc. and assures the reader that “It‘s the real thing.” 
Click to enlarge


Proto-Bond girls?
A little over 25 years prior to his release of You Only Live Twice, producer Albert Broccoli made his debut in films working as assistant director on The Black Swan, which stars ravishing redhead Maureen O’Hara as the spitfire who aides another man of mystery, the pirate Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power). Around that time Broccoli was also an uncredited AD for The Outlaw, starring the buxom brunette, Jane Russell, who slinks around (almost) wearing a peasant blouse in this western. It’s a stretch, but you could say that these two female characters are the cinematic prototypes of the Bond girls.
A man of mystery and a proto-Bond girl?

Black Belt Magazine
Sean Connery makes the cover of the August 1967 issue of Black Belt Magazine, however columnist Andy Adams turns a critical eye to how martial arts is portrayed in the film.  “Western movie audiences will get their first real opportunity to see a wide variety of martial arts being used in action in the latest James Bond epic, ‘You Only Live Twice,’ states Adams. “ Just how authentic are the techniques is another question entirely,” he notes.

You can read the article “007‘s Newest ‘Gimmick’: a Whole Arsenal of Japanese Self-defense Arts” here on page 34 et. seq.


And that is a bit of Bond trivia from 1967.

"Sunday" Ballet in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song (1961)

Flower Drum Song  is one of my favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein productions in part because there is no threat of death in it (unless you count Helen Chao’s theatrical torch song which practically begs her to plunge a dagger into her abdomen or press an asp to her bosom). The movie is filled with heavy drama - unrequited love, the threat of deportment, potentially disgracing oneself and family - still the story perfectly balances light and shadows.


One of the lighthearted numbers in the movie, (and arguably, the most enchanting one) is the song and dance, “Sunday.” The revolutionary Broadway duo were known to place a ballet in the middle of a musical to underscore tension. These dance moments are usually found in the movie versions of their stories as well. I get chills when in Oklahoma! Laurie ingests that drug and dreams (in dance) about being abducted and ravaged by the smelly Judd Fry. In Flower Drum Song (1961),  however, the dream ballet is relentlessly cheerful and induced, not by a whiff of peddler‘s elixir, but by imagining the smell of coffee in the morning.

Sammy (Jack Soo) and Linda (Nancy Kwan) have finally become engaged after a five-year courtship and are absolutely giddy.  It’s hilarious that a couple of beats after she says “yes,” he starts to sing
Now that we’re going to be married
I keep imagining things
Things that can happen to people
When they are wearing gold rings
When did he have time between her assent and the music cue  to “keep imagining” anything? The Broadway version states “I’ll keep imagining things,” which makes a little more sense.

Still, it’s a cute song which contrasts with Sammy’s other duet - the one with Mei-Li where he implores her “Don‘t Marry Me.”   In “Sunday,” Linda and Sammy sing about being married, awaking on the weekend and lounging around the house with only each other. A little fog appears and suddenly their street clothes have turned into coordinated pajamas.
Although the ballet is generally upbeat, the choreography knocks down the couple’s illusions. Instead of seeing only each other, the house fills to the brim with guests, a flirtatious maid, a gardener who prunes hats, two teens and a kid who kicks a cane out from under grandpa. The couple sings of being happy together, but the guy talks to other women in full view of his wife (who promptly throws the ladies out with a flurry ). It’s all done with a deft touch, but the dangers of reality have crept into the dream,  preventing the domestic tranquility expounded in the lyrics. I suppose the couple is aware of the irony since it is their daydream.

The house boasts modern furniture, bright colors and a to-die-for wardrobe. Linda sports orange Capri pants with a white lace dressing gown and high-heeled bedroom slippers. She’s gorgeous lounging around the house like that. I’d be hard pressed to wear anything other than a t-shirt and sweats when no one‘s looking.

The maid wears a tea-length uniform with so many petticoats that she resembles her duster, especially when she sways her skirt to the beat as if she‘s dusting the base of an imaginary piano.

My absolute, all time favorite character in this ballet is the butler on skates. Yes! Hired help who roll around your house like indoor carhops. I love it! I mean, look at this guy! He glides around with that perfect movie butler’s stoic expression,  completely unimpressed with his own movements.



Butler makes an arc around the bank of seats while Sammy, Linda and guests lift cups from his tray and take a sip. He makes another trip around to gather the cups, then off he goes, as though this is all perfectly normal.  I love it!


He’s only on screen for about 15 seconds, but that little bit of business is one of the first things I think about when hearing the title of this film.  I haven’t been able to ascertain whether roller skating was in the play, but I’d like to think that since Gene Kelly directed the Broadway hit, the man who tapped on skates in a film a few years prior might have had something to do with one of the best moments in this movie.

Near the end,  the dance goes into complete bedroom farce mode with the characters chasing one another  in and out of doorways - grandma is after grandpa who is after the maid and Sammy is still chasing his lady friends, etc. Linda breaks a bottle over Sammy's head which brings them out of the dream world.


Despite the imagined marital upsets, the two are still smiling. This number is a lovely comic rest period before the heavy drama ahead in the film.
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